Domain investors are extremely fond of the idea that statistics somehow reveal whether a domain name is valuable or not. Historically, and even today, the primary metric has been data from internet search engines. If a keyword is used more frequently, it simply means that the domain name is valuable. The higher the search volume, the higher the value.
But from the perspective of most serious businesses in the real world, this analysis leaves much to be desired.
I’ve been dealing with corporate identities in the form of domain names for a decade, serving as a naming consultant and domain name broker for a couple of years. Not once have I encountered an “end user” who plans to use the domain name as their online corporate identity – who even thinks along the same lines as the classic domain investor. What companies care about is the name.
They want a unique name that conveys the company’s values and attributes in a striking way or one that serves as a blank canvas. Both options can be marketed and shielded from leaks and competition due to these characteristics.
In the early days of the internet, domain names might have been less brand-like. More like entries in a phone book. If you sold jewelry in Arboga, your favorite domain name might have been “JuvelerArboga.se,” and if you sold construction services in Målilla, it would be “MålillaBygg.se” that you longed for. If you sold tickets – well, with “Biljetter.se,” you definitely had the upper hand. This mindset is still the key argument on the secondary domain name market, which still revolves around domains that literally describe a product or service, just like a keyword does.
Mainly two things are gradually changing this traditional and one-dimensional view.
Firstly, it’s no longer a question of “being on the internet” or not. The internet is the primary market for every business selling services or products. It’s not one of many “channels.” It’s the only one. Therefore, the practical and functional way that businesses traditionally name themselves, using unique names that create a unique connection to the customer, has now moved onto the internet.
It’s true that Google and other search engines, in the early days, provided a small ranking bonus to domain names relevant to the search. If what you were looking for was in the domain name, Google would likely serve more relevant content, and the domain name was part of the algorithm ranking content. The domain name would then receive more traffic, which is the lifeblood of all businesses online.
This no longer aligns with today’s reality. If you search for “Phone”, for example, the search results will show the top brands offering products and services related to phones. Content and other signals than the name make it more likely, according to Google, that they are better search results than if the domain name itself dictated it. Whether a domain name contains the word “phone” or not is no longer relevant. It would disrupt search engines’ primary selling point – delivering what users want to find.
And people, in general, agree. They trust that search engines present the most relevant selection and understand that brands have the highest credibility and the greatest likelihood of delivering what is demanded. And brands never call themselves what they sell.
It may be that a more easily understandable name sometimes has a greater ability to initially entice new customers to click. But as brands increasingly permeate our world, it’s natural for online names to follow suit. In some cases, for search engines as well as for consumers, the literally descriptive name has even begun to signal that it might be spam or fraud, rather than a genuine offer.
Secondly, practical habits in our use of the internet have changed. Before Google and others became the natural first step they are today, people would sometimes type the keyword directly into the web address bar instead of the search box. If web-savvy Harry wanted to buy a ticket to the weekend’s game, he might simply enter “Biljetter.se” because that’s where he could likely buy tickets.
Even today, some keyword domains still have a certain amount of “direct traffic” that arises in this way. But the phenomenon is as dying as the number of people who still use the internet in this way.
What remains today regarding domain name value is becoming increasingly brand-oriented. I’ll tell you more about it another time.