Digital Marketing, Digital Media

dot coma – Are Domain Names Even Relevant Now?

badge jay says dot coma   Are Domain Names Even Relevant Now?I have been in digital marketing a long time.

How long?

When I started, domain names were free, because why would anyone pay money for something of no consequence?

My first online voyage was in 1994, working with my college pals at Internet Direct, Arizona’s first Internet company (and also the inventor of virtual Web hosting, ultimately sold to Mindspring). Domain names were free, and brands didn’t even know what the World Wide Web was in many cases (given that graphical browsers barely existed). If you were a .org, you had to prove you were a non-profit. Domain names ending in .net were reserved for telcos and Internet providers (like us) exclusively. So, in this Wild West era, the Internet Direct guys registered several choice domain names before anyone even noticed.

Fast forward.

Anheuser-Busch: “It seems you have the Budweiser.com domain name?” “We’re thinking about putting together one of those Web Sites, so can we have the name?”

Internet Direct: “Sure, but it’ll cost you.”

Anheuser-Busch: “How much?”

Internet Direct: “100 cases of Bud longnecks, delivered to our office.”

Fast forward.

Guinness: “It seems you have the Guinness.com domain name?” “We’re thinking about putting together one of those Web Sites, so can we have the name, lads?”

Internet Direct: “Sure, but it’ll cost you and we’re not selling as cheap as we sold to the Bud guys.”

Guinness: “How much?”

Internet Direct: “Two trips to Ireland, and brewery tours.”

Fast forward.

The Good Times

It’s easy to forget in our modern, Twitterfied, post-9/11 world where The Situation can make $25,000 to show up at a party, but it was just six years between the first Netscape browser (Mosaic Netscape 0.9) and the dot com crash of 2000. Barely 2,000 days. The world changed an awful lot in six years, and while Internet usage then was nowhere near as pervasive and insidious as it is today, the seeds were certainly sown. Five years after the brewery tour “swindle” of Guinness, my Internet Direct pal sold the beer.com domain name to Molson for several MILLION dollars. (I did not have a piece of that action, which is why I’m writing this blog instead of sunning myself in Barbados).

That was the apex of the domain name. 

Slip Sliding Away

Today, the beer.com domain name has been abandoned, and I wonder why we even bother to worry about whether “good” domain names are available.

After all, how often do you really encounter domain names these days?

  • Twitter shortens and hides domain names (for your “protection”).
  • In many cases, you willfully disguise the brand equity of your domain name by using bit.ly, tinyurl.com or the bada.ss shortener your cousin cobbled together for you.

20 Facebook 300x81 dot coma   Are Domain Names Even Relevant Now?

  • Compared to domain name, Facebook gives headlines far more visual prominence.
  • QR codes are routinely used (mostly incorrectly) as a domain replacement.
  • Facebook has nearly one billion members. Your website does not. Thus, you may be tempted to show your Facebook URL at the end of your TV spot, or on your trucks, or in your email – instead of your domain name.
  • Pinterest doesn’t even show domain names until you get to the detail page, and even then it’s at the bottom.
  • YouTube won’t let you add a link in a video to your website, only to another YouTube video – another strike against the domain name.

jay baer s bottle opener business card Flickr Photo Sharing 291x300 dot coma   Are Domain Names Even Relevant Now?

  • Business cards – historically featuring prominent domain names – are becoming the drive-in movie of networking, a quaint relic of yesteryear. (except mine)

Does your domain name even matter? You could probably change it to rumpelstiltskin.com right now, and it would be mid-week before anyone noticed. (alas, name already taken)

No wonder GoDaddy sold when they did. Got out while the getting was good, the way I see it.

And you?

Related
  • http://PersuasionTheory.com/ Matt Fox @ PersuasionTheory.com

    I’ll respectfully disagree. While generic domains like beer.com aren’t important, owning an easy to remember & spell domain can be. Owning a highly searched, keyword rich domain doesn’t have the same pull as it used to now that people use search engines better.An easy to remember domain can be as important to a business as the location can be for a restaurant. Is it worth spending millions to get some silly domain name? Not always. Just like it’s not always a good idea for a restaurant to move to an upscale rent area thinking it will increase business. Location/domain name is good but it won’t guarantee success. On the other hand, having a domain like ghts578mkuy.com probably wouldn’t be the best first choice for a business either.Second, all your examples show that link from my accounts at non-owned domains aren’t sharing my domain name. Once a person clicks the link they’ll see my domain. If it’s a hard to remember name they’ll never find me again. If I’m doing my own offline advertising, like most smart businesses still do, an easy to remember domain is very important. If you saw an offline ad with JeffBezosMegaOnlineBookstore.com or amazon.com, which would be easier to remember and find?I understand the point you’re trying to make. And I don’t think it applies, yet (or if it will). Like an address. It’s easier to say your business is on the corner of Main and 12st street than 12457 N Main St.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      Matt Fox @ PersuasionTheory.com But with more and more people navigating based on search, social, and shortened links, the importance of memorability starts to fade away. We’re at the beginning of that fade, I believe. 

