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August 27, 2012

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Domain Roundtable Dazzles Audience with High Tech Trade Show and Live Auction Twists
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Roundtable organizers showed their registrants some mercy Tuesday morning (Aug. 14). Knowing that many were up late partying the night before, breakfast was moved back half an hour (hey every little bit helps!). 

.Mobi sponsored breakfast and after eating, the crowd heard about the latest developments with the mobile-centric extension from registry spokesman Pinky Brand. Brand noted that four mobile phones are sold for every PC and that more people around the globe now access the Internet though mobile phones than through computers. As an extension that requires bandwidth friendly website designs, Brand believes that .mobi is poised for widespread acceptance among mobile surfers.

The next session focused on Web 2.0, the buzzword that refers to new generation websites that are packed with interactive features like social networks, user generated content and blogs.

Pinky Brand spreads 
the .mobi gospel

Joe Davison (TechAnalyst.com), Stuart Wood (Wifi.com) and Frank Michlick (SharedReviews.com) gave some pointers on incorporating content and interactive elements into websites. Wood had some advice that is of critical importance. If you want to vastly increase your chances of developing success, "develop a name about a subject you have an in interest in and passion for." Even with today's Web 2.0 plug-ins, developing is hard work and if you do not love the topic the site is about you will soon lose interest in it.

The final Tuesday morning session was devoted to Domain Appraisal and Evaluation and featured panelists Peter Lamson (NameMedia), Victor Pitts (Moniker.com), Jay Finnan (Sedo.com), Jakob Knightly (NameDrive.com) and John Tompkins (Trellian) with Sevan Derderian serving as moderator. They discussed the various factors that make domains valuable. While a PPC revenue stream is an obvious parameter, Lamson noted that his company sells many low or no traffic domains at good prices because they have a memorable and brandable ring to them, passing what is often called the "radio test." That is, if you heard a domain name on the radio, is it one you could easily remember?

Domain Appraisal and Evaluation Panel (left to right): Victor Pitts
Peter Lamson, John Tompkins, Jay Finnan and Jakob Knightly

When this session moved to the audience Q & A segment, many of the questions revolved around values outside the red hot .com sector. Lamson said he saw interest in .net falling off while ccTLDs were gaining strength. He sees a lot of potential in .us, noting that the American country code would likely benefit from the sheer number of small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) coming online. There are 17 million SMBs in the U.S. alone and more than 100 million around the world that need digital ID's.

On the flip side of the coin, most of the panelists were less optimistic about "re-purposed" ccTLDs, country codes being marketed to mean something else. In response to a question about .TV, Finnan said the extension faces a lot of obstacles. "The variable pricing is a nightmare for  buyers - a domain can cost thousands a year to renew," Finnan said, adding "it would not be at the top of my list for investment." Pitts was bullish on International Domains (IDNs), saying they are growing rapidly in demand and usage as Internet adoption continues to grow even faster in other regions around the world than it is in the U.S.

Lamson returned to speak at a luncheon sponsored by NameMedia where he was joined by the company's Senior VP for Direct Search, Brian Carr. They detailed innovations in the aftermarket and parking platforms at NameMedia. Lamson said the company did $20 million in aftermarket sales the first half of this year and that business was continuing to accelerate. Their average domain sales price was $1,764 with a median price of $1,300. We went into 

Name Media's Peter Lamson (left) and Brian Carr
at Tuesday's luncheon

great detail on NameMedia's AfternicDLS sales program in our current Cover Story and I would recommend you review that article for more information.

After lunch the balance of the day was crammed with eight seminars, running two at a time on the dual-track schedule. The first twinbill featured a panel on ccTLD Power and another called Aftermarket 101. On the dais for the ccTLD session was Ahmed Farooq (Enthropia.com), Richard Schreier (Pool.com), Jakob Knightly (NameDrive.com) and Alan Ezeir (Global Domains International). Attorney Steve Sturgeon, who moderated the discussion, called country code domains the "next frontier." 

Ahmed Farooq (Enthropia.com)

There are 240 different ccTLD extensions in the world and many of them represent excellent investment opportunities. Most people are interested in the largest industrial nations (China's .cn is among those that are currently exploding) but Farooq cautioned investors not to underestimate the spending power of buyers in smaller nations around the globe who are flocking to the web (and he is putting his own money where his mouth is). 

