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2016 was both quiet and abuzz with activity behind the scenes in the domain name industry. Most of the new gTLDs (generic top-level domains aka new domains) have launched and their operators and resellers are settling into a more stable mode of standard operation. Some registry operators already have a few years under their belts while others recently launched their extensions, but overall things are quietly ticking ahead in the new gTLD space. 

The domain name market settled in after adjusting to over two years of change with an historic influx of new inventory and naming options for consumers. As consumers buy new domains in greater numbers, usage is on the rise. They are getting more comfortable with the multitude of options they have and exploring the many ways to effectively use their new domains. We see this by the sheer increase in number of new gTLD registrations, now hovering near 28 million domain names. More importantly, we can tangibly see an increase in the adoption and use of these new domains in our everyday lives.

Just one year ago it was still somewhat uncommon to see a new domain extension in public use but as 2016 progressed, more and more could be seen in the spotlight. On billboards, SMB websites, corporate websites, print, tv, digital and radio advertising, new domain extensions are used around the world and in many different ways. new domains are being used in all types and sizes of digital properties from individuals to a international corporations. My all time favorite new gTLD sighting is still from my favorite TV show, Silicon Valley, when rival company Hooli used Hooli.xyz in the show. Timing was perfect. It showed they were ahead of the pack, using the latest and still virtually unknown in website naming before most of the world knew these things even existed.  Slowly but surely, end users began buying new domains and putting them to use publically. The adoption pace is picking up. The cycle of big change, adoption, use and acceptance is in motion and it’s hard to imagine going backwards from here.  

Want to see more new domains 'in the wild'?  The Domain Name Association has a special website showing many great examples of new domains in use by organizations of all shapes and sizes at: InTheWild.Domains
You'll see how brands like AT&T, Google, Shell and many more are using domains in their digital strategies.  Check out how the waste removal company uses a domain that is certainly memorable!  

Looking for .brand examples?  Check out MakeWay.World for a really excellent list of examples that are 

2016 review, the buzz.  Consolidation in the domain name industry kicked up in 2016.  We saw the major announcement in the registrar space where GoDaddy, the world’s largest registrar, intends to acquire Host Europe Group, a big win for GoDaddy in a global expansion strategy. Shortly thereafter, GoDaddy’s competitor in Europe, United Internet, announced its acquisition intentions of Strato, another European based registrar, that would give United Internet an even stronger foothold in the European market. On the registry operator side of things, we saw several smaller registry operators acquired by larger portfolio operators throughout the year, a trend I would expect to see continue in 2017.  

Consolidation in the domain registry space made the news with several smaller gTLD operators either being acquired or currently looking for buyers. Kicking off the year in 2016, Minds and Machines made a deal with the Boston Globe to acquire the .Boston gTLD. Minds and Machines already operates .Miami and .London so this was a smart move for them, sticking with a familiar geo space. .Buzz ran a sealed bid auction in December, 2016 for its gTLD. The results are not out yet but we’ll post it when we have more information. And near the end of the 2016, we learned that Donuts, operator of hundreds of new generic top-level domains, acquired .Irish.  Finally, a mention goes out to three other niche gTLDs, .ski*, .bio and .archi, acquired by Afilias, one of the major registry service providers and operators of their own portfolio of TLDs.  The common thread here? Smaller operators being acquired by larger portfolio operators that can leverage economies of scale.  

*Read more about the amazing work the .ski team did to build this new domain extension.  It's quite impressive.

The consolidation makes a lot of sense. Operating a portfolio of domains can be a lot more efficient than operating just one or a few gTLDs. On one hand, small operators can give all their  attention and marketing efforts to one TLD, which sounds great, but it requires an immense amount of effort and dedicated resources to do what it takes to be successful, especially if the gTLD has global relevance. It will be interesting to see if if the acquisitions and operational changes from small operators to larger portfolio operators will result in faster growth and uptick in registration numbers. I’ve been keeping my eye on a few and so far I’m not seeing any stunning differences.  

What will the operators do to increase registration numbers? More marketing promos, bigger discounts, lower standard pricing, other marketing strategies? How will the marketing change in a big company environment vs. a smaller dedicated team?.  

In April 2016, Afilias announced a relaunch of .green, a gTLD near and dear to my heart. Some registrars offered registration discounts that made domain acquisition extremely attractive, one even offering $2.99 for the first year registration. Standard prices were previously in the range of  $75-$99 per year.  Some registrars didn’t change a thing with their pricing, keeping them in that $75-$99 range.  A check on ntldstats.com reveals the chart below that shows the increase in registrations over time from the .green launch in April 2015 to January 2017.  The circle on the line indicates the point where Afilias officially relaunched the TLD.  
chart: https://ntldstats.com/tld/green

The rate of registration growth for the first twelve months was 105%, not too surprising in the opening year. The rate of growth for the nine month period after the Afilias relaunch was 76%.  A good sign is that there is continued, steady growth. Nothing crazy as far as huge spikes in registration numbers can be gleaned from this data but I’m sure Afilias is gathering some good data and testing price points. When I saw the low $2.99 registration offer, I registered many names for future projects for me and my clients. However when renewals roll around, at $75+ a name I’m highly likely to drop any names that don’t have a project earmarked for the upcoming year.  

Trending.  As we move through 2017, a trend I believe we will see more and more of from new gTLD operators will be streamlining. From pricing to policies, keeping things simple for consumers, ensuring as many names as possible are priced, easy to find, easy to register and at price points that encourage both use and investing for future use will become a necessity for long term success. It will be a necessity for profitability. Simple policies, competitive pricing and availability make a TLD attractive to the registrars who sell domains and can help a TLD grow.  Without these basics, operating a profitable registry will be an uphill battle.

We’re not finished yet!  This space has so much room to evolve in the years to come. We haven’t even considered the effect that brands will play once they begin to use the .brand TLDs that are out there but not yet being used.  Most of the big brands that operate their own .brand TLD have not yet taken advantage of them. As the brands begin to use their own .brand, we’re sure to see even more acceptance and adoption in this space.  And quite possibly, innovation.  

Room for improvement.  Once the industry can accept and get over the fact that consumers have many more new and very attractive naming options for their online properties, I hope we will see improvements for the consumer’s purchase journey.  With more options, we need smarter methods of discovery and presentation. Consumers don’t care who is paying more for advertising shelf space at their retail domain store if it means they are being presented with non-relevant options. What they do care about is discovering the most fitting names for their online properties.  Domain name registrars will hopefully get a lot more sophisticated with search and presentation of relevant options for their customers. Some have made good strides, but I hope we will see more innovation in the way domain search and discovery happens for consumers. 

Here’s to the hope for a year of growth, innovation and many new success stories for the domain industry in 2017!


 


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