  • http://www.raylindairy.com raylindairy

    I just want to know where you got your bottle opener errrr I mean Business Cards.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      raylindairy  Dan Corredor at Asylum-Pipeline

  • http://www.timsalam.com/ Tim Salam

    The domain is an inseparable dimension of brand.  It’s the sign on the building, the very meat of a WOM moment.  Untouchable.  The examples you listed are all delivery devices.  Just because my pizza arrived in a Geo Metro doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have papajohns.com plastered across the box, and if I want to reach out to them online it will not be at OyAxLaJPEr.  Facebook is a slightly different situation in that a brand can create its own page on FB, but at the end of the day that itself is only a delivery platform to bring them home which is elsewhere.  Also to consider are the online shopping trust factors and the domain is deeply embedded in that zone.  Will the domain become irrelevant?  Someday maybe, but I am guessing you and I will be dust when that comes to be.

  • http://www.timsalam.com/ Tim Salam

    The domain is an inseparable dimension of brand.  It’s the sign on the
    building, the very meat of a WOM moment.  Untouchable.  The examples you
    listed are all delivery devices.  Just because my pizza arrived in a
    Geo Metro doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have papajohns.com plastered across
    the box, and if I want to reach out to them online it will not be at
    OyAxLaJPEr.  Facebook is a slightly different situation in that a brand
    can create its own page on FB, but at the end of the day that itself is
    only a delivery platform to bring them home which is elsewhere.  Also to
    consider are the online shopping trust factors and the domain is deeply
    embedded in that zone.  Will the domain become irrelevant?  Someday
    maybe, but I am guessing you and I will be dust when that comes to be.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      Tim Salam Yes, but when fewer and fewer people become aware of businesses due to offline boxes and signage, and more and more become aware via shortened/hidden links, what then?

      • http://www.timsalam.com/ Tim Salam

        JayBaer Tim Salam The streams that lead to the business are via shortened/hidden links, but the domain is present when interacting with the brand at its home.  Return customers will return to the brand, at which point the shortened/hidden links have done their work.  Everything has their place.  I may be envisioning a too-simplistic brand ecosystem however I struggle to think of even one instance where once I experience a brand I do not go directly to it afterward (if I decide to be a return customer).

  • tdhurst

    I will buy Convinceandconvert.com for $50.I urge you to take the offer before the value of your URL goes down.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      tdhurst Probably won’t take you up on that one Tyler, but such a small percentage of our traffic comes from direct URL entry, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch. 

      • http://www.mattmcgee.com/ mattmcgee

        JayBaer tdhurst 

      • http://www.mattmcgee.com/ mattmcgee

        Whether you get a ton of direct traffic or not doesn’t matter, Jay. You ARE convinceandconvert.com and while social networks will come and go, URL shorteners will come and go, etc., you have permanent equity built up in this domain name that no one will ever be able to take away from you.Domain names are incredibly relevant today, probably more so than ever. Just because some marketers and brands misuse them (i.e., promoting their Facebook URL to the detriment of their main site/blog) doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant.

        • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

          mattmcgee Matt, i could change my URL tomorrow, and within 45 days would be at the exact same traffic level. Seriously. I may be the exception because I am an online entity, but the equity could be replaced in an eye blink for me. 

  • craigmcgill

    Jay, with respect, I think you’re wrong on this one. Let’s look at your reasons: “But with more and more people navigating based on search, social, and shortened links, the importance of memorability starts to fade away.”Having a professional sounding website – brandname.com – for example, shows to me that I’m dealing with professionals (and gives them professional sounding email addresses too). Yes, we may use shortened links – or just click on the links that Google/Bing give us – but the URL shorteners that most people use may not be around forever. What happens if Bitly goes out of businesses? All those links are useless.Also – and this is something we’re at the start of – other channels will go away. The old school will remember IRC, ICQ and the rest of them. There’s been MySpace, Friends Reunited and so on. Just now we have Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the current iteration. These things have all came and gone but the web has endured. It’s the granite foundations of the rest of it. Especially for businesses.But a good post to get people talking.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      craigmcgill I see what you’re saying Craig, but the fact that a particular URL shortener may not be around (or any social network) does not outweigh the trend toward mass URL obfuscation. 

