Today’s edition of iMedia Connection features an article by Taylor Frank, VP of Strategy and Development for DigitalDNA, a company founded by FairWinds that specializes in analyzing, developing strategies around and transacting on digital assets. Taylor discusses the great marketing potential of category-defining domain names for both new and established brands.
Because they often require less investment in optimization in order to rank highly in search engine results, category-defining domain names are highly valuable digital assets. And from a branding perspective, owning a category-defining domain allows a marketer to own that category, and position its brand as the definitive online destination for that category.
Taylor covers these and other benefits that category-defining domain names can provide to marketers, and illustrates each with apt, real-world examples. Check out his article over at iMedia.
This week, I wrote an article for Forbes.com about what retail brands need to know about new gTLDs. All brands will have to adapt their digital strategies to the new gTLD space, but global retail brands will face particular challenges and opportunities.
For retail brands, perhaps more so than other industries, the branding implications of being “left behind” and seeming out of date if they do not adopt new gTLDs could be significant. If they stick to their .COM addresses, they could risk appearing “so 1999” as compared to their competitors who begin using branded gTLDs. Since ICANN will not publish the list of applications until after the application round closes, retail brands will have to take a gamble, and for many, the safe bet will be to assume that their competitors are, in fact, applying.
But on a brighter note, new gTLDs could offer interesting marketing opportunities for retail brands. Take back to school shopping as an example. Right now, most top-level domain equity lies in .COM, and there can only be one BackToSchool.com. In the new gTLD space, we could see addresses like BackToSchool.Target and BackToSchool.OldNavy, which could redirect to Target and Old Navy’s back to school sale pages.
On the subject of redirects, in most cases retail brands (and all brands) should not attempt to fully transition content to new gTLD domain names right away. They have made significant investments into optimizing their current sites to rank highly in search engine results, so until we know how search engine algorithms will account for new domains, brand owners should consider redirecting new domains to their existing .COM URLs.
New top-level domains will present online retailers with unique and unprecedented opportunities and challenges over the next few years. But the first and most crucial step that all brand owners must take between now and the opening of the application period is to gather facts and take the time to really explore whether or not applying for a new domain will be advantageous for their business.
I was driving with my family to Nationals Park to see the Nats play the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, when I noticed a Windows Catering truck drive by. As it passed, (because I can’t help myself) I noticed the company’s domain name displayed on the side of truck. Again, because I can’t help myself, I asked my wife to slow down so I could take a picture of the truck for this post. I knew that a local business using a name like CATERING.COM would make a dynamite blog post. Alas, the truck pulled off at Navy Yard before I could call up the camera function on my BlackBerry. (I wish I had gotten the photo; if we can get a picture from the catering company, I will update this post later.)
It’s likely that the domain name windows.com was not available when the catering company first looked to “get online,” for obvious reasons (think Microsoft). So Windows Catering had to come up with an alternative domain name.
I wish I knew the story of how they came to acquire this domain name because it’s extremely valuable. I routinely run valuations for my clients and research how much domains are trading for in the domain aftermarket. I think a domain like catering.com could easily fetch between $1 million and $3 million today.
Why? Because catering.com likely garners a fair amount of type-in traffic, but it also has a unique ability to rank well in organic search results. Google and Bing (especially) assign page rank to older domains with keyword-to-domain root parity and sites linking in, so this domain has special attributes that earn it “search love.” This means that with even a modest SEO investment in the website itself, search engines are likely to assign it a high placement in organic search results. This gives the domain/website maximum visibility and increases the opportunity for it to earn organic click-throughs, without the incremental costs associated with paid search. Internet users broadly search the term “catering” over 16,000,000 times per month, and each time, they see catering.com among the top results.