Schreier, the CEO at Pool.com, showed a slide series with a lot of interesting stats. He said the fastest growing ccTLDs in terms of sheer numbers include .de (Germany), .uk (Great Britain), .eu (European Union) and .nl (Netherlands) while the fastest growth percentage wise is being enjoyed by Russia's .ru, Korea's .kr and France's .fr. His own country's ccTLD (Canada's .ca) was growing at a 24% annual clip compared to 10% annual growth for .com in Canada.

While ccTLDs were being dissected in the Aspen room, those across the Sheraton's conference level in the Willow room were enjoying the Aftermarket 101 session. The panel included Jay Finnan (Sedo.com), Kerry Kelley (SnapNames.com), Scott Ross (Promediary.com), Tom Murphy (NameMedia), Nate Curran (GoDaddy.com) and Victor Pitts (Moniker.com). This seminar gave attendees the basics of buying and selling domain names and details on how the various aftermarket venues work (for further information, we would again refer you to our current Cover Story that is devoted to the accelerating boom in aftermarket sales).

When people wanted to take a break from the seminar schedule they could, at any time during the day, drop into the Douglas Room for coffee, refreshments and entertainment. Parked.com had sponsored the room Monday, setting up Playstation 3 and Wii consoles (that they later gave away). NameDrive sponsored the room Tuesday and Wednesday and drew a continual stream of visitors Tuesday with a poker tournament that offered shares in a 250-name domain portfolio as an incentive to play (as if people needed an incentive!).

The chips are down in the Douglas Room Tuesday (Aug. 14)

Back on the business floor, the next seminar doubleheader offered an ICANN Roundtable and a session called Monetization World that explored the many options available for earning money from domains. The ICANN Roundtable panel featured ICANN's Registrar Liaison Manager Mike Zupke, ICANN's Chief Registrar Liaison Tim Cole, Jothan Frakes (DomainSponsor.com), Richard Lau (DomainManager.com) and moderator John Berryhill

The professional domain investment/development community has been at odds with ICANN recently over what have been viewed as overly generous contract concessions given to registries (at the expense of domain registrants) despite overwhelming opposition from the community. Frakes, who has followed ICANN for years and attended many of their meetings, urged domain owners to get involved in the ICANN process by joining one of the organization's constituencies and if possible attending an 

Mike Zupke (left) and Tim Cole represented ICANN
at the Domain Roundtable conference

ICANN meeting in person where they can participate in public sessions. The first ICANN meeting held in the U.S. in five years is coming up October 29 - November 2 in Los Angeles. By sending representatives to Roundtable, ICANN made a good step in our direction by showing they are interested in forging a better relationship with domain professionals. 

The panel for the Monetization World seminar included Yossi Goldlust (LookSmart.com), Chris Ambler (Enom.com), Hal Bailey (Google), Joe Davison (TechAnalyst.com) and Ofer Ronen (Sendori.com). Joe Davison said he had started making money with websites when he was 15 years old when he built a website about videogames. Davison said for some types of domains it is wise to monetize with CPA (cost per acquisition models) rather than PPC (pay per click). He said CPA worked especially well for him with credit card domains because the card companies pay high fees for new signups. Bailey cautioned domain owners to avoid trying to profit from trademark sensitive domains as there is a real risk that you will end up losing far more money in a lawsuit than you will gain from this kind of activity.

The next pair of seminars offered a choice between Madison Avenue and Dropping Domain Treasures. Scott Ross (Promediary.com) and Yossi Goldlust (LookSmart.com) anchored the Madison Avenue session while Chris Ambler (Enom.com), Kerry Kelley (SnapNames.com) and Richard Schreier (Pool.com) shared their expertise on drop catching in the Dropping Domain Treasures seminar.

In the Madison Avenue session, Ross commented on the resistance many ad agencies have shown toward buying high-ticket domains saying, "Many ad agencies don't get it and don't want to get it." Ross added "high-end corporate domain sales are often more complex and difficult to navigate when ad agencies are consulted. Agency execs have a tendency to quickly resist because they can't take creative ownership of the idea. That's the agency ego. More importantly, the client's domain investment is a non-commissionable expense

Scott Ross (Promediary.com)

which is often yanked from the agency's commissionable budget. Instead of quickly recognizing powerful, industry-centric domains as a lucrative and perpetual conduits for high-performing online advertising placements, conflicted and shortsighted agency execs often place their own interests above their clients' best interests." However, Ross said "having the know-how and initiative to lay-out a long-term online ad strategy which benefits the agency can convert contentious ad execs into supportive allies."

