Gambling on Domains

Are you gambling on domains?

I must admit that I’ve never really understood the business model underpinning domain sales. I know that in this article I may rain on your parade and for that I’m sorry….but please help me out in getting over some of my possibly faulty logic

Escrow.com

The state of the market for domain names is that it has fallen from a peak growth of 11.7% in 2015 to 1.2% in 2017. The 2015 peak was spurred on by two factors:
•    The Chinese domain boom
•    Greater release of new gTLDs

When you begin to drill down into the data it becomes even more interesting. For instance, .COM grew by 6.4% in 2015 and is growing by 2.8% in 2017. The legacy TLDs (eg. org, net etc) grew by 1.5% in 2015 and slipped backwards by -1.9%. The surprise was the ccTLDs (country codes). In 2015 they were growing by 14% while in 2017 they are beating .COM out with a growth rate of 3.9%. I must admit that I love ccTLDs and have made a lot of money from them over the years.

The sorry tale is the new TLDs. After exploding out of the blocks in 2015 with a growth of 196% they are now contracting by 14.6%. Many have stated that this is not surprising as speculators leave the market but when you consider that over 50% of the domains are parked then you’ve got to ask what’s actually happening. The simple answer is some of the extensions (eg. XYZ) are experiencing massive drops which is influencing the numbers overall…..so no panic here for the truly good extensions.

Ignoring the decline in the new TLDs the overall growth in the market is around 4.8% or approximately 9 million more domains from 2016 to 2017. This is an important number as it represents the demand side of the market and should dynamically influence the sale price of domains.

The other curve is a little frightening…..the supply curve. Since the new TLDs were released, the market has been swamped with a massive level of supply. This is not the early days of the Internet where there was .COM, the CC’s and a few others. We are now in an environment where the supply is so large that it MUST impact the sales price.

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mgilmour
I based this roughly on overall market share. Yes, many domains are sold privately but I think not as many as people would have yo... Read More
11 October 2018
mgilmour
Many thanks for the extensive comment! My understanding was the $150m was the revenue line to GoDaddy not the net revenue. Maybe I... Read More
11 October 2018
mgilmour
Thanks for the correction of .tk.....I forgot to take them into consideration. What is for sure is the domain market is mature and... Read More
11 October 2018
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Is Domain Parking Dead?

Monetisation is NOT dead!

In this blog I’m going to be a little like Rick Schwartz and have a rant. Many domain investors make the mistake of assuming that domain parking is dead and the only real business model is available to them is domains sales. Is domain parking dead? No, it’s not dead but for a growing number of investors it’s morphed into something a lot more sophisticated.

Escrow.com

One of the strengths and weaknesses of traditional domain parking is that behind all the smoke and mirrors lies Google. Google buys a lot of the domain traffic because they have a huge breadth of advertisers. If you have a website that is about "Norwegian Knitting" then it’s likely Google can put relevant advertisements on the page.

The weakness of traditional domain parking is that Google has manoeuvred itself into an unassailable position and has then exploited this position by continually reducing pay-outs. Domain investors shouldn’t be surprised by this behaviour as it’s economically rational in a world that is driven by quarterly earnings calls….so stop complaining and just get over it.

Notice what I said earlier…..Google buys a lot of the traffic. Just because Google is wanting to buy your traffic doesn’t mean you have to sell everything to them. It would be far more sensible to only sell to Google what Google is paying fairly for and then sell to other people what they want to pay more for.

What I've found is the majority of domainers are like a person selling a bucket full of oranges. The buyer (ie. Google) asks if you can throw in your car with the deal and with a grateful smile you say “yes”. In fact, it’s a bit worse than that. Domain investors are selling oranges and Google takes the car without asking because they believe they deserve it. Remember they still only paid orange prices for your car.

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Wolftalker
And 'wow, that's amazing', you've nudged me. So I'll be bringing in a bunch of new domains and I hope we can do something. Che... Read More
06 August 2018
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Getting Into the Numbers...

I had a discussion with a domain investor today that went like this….."Michael, ParkLogic isn’t performing for my portfolio so I’m going to stop the test.” I replied, “Let’s take a look at the numbers and understand what they are saying.”

Escrow.com

We have a standard report that compares a baseline for domain names versus the most recent data. It only took a few minutes to identify the problem….it just so happened that out of over one hundred domains there were five that were pulling down the results for the portfolio.

Without the five domains there was an overall 63% performance increase. Our recommendation was to move the five domains that were pulling down the results and re-baseline them to see if it just so happens an advertising has gone missing during the USA summer period. If the domains popped back up then it was a great win for the client.

Getting into the numbers is key to assessing the performance of a domain portfolio and yet, so many domain investors don’t understand how to do this. The question that I constantly ask is “Why?”. Why are the domain not performing? Why are the domains performing? Why is company X winning the traffic? Why is the traffic going down? Why is the traffic going up? Why are/are not direct advertisers bidding on a domains traffic?

It’s asking the “Why” which leads to a fuller understanding of the overall portfolio performance. For example, without those five badly performing domains there was an overall revenue increase of 75% for domains that had at least 80% of the traffic compared to the baseline. Anyone would have to agree this was a great result!

