Running a Proper Domain Test

Are you getting the most from your traffic?

I’ve been in the business of managing domain traffic for nearly two decades, the last of which has been as one of the co-founders of ParkLogic. In this article I will share with you how a proper analytic traffic test should be constructed and the pitfalls that so many people fall into….which ultimately robs them of increased revenues.

Escrow.com

Let’s imagine you have a reasonable amount of traffic revenue at your current monetisation partner. By reasonable I mean at least $250 per day. For those of you that think this is impossibly high then you can stop reading hear and continue to believe that domain traffic monetisation is dead. Everyone else can keep on reading.

Let me say from the outset that if you have left your domains with the same parking company for more than a few months then I can almost guarantee that you’re leaving money on the table. For a start, we see that around 60% of all domains achieve greater results from non-Google sources.

In constructing a test, you need to have around $100/day of revenue (based on the previous month’s stats) from a couple hundred domains. Some domains should be doing a few dollars per day, while others should still have traffic but do no revenue. This will provide a good statistical sample that will help verify whether the new monetisation partner is actually performing or not.

Any new partner worth working with should then ask for these numbers. If you think you’re being clever and not providing them by asking them to perform their “best” then all you’re actually doing is delaying the optimisation cycle. The new company will have no idea where to concentrate their resources unless they have the numbers.

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Domain Traffic Monetisation Continues to Grow

For those of you that listen to the naysayers and believe that monetising your domain traffic is dead then think again. The reason why domain traffic continues to be valuable is because advertisers want to reach potential customers.

Escrow.com

This demand for quality traffic has continued to increase while the volume of high value traffic has decreased as domains were dropped. Since the supply is diminishing and the demand increasing then the price paid for the traffic has gone UP over the last few years.

The question has to be asked, “If the price being paid by advertisers is going up then why are most domain investors experiencing a decline in their traffic based revenues?”

The answer is really simple. The advertising aggregators (of which Google is the largest) is taking a bigger slice of the pie. Ask yourself a really simple question, “How much of your earnings are exposed to Google?”

If the answer is “a lot” then don’t be surprised by the decline in your earnings. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Are you doing the same thing as you’ve always done?

So how do you get an improvement in your results? I like to think about this in a similar manner to the gold rush. Many years ago, a farmer stubbed their toe on a rock, only to discover the rock was a nugget of gold. This was like the first domain investors monetising their domain traffic. It was an awesome time of easy money!

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mgilmour
That is true. What Google does have is a breadth of advertisers. I think this competitive advantage will be eroded over time but i... Read More
30 May 2018
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Maximising Domain Revenue

After publishing the article, “Getting Dirty in the Domain Data”, earlier this week I ended up having an interesting discussion with a domain investor. I thought that it would be worthwhile continuing to pull apart the data from the previous post to help many domain investors understand why optimising traffic across multiple monetisation solution is so beneficial.

Escrow.com

I will be referring to the data from the previous article so you may wish to read it if you haven’t done so already.

Sampling by Changing the DNS

Many domain investors sample different parking providers by changing the DNS. This method is fraught with many problems that largely stem from comparing results from single sources across different periods of time. Some of the challenges are:

1.      What are you measuring?
Revenue is not a good measurement of success as there will be different levels of traffic at different points in time. Since parking companies count traffic different you can’t rely on the produced Revenue Per Thousand Visitors (RPM) numbers.

2.      Data Distortion
When testing different parking providers over different periods of time you can get massive distortions in the data from seasonality in both the domains and the time of year. In the example from the previous article the domain had massive results in May to July due to it being a travel related domain.

3.      Traffic Leakage
There is a propagation delay each time you change the DNS and this creates more traffic leakage and no new information. In some extreme cases where the TTL (Time To Live) for the domain is long the DNS may not update for months for some users.

The Cost of Information

Some investors believe in splitting traffic equally across multiple solutions and then at some point in time sending all the traffic to the monetisation company that pays the most. This is one of the worst ways to optimise domain traffic and here is the reason why.

There are a lot of strategies around sampling but they basically boil down the single question, “What did the information cost?” In other words, if I was earning one dollar with one company and then sampled another company and found they were paying 90 cents then the information cost me 10 cents.

Minimising these "information costs" is crucial to optimisation. From the example domain, A.COM, in the previous article if we sample the traffic equally across the different parking companies then the portfolio would have earned $1611 versus $2217 or 38% less overall (ignoring direct advertisers).

Every domain needs its own sample regime. At the most simplistic level domains with less traffic should be sampled less often compared to domains with high levels of traffic. In each case, what you are after is a statistically significant result that allows you to decide where to route the traffic. If you don’t have a statistically large enough sample, then you’re guessing.

Real-Time Decision Making

All traffic routing decisions need to be made on a real-time basis. Based upon the data, decisions need to be made literally milli-second by milli-second. I can only speak for my company, ParkLogic, as we use dynamically changing data from multiple inputs to alter not only the routing decisions of traffic but what is displayed on the page and ultimately which advertisers are engaged.

