28% of one- & two-letter .DE domains grabbed by one company

DENIC eGLast Sunday I commented on DENIC releasing one- and two-letter domains as well as pure number domains, which were previously impossible to register. This Sunday I will have to comment on the actual results of the allocation process.

As it stands now, 28% of all one- or two-letter domains that were claimed and registered during the initial registration phase were acquired by one company only, Tec-Media-Service. The company successfully registered 193 of the short domain names. Realtime.at came in second with 48 domains and Key-Systems secured 19 domains at least. Most other DENIC members, however, were not successful. Even United Domains, which belongs to United Internet AG, was only able to register three short domains, two of which I wouldn't denote as premium domains. The newly released pure number domains, most of which are longer than two letters, were more uniformly distributed.

Why is it that most of the valuable domains ended up in the hands of a few selected domain registrars only? One answer is that those companies have been experienced in dropped domain catching, a task that requires a similar infrastructure as the registration of domains during an initial registration phase. More importantly, however, the lucky registrars knew how to play the system. Especially Tec-Media-Service had a good strategy in place: It worked together with 1API GmbH, a domain registrar located in Germany. 1API GmbH is accredited for all major gTLDs as well as the 80 largest ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains) and offering its domain registration services to other companies through its entities HEXONET GmbH (Germany) and HEXONET Services Inc. (Canada). Tec-Media-Services and 1API then cooperated with an estimated 20 to 30 DENIC accredited registrars by acquiring and pooling their domain registration queries. In order to ensure a fair domain registration process, DENIC only allowed a maximum of four domain registration queries per minute per registrar. By pooling the resources of up to 30 different registrars Tec-Media-Service and 1API have been able to indirectly send as much as 120 queries per minute. It is not known how much Tec-Media-Service paid for the other registrars' domain registration rights, but I have already heard rumors of registration rights having changed hands at prices around €10,000. Apparently, many smaller DENIC accredited registrars thought that selling their queries would result in more cash than establishing an expensive infrastructure of their own. In retrospective, this reasoning might have been correct. The numbers make it clear that only companies with the most advanced technological and organizational solutions have had a realistic chance of successfully registering the extremely sought-after one- and two-letter .DE domain names.

Domain marketplace Sedo took a similar approach by pooling the registration queries of an unknown number of registrars. But of the 3000 domains Sedo put up for auction on its website, it could only secure between 300 and 600. Most of those have been number domains of lower quality. Domains Sedo auctioned off include TV.de (€279,499), PC.de (€158,700) and DE.de (€144,277). None of these was later registered by Sedo, though.

Looking at the results of the initial registration phase, one can understand why many domain investors believe the allocation process was unfair and that insider trading was taking place. But according to DENIC, the pooling of registration rights is not illegal. Personally, I have to agree. It was foreseeable that most companies or investors would not be able to actually get the domains they wanted. As is always the case with valuable commodities, the buyers with the largest amount of cash on hand prevailed.

Length of domain registration important for SEO?

The question whether the length of domain registrations had an influence on search engine rankings or not has been around for a while. But so far none of the big search engine companies has given any firm advice on this subject.

Today, however, I stumbled upon a post on Search Engine Land saying that domain registrations probably have a small influence on rankings in search engines, but that other factors (quality of content, amount of links, etc.) have a lot more weight. This isn't surprising to me, but I still believe that the age of a domain as well as its future expiration date do affect search rankings, even if only to a small extent.

Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable quotes John Mueller, a Google employee:

A bunch of TLDs do not publish expiration dates — how could we compare domains with expiration dates to domains without that information? It seems that would be pretty hard, and likely not worth the trouble. Even when we do have that data, what would it tell us when comparing sites that are otherwise equivalent? A year (the minimum duration, as far as I know) is pretty long in internet-time :-).

But another Google employee and SEO expert, Matt Cutts, gave less clear advice, as quoted from Search Engine Land:

My short answer is not to worry very much about that [the number of years a domain is registered], not very much at all.

In the same post, Search Engine Land says that when they had an interview with a Yahoo employee some time ago, that employee said that domain registration lengths did matter. So while most search industry insiders say that domain registrations have only a small influence on search engine optimization, none of them clearly states that they have no influence at all.

