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Michael Conniff Headshot

Con Games: The Domain Game

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Santa Monica, Calif. -- Park all your troubles to the rear of DomainFest here because you have just entered the global domain game, where the right Web address is cherished like a bauble fit for a Rothschild -- and where domain "parking," once the solution, is now the problem that won't go away.

Blame it on Google, and if that doesn't make you feel any better than you can always blame it on Facebook, of whom more later. For the better part of a decade domain speculators have gobbled up URLs then parking same in domain registries so as to generate pay per click (PPC) revenue by merely populating their sites with Google ads. If you pay $8 per year per domain, but you make $1 per month per domain from Google ads--and you own, say, a million domains--you've got yourself one hell of a business. But Google, the gazillion-pound gorilla, has crushed the domainer spirit by sucking away more and more of this revenue, while having the virtual cojones to change their search algorithms on the fly, making things that much more mysterious and that much worse.

For the domain industry, this is a jungle where all machetes have been confiscated and where maps lead to a wordy mosh pit. Think about an industry based on misdirection and mistakes and occasional misconduct: if you mistype a domain name and you click on an ad on a parking page, you may have delivered a ha'penny to some lip-smacking domainer in Mumbai. Or you come to a great domain parked with generic crap and you never come back. Or you buy a ton of domains only to re-direct the traffic somewhere else for a price.

Domain parking is far from dead -- the Fairmont by the Pacific is lousy with GoDaddy, Oversee.net, and a dozen other companies from all over the world parking domains by the millions. And the market for great generic domains can still go into the six and seven figures. There's still value in them thar domain names, even if it comes from pure speculation. For the endless supply of suckers born every day, there are new domainers and domain extensions coming on the world all day long. And the world is massively populated with people sitting on that one domain that will allow for the requisite beach house up the road in Malibu at some future date.

You might say domainers are not about to go away -- true -- but life in the bush is about to grow darker and denser. On one front, mobile platforms and apps are hacking away at user dependence on traditional Web sites. Perhaps even more ominous is the continued dominance of Facebook when it comes to Internet face time as we move toward an epoch where people will cumulatively clock more time on FB than on the rest of the Web put together, a situation sure to spook Google's one-click pony.

The fallout has already begun, with domainers seeing their URLs' once annual ad revenues per site drop below the Mendoza Line, i.e. the cost of renewing the domain in their favorite parking lot. Even here in Santa Monica by the beach, it's a jungle out there.

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