  • http://www.janwong.my/ janwong

    I’m pretty much in agreement with you on this one, Jay. Although I also do think that random names should not be used unless they are related to your biz (you sell gold on rumpelstiltskin.com ;)) and it has to make sense. After all, a domain name is a representation of your company / brand in the cyberspace. On a side note, domain names also do not matter as much these days since traffic are also contributed by search engines, apart from user-posted links on social media platforms. 

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      janwong Precisely. I’m not arguing (or not intending to argue) that domains have NO value, just that they have LESS value due to all the other stuff that hides and obscures them these days. 

  • charliedouglas

    You seem to be forgetting about the SEO benefits of 1) an exact match domain name 2) age of domain name.

    • http://www.cirrusabs.com KevinMullett

      charliedouglas not that Google is always exactly forthcoming, and they certainly change frequently, domain age was specifically addressed and shot down by Matt Cutts here. » http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1_1NQWQJ2Q  I’ve seen no evidence to contradict that. This is of course different than domains that are purchased that already have authority. It is the authority that is the signal, not the age.

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

        KevinMullett charliedouglas Terrific distinction, and thanks SO much for posting. Age isn’t relevant. Authority is relevant. Often, age is a marker for authority – as you might reasonably expect – but it’s not inherent. 

      • JillKoenig

        KevinMullett charliedouglas That video on domain age is from 2009. I wonder what google says about this in 2012. My domain buyers place high value on a domain’s age still today.

        • http://www.cirrusabs.com KevinMullett

          JillKoenig charliedouglas They are not valuing the age, but the authority. Well, at least they should be. As I state above, I have not seen anyone with any authority point to a change from this position by Google.FYI, value does not ALWAYS pass if a domain is transferred (sold). It has to be handled correctly and Google stats they reserve the right to evaluate if the new owners will be carrying on along the same vein. So if someone snags an authoritative domain on subject x, but switches to y, that value may be gone. I’ll have to dig up the article on that.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      charliedouglas I’m not forgetting, I’m just noting that A. the chances of you getting a relevant exact match are not great now, and B. domain age isn’t that big of a factor (if at all), and C. SEO is not the whole story in terms of traffic and sales generation, and if it is, you’re doing marketing wrong. 

  • Ryan Malone

    Jay – You should give it a whirl.  Change your domain name, don’t do the 301s and publish the traffic results as an experiment.  The logic doesn’t apply too much to real consumer or business brands where the brand name matters and DOES represent a large chunk of traffic.  If the objective of your site is subscribers, you can become less reliant on search.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      Ryan Malone I really should do that. I love the idea. I probably don’t have the mindshare to tackle it right now, but it’s a super good plan. 

  • http://www.cirrusabs.com KevinMullett

    A) Exact Match Domains are still given and unreasonably high signal value by Google. I’ve advocated for everything left of the gTLD to be neutral for years, but Google isn’t listening to me for some odd reason. Until that occurs and squatters have less incentive, they will still be important.B) While the search traffic may be low for for your domain, we know that direct traffic often has a higher degree of intent to become clients and convert. This is blurred when a domain containing subject keywords, such as “convince and convert”, may be an informational search  as well as a navigational search.C) Online Reputation management/brand managementI actually could go on, but in short, while I see where your headed I don’t want to join you there.

    • RussellHenneberry

      KevinMullett It’s true, the exact match domain still holds value but I have never understood why Google doesn’t squash this part of its algorithm.  The fallout from removing this part of the algorithm would be something to witness.  Think of all the affiliate marketers that rely on this loophole.  Also, registrars like GoDaddy that are holding millions of domains like ‘CheapVegasVacationsHQ.com’.  I sometimes wonder if there is pressure on Google to keep this loophole in place.

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

        RussellHenneberry KevinMullett Exactly. Seems like such an easy fix, no?

      • http://www.cirrusabs.com KevinMullett

        RussellHenneberry i’ve speculated, though quietly in a corner that Google can’t hear me say it, that domainers, registrars, and gasp….adwords/adsense is EXACTLY the reason Google won’t pull the plug on EMD’s.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      KevinMullett I’m not 100% certain I want to join myself there, Kevin! I’m just trying to raise the issue that fretting about a TLD  or EMD and paying crazy money for it may be less efficient than currently believe. I don’t believe that domains have NO value, just that their comparative value is diminishing. 