My interpretation is this: Concentrate on creating high-quality websites with unique content providing valuable information to visitors and that attract lots of incoming links. But if you ever get the chance to purchase an aged domain, go for it as it will most likely improve your chances of getting a better ranking in search engines. Also renew your domains well in advance if you already know you're going to own them for a long time, because this might have a positive effect on your search engine position as well. If nothing else, you won't have to worry about domain expirations for a couple of years anymore.

Recommended Domain Registrars

After having written about what to consider when registering domain names, I’m now going to recommend a few domain registrars to you that I think are not only safe places for your domains but that also offer affordable prices, value-added services and a reliable customer support.

Structure of the article:

- What domain registrars should offer
- Moniker
- NameCheap
- GoDaddy
- Other registrars

What domain registrars should offer

When I was shopping around for a domain registrar where I could store the bulk of my domain portfolios, I was mainly looking at a few criteria only.

First and foremost, I needed a registrar where I knew my domain portfolio would be safe and protected against theft or loss. Like many domain investors, I have spent many thousands of dollars on acquiring domain names over the years. Losing a domain would be equal to losing all the money invested in it, as well as losing the future earnings potential. Therefore, security has always been the most important criterion for me.

Secondly, a domain registrar’s customer support must be reliable. It must be permanently available at least during business hours and on work days. Better yet, a registrar should have a support team on duty 24/7 in case there is an emergency with one of your domain names. Few things are worse than being on the verge of losing a domain or not being able to log into your account but then not being able to get in touch with the company your domain is registered with. Good domain registrars not only have an extensive FAQ section in place but also have a toll-free support number you can call at any time as well as an online support ticket system. Urgent matters should be answered very quickly.

Only now do I compare prices. For some registration fees may be the most important criterion when choosing a registrar, but for me security and customer support really come first. The extra cost of paying a little more for your domain registrations is nothing compared to the financial damage of losing your domains or having your account hacked. Still, prices do matter. But don’t be too cheap. There may be some registrars offering ridiculously low prices, sometimes even below the registry fee. It is unlikely that the registrars will be able to hold these prices for a long time, and if they try they will save money by providing a bad service. Registration fees of $7-10 per .com domain are fair to both you as the registrant and the registrar. Prices in this range cover the registry fee, ICANN fee as well as other expenses of the registrar company. You don’t want a registrar to rip you off, but you don’t want your registrar to go bankrupt and close down, either.

Now consider the extra services the domain registrars offer. Such value-added services include, for example, email forwarding, URL forwarding, whois privacy, web hosting plans, or web design packages just to name a few. Usually these services come at an extra fee, but it’s not unusual that the basic services like email and URL forwarding are included in the registration fees. When pointing domains to a specific location on the web, it’s mostly important that you’re able to change the domains’ name servers, but URL and email forwarding can be quite useful in some cases, so it’s nice if you can get this extra. Talking about security, a handful of registrars offers special security services for clients with valuable portfolios. Moniker, for example, has a new so-called “MaxLock” product on offer that provides extra protection for your domain names. Such services may be costly but they’re worth it in the end if your portfolio is worth a lot.

Finally, you should also be able to quickly manage your domain names. This is especially the case if you have hundreds or thousands of domains in your account. Making changes to such a large number of domain names piece by piece would be unacceptable, so make sure your registrar offers bulk tools or similar portfolio management tools. This allows you to make changes to many domains at the same time or to sort your domains into different portfolios. The changes you make should also be processed by the registrar in a timely manner. It’s just annoying when a registrar doesn’t process an urgent whois update or name server changes after hours. Today such changes should be automatically processed within minutes.

I think that’s about it. There may be other things to consider, but if you pay attention to the aforementioned you can’t do much wrong. On a last note, only use registrars that are officially ICANN-accredited. I also don’t recommend using a reseller company, because resellers are usually owned by individuals or very small companies that may not be around in the near future anymore.

Now, here are a few selected domain name registrars meeting the criteria listed above and which I therefore recommend using:

Moniker Moniker.com

Moniker Online Services, LLC is one of the most popular registrars used by professional domain investors and large corporate domain owners alike. It is also my main registrar of choice. The company is based in Pompano Beach, Florida. In early 2008, Moniker was acquired by Oversee.net, the parent company of DomainSponsor, Low.com, Revenue.net and SnapNames, inter alia.

