This page considers domain name portfolios, major collections
of domain names formed by 'domainers' or by domain name
It covers -
It supplements discussion of domain name monetisation,
domain name tasting and online resource identification.
In discussing internet searching
this site notes that many users do not rely on a search
engine, directory, links found in email and other sites
or an offline pointer such as citation of an URL in a
newspaper advertisement or the side of a bus.
They instead intuit a domain name in seeking to find specific
sites, sometimes going astray because their intuition
was unlucky or because they mis-typed a particular word.
Others rely on 'keywords' (the name of products or services),
assuming that the relevant keyword will appear in or form
a domain name, for example -
will mis-type the chosen keyword or use a variant, such
as flower.com, fower.com, flowwers.com, flowes.com.
Low domain registration costs - particular for major domain
registrars - mean that it is possible for those registrars
and specialists to register very large numbers of domain
names and then create a basic site for each name, with
the expectation that people will encounter those sites
by choice or accident. That activity has two rationales.
The first is the registrant (ie the entity that 'owns'
the domain name) can get some sense of traffic to the
site, including -
number of hits on the site (how many times it has been
uncertain measures such as the demographics of visits
to the site (for example dissecting traffic by type
of browser, broad geographic
location of visitor)
information enables determination of which sites - and
therefore names - are more valuable than others. That
value provides a basis for pricing
domain names in the 'DNS aftermarket', including domain
The second rationale is to exploit the so-called attention
economy, with the registrant placing advertising on the
particular site or automatically forwarding visitors to
another site that features advertising. That advertising
may or may not relate to a visitor's presumed search,
for example flowes.com and flowers.com may display an
ad from a vendor of nonprescription pharmaceuticals rather
than an offer to sell gerberas, callas, roses and delphiniums.
The expectation is that over time substantial numbers
of people will encounter a 'keyword' or other site within
a portfolio of sites. That portfolio allows the registrant
to garner a large number of eyeballs.
It enables portfolio owners to claim, for example, that
the thousands or hundreds of thousands of visitors to
a collection of domain names are equivalent to the
same number of people encountering advertising
in offline venues (eg newspapers, magazines and television
online venues with a higher profile (eg gateway sites
such as MSN and Google).
Portfolio building is not new, first appearing in the
mid-1990s as the dot-com bubble
expanded and speculators assumed that easy money could
be made by large-scale registration of 'attractive'
domain names. Those names would be sold individually or
en bloc to other portfolio builders.
It coexisted with moves by some entities to snaffle 'their'
names (and major variants) in the major gTLDs and ccTLDs.
About.com for example supposedly spent US$500,000 in 2000
acquiring over 4,000 domain names as part of what one
commentator breathlessly described as "a stealth
effort to control the About.com domain and all possible
Speculative registration was inhibited by the US Anti-Cybersquatting
Consumer Protection Act (ACPA),
by effective domain registration rules in leading ccTLDs
(eg restrictions developed by auDA)
and by realisation that - contrary to some of the wilder
claims about the information superhighway as a machine
for printing money - monetisation of individual domain
names can be difficult.
That resulted in many speculators relinquishing individual
names and in substantial declines within the domain name
aftermarket, in particular lower
prices paid in domain name auctions, in claimed values
and in the number of domains being onsold.
An associated effect was the decline in the share price
of major domain registrars, some of which saw their market
value slump from billions of dollars to much lower sums.
Portfolio building reappeared on investors' radar around
2003 and gained popular attention as it became clear that
entities such as Google
and Yahoo were generating
substantial revenue through paid placement on their sites.
By 2006 advertising-based portfolio building was being
promoted as "an embodiment of Web
2.0", an echo of pre-crash hype about the global
VC partner Bob Davis for
example claimed that "a business like this can be
a multibillion-dollar franchise". One Australian
promoter more problematically announced that "even
if we don't get the clicks we can always offload the names
to mums and dads".
Overseas, in an echo of 1990s hype, registrar GoDaddy.com
proclaimed "the domain name is 21st century real
estate". A competitor said in 2006 that
a patient speculator can buy a name for $30,000 and,
a few years later, sell it for a windfall.
coverage of portfolio building coincided with often uncritical
reporting of incidents such as the student who aimed to
make a million dollars by selling "individual pixels"
on his homepage to advertisers interested in those consumers
curious enough to visit that site after encountering an
item in a blog or the popular press. Skeptics noted that
the half-life of such media phenomena is short and that
the opportunities for emulation are thin.
Proponents of the "direct navigation" industry
suggested that businesses could make money in two ways.
Domain registrars would register and then host a large
number of names (something which many were already doing),
gaining substantial revenue from advertising to supplement
money made as intermediaries between consumers and registries.
Traffic data would allow them to 'taste'
the best domains, determining which names were most likely
to be visited (eg the most common mis-spellings of popular
products/services) and reserve those names for their own
Specialists would, in contrast, build discrete portfolios
with an expectation that
builder would be acquired by a competitor
media buyers would jump at the chance to gain exposure
on several hundred thousand sites at once (rather than
having to negotiate site by site) or receive traffic
intended for those sites. NameMedia claims to attract
over 25 million consumers each month
names could be used for intensive marketing, even new
services, with traffic being driven to those sites from
other parts of the portfolio (a model initiated by the
Adult Content sector).
That was reflected in high profile merger & acquisition
activity, highlighted below.
In 2005 for example online marketer Marchex reportedly
paid US$164 million for Name Development Ltd, which offered
keyword advertising across more than 100,000 domains.
The deal followed US$155 million paid by SAVVIS for Cable
& Wireless America (including some 350,000 names)
and US$176 million by Freenet for German hosting
operator Tect (including 2.2 million names). US-based
NameMedia acquired 650,000 names for its own portfolio,
with 'rights' to a further 350,000 names registered by
By May 2007 (after injection of US$125 million from Highland
Capital Partners, Summit Partners and Goldman Sachs) NameMedia
was claiming that it controlled 725,000 names in its own
right plus 1.4 million names licenced from other registrants.
Internet REIT claimed 400,000 names as of 2006, after
acquiring 50 portfolios in the preceding 15 months. Brisbane-based
Dark Blue Sea claimed 550,000 names as of June 2007.
Internet Business Group paid £1.1m for three domain
names - inc cheapholidaydeals.co.uk and cheapaccommodation.com
- in 2006. Its chief executive commented "I agree
that in their own right, domain names are worthless"
but announced "this is a strategic acquisition".
Sceptics might be forgiven for asking whether the names
were that much more valuable that sportingequipment.com
(sold for US$7,547), cosmeticians.com (US$2,050) and rubbergloves.com
(US$19,804) in 2006.