Ross emphasized that the corporate selling process begins with comprehensive research into corporate structure and evaluations of each prospect's fiscal state and existing marketing initiatives. "Cold calls most often lead inexperienced domain sellers through a wasted sequence of misdirected pitches and unreturned messages," Ross said. "Pitching senior executive decision-makers who have the grasp and direct authority to take action is imperative." This is an area where Ross' brokerage firm has special expertise (typically, Ross will only broker domains with the potential to sell for $250,000 or more).

The final pair of Tuesday seminars focused on the Domain Industry Image (and ways to improve it) and Domain Traffic (a sequel to Monday's Parking Services Summit that explored how the various PPC companies view the current state and future potential of the direct navigation market). The panel for the latter session featured Greg Manriquez (NameDrive.com), Andrew Wright (Fabulous.com), Ron Sheridan (Domain Sponsor.com), John Smrekar (RevenueDirect.com), Sigmund Solares (Parked.com) and Brian Carr (Name Media), with Derek Newman serving as moderator. 

Ron Sheridan (DomainSponsor.com)

Sheridan said that many of the advertisers his company deals with have told him that they get better results from direct navigation (type-in) traffic than they do from paid search ads on Google and Yahoo. That underscores what many domain owners have always said - that frequently maligned parking pages serve a real and valuable purpose for advertisers and consumers by bringing them together in a more efficient way. Consumers find what they are searching for and advertisers make more sales - a win win for both sides.

At the same time across the hall the domain industry's image was being discussed in a session led by panelists Jothan Frakes (DomainSponsor.com), Associated Cities Executive Director Patrick Carleton, Modern Domainer Magazine's Managing Editor Ezra James and Sedo's General Counsel Jeremiah Johnston who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Internet Commerce Association (ICA). Attorney Steve Sturgeon moderated the discussion.

Johnston, who spends much of his time on improving the image of the domain industry said it was important to distinguish between legitimate domain investors and cybersquatters who are often mistakenly lumped together in poorly researched reports at mainstream media outlets. 

Johnston called on industry professionals to contact these outlets and call these factual errors to their attention so that they understand the clear difference between the opposing camps. At the same time he said we have to recognize and validate the legitimate cause for concern that TM interests have and maintain open, transparent business practices to change current perceptions. Johnston added that the industry needs to engage the help of lobbyists and public relations firms which is something the ICA has been focused on.

Jeremiah Johnston (Sedo.com)

Soon after the day's round of seminars ended it was time for the annual Name Intelligence Awards Dinner. Conference organizers said the NI Awards (named after Domain Roundtable's parent company) are meant to recognize the best people and companies in various categories of the domain and internet commerce industry. Name Intelligence CEO Jay Westerdal handed out the awards (chosen by the thousands of members of NI's popular DomainTools.com site) to the following winners (some categories had multiple winners as noted):

  • Best ICANN Reseller: eNom.com

  • Best Performing Parking Program: NameDrive.com, Sedo.com

  • Best Place to Talk: DNForum.com

  • Community of the Year: NamePros.com

  • Largest Net Gain: GoDaddy.com

  • Outstanding Drop Catcher: eNom.com, SnapNames.com

  • Outstanding Industry Coverage: DNJournal.com

  • Outstanding Secondary Market: Sedo.com, Afternic.com

  • Userís Choice Award: GoDaddy.com, Network Solutions, Tucows, Register.com, eNom.com, Melbourne IT, Dotster, Name.com

Left to right: Paul Stahura (eNom.com) and Nate Curran (GoDaddy.com) 
accept awards from  Domain Roundtable founder Jay Westerdal

Peter Lamson (NameMedia) and 
Mark Klein (Sedo) with their awards

Ron Jackson (DNJournal.com) with 
Outstanding Industry Coverage award

After the awards dinner, those who still had some energy left after being on the go for 13 straight hours were treated to a night out at Seattle billiards and bowling emporium The Garage. I reluctantly sat that one out and retired to my room to update our Lowdown section and get a few hours of sleep before the conference's closing day Wednesday.