Moniker has a good customer support with a toll-free support phone number, support ticket system and a personal account manager for clients with larger portfolios. Personally, I’ve only had good experiences with Moniker’s support team. The prices for domain registrations can vary slightly depending on the size of your portfolio. The registration fee is around $8 for .com, .org and .info. For .net the pricing is currently below $7.

Today, Moniker is not only a registrar company but it also offers secondary market services like domain appraisals, domain auctions and domain escrow.

NameCheap NameCheap.com

NameCheap is a smaller registrar company, but I used to have a lot of domains there before I moved them to Moniker. NameCheap has an attractive pricing structure and fast customer support. It’s also easy to make changes to domains or obtain EPP codes for transfer-outs.

As of this writing, the registration fee for all the major domain extensions is $9.69, .info domains can even be registered at a low $2.98 per year. Included in the annual registration fee are email forwarding, URL forwarding, DNS changes and, for a limited time, whois privacy.

GoDaddy GoDaddy.com

GoDaddy is a special case for me. I don’t really like the way it promotes its services, I don’t like the cluttered website, the sometimes misleading checkout process, and I really cannot stand some of the terms of its service, such as the 60-day domain lock after whois changes. (This domain lock prohibits the transfer of a domain out to another registrar even if you only make minor changes to the domain name’s whois information.)

But still, I have used GoDaddy on a few occasions in the past, mostly when obtaining ownership of domains I have purchased from other domainers. GoDaddy is an extremely popular service and due to its marketing efforts the company is well-known outside the domain industry. Aside from the forced 60-day domain lock, I didn’t have any real problems with GoDaddy, though, so I will recommend them, in part based on my own experience and in part based on the experience of fellow domainers. I would still like to remark that I would strongly prefer the other companies mentioned above to GoDaddy, especially Moniker is by far the superior service compared to GD.

According to GoDaddy’s website, prices are $9.99 for .com, $8.99 for .net, $19.99 for .org and, which looks like a limited-time offer, $0.99 for .info. But beware: The ICANN fee is not yet included in those prices, so you will have to add another $0.20.

Other registrars

There are also a bunch of other domain registrar companies worth noting. I haven’t extensively used a lot of other registrars myself, so I can’t comment on most of them but I decided to list at least one of them here because I trust the ability to judge of my fellow domain industry peers:

Fabulous.com One of the best and most secure domain registrars in the industry, besides Moniker, is Fabulous.com. Fabulous is owned by Dark Blue Sea (DBS) and it also operates a popular domain parking service. I don’t know why I haven’t used Fab yet (as it is sometimes referred to on domain forums). I guess it is because I’ve been a happy Moniker customer for a long time and there hasn’t been any reason for me to go to another registrar. Just like Moniker, Fabulous is mostly used by owners of large portfolios. It is a secure registrar and also offers competitive prices (users of its parking program may be eligible to lower prices than its other customers).

How to Register Domain Names

This is another basic article in my domain guide. It shall explain what is important to consider when choosing a domain name and when ultimately registering domain names. Then I also briefly note what you should be paying attention to when managing your domain registrations. Although the tutorial is targeted mainly at those new to domain names, it may also contain the one or other information interesting to experienced domainers.

Structure of the article:

- Where to register a domain name?
- Cost of registering a domain name
- Choosing a domain name
- Checking availability
- How to register a domain name
- Manage your domain registrations

Where to register a domain name?

Firstly, as already posted in my Introduction to the Domain Name System, the domain registry is at the top of the domain system. It manages the different domain extensions. VeriSign, for example, is responsible for the .com top-level domain. However, you usually won’t register a domain directly at the registry, but you will go to a specialized company functioning as middle-man. This company is the domain registrar. The registrar will register the domain with the registry on your behalf, and it provides you with a user interface for the management of your registrations.

Today, there are quite a lot of registrars you can choose for your domain registrations. Some registrars are better, some are worse. (Go to: Recommended Domain Registrars.) But you usually can’t do much wrong when registering a domain at one of the bigger domain registrar companies. These are, for instance, Moniker, Fabulous and GoDaddy among others.

Cost of registering a domain name

Domain registrations are not free. The end-user price you pay for your domain registrations varies among the different registrars. In today’s market an annual registration fee between 7 and 10 US dollars per .com domain is a fair price.