As an example, we track over 250 different metrics for every domain every day and process this data to alter how the traffic is routed. Layered over the top of this daily data we then can then incorporate external dynamic data such as geo-based weather.

Everything must lead to a decision....otherwise it's just intellectually interesting but pointless.

Winning Solutions Constantly Change

If you sample other solutions (however you decide to do it) and then lock that solution in for an extended period of time, then you will be losing. The data from the previous article clearly shows that even for a single domain the winning parking company changes constantly (see below table).

For example, if we routed ALL the traffic through to Voodoo (average winner) and applied Voodoo's payout rates each month then Voodoo would have paid out $436 for the ten-month period. The domain actually earned $4531 for the same period of time (including direct advertisers). The reason for this was a combination of an advertiser paying a lot for the traffic in May-Jul and other parking solutions beat Voodoo the majority of the time.

This doesn't mean Voodoo is bad....as they actually did win for a couple of months. Remember the data is summarised on a monthly basis and can only testify to the fact that the same behaviour exists at the daily and even changes milli-second by milli-second.

Winners

Benchmarking Results Must be Done Simultaneously

I mentioned this point briefly when discussing the problems with sampling via DNS but it is important to reiterate it. Testing new solutions must be conducted at the same point in time otherwise distortions in the results will occur and incorrect decisions made.

Let’s imagine I used the domain’s revenue results in June as the baseline data and compared this to any new parking company in September. I could erroneously conclude that the new company was hopeless! Remember that A.COM (in the previous article) is a travel domain and has extraordinary performance in June.

Understanding Data

I’m in a discussion right now with a customer where about one hundred of their domains just aren’t performing. I’m not worried about this customer leaving ParkLogic as we are both working through the data to understand why their performance is down.

Too many domain investors immediately bail on their existing partner and whip their domains out somewhere else in the vain hope they will perform better. This syndrome has a saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” In other words, you will always think somewhere else is better than where you are.

My advice is don’t do a knee jerk reaction and move your domains. Sit down and dig into the data and really understand what’s going on with the traffic. We are in an industry that is built upon data and if you wish to get abnormal returns then it’s vitally important that you get your arms around it or work with a partner that can help you do so.

 

I hope the few items I’ve raised here in this article will help give you a fresh perspective on your own domain portfolio. Over the years I’ve found that earning more from domain traffic is not always the solution that investors are after. What they want to know is they are maximising their returns and there is proof that this is being done.

Anyone can have a good or bad month but knowing that there are systems and experts in place that are monitoring and understanding the results is really where it’s at. This is particularly the case if you must report to investors or a board. Having the data to confidently know that everything that can be done is being done often alleviates the concerns of the most aggressive directors!

Greenberg and Lieberman

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mgilmour
I agree.....we take that responsibility on at ParkLogic and aggregate all payments into a central single monthly payment. This is ... Read More
01 November 2016
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Part 1 – Why Domain Portfolio Optimisation Works

I recently had the privilege of conducting a session at Domaining Europe on the topic of monetisation. Many domain investors have fallen into the trap that monetisation is dead and let me share with you that nothing is further from the truth. Domain monetisation is alive, well and thriving.

Escrow.com

What has happened, is like any industry there has been an evolution in technology. Those that have kept up with the technological curve remain successful while those that don’t struggle to remain in business.

This is not dissimilar to the days of the buggy whip manufacturer. During the days of horse drawn carts they made an absolute killing. Then a strange contraption initially known as a mechanical horse came onto the market. This technological innovation was really expensive so the buggy whip makers all laughed at the early version of the motor car and continued to make their whips. The rest is history and other than the handful of craftsman buggy whip makers are no more.

It’s the same thing in the domain industry. On one of my recent trips around the world I was talking to a domain owner that had been in the industry for years and he was decrying that monetisation was dead. I asked him one question, “What are you doing now that you weren’t doing five years ago?”

He replied, “I’m doing the same thing.”

I then said, “So you are expecting a different result by doing the same thing? You do know that’s the definition of insanity, don’t you?”

Of course, he wasn’t insane but how many domain investors behave in exactly the same manner? Five years ago they placed all of their domains with a single company, watch their revenue line fall and then claim that it has nothing to do with their own behaviour but the industry. The problem with these domainers is that they are still trying to make buggy whips rather than innovate.

So in this series of articles I’m going to share with you what I do with my own domain portfolio and more importantly why I do it. Since I’m a numbers guy, as much as possible I’m going to track everything back to facts rather than fiction and gut reaction.

When I think about optimising my domain portfolio I place each asset into one of four main buckets.

1.      Development
2.      Traffic
3.      Stock-items
4.      High value

In terms of development, I have whizzbangsblog.com and after a hiatus of about five years I’m in the process of rebuilding my aviation website downwind.com. Why these two domains? I’m passionate about both sites and I really enjoy engaging with readers. For example, those of you that have left comments here at whizzbangsblog quickly discover that I really enjoy replying to questions and helping other domain investors out in any way I can.

