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T.R.A.F.F.I.C.'s Winning Streak Continues With Hot Show in Las Vegas 

The 2006 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West Conference held at the luxurious Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas May 2-5 was the fifth event staged by co-founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu, but this one will be remembered for a string of “firsts”

The show attracted the largest group of domainers to ever gather in one place with the 502 in attendance doubling the crowd that turned out last year. T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West also presented the biggest live domain auction held to date, selling $2.1 million worth of domains in just 3 hours Thursday afternoon. The auction in turn produced the largest .net sale ever reported, with Sex.net drawing a high bid of $450,000.  

There was also a speed networking session, presented in a unique new format that personally introduced at least two dozen people to each person that took part. 

Venetian Hotel - Las Vegas
Site for T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West 2006

              Opening day breakfast session

Some common threads to all T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences were also maintained, including timely seminars and special events designed to spark new business by bringing people with mutual interests together in a variety of memorable settings. 

Those activities began even before the show started with a golf tournament Monday morning (sponsored by Beach Farm Nine’s Brian Null who was the subject of our November 2005 Cover Story) and a get acquainted cocktail party Tuesday night.

By the time Mr. Neu, who also served as conference moderator, welcomed everyone at the opening breakfast Wednesday morning, attendees were already comfortable with their surroundings and the people that shared their tables. In addition to a great breakfast, they were treated to a series of talks on domain development that featured attorney Steve Sturgeon, and experienced ecommerce site developers Brian Benko and Jeff Reynolds.

Sturgeon and Benko (NoParking.com) were featured in our April 2006 Cover Story on domain development and Reynolds (AmericanFlags.com) was the subject of our December 2004 Cover Story. While many were already familiar with their stories from those articles it was a special treat to see them in person and have the opportunity to ask questions and bounce ideas off of them throughout the week.   

Jeff Reynolds 
AmericanFlags.com

After breakfast it was off to the seminar hall where Schwartz welcomed attendees then turned the podium over to an excellent leadoff man, Ari Lee Bayme (Vice President of well-known New York investment bankers Milbank Roy & Co.), who specializes in technology related transactions. Bayme gave a highly detailed presentation on how to “Prepare Your Portfolio For Sale”, an extremely timely topic given the number of well financed groups currently tempting holders of quality portfolios with purchase offers.  

With so many in-depth presentations on the schedule, space constraints prevent us from going into detail on all of the ground covered (in fact most of the presentations are so comprehensive they would be worthy of an article of their own), but there are always a few comments that strike us as particularly interesting. While several speakers from the financial community suggested that the revenue multiples being paid now may not go a lot higher, Mr. Bayme predicted that when more companies operating in this space go public (as Marchex and ValueClick have done), domain valuations will rise with the influx of investment dollars.  

Ari Lee Bayme
VP, Milbank Roy & Co.

In the next seminar the two giants of search marketing, Google and Yahoo! sent two of their top warriors into a friendly head to head joust aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the traffic titans in the audience. Google was represented by the head of their Domain Channel, Eytan Elbaz, while Yahoo! countered with Josh Meyers, the Director of Partner Solutions at Yahoo! Search Marketing. Those two have become fixtures at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and always manage to bring both insight and entertainment to their sessions.  

Josh Meyers, Yahoo! (left) and Eytan Elbaz, Google

When queried about which of the two companies was best, Elbaz drew some laughter when he suggested that the stock price was a pretty good indicator. Meyers returned fire, playing off the mild but growing paranoia that Google has their hands in everything by commenting, “I hope you are all enjoying your Google water and will enjoy your Google chicken at lunch!” Upstarts can quickly become giants in this business and though Yahoo! is hardly a boutique shop, it can pay to paint yourself as a smaller, nimbler competitor. 

On more substantive matters, Elbaz said that he could see reasons why direct navigation (type in traffic) could either grow or shrink in the years ahead, however he believes that the balance is tilted in favor of continued growth today. He added that owners of traffic domains could mitigate their risks by building up content rich sites and diversifying their revenue streams beyond pay per click (PPC) only.

Meyers also commented on the future of type-ins, saying that if destination pages continue to get better and better over time and deliver value to web surfers, then type-in traffic should continue to thrive.  

A lunch break followed that also gave attendees a chance to stroll through the largest exhibit area at any T.R.A.F.F.I.C. show to date. In another sign of industry growth, there were three rows of professional company exhibits where you could talk with top executives, pick up informational brochures and, of course, take advantage of the biggest draw of all, free T-shirts, ink pens, travel kits and other promotional items! 

After lunch everyone regrouped for one of the show’s main events, a shootout among leaders from nine different PPC companies, each of whom tried to convince registrants that their company could monetize a portfolio better than the others.

Freddy Schiwek (L) snags a free polo 
shirt at the Afternic booth while 
chatting with Amber West and 
Afternic President Roger Collins

A table to the left of the podium featured (left to right in the photo below) Monte Cahn (Moniker.com), Ron Sheridan (DomainSponsor.com), Matt Bentley (Sedo.com), Sig Solares (Parked.com) and Dan Warner (Fabulous.com)

A second table to the right of the podium was manned by (left to right in the photo below) Ammar Kubba (TrafficZ.com), Ed Russell (NameDrive.com), Tom Wilde (YesDirect.com, owners of GoldKey.com) and Ari Goldberger (SmartName.com).