This annual registration fee includes the registry cost (which is $6.86 for .com domains as of this writing), the $0.20 ICANN fee as well as a markup for the registrar to cover its costs and make a profit.

Most registrars also offer value-added services you can buy together with your domain registrations. These will come at an additional costs specified by the registrar. This way it’s possible to purchase email forwarding, URL forwarding, domain whois privacy or other services and privileges you wouldn’t otherwise get with your registration.

Choosing a domain name

Maybe you already have a unique name in mind that you want to register for your website or for investment. Unfortunately, all the best .com domains have already been registered long ago and are no longer available for registration. This is especially true for generic keyword domains.

That leaves you with different options. You can try to acquire the domain from its owner, you can come up with other domains, imagine made-up terms that may be brandable and so on… In short, be creative.

For businesses, I always suggest to first of all register the company name in as many variations and under as many extensions as possible so that it won’t fall into the hands of cybersquatters. Then it also makes sense for companies to buy keyword domains describing their products and services. To give an example, General Electric owns GeneralElectric.com, GE.com, General-Electric.com, GeneralElectric.net and lots of other variations of its trademark. But it also owns a portfolio of quite valuable generic or semi-generic domains including TransportationServices.com, Coincidence.com, Ecomagination.com and others. Such domains are perfect to complete a company’s domain portfolio and hence make it easier for customers and business partners to find your products and services on the web. (Fun fact: GE’s domain portfolio consists of almost 15,000 domain names.)

All in all, it’s most important to have your target audience in mind when choosing a domain name. If you’re going to register a domain for your personal website, maybe choose your name as I have done. Or come up with something original, with a slogan or anything else that will be easy to type in and remember.

If you’re going to register or acquire a domain for your business website, make sure to buy your company name and also try to use domains that will support your company’s professional online presence. Choosing suitable and valuable domains is a very important task that should be part of any company’s marketing strategy. (Also see: Benefits of Generic Domains.)

Checking availability

Once you have chosen which domain you want to register, the next thing to do is to check whether it is still available for registration. Checking a domain’s availability is pretty easy.

For this, you can go directly to the domain registry and look up the domain in the registry’s whois database. Let’s say you want to register a .com domain and want to see if you can still register it. VeriSign is the official .com registry, so you’ll go to VeriSign.com. The direct link to VeriSign’s whois lookup tool is http://registrar.verisign-grs.com/whois/. Then type in the domain you want and viola, VeriSign will give you an answer. If it doesn’t find a match, the domain is still available.

But you can also go to a third-party whois tool such as the popular DomainTools.com or iWhois.com.

Even easier, you can go to the domain registrar company where you would like to register your domain. The registrar will automatically check all domains you’re about to order during the checkout process.

Sometimes you might want to check the availability of more than one domain. Say you want to register 100 domains. Then it would be tedious to type in one domain after another. For such tasks, there are a couple of bulk whois tools which you can use to fasten this process up a little. DomainTools.com offers a bulk checker at http://www.domaintools.com/bulk-check/, into which you can copy and paste large lists of domains. Most registrars should be offering a bulk whois tool, too.

How to register a domain name

Since you’ve read the domain guide up to this section, the process of registering a domain name should be self-explanatory by now.

Choose the domain you want, and then choose a domain registrar you trust and where registration fees seem reasonable. Then go to the registrar’s website where you will find an empty box for you to type your domain into. If you want to register more than one domain, use the registrar’s bulk registration tool. After hitting enter, the registrar will check if the domains are available and if yes, you can add them to your cart and go through the check-out process.

Maybe I should elaborate on the whois information at this point. The whois information are stored at the domain registries. These information include a domain’s creation date, the date when it was last updated and its expiration date. The whois also includes information and contact details for the owner of the domain name.

There is usually an administrative contact, a technical contact and a billing contact listed in a domain’s whois. These contacts can be the same person or they can be different contacts, depending on who is responsible for the management of the domain and who should keep the whois info up to date (administrative contact), who may make technical changes to the domain such as DNS changes (technical contact) and whom all bills or other messages shall be sent to (billing contact).

Some people are tempted to provide false information in the whois, because they want to stay anonymous for some reason. But be advised that it is prohibited to provide false whois information. Registrants using fake or outdated contact details risk losing their domain names.

