Domain Name Industry Forecast: NamesCon 2017

As this year’s conference winds down, V- and C-Suite executives gathered to identify emerging trends from NamesCon 2017. They also predicted trends for the next few years. It was a record-attendance year at NamesCon, so there was a lot of information through which to sort. NamesCon co-founder Jothan Frakes was up to the task, though, with help from some of the most senior people at the conference:

  • John Smrekar (VP of Product and Registrar Operations, Uniregistry)
  • Sandeep Ramchanandi (VP and Business Head, Radix)
  • Paul Nicks (VP of Aftermarket and Product Development, GoDaddy)
  • John Kane (VP of Corporate Services, Afilias)
  • Jeff Eckhaus (SVP, Development and Policy, Rightside) 

Who’s in Charge Here?

Smrekar said that some TLDs are better than others in terms of use cases. .HELP, for example, is getting used a lot by brands and companies for their help centers. “Companies are using the extensions to target users on their way in,” he said, adding that .HORSE is going to an actual product page. 

Ramchanandi said, “there’s definitely a trend of more frequent new gTLD sightings in the wild.” Scarcity is a value-add, he said, as is a TLD’s ability to give its audience an idea what to expect. ces.tech, for example, is perfect for the Consumer Electronics Show that takes over Vegas every January. “We need to show the world that there are sufficient use cases out there,” he said. “We’ve come a long way,[…] but collectively we need to influence usage to the greatest extent possible.”

On the other hand, Kane said we need brands to be the ones pushing nTLD use cases, noting trucks on the highway advertising their companies’ .BUILD addresses. Frakes said that large brands would pivot slowly to a nTLD: it would affect everything from infrastructure to SEO to business cards. Kane said those nTLDs can be used in conjunction with the original .COM, in a marketing push for example.

Nicks said that the aftermarket isn’t really different than the primary market, besides the price point. “The on-ramps are going to change quite a bit for how small businesses get online,” he said. GoDaddy launched a tool that builds a website in reverse, suggesting a domain name at the end of the process based off the new site’s content. 

Eckhaus said he was most thrilled to see people’s personal branding, such as using .LIVE to point to social media connections. “That organic usage of new TLDs is something that we think is exciting. That word of mouth is gonna be a lot quicker than advertising.” (This is in line with Eckhaus’ work: Name.com makes it easier for people to switch over their URLs without getting knee-deep in their websites’ admin panels.)

Apple.com, for example, isn’t changing, said Eckhaus. However, when they launched their news app, sharing their stories uses apple.news. For the most part, though, he doesn’t predict big brands switching away from their .COM addresses. Nicks said that, when considering dot-brands, you have to consider what problem you’re trying to solve: “There’s not a real technical reason, or a even marketing reason, to switch to your own dot-brand.” Brands already trust their registrars with the way things are. Nicks said that most brands don’t have a plan going in, “and now they’re still trying to get their arms around ‘how do I use it?’” Kane was optimistic, though. “I think it will happen,” he said, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Ramchanandi said that Radix was encouraged by the adoption of .STORE, but brands used the extension to redirect to their internal stores. They’re using the URL as a call to action:  brand-name-dot-store is a pretty clear ask. Smrekar said that Uniregistry’s aftermarket had loads of smaller brands trading up to become bigger brands. Startups, though, are more open to explore options beyond .COM, he said; building their brand equity from there.

Oh, the Places You'll Go

Geo-domains, though… What about gTLDs? While not necessarily seeing big brands or multinationals localizing with gTLDs, Nicks said that they make perfect sense for small businesses (for example something like plumbing.vegas). He points out hyperlocal tools like Yelp or Angie’s List: “People tend to retreat toward ‘What is more personal to me?’, and that would be hyperlocal.”

Ramchanandi said that one could argue that gTLDs are the most successful of the new TLDs, and he’s hoping to see specific gTLDs come to India. Smrekar pointed out that geo domains often have higher resale prices—“I see stickiness there”—but agrees with Eckhaus in seeing them as a vertical.

Eckhaus said to expect further consolidation in the domain industry: “it shows maturity and growth in the industry. Things will grow and be vibrant.” Ramchanandi added, “It’s bound to happen.” Kane agreed. He added that a key to industry growth is getting the good names into the hands of people and brands who will use them and thus increase awareness, rather than letting those names sit in a portfolio. Also, said, Ramchanandi, bringing new players into the industry, beyond just domainers, is key to overall industry health going forward. 

New Faces in the Crowd

“I was pretty surprised by how well the sessions were attended this year,” said Eckhaus. “It was a great move forward.” Kane noted matching outfits among companies, which made clear how large some of these delegations were: “People were bringing their entire companies!” Kane pointed out that if you get married in Las Vegas, you get a free .VEGAS domain. (All you have to do is remember that you got married last night.) Eckhaus said he sees geo-domains as just another vertical category to add specificity to what the brand is about. (He’s hoping they catch on, though.)

“I saw a lot of new service providers,” said Nicks, noting that a good sign of a growth industry is new service providers popping up to solve inefficiencies. From a new gTLD perspective, Ramchanandi a big takeaway was how well they’re integrating into the overall view of the internet’s future. Smrekar was happy to meet people who weren’t just industry insiders: Newcomers “are now here and learning.”