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Registration Numbers Not the Only Success Measure for New TLDs

Adrian Kinderis

Like many, I've been watching the rollout of the first 150+ new Top-Level Domains (TLD) with interest.

Since the delegation of شبكة. back in October, we've seen all sorts of TLDs launched — from brands like .monash to generics like .build.

There has been intense scrutiny within our industry on the zone file registration numbers of these delegated TLDs to measure whether or not they are successful.

To be fair, this is not a surprise. We've been conditioned by past generic TLD launches to focus on registration numbers. Whether it was .mobi, .travel, .info or.co, all previous TLDs have been measured on registration volume — and more worryingly against the benchmark of .com.

Despite being the new TLD program, many in our industry are still persisting with their old TLD ways of thinking.

How will these same people measure the success of .brands and .geos? Remember, it's a whole new ball game which requires a different way of thinking because the goal posts have moved.

Early numbers mean nothing

The fact that .guru has 40,000 domain name registrations and .graphics only has 4000 means nothing. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Outlandish claims like those seen by .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell that .club will overtake .guru in week one are symptomatic of our industry's naive focus on raw numbers over qualitative results.

Even my own marketing team is guilty of getting caught up in the hype of zone file number reporting. I had to remind them via Twitter recently that there are many ways of determining a top performing new TLD.

The fact of the matter is, raw numbers mean nothing and a focus on use, engagement, purpose and sustainable revenues are far better measures of success.

What is success?

New TLD operators should be judged on their whole-of-business operational performance to take account of stakeholder engagement, customer satisfaction, strategy planning and financial modeling.

Don't get me wrong, domain name registration numbers matter. It's just that you can't determine the success or failure of a new TLD by comparing it to other TLDs. You can only judge a TLD against its intended purpose and strategy.

Think about .brand TLDs for a second. Registration numbers mean nothing and their entire model is based on how their TLD is integrated into the organisation's digital strategy. Geographics and IDNs also have a very different proposition than traditional generics.

In attempting to measure success, I'd suggest onlookers focus on:

  1. Use: Is the namespace being used in a meaningful way and is there evidence of usage and development with the domain names? Are registrants building businesses and content within the namespace?
  2. Sustainable revenues: Who is registering domain names and what is the prospect for renewals? Will the TLD retain registrations or do registrants see it as a fad?
  3. Trust: Will end users come to trust the namespace and the content hosted within it? Are these registrants helping to establish trust in the namespace?
  4. Purpose: What's the mission and purpose of the namespace (question 18) and are the registration numbers and content living up to these aspirations?
  5. Audience: Is the registry operator targeting a clearly defined audience? Is that audience responsive to the product being offered?

Ask yourself, in the first month of general availability for a generic TLD, would you rather have 10,000 parked domain names registered by domainers with little likelihood of long-term renewal, or would you opt for 100 domain name registrations by major global brands in your target audience who use your namespace to host their entire website?

A strategy reliant on defensive registrations and parked domains is doomed to fail --
and is completely ignorant of the new market dynamics within the industry.

In any case, it's still far too early to accurately measure the long-term viability of any new TLD. But a focus away from registration numbers and an emphasis on use and purpose would be more appropriate.

TLDs like شبكة. haven't even started their marketing and awareness campaigns yet and the impact of name collisions is holding back many operators from fully implementing their strategic plan to deliver their mission and purpose.

Remember, the game has changed and so have the goal posts.

By Adrian Kinderis, Vice President Corporate Development at Neustar
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Hi Adrian,Your proposed short-term success measures can Alex Tajirian  –  Mar 19, 2014 1:57 AM PDT

Hi Adrian,

Your proposed short-term success measures can be collapsed into one, namely use. No use means no sustainable revenue; No trust leads to no use; Purpose is a subset of your definition of use; and no audience means no use.

Comparing the number of “uses” and their growth rates over launch cycles of the TLDs can provide useful success information.

Interesting points, Adrian,Global brands in a new John McCormac  –  Mar 19, 2014 9:39 AM PDT

Interesting points, Adrian,
Global brands in a new TLD can be invisible because people already have their .com or .ccTLD equivalent in memory. The real drivers are the mom and pop businesses and the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) rather than big brands. Once these pick a new gTLD as their primary brand it creates the classic use => visibility => acceptance => trust => use virtuous circle.

There is also the problem of inaccurate "usage" surveys pushed by registries to create the perception that their TLD has a higher usage than it has in reality. The real usage patterns take a while to appear in the new gTLDs but a key one (over Year 0 and Year 1) is the Abandonment Trend. That's where a website starts and ends with a "Hello World" post as the registrant abandons any further development. What may be apparent in some of the new gTLDs is the use of the domains for forwarding to the registrant's primary .com/.ccTLD website. The last time I did a major survey of one recently launched repurposed ccTLD, there were more domains used like this than there were developed unique/active websites.

Some of the other patterns appear after the first six months of operation (the classic Sunrise/Landrush phases) where new registrations volume stabilises to a steadier level. Because of the highly specific nature of some new gTLD strings, that period might be compressed and those patterns might develop sooner than they would with a mass-market/global "generic" TLD

No, not "name collisions" Andrew Gardner  –  Mar 19, 2014 4:34 PM PDT

"and the impact of name collisions is holding back many operators from fully implementing their strategic plan"

It's not "name collisions" that have impacted, it's Engineers mistaking natural traffic as name collisions that has upset things.

.CLUB response to "Outlandish" and "Naive" Colin Campbell  –  Mar 20, 2014 12:15 AM PDT

Adrian,

Thanks for noting the interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Kevin Murphy at Domain Incite.  I was asked if I still believed .CLUB would do as well as I initially thought. I responded with a resounding yes, and stated that I believed it would become the number one new generic domain extension in 2014 beating .GURU in the first week.  I firmly believe that based on pre-registration demand that we will hit that goal.

I feel compelled to respond to the comment “Outlandish claims like those seen by .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell that .club will overtake .guru in week one are symptomatic of our industry's naive focus on raw numbers over qualitative results.”

First, I have to agree with you. I do believe quality trumps quantity. From my experience in helping deregulate .CA in 1998, we found that success came only after we had end users actively using and promoting the name. .CA meant something to Canadians. Those top level domains that “have meaning” will ultimately have sustainability. If I were a chef, I don’t think any top level domain would be better for me than .CHEF.  Over the last few months we have seen success amongst a few leaders and tepid growth from the majority of names that have launched. This can be partly attributed to a complicated ICANN process which has encouraged lesser known names to surface first while the most popular terms like .WEB, and .SHOP remain in contention.

I do think .GURU is a great name, and feel that it passes “Frank Shilling’s” toilet paper test.  You can put almost anything in front of .GURU, a test you can easily apply to .CLUB as well.

Although, the fact is .GURU is not as commonly used as .CLUB. A simple search of Google shows that “club” has more than 10 times the results as “guru.”

Another data point is the US trademark database which shows that club is associated with 89,000 terms and guru with 1,100.

Lastly, .CLUB has been featured on almost every top 10 list or most popular list including the 7th most popular name on Godaddy’s watch list:

http://nic.club/godaddy-gtld-cheat-sheet-puts-club-top-ten/

Although, it has done well, .GURU failed to even get on the UnitedDomains top 50 list.  So yes, my claim may appear to be “outlandish”, but it is based on facts.  Guru is a great name, but I firmly believe “club” has much broader global appeal and use cases, and that in the end the numbers will reflect that.

Colin Campbell
CEO, .CLUB

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