There is a legal and easy way to be anonymous, though. It is possible to purchase whois privacy as an additional service with your domain registrations. If you have your whois protected, your domain registrar will list its own contact details in the domain name and you will therefore remain anonymous. Your contact details given to the registrar must still be correct and up to date, because they will be stored by the registrar in case a third party has claims against the actual owner of the protected domain name. It is then possible that the registrar will reveal your contact details to the third party, but you will still stay anonymous for everyone making a whois lookup for the protected domain.

Manage your domain registrations

After you have successfully registered your domain name, you have become the owner of that domain name. That means you must now manage your domains. Domain management tasks include forwarding the domain to an URL of your choice, pointing it to name servers, setting up email addresses under the domain, keeping the whois records up to date, and renewing the domain.

This last task is very important. If you fail to renew your domain at the end of the one-year registration period, it will expire and eventually be deleted from the registry database. Big companies have already forgotten to renew their valuable domains, which then dropped and were snapped up by competing companies or cybersquatters. Getting their expired domains back has often been a grinding and expensive task for those companies, but those costs can be saved by making sure you always know when your domain names will expire.

The good domain registrar services allow you to set your domains on auto-renew. The registrar’s system will then automatically renew the domains for you when the expiration date comes near. You will still have to make sure your billing details are correct or that you have an account balance sufficient to cover the renewal fee, though.

It is also possible to advance-renew domains for up to 10 years so that you won’t have to think about the renewal of your domains in the near future. This is also useful if you want to save money, because domain registries and registrars may decide to increase domain registration fees. For example, VeriSign has increased its registry cost by almost one dollar within the past three years. Most price hikes are expected soon.

As much as renewing domains is a must-do for every domain owner, it is equally important that your domains are secured against loss or theft. Always have your domains locked at the registrar, unless you’re going to transfer it out to another owner or registrar. Also keep your registrar login details secret and use unique passwords that are difficult to hack.

Choosing a domain registrar with a proven track record is already half the battle. Moniker and Fabulous, for example, are known to go to great lengths when it comes to protecting their customers’ valuable domain portfolios. More details on recommended and secure domain registrars can be found in the next article in this series.

VeriSign Domain Industry Brief; Local Domain Markets

VeriSignGlobal registry operator VeriSign has published its June 2008 Domain Name Industry Brief (PDF). According to the report, the base of domain registrations has grown 26 percent in the past twelve months and six percent quarter over quarter. This marks yet another significant increase in the number of domain registrations and is further proof that there is no slowdown in sight.

ChinaThere are now more than 162 million domain names registered; .com is still number one, followed by ccTLDs .de (Germany) and .cn (China). VeriSign reports that Germany's .de TLD comes in second, but I have already heard reports elsewhere that China's .cn has overtaken .de. Anyway, both of these country-code domains are highly popular and they will continue to grow as more and more people in Asia get reliable Internet access and IDNs (internationalized domain names) become more popular and more widely used.

But not only .cn has experienced double-digit growth quarter over quarter (it grew 23 percent), Poland's .pl, Spain's .es, Russia .ru and France's .fr have seen large growth as well. There are big opportunities in local domain markets, so if you find yourself in the position to invest in foreign language domains you might want to look into this more thoroughly. Personally, I've recently been watching the German IDN market, although I haven't committed to any investments, yet. China, Poland and Russia look very interesting too, in my opinion.

IndiaAnother growth market one should keep an eye on is India. VeriSign says that, despite the fact that the .com and .in TLDs are well-known and established in India, most people still don't understand what domains are and what services to associate with them. Therefore, the vast majority of domain registrants in India has been medium and large businesses. So there is lots of potential untapped when it comes to small businesses and private domain registrations. As soon as these groups will begin to demand more domain names too, both the primary and the secondary market will become even more interesting. At the end of the first quarter of 2008, there was a total of 1.2 million domain registrations in India, which represents a 46 percent increase over the same time last year. About 60 percent of these domains are .com or .net domains and 40 percent .in domains. I expect the number of domain registrations as well as the number of aftermarket domain sales in India to grow at similarly high rates in the future. Investing early could yield higher returns than waiting until demand for and knowledge about domains in India has finally gone up.