  • Rob Skidmore

    I think the biggest take away for me is that the days of the coveted .com TLD’s are gone. As long as I’m not infringing on a trademark then a .co or .net will work just a fine. Sorry domain name squatters, your time is up. That’s a big win for startups.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      Rob Skidmore Theoretically, I think you’re right Rob. Really depends on how Google treats domains going forward.

    • hybriddomainer

      Rob Skidmore That comment is so bad I am not sure there are words. First off who are you calling a squatter ? Someone who has the rights to a generic domain and has owned for years ? Sorry Start up Bubble boy .com is still where its at and what start ups want, and usually buy the best .com down the road, ask delicious, Facebook,Square, Twitter which started as Twttr etc….

      • Rob Skidmore

        hybriddomainer Wow, no need to be so insulting. Looks like I struck a nerve. First off, the only reasons that domains like del.icio.us and Twttr worked is because the domains don’t matter like they used to. How far would del.icio.us have gotten in the 90′s? No one would have remembered where to put the periods. Back then not having the .com made entry to the market difficult because people would buy up the names and then do nothing with them. If someone owned your .com you were out of luck. But now you can succeed without a .com . THAT IS ALL THAT I’M SAYING.Of course .com is still the best. If you own a bunch of .com’s, congratulations for being the first to the party. You deserve to profit from it. But you should be grateful that the entrance fee has gone down so that startups like the ones you mentioned can make the money to buy those .com’s from you. Sheesh. I really want to say something mean to you but my dad always said “if you wrestle with a pig you will both get dirty, but only the pig will like it.”Well I guess that was mean. I failed. Time for a shower. 

  • DomainSushi

    A personalized, branded domain is as close as one can get to owning something online. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube are great for publishing and promoting content easily, but won’t be around forever in their current form. They’re ultimately in control of the design and direction, which leaves a business owner very little “control” over changes that might be implemented down the road (features being discontinued, fan page layout changes, potential membership/subscription issues, etc.)While domains are essentially “leased” from registrars for a number of years, one retains creative control for as long as you have it.It all boils down to whether you’re ok with another company being in control of your brand, or not.It’s the difference between owning a single-family home and renting a numbered parking space in a garage that’s controlled by someone else.I agree that search navigation is in the process of changing things, but now that individuals have more power than ever before, I think the shift from top-down corporate hierarchy will lead to a shift away from reliance on FB, Google+, etc. What if Facebook were to shut down (which is obviously not happening anytime soon)? You can bet those companies & small business owners would want their information to be searchable elsewhere online.There will eventually be a massive disruption that, so far, nobody has been able to predict yet, but in the steering people away from retaining valuable keyword & brandable assets that are relevant to their businesses is a bad practice.Lastly, things become relevant or irrelevant as buying practices shift. Beer.com may not be as relevant because of how people market and buy beer, but about SocialMedia.com? Would you say “Nah, it’s not worth anything” if someone offered it to you?”

  • JillKoenig

    When I appear on national television or in the news media, I don’t say “find me on Facebook at blah blah” I give my moniker, my brand. I send my audience to a site where I have 100% control of the process of what they see once they get there. I run email campaigns to my sales pages on my URL and the domain name matters. Of course I have a presence on FB and Twitter, but there is still an entire world out there that sends traffic to their URL. And btw, do you want to entrust Facebook with all of your traffic, use any other URL besides your own for your biz card or anything? I sure don’t. I’m also a domain investor of 10+ years, and I’m getting more offers, sales and inquiries than I ever have for my domains. People still want the .COM. Naysayers, you can let your domains expire. Someone will be happy to pick them up if you don’t want them anymore. There are still millions of brands who don’t do SEO, social media, etc and they want a brandable domain. On many of my domains, I get massive traffic and click income on the .com where someone else is promoting the .net, .org or .whatever where someone erroneously types in the .com because that’s what the majority of people do when typing a URL even if you are standing next to them telling them the name of your webiste.whatever. I think you guys are off or maybe just operating in a different area than I do. Branding is still king and .COM is the ruler.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      JillKoenig Actually, they do. Watching the golf tournament on CBS on Sunday, Mercedes-Benz (a company that knows something about branding) signed off their TV ad with facebook.com/mercedes

      • JillKoenig

        JayBaer JillKoenig I understand “they” do. But I don’t. :)  Do I want to model my business after Mercedes? Nope. Should you? Maybe, maybe not. It depends upon what your goals are. Their business model is not mine and mine is not theirs. That’s pretty much my point. There are 1,000 ways to build a business. I’m just saying domain names are not obsolete. They are still necessary and I believe will be for quite some time. Domain buyers are still buying and paying premium prices for domains that deliver the value they are seeking. http://www.dnjournal.com will give you a glimpse of the current market. I think domains are still very relevant.

