The world is just waking up to the fact that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been accepting applications for new generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, since 2012 and that hundreds of these gTLDs have already been approved through Initial Evaluation, with more being approved every week. It is expected that the new extensions will begin appearing online in the second half of 2013, and over 1,000 new extensions will likely be added to the Internet by 2014.
But if you're reading this, you've known this for a long time. In fact, you may have just gotten word that your application is approved.
Congratulations! Awesome news… but, what now?
You've put all of this time, money and effort into getting a valuable domain extension, but even if your application has been approved, there is still a lot to be done before you're able to go out and start marketing and selling. Consider taking this time to hone in on your strategy and prepare for a successful launch.
You're not alone if this is the first time you, or your company, has launched a TLD — after all, ICANN has controlled the Doman Name System very tightly until now. So how do you know what to expect next? Once you've gotten the "go ahead," how do you know where you should focus your efforts to launch with a big splash and finally begin generating revenue?
As a company that has helped launch TLDs in the past, and as a neutral observer in the new TLD process (i.e. we did not apply for any TLDs of our own), here are a few tips that Sedo has gained over the last ten plus years in the industry.
When developing a launch strategy, it's important to place significant emphasis on your registry's premium names. Obviously they're the most valuable, so selling a few good names up front has the potential to jump start revenue. In addition, getting a few premium names in the hands of end users that have aggressive marketing plans (or budgets) is free advertising for your registry and could drive general interest. With that in mind, here are five things you need to think about when preparing your premium sales and auction strategy.
1. Data Gets You Started; Not All Premium Lists Are Created Equal – Identifying your most valuable domain assets is one of the first things you should do. But, at the same time, as you create a list of premium addresses, think about which ones you may want to place on reserve for later sales. Put simply, you need to know which possible addresses will be worth more to you than the others. You have one chance to do this correctly — and you don't want to leave money on the table or let a potential "category killer" slip through the cracks because you didn't correctly identify the opportunities in front of you.
A historical view is important in order to accurately crunch the numbers. What has been popular in the past? What types of domains have consistently sold or increased in value? Which ones have decreased? How about international opportunities — have you considered what domains wouldn't be successful in North America, but might be of huge interest in other parts of the world? What non-English domains could be valuable with your TLD?
History, as they say, offers lessons, and without access to historical data to make your decisions you will already be at a disadvantage. You need to use every advantage possible to ensure that you get the best possible list, so you don't miss out on potential revenue.
2. Auction Everything? Or Develop a Sales Strategy? Auctions are a good way to generate revenues quickly. However, many times the highest sale prices don't come in an auction. This is because it can be difficult for the 'perfect' buyer(s) to know that the auction is happening at X date. Many registries are neglecting the idea of using a longer term approach, including sales distribution channels and premium domain marketplaces.
It is important to understand, however, that there is no "one-size-fits-all" way to sell domains under your TLD:
• It's important to actively look for strategic deals early on, via the Brokerage and Business Development of your premium domains. Your focus should be finding end users that will develop, use and actively market their company or product under your new TLD.
• All new TLDs must hold a Sunrise period to give trademark holders an opportunity to pre-register related names. Sunrise is a key opportunity for early cash flow, but you need to properly drive awareness of when the period will begin and end and identify potential leads.
• A Landrush period is another excellent way to secure cash flow for your extension. It's customary to hold a Landrush so anyone can submit an application to get early access to the domains they really want. But did you know a Landrush is not something that's mandated by ICANN? It's optional, so it's worth carefully considering the benefits (quick cash flow, free publicity from usage of the domain) and drawbacks (potential for domain value to increase if extension is successful) to your new registry. Competition and conflict auctions give some high demand domains a strong chance at very high values (higher than you may ever have expected).
• Auctions are a key element to your success as well – and to auction domains successfully, you need to have global reach, a way to weed out fraudulent bidders and the international expertise to make sure the widest audience possible can bid. A good thing to remember is that there is a huge appetite for English language domains outside of North America, so make sure you can reach those buyers globally!
3. Take Your Marketing Strategy Seriously – Businesses today understand the power of a good domain name. Whether a premium "category killer" name or a company's own proper name, the right domain makes a company easy to find and helps it stand out in searches. Businesses will want to get in on names they may have had to pay six- or seven-figure sums for as a .com, or names that line up with their existing or planned products. This is why you need to start marketing now. Where is my market and how can I reach it?
The first step is developing a consistent message that will connect with your most valuable audience, be it a specific audience like skiers (.ski, for example), or a general one like business technology users (.web, for example). When it comes to executing, stick to that message across all channels to really drive it home. You need to take marketing seriously and pick your strategy wisely — and early.
4. Choose Your Registrar Distribution Strategy – Target registrars that make the most sense for distributing your new gTLD. You want to look for global reach and areas of activity — in short, who do I need to work with to reach the greatest amount of potential buyers in the shortest amount of time?
Registrars may actually come into the picture when you're considering premium name sales too. Many registrars are not set up to sell premium domains, while others have joined premium networks that have been in place for years, enabling end users that are looking for a "regularly priced" name to also see an option for a premium name that may suit them better. When choosing registrars and premium sales partners, it's worth looking into synergies between the two so all your domains get the best visibility in front of potential buyers. When doing so, make sure the partner you choose will act as a true partner, helping with launch, promotion and everything in between.
5. Data Keeps Your TLD Strong; Build Valuable Market Data and Harness it Moving Forward – Data is key, which is why it bookends a solid strategy. If you're successful with the above and have a solid sales and marketing strategy in place, then this will be a repeatable process and you'll want to track sales and customer data. It's important to retain and refine your data to help you grow as the TLD grows. A strong partner can help you to do this and re-market or continue marketing to the same groups in a way that keeps your premium domain strategy fresh.
The planning phase that you enter as soon as your application makes it through initial evaluation — if not sooner — is a critical period that will ultimately determine whether your new gTLD is a success or a failure. There are several steps that need to be undertaken correctly, from identifying which domains will be the most valuable under your new extension, to making sure that you find the audience most likely to purchase them. Taking the extra time to consider these steps carefully and begin executing on them immediately will give you a lasting advantage over other new gTLDs as they are approved and released.
By Tobias Flaitz, Chief Executive Officer at Sedo Holding AG
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