Sweetmantra: Domain Name Strategy

Last month I gave a devil’s advocate keynote talk about the new TLDs at DOMAINfest Asia[1] in Hong Kong. Since my talk didn’t get me thrown into Hong Kong harbour, as I feared it might, I thought it would be worth sharing my talk with a wider audience via my blog. The following is an abbreviated adaptation of that talk.

Bill Sweetman's DomainFest Asia Keynote

(photo courtesy of Jothan Frakes)

What constitutes “success” in the new TLD program? And how could this could be measured?

Many people have strong opinions on this topic. And so they should. I propose we look at the new TLDs through the eyes of end user registrants. That’s a perspective we don’t hear much about, and we don’t talk about, as much as I think we should. I will conclude this article with some suggested – and alternative – metrics to gauge the true success of new TLDs.

But first, a bit of background.

I make my living as a domain buyer broker[2] helping entrepreneurs acquire their dream domain names. Prior to this I spent over 15 years working in marketing and advertising. I love domain names and naming, but I always have my marketer’s hat on. This means I am always thinking about the customer, the consumer, the end user.

When it comes to domain names, I’m TLD agnostic. I will help my clients acquire any TLD domain they want.

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: I often ask my clients if they’re aware of the new TLDs (they usually aren’t), and I’m usually the one who recommends they consider a new TLD domain.

So, as regards the new TLD program, I’m an enthusiast.

When the new TLD program was first announced, I was excited and optimistic.

This was the largest namespace change in the history of the Internet.

We could see some amazing technological innovation.

We could see some very creative naming options and uses.

Physical and virtual communities could use these new names to define themselves.

And brands could have greater control of their own namespace.

I believed the new TLDs could have enormous potential if we as an industry brought them to market in the right way.

Unfortunately, and despite some notable exceptions, I don’t think that’s what’s happened yet. As an industry, I think we lost our way a bit with the new TLDs. In the excitement to launch this bold new namespace, some participants forgot something very important: the consumer. And by consumer I am talking about the end-user buyers of these new TLDs, not domainers (domain speculators).

Don’t get me wrong: I love domainers. I buy domains from them all the time on behalf of my end-user clients. And domainers are an important part of the domain name ecosystem.

But the long-term viability of new TLDs depends on more than just domainers. It depends on consumers becoming aware of these new TLDs, and it depends on consumers registering these new TLDs, and it depends on consumers using these new TLDs.

Somehow, sadly, a number of industry players appear to have forgotten what it’s like to be one of those consumers.

And the reason I say that is that many aspects of the new TLD program don’t seem to consider how consumers think about and purchase and use domain names. The process of buying a new TLD domain is not always consumer-friendly.

How do I know this? Because consumers – end-user buyers – tell me this all the time.

So let’s spend a moment looking at the new TLDs from the point of view of a consumer. Let’s forget about the domainer point of view. Let’s forget about the registry point of view. And let’s forget about the registrar point of view.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a consumer. In fact, let’s give this consumer a name. Let’s call him “Adam.”

Adam is a middle-class, white collar business guy. Adam has a day job at an accounting firm. He also has a bit of an entrepreneurial streak and would someday like to start his own music lesson business. Adam knows that he’ll need a business name and matching domain name for his new venture.

Adam is a lucky guy: He lives in 2016, a world where he has a choice of hundreds of new TLD domains to choose from.

We will assume that Adam has already heard about an exciting new TLD called .Banjo. This will be the perfect TLD for his music-related venture.

Let’s also assume that .Banjo is now in its General Availability phase.

Today is Adam’s big day. Today’s the day Adam has decided to name his new business “Flying Banjo”, and so off he goes to his favourite registrar to register Flying.banjo.

Adam is so excited because all he’s been hearing about for the past few months is how this expanding universe of domains beyond .com will give him the opportunity to get his dream domain name.

But when Adam goes to his registrar to try to register the domain, he discovers that Flying.banjo is not available to register and is, in fact, one of the so-called “premium” domains being held back by the registry. The domain Adam was expecting to be able to buy for $20 is actually priced at $5,000.

Adam is confused. Adam is upset. Adam is wondering what happened to all the choice and availability he had been promised – by our industry – with these new TLDs?

I call this the False Promise of Availability. And it’s the first major disappointment for consumers with the new TLD program.

I’m a businessman. I get it. Registries need to make a profit. So I understand why many new TLD registries decided to hold back a portion of their inventory as premium domains. But Adam doesn’t understand this. Adam feels like he has been stiffed.