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Domain Investors Benefit From Global Online Advertising Trends

Each year, venerable venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins, releases a slide deck which has become the “State of the Union” for the Internet. Of the 294 slides, a number immediately caught my attention as they directly impact domain traffic monetisation.

Escrow.com

There are over 3.6B Internet users in the world which represents 49% of the world’s population. The growth in the number of new Internet users getting online is slowing from 12% in 2016 to 7% in 2017. Eventually, you would expect the rate of growth to asymptote at the rate of population growth globally.

What this shows is the Internet is the single largest marketplace in the world and more than that....it's accessible by everyone. Natural type-in domain traffic should continue to increase at similar rates to the overall growth rate. User sophistication and technological innovations will and has impacted this rate of growth. The challenge as always been how to best remove the junk traffic from the real traffic.....more on this in a future article.

Internet User Growth

Internet advertising spend for 2017 in the USA continued to move upwards by 21% to a peak of $88B. Since the growth in the number of online users in the USA is almost flat the value per user from an advertiser’s perspective is continuing to increase. This will place an upward pressure on EPC rates and make domains with traffic that much more valuable.

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Part 8 – Portfolio Management – Traffic Domains

The current series of articles has really provoked some interesting discussions with a number of domain investors. What I have noticed is the high level of emotion that surrounds the whole domain traffic and optimisation debate. Many people have leapt to conclusions rather than look at the data and try to understand what it is saying.

Let me say once again that domain monetisation is not dead. The reason for this is genuine domain traffic contains valuable leads for businesses and advertisers are more than willing to pay for those leads. The goal of optimising your domain traffic is to best match the right advertiser to the right piece of traffic at the right time.

Like any industry, the advertising buying market is very dynamic with wide ranging payout levels at different times during the year, day and even sometimes second. So when I talk about optimising domain name traffic we need to really be as close to real-time as possible. Given the volume of data, the only way to route traffic to the highest paying solution is via algorithmic switching. So is all of this work really worth it?

I recently published some numbers over at the NamePros forum and I thought that it would be worthwhile digging into them here. For full disclosure I should state the data is from my company ParkLogic and we use algorithmic switching of domain traffic.

The data is real and was used as a part of the optimisation process for a particular client. Results for new clients will vary depending upon the optimisation levels and the domains in question.

ParkLogic Results

What the screen capture shows is if we saw at least 100% of the baseline traffic (ie. The same) then we provided a 184% uplift in revenue. At least 80% of the traffic we provided a 162% uplift and for the entire portfolio there was a 127% uplift versus the baseline. In other words, if we saw similar levels of traffic to the baseline data then we knocked the results out of the ball park.

The baseline data came from a portfolio that was currently being optimised across multiple monetisation solutions via Above.com. I have nothing against Above as ParkLogic provides an entirely different service compared to them.

Just for the record, there were some domains where the baseline outperformed our results. This could be for statistical variations across time etc. We would recommend to any client where the baseline outperformed ParkLogic to take those domains away from us and re-baseline them to ensure the results hold true. ParkLogic does NOT win for every domain ALL of the time (versus a baseline) but I can say that we DO send the traffic to the winning monetisation solutions at a particular point in time.

What the data clearly shows is when you apply a level of discipline to optimising a domain portfolio that we do then the improvement can be considerable. The problem is most people try to optimise their portfolio themselves and have convinced themselves that they are saving money in fees.

This is a false economy because the data clearly shows that any fee would be more than covered by the uplift. In addition, the fact that you now have all of your time available is a huge saving in itself!

I don’t normally toot my own horn but ParkLogic really knows its stuff. We’ve been optimising domain portfolios for nearly a decade and when someone comes along and says they’ve built their own optimisation system it’s hard not to roll my eyes. Over the years I’ve heard many approaches……everything from DNS round-robin through to an automated system that leaves traffic at one place for a few days and then moves it to another for testing. I hate to say it but all of them are sub-optimal.

As an example, let’s tackle something really simple, incorporating zero-click real-time bidding (RTB) solutions into the traffic stream. Essentially RTB platforms let you poll them for what they are willing to pay for a piece of traffic. So they may come back with 12 cents as an answer. If you look at the traffic for a domain you may have an earnings per click rate of 10 cents and immediately jump at the 12 cents…..that is actually a really silly thing to do.

What we need to understand is that the 10 cents that is being earned at parking companies is an average across a period of time (typically a day) while the 12 cents is at a point in time. In other words, the 10 cents could be made up of a 20 cent click, a 5 cent click and a 3 cent click which provides an average of 10 cents.

What you don’t want to have happen is the RTB networks take the 20 cent traffic and pay you 12 cents while leave the 5 and 3 cent traffic behind. This would effectively reduce the yield from the traffic. So after around 6 months of testing various methodologies we worked out a system for incorporating RTB networks in an effective manner.

I know this was a simple example but it does give a glimpse into some of the complexities around routing traffic to the highest paying solution. It also illustrates that if you get your maths wrong then you could lose your shirt!

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