  • JerryO

    One of the problem with relying on social media for your brand and marketing as pointed out by many others is the total lack of control in the decisions of the site.  This includes the ads that appear or can appear on your page.  Since you are not in control of facebook, twitter, myspace, pintrest or any of the other social media outlets that may come and go you are just as likely to have an ad from your competitor appear or anything else appear on your page.  The or anything else can be just that, Viagra, politicians, gay marriage, the topic doesn’t matter if you don’t support it, believe in it, or want it there it’s still there. Although I have a facebook page and help others create pages for their businesses I will not be replacing any of my websites any time soon.

  • SharonHayes

    I’m the CEO of Domainate.com (we help with branding/rebranding and domain acquisitions) and also a prominent social media user. I’ve never been at an event or met with a prospective client where they asked me how to find me on Twitter, Facebook etc. A significant percentage of the people I deal with directly in business aren’t personally on social media (their brands are) or if they are, it is for personal use.  The reality is – brands don’t connect with brands via social media.Jay, with all due respect, even if you are capable of rebuilding under a new domain name within weeks or even months, most people are not in that position. We have dozens of websites which earn decent amounts of money which took a good deal of work to get to where they are and would not survive if they switched to a different domain without redirection. That’s not reality for most businesses.

  • http://www.BlogAid.net/ BlogAid

    Jay, you make some rather compelling points here about all of the places the domain doesn’t even show up now in online marketing. True. But it is still a big part of branding in SERPs and when folks reach the site, don’t you think?

  • http://blog.paulgailey.com/ Paul Gailey

    a great angle here of a worthy topic Jay.

    In the UK the national domain registrar (Nominet) is looking likely to introduce a new .uk to supplement the .co.uk which has mostly infuriated the internet marketing community and is regarded as a sales exercise in public confusion and an unnecessary cost on business. But the trend continues with more TLDs created whilst the reality is most are misguidingly defensively purchased by business focusing their resource on the wrong place.

  • iamoldskool

    My take on this is that you will always own your domain and barring legal action or forgetfulness at renewal, nobody can take it away from you. Keyword domains are old hat now, but a proper branded domain, with domain equity is one of the most valuable commodities that your company can own.

    You may choose to market yourself on facebook or Twitter or whatever social media network is the next big thing, but remember, this isn’t your page. It is Facebook’s page about your company and never forget that.

    You could put millions into building a major facebook presence, then they could decide they want to do things differently to increase profit, or user experience and that’s your budget gone with no return.

    Only recently, facebook came out and said that facebook page updates are only shown to a small percentage of followers but you could buy further reach. If you’d put budget into increasing your facebook followers, you’d be pretty pissed at that.

    If you’d put that money into building the domain equity of your brand’s domain, then it’s happy days because no one can take that away from you (unless you do something stupid and get hit by a google update)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.donnis.3 Jon Donnis

    An article clearly written ONLY to gain views, nothing more.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I was once at an SEO networking event which featured a domain broker as a guest speaker. Back in it’s hey day some “high profile” domains sold for upwards of a million dollars. However, now a days internet real estate is changing. I don’t think we’ll see viable domains for such a high sticker price, but domain customization does still have an effect on online branding.

  • http://thepaisano.com/ Paisano®

    Love the heated debates on here. Branding is a serious and passionate matter. Yes, everyone agrees having the dot com domain is ideal but it’s almost impossible these days to get it unless you come up with a totally jacked up new word or have deep pockets to pay domain squatters a small ransom. That’s why I like the hot trend of using alternative TLD like .me, .co and others. Some day the extensions won’t matter at all.

  • http://www.webmastersun.com/ Webmaster Sun

    Thanks for useful information!!

  • domain’s a plenty

    Literally hundreds of top level domain names being introduced in 2014. Any tom, dick, or harry can now be the proud owner of diamonds.whatever. Get out now if you can. what a joke.

  • gerbra

    Good post.