What can Brands learn from the Domain Industry?

By Peter Shackleton


January saw the third NamesCon conference take place in Las Vegas, an event that over the last couple of years has become the focal point for the Domain Industry, regulators and those with involvement in the domain space to get together and both learn and shape how the industry is evolving.

Now the dust has settled (and most of the calories burned off from a week in Nevada), I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the question of what the outside world, and in particular brands, can gleam and benefit from the industry.

For someone who has only been involved in the Domain Industry for a couple of years, events like NamesCon have been a fantastic way to better understand how the industry works, and even more interestingly, how the industry is evolving.

Prior to becoming involved in digital assets and in particular domain names, my awareness of the Domain Industry was, I would imagine, fairly similar to most; I knew of domain names as the text in a browser address bar, I had a tacit understanding that there were different suffixes such as dotCom and dotCo.uk, but most of what I had read about domain names was invariably as part of an article relating to “cybersquatting”. I had no idea there was an industry associated with domains or ever considered the concept of domains as commodities. As a result, attending my first conference, I was walking very much into the unknown and half expecting to feel a certain kinship with Obi-Wan Kenobi when he stood on the hills outside of the Mos Eisley spaceport and declared to Luke Skywalker “never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”……………..the reality however has been a far different, and far more engaging experience.

Outside of the registrars and registries (the technical infrastructure behind domain names), the industry is predominantly made up of investors and entrepreneurs who use domain names as the platform for new ventures and the service providers that help them achieve those goals. Domain names are, on the whole for the industry, commodities, no different to stocks and shares. For most outside the industry, that probably seems like a strange concept and, I know for many businesses it can be a frustrating one when they find the domain they are after is already registered. But consider this; if, as an investor, I told you there was an investment opportunity where the 10 year Compound Annual Growth Rate had been 7.9% (as that has been for dotCom domains), would you think again?

The domain market is no different from any other commodity market. In this case being driven by the fact that short, memorable or easier to remember domain names are highly sort after and have a tangible value. It’s not a new phenomenon either. Remember 1 800 numbers?

So that’s all well and good and hopefully those reading this from outside the industry might have a slightly better idea why it exists, but the question for this blog was what brands can learn from the industry? I ask the question as, for someone who’s come into the industry after working for major brands, it is plainly evident how little overlap and awareness there is between brands / corporates and the domain industry itself, so here are three points of learning that are worth mentioning:

  • Domains and Search Engine Optimisation: SEO is the darkest of dark arts and is an area where businesses of all kinds are continually looking for examples of how the domain, content, architecture, keywords etc link together to improve performance. A lot of this testing, especially with domain related variables such as new gTLDs, can be seen being ‘stress tested’ by entrepreneurs and investors in the domain industry to improve click through and value. Take any number of examples such as coffee.club or 3carat.diamonds, there are a plethora that are worth keeping an eye on;

  • Domain names as assets: Domains, on the most part, are assets, especially those that are the main digital destination for a brand. But how many companies actually recognise their key digital destinations as such? In the same way that domains work for brands online, they should work on the balance sheet, being attributed a notional value and amortised as you might other intangible items such as a Trademark portfolio. Doing this requires a structured and justifiable means of valuation, which is precisely what the domain industry has been doing for years;

  • Buyers: The monetisation of domain names is not a new idea, but it is an untapped concept for most corporate / brands. Digital strategies and requirements change on a frequent basis, but it’s rare that brands look to divest domains and realise funds from the sale of domain names back into their business. The domain industry provides a marketplace to sell both high value assets as well as the transactional names via the secondary market (the eBay equivalent for domain names);

Whilst the Domain Industry is far from perfect, it is certainly not anywhere close to the image that Obi-Wan may have described, and is an industry that has some insight that brands can make use of.

May the force be with you!