 

Each executive had five minutes to make the case for their company then the session was opened for questions from the floor. Among the many topics covered was the continuing debate over how much more attractive landing pages actually contribute to higher click through rates. Several panelists think it is a very important factor in higher earnings while others believe “plain Jane” pages actually convert better. 

Since individual domains can perform quite differently at various services, the only way to tell for sure may be to try your domains at a few different services to see what kind of presentation works best for your specific names. 

Open mikes let the audience ask questions
from the floor during the PPC session. 

One thing we are sure of is that the advances these companies have made (much of it spurred by very intense competition in the parking space) deserve a huge amount of credit for the current boom in domain values. Improved PPC landing pages and statistical information have boosted revenue streams for owners of quality domains, attracting the legion of buyers that have bid prices to their current levels. 

One has to wonder how many more participants can crowd into this space though. While speaking at lunch Thursday, SmartName.com’s Lawrence Fischer said that while playing blackjack in the casino he mentioned to the dealer that he had a domain parking business. Fischer said the dealer replied, “No kidding? I’m starting one too!” Everyone laughed because the best jokes always have a grain of truth in them. However, just as consolidation of domain ownership is accelerating, you have to expect that the same thing will eventually happen in the PPC category.

The opening day of business ended with T.R.A.F.F.I.C.’s new take on speed networking. During this session, everyone in the room was moved forward so that every seat was filled. Then, starting from the front of the room, people in every other row turned around to face people in the row behind them. 

Lawrence Fischer (SmartName.com)

When Howard Neu gave the signal to go, everyone had just two minutes to talk with the person in front of them and exchange business cards. Loud music then blasted over the sound system, signaling those in the rows that were designated to move, to slide over one seat (while those in the other rows remained in place). The music kept malingerers from continuing their conversations so they had to move and wait for the music to stop so they could begin another two-minute discussion with the new contact in front of them.   

People met up close and personal during the speed networking session.

Beforehand, Neu and Schwartz told me they had no idea whether the plan would result in success or disaster, but it worked out quite well. Everyone involved got to meet at least two dozen new people. The only ones unhappy were those who arrived late for the session and were locked out. There was no way to integrate late arrivals once all of the seats had been filled and the session had been put in motion. So, for future reference, if you want to be part of the networking event (which organizers say will be a fixture in the future), make sure you are there before the opening whistle blows!   

Bill Demas, Senior VP & GM
Yahoo! Partner Solutions

T.R.A.F.F.I.C. always manages to combine business and pleasure in equal parts. After the formal networking session closed the business day, a more traditional form of networking resumed with a 5:30 cocktail hour, followed by a dinner sponsored by TrafficZ.com. That event featured a lively keynote address from Bill Demas, the Senior VP and General Manager of Yahoo! Partner Solutions.

Demas talked about the future of search and how his company was focused on engaging the end user. He showed a variety of landing pages and described how each element on the pages were set up to meet that goal.    

The pivotal role of interactivity was also a key theme in Demas’s speech and he said that the interactive nature of the web has made it the preferred medium for millions of people today. One example he used to demonstrate the power of interactivity was taken from another medium. Demas noted how today’s TV phenomenon American Idol was very similar to an old TV show some of you may remember called Star Search

By adding the interactive element of allowing the audience to vote and determine who stays and who goes on the show, Idol has become one of the most popular TV shows of all time even though the program itself was not an original concept. The same principal of interactivity leading to success has been proven with wildly popular websites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com. As a fully interactive medium, the web is poised for phenomenal growth.  

Soon after dinner, it was time for T.R.A.F.F.I.C.’s premier social event, the DomainSponsor Party. That bash already enjoys a near legendary history, so the company pulled out all the stops to surpass what had gone before. A fleet of Hummer limousines was commissioned to take party goers from the Venetian across town to the Palms Hotel and a date at the famous GhostBar (featured on MTV) that sits on the 55th floor of the Las Vegas landmark. 

Traveling in style! 
Freddy Schiwek (EuroDNS.com), Jothan Frakes (NameIntelligence.com) 
and Mustafa Patel (eSoftWiz.com) in limo headed for the DomainSponsor Party

(Above) Welcome sign and stunning buffet table ice sculpture at GhostBar
(Below) Spectacular view of the Las Vegas skyline from the outdoor rooftop patio

   

Guests were able to enjoy the night air on the outdoor patio just a few steps away from a sumptuous buffet and open bar.  If you needed an illustration of how far this business has come in an incredibly short period of time, this event was it. 

In addition to throwing another unforgettable party, DomainSponsor served as the overall T.R.A.F.F.I.C. sponsor, a role they have also filled for most of the previous shows. In other words, they put up the money that makes it all possible and I heard many attendees express their appreciation for how much the company has plowed back into the industry through their support of events and enterprises that help to continually push this business forward.    

 

Outdoor rooftop patio at GhostBar

With the party continuing into the wee hours of the night, the next question was whether or not anyone would be able to get out of bed for the second big day of the conference. For the answer, continue on to page 2!

  Continue to Page 2 - 2006 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. West Day 2


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