Developing a website that you’re passionate about is really important as it will spur you on to write or work on the site into the years ahead. I was speaking to a domain investor about developing a website into a business and I shared that it was actually really easy to do. In my case, all I had to do was write an average of three articles a week for nine years. Voila! Success :-)

I’m actually really proud of the articles here on whizzbangsblog and I often find myself trawling back through the archives to review how my thinking on a topic has developed over the years. I also find that I do much of my thinking about the domain industry and all of the opportunities within it while writing articles. It may sound strange but it’s my way of relaxing.

Every domain investor should have a couple of projects that they are developing into real businesses. In the case of whizzbangsblog I have the privilege of Escrow.com and Epik sponsoring my blog and this helps fund my time for writing.

I'm really careful about the number of sponsors and who sponsors my blog as I'm tying my own reputation to the services being offered by the sponsors. If their services aren't any good then it reflects badly on me.

With the relaunch of downwind I will be seeking aviation industry advertising as the traffic grows.

What’s really important is that when you develop a domain, develop it into a business. Don’t try and make something pretty because you like pretty websites. Focus on the end goal of how you will make money from the site so that what you develop is sustainable over time.

For the record, it doesn’t take much to get a good website up and running. There’s many different platforms available for managing the content. I personally use Joomla but wordpress is just as good.

If you spend over $1,000 getting an initial launch of a website put together then you’re probably spending too much. Make sure you get your first dollar of revenue in as fast as possible and whatever happens, learn from customer feedback!

In the next articles I’m going to dive really deep into my thinking around the four business models and how they help me optimise my domain portfolio for greater profitability. In the process I also plan on revisiting the series on pricing domains.

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london555
Hi Michael-great post so thank you. We own the name eEconomist.com and have thought it would be a great name for a worldclass econ... Read More
27 June 2016
mgilmour
John, I'm glad I could be of assistance. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to chat about your domain.
28 June 2016
mgilmour
It's easy to say yes to money and then realise that you've made a BIG mistake.
28 June 2016
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How To Conduct a Domain Traffic Test - Part 2

This is the second article in the series on conducting a domain traffic test. The first article can be read by going to: How to Conduct a Domain Traffic Test - Part 1

For the past 8 years I’ve been looking at nRPM (normalised RPM) numbers and routing traffic to the best solutions at any point in time. This has produced significant gains for clients and well worth the effort of getting messy in the numbers.

Escrow.com

So now that there is an agreed set of definitions for metrics what do we need to do to conduct a traffic test? There are two main approaches:

1.      Using baseline data

2.      Using the existing monetisation account

When conducting a traffic test most domain owners provide us with the previous month’s stats to be measured against. One of the problems with this is that we don’t have the raw traffic numbers to generate a normalised RPM. One of the good things is although the stats are taken from a different time period they can be useful in focusing attention on which domains are clear winners and losers. Regardless of the outcome we need to understand why we are winning or losing.

For example, what’s the point in claiming victory if the domain has twice as much traffic during the testing period compared to the baseline? Although good, it would be false to say that it was due to traffic optimisation.

For larger traffic tests it’s far better to adopt option two and run the test by integrating the existing monetisation account into the traffic mix and then sample around 20% of the traffic elsewhere. If the new monetisation sources win the traffic, then all of that domain’s traffic is then moved to the new provider.

For example, let’s imagine that you have all of your traffic going to an account at Domain Sponsor. You want to check out if they are still the best solution for your traffic so you ask me to setup a traffic test. The first thing we do is integrate your existing Domain Sponsor account into ParkLogic and then leave 80% of the traffic still flowing through to DS while we test other monetisation solutions with the remaining 20%.

So rather than having to move all of your traffic you are now only risking 20%. Remember that 20% will earn some money (hopefully more than DS) so your revenue risk is more than likely going to become a win. What’s even better is that we can clearly establish a nRPM for the traffic flowing through to DS and know beyond any doubt who is actually paying the best at that point in time.

With traffic optimisation it’s vitally important that each domain is reviewed and treated as a unique case. There is no point in optimising across an entire portfolio is you don’t also focus on the domains themselves. It’s like the old saying, “look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.” The domains are the pennies and the portfolio is the dollars.

The next article will continue to unpack what metrics we focus on in a traffic test.

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Michael Gilmour has been in business for over 32 years and has both a BSC in Electronics and Computer Science and an MBA. He was the former vice-chairman of the Internet Industry Association in Australia and is in demand as a speaker at Internet conferences the world over. He has also recently published his first science fiction book, Battleframe.

Michael is passionate about working with online entrepreneurs to help them navigate their new ventures around the many pitfalls that all businesses face. Due to demands on his time, Michael may be contacted by clicking here for limited consulting assignments.

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