TrafficZ hosted the final breakfast Wednesday morning, then the crowd split up for the final two seminars that ran concurrently starting at 10am. In one corner Steve Sturgeon (DomainNameLawyers.com) and Victor Pitts (Moniker.com) talked about opportunities in Domain Development and how to partner with other experts to get sites off the ground. Sturgeon has been actively involved in putting development groups together for the benefit of all parties involved. 

In the opposite corner, the topic was SEO and Domains. The panel for that session included Todd Mintz (SEMPDX), Aaron Wall (SEOBook.com), John Andrews (Upper Left Placement) and Dustin Woodard, with Derek Newman moderating. This seminar focused primarily on technical aspects of setting up domains in a way that will work best with SEO techniques, including the use of folders and sub-domains when setting up a domain's hierarchy.

At 11am, it was time for the grand finale - Domain Roundtable's first live auction, an event that set a new technological standard for this increasingly popular sales format. The entire 7-hour plus auction was shown live on the Internet and bidders anywhere in the world were able to place bids live in real time, competing with those who were actually at the auction site at the Seattle Sheraton. 

While the technology stole the show the sales results were also very respectable with the final total settling at just above $3.8 million.  The auction got off to 

Auctioneer Ron Hannon (left) and Jay Westerdal simultaneously field bids made from the floor and others 
placed live over the Internet by bidders around the world. 

a rousing start with the first five names selling, including Rebate.com at $1 million and Invention.com at $500,000 (the complete list of auction results can be seen at Jay Westerdal's DomainTools.com blog.)

While the auction was very long (Westerdal said future sales will be completed in a much shorter time frame) the ability to monitor what was going on (and even bid) no matter where you were made the marathon easier to run. The auction hall itself was a comfortable space with ample food and drink available throughout the day, but many returned to their rooms for an occasional break, monitoring the auction action on their laptops while they were off the floor. 

At about the midway point, I took a refreshing six-block walk from the downtown hotel to Seattle's world famous Pike Place waterfront market. I could have followed the auction even there on an iPhone - but decided to absorb some of the local color instead. Seattle is a beautiful city and no one should visit without sampling some of its many delights.

Roundtable's first auction outing was so successful it has really whetted people's appetites for the next go round that will be staged at the conference's first show outside the Seattle area coming up April 18-20, 2008 in San Francisco. Westerdal promised the next one would be much improved and considering how well the debut edition was received, that is something to get excited about.

The curtain on the Domain Roundtable conference was brought down with an open bar cocktail party in the hotel lounge that ran all the way to closing time Wednesday night. Before heading to the party many people got together in small groups for dinner at various locations around town. I had the pleasure of joining Show Director Stephen Douglas and his lovely wife Denise, Douglas's Executive Assistant Lorenzo Green
Stephen Webb
(IAmDomainNames.com), Angela Siefer (Executive Director, Grassroots.org) and Seth Coman (Director of Ad Services for Modern Domainer Magazine) for a memorable evening at the Metropolitan Grill

By the time we got back to the hotel the closing party was well underway. Most of us stayed until the lounge manager flipped on the lights and shooed everyone out! After a good night's 

Left to right: Denise Douglas, Ron Jackson
Stephen Douglas
, Stephen Webb, Lorenzo Green
Angela Siefer
& Seth Coman

sleep (a rarity at domain conferences) I made the trip back to Florida Thursday and the long flight gave me time to reflect on how rewarding the week had been. As always, many new people were met and relationships with old friends and acquaintances were strengthened. 

The size of the crowd - approximately 200 registrants - made it possible to spend meaningful time with a lot of people. Larger crowds, like the 500-600 drawn to T.R.A.F.F.I.C., create an environment sizzling with electricity but there is also something to be said for the initimacy of smaller gatherings. Another show promoter - Domain Focus, who will be staging a conference in London Sept. 6-7, have a cap of 250 people on their conferences for that reason. 

I learned a lot at Domain Roundtable - no matter how long you have been in this business it changes so rapidly there are always new things to absorb. That is one of the things I love most about this industry - no two days are ever the same! I'll close with a thank you to Jay Westerdal and Stephen Douglas for a job well done. I'm already looking forward to Roundtable round four next spring in San Francisco.


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