Nevertheless, Adam’s a good sport. He’s really motivated to get a .banjo domain, so he’s somehow talked himself into investing way more than $20 to buy his .banjo domain. He’s decided to buy a premium .banjo domain for $1,000. So Adam whips out his credit card and starts to register the domain name.

Unfortunately, when Adam tries to complete his purchase at the registrar, he learns that in order for him to get his .banjo domain he needs to prove to the registry that he knows how to play the banjo. Yup, Adam has just found out that this new TLD has special registration requirements.

I call this the Roadblock of Ridiculousness, and it’s another major disappointment for consumers with the new TLD program. Registries should be bending over backwards to make it easy for new customers like Adam to purchase their domains, not throw up unnecessary obstacles to adoption.

(I understand why a handful of new TLDs like .bank need to enforce certain registration requirements. But for most new TLDs with restrictions this has only caused huge problems to adoption. It’s no wonder that so many of the new TLDs that had restrictive registration requirements are now backpedalling on those requirements.)

Thankfully, our good friend Adam is a persistent fellow and he manages to gather the necessary paperwork and provides it to his registrar and – lo and behold – Adam is now the proud new owner of LearnToPlay.banjo.

Adam is so excited. He hires a designer to start working on logo ideas. He starts planning his Learn to Play Banjo Website. He starts writing copy. Everything is going according to plan.

But several more horrible things could happen to Adam’s new domain name in the coming weeks, months, and years.

First, Adam’s new domain name might get clawed back by the registry.

We all know this has happened to consumers, and regardless of the “reasons” given, and regardless of whether the fault lay with the registry or the registrar, this is a terrible way to treat early-adopter customers like Adam.

Thankfully for Adam, his domain isn’t clawed back. But Adam still has a nasty surprise waiting in store for him.

Adam paid $1,000 for his premium .banjo domain name, so he’s expecting to be able to renew it for $20, which is what most .banjo registrations and renewals are priced at and is what consumers are used to. Why is that? Because we as an industry have conditioned consumers to this pattern over the last two decades.

Unfortunately for Adam, he doesn’t realize that his premium .banjo domain comes with a premium renewal price. 12 months later, Adam is shocked to discover he needs to fork over another $1,000 to merely renew his domain name.

So… How would you feel if you were Adam? Do you think he’s got a right to be angry? Frustrated? Disappointed?

I think he does. Because he’s been forgotten.

I think Adam is owed an apology. I think all of us in the domain industry need to remember Adam if we’re involved in making decisions about how we will market, price, and distribute new TLD domains.

Bottom line: Never forget the consumer. Never forget Adam.

I could mention a whole bunch of other irritants and obstacles that consumers have told me they face with the new TLD program, but I don’t want to dwell on the negative.

Instead, let’s turn our attention to defining success with the new TLDs. Because I am a marketer at heart, consumers like Adam figure prominently in how I think we should measure the success.

To me this is quite simple, especially if we keep the consumer in our mind the entire time.

Here are some metrics I think we should use – or aspire to use – to measure success of the new TLDs:

  • what percentage of the new TLD domains are renewed every year
  • how many new TLD domains are developed into actual websites (and not parked)
  • how many domains are used as the primary domain by the owner and not forwarded to another legacy TLD domain
  • how many new TLD domains are showing up in print ads or TV commercials or on billboards
  • how many of the top 10,000 most trafficked Websites are using a new TLD domain

I think these metrics will give all of us a much clearer picture of whether or not the new TLDs are a success – with the stakeholders that matter the most.

In closing, and in case you doubted it, I love this industry. It’s made up of smart and hardworking people who have lots of great ideas and are doing some very cool things.

I’d like to single out Jeff Sass and Colin Campbell of .CLUB who have done a phenomenal job of bringing their new TLD to market in a consumer-friendly manner. I’d also like to congratulate the entire DONUTS team for doing a great job educating consumers about the benefits of all new TLDs, not just the many strings that DONUTS has brought to market. I also think Radix has done a better than average job bringing its new TLDs to market in a consumer-friendly fashion.

As I stated at the beginning, I love the new TLDs. But I think in all the excitement of the new TLD program, some of our other industry friends forgot the consumer, forgot the Adam’s of this world, and lost their way.

All of us in this industry can get back on the right track with the new TLDs – if we focus on the consumer and measure the right things.


  1. ^ DOMAINfest Asia (www.domainfest.asia)
  2. ^ domain buyer broker (www.nameninja.com)

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