This high rank not only drives traffic to Windows Catering from local D.C. searches, but it also introduces the brand to the wider U.S. search audience by delivering their impression to searchers throughout the country. For another example of how this works, go to google.co.uk and search for “catering.” You will see a UK company that owns a different domain with “search love,” caterer.com – this site’s owner has earned the top position in organic search in the UK because the domain has a Google page rank score of “5.” (In comparison, Guinness.com and Cadbury.com each have a Google page rank of “6,” despite being much better known brands.)
Smartly, Windows Catering also owns WindowsCatering.com, which it redirects to catering.com, for those customers who are familiar with the brand and search for it directly.
I think that this is a great example of the positive effects that a well-chosen domain name can have on a company. Sometimes unbranded domains can enhance a brand strategy, and not just for smaller players like Windows Catering. Just look at what Toys.com and Mortgage.com have done for Toys “R” Us owner Geoffrey, LLC and Citigroup, respectively.
UPDATE: Windows Catering got in touch after reading this post and sent over a picture of the catering truck that a fan had posted on Twitter:
At the heart of online marketing is the goal of attracting visitors to Web sites and engaging with them in ways that deliver lasting and memorable impressions. There are a variety of elements that go into an effective online marketing campaign, including search engine marketing but also radio, print, outdoor, and TV offline to drive impressions online. Often, companies direct a small portion of their efforts and budgets to domain names and search engine strategies like search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine strategies like SEO function best when paired with strong keyword domain names. It’s well known that Google and Bing reward developed keyword domains that have “search love”—in other words, Google and Bing give higher ranks to domain names that contain terms consistent with the search terms entered by Internet users—and for this reason a brand can achieve a higher page rank using keyword domain names. Try a search for “meals” in Google sometime and you’re likely to find Nestlé in the first position with their meals.com site. However, if you Google “sauce,” you won’t see a Unilever brand on page one of Google’s search results. Yet, Unilever owns sauce.com and points it to the Ragú Web site. Why does Meals.com rank so highly while Sauce.com does not? Domain names that are set up as simple redirects will not be indexed separately by search engines. This is why meals.com is on page one for “meals” while sauce.com is not on page one for “sauce” – Nestlé built a stand alone site on meals.com while Ragú pointed sauce.com to another site. For a brand owner to take full advantage of a keyword domain name’s ability to capture both direct (type-in) and search traffic, the domain name must be utilized as a standalone site. Keyword domains that are properly developed will capture organic traffic on a reoccurring basis at nearly no cost.
There are other ways to drive up traffic numbers by adjusting domain name strategy. By reviewing and making small adjustments to its domain name portfolio, Verizon was able to generate 24 million unique visitors to its Web sites in a 12-month period. That increase in traffic was achieved without any additional search engine marketing tactics; Verizon simply redirected carefully selected names it owned and recovered valuable domain names that receive type-in traffic and pointed them to branded content, and ultimately drove millions of consumers to its sites – without the incremental costs associated with paid search clicks. An updated case study on the effects of Verizon’s domain name strategy will be coming soon.
In many instances, businesses do not set aside a portion of their marketing budgets to maximize the benefits from very active domain management because they are not aware of the benefits it can provide in terms of lead generation and cost savings.
However, consider how domain name typos are one area where companies often lose valuable traffic – if Internet users mistype the domain of a company’s Web site into the address bar, they can be led to sites containing Pay-Per-Click ads, malware, or in some cases, even to the Web site of the company’s competitor. It is often surprising how much traffic businesses are losing to typos—we recently uncovered 47 million initial impressions one company was losing annually due to typos of its name. Imagine a scenario where the top typos for a brand receive 5 million (about 1/10 of the prior example) unique visitors per year. Considering the fact that on average, businesses are willing to pay approximately $2.00 per impression, unregistered typo domains cost the company in question $10 million per year, or more than $833,000 per month in lost marketing benefit.
When you look at the hard numbers, it becomes obvious that search engine tactics alone cannot generate the maximum number of online leads. Instead, SEO, SEM and domain strategies must be combined to optimize results.