What's a domain name? What business function do they serve? Can a domain name generate ROI?
I imagine these were the questions the Board of Racing Victoria asked before signing off on the purchase of racing.com to support a Victorian racing industry joint initiative to establish a digital media and content platform similar to that of the AFL.
My industry sources suggest the domain name cost them at least half a million dollars, if not higher. Allow me, from a marketing perspective, to explain why the purchase of racing.com is tantamount to flogging a dead horse.
Vision and execution
A domain name is the digital asset that underpins your entire web presence and acts as a universal signpost to help guide an audience to your website.
In many ways, they're the mainstay execution tool of nearly every marketing strategy you create.
Marketers constantly push the innovation envelope in search of more visionary methods to engage stakeholders. However, a vision without effective execution is merely a hallucination.
For me, effective execution is creating a signpost that let's your audience know exactly what your proposition is even before they land on your website.
And with the rise of search-based call to actions and QR codes in marketing, I'm inclined to think some marketers are completely missing this point.
In the case of racing.com, the vision to establish an industry leading content platform is worthy of praise. It's let down though by an ineffective signpost.
What is racing.com?
The problem with underpinning a $15 million digital media business under racing.com is that it fails the signpost test.
Let's think about it for a second. What is racing? Is the word synonymous with horse racing? Not really. What about car racing, boat racing or bike racing? Perhaps you're talking about pigeon racing!
When I Googled the word racing, the first result was a news item about American NASCAR racing.
Also, what inference does the .com add? Where is .com located? What does it stand for? Does it tell your target audience that your business is focused on Victoria? Certainly not.
The domain name racing.com is not a very useful signpost to direct people to a website about horse racing in Victoria, Australia. It's too generic, won't be assisted by search and is a poor execution of a good vision.
Now let's try the radio recall test.
Imagine you heard an ad on the radio for Victoria's new digital horse racing news platform and there was a call to action at the end of the ad for racing.com. What do you think most people would remember about the ad and how would they act upon it?
I think the theme of horse racing in Victoria would be the strongest key message. Whilst you might remember a mention of a .com web address, my intuitive reaction would be to visit horseracing.com or Racing Victoria's corporate website.
Interestingly, our research shows Australians have been conditioned to visit websites ending in .au when looking for locally-based content. This is because .au is Australia's home online.
My experience tells me that an ad for racing.com in Australia will leak a lot of traffic to racing.com.au, which is unfortunately owned by betting company Tabcorp. That's a nice win for Tabcorp!
The problem is that racing.com does not have an intrinsic connection with Victorian horse racing that would lend itself to intuitive navigation and recall.
The most unfortunate aspect about the decision to pay a high-end, six-figure sum for racing.com is the fact domain names are now radically transforming.
Hundreds of new domain name suffixes such as .menu, .monash and .sydney are being added to the Internet alongside the familiar .com, offering individuals and businesses like Racing Victoria greater domain name availability, choice and innovative.
Unlike the meaningless and unintuitive .com, these new domain names allow for a clear and descriptive signpost that let's your audience know exactly what your business is about even before they land on your website. They provide an affinity to a geographic location or market vertical that .com is unable to do.
Take for instance .racing which is set to launch soon. It would offer a more creative and relevant domain name such as horses.racing, victorian.racing or vichorses.racing.
Another option would be .melbourne. Country-level geographic locators such as .au, .nz and .uk have helped organise the Internet and now we have the option to take this to the city-level. I'm not saying racing.melbourne or horses.melbourne is appropriate, but it would be somewhat more specific.
There is also a .horse Top-Level Domain and almost 1400 other options that will become available over the next year.
The fact is, the launch and use of these new domain names will soon make the purchase of half-million dollar .com domain names look silly.
It's all about connecting your vision with an intuitive, memorable and efficient signpost.
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