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August 27, 2012

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Domain Roundtable Dazzles Audience with High Tech Trade Show and Live Auction Twists
By Ron Jackson 

As this industry continues to grow at an exponential rate competition is heating up in every sector including registration and parking services, aftermarket platforms, media outlets, trade shows and everything in between. It is getting harder to stand out in the crowd but if you don't find a way to do it, you're sure to get lost in the shuffle. Organizers of the 2007 Domain Roundtable conference obviously understand that. Last week at the Seattle Sheraton they cut the standard conference deck in ways no one has seen before and the positive results will impact this industry for a long time to come.

Roundtable founder Jay Westerdal and Show Producer Stephen Douglas introduced a series of high tech twists that changed the way conference business has been done. 

Domain Roundtable Live Auction
August 15, 2007 at the Seattle Sheraton

It started at the registration desk where attendees were issued electronic nTags (see photo at left) - multi-function devices (about the size of a small TV remote control) that are worn around the neck. They replaced traditional business cards, conference programs and messaging systems while also enabling polling on a variety of topics with instantly tabulated results. 

When you met someone new you just pointed your nTag at theirs, pressed a button and your contact information was instantly exchanged and recorded for later retrieval. If you weren't sure what was up next on the daily schedule, you could just check the electronic agenda. If show promoters wanted to let you know about something big going on they could send the message to every nTag in the building. 

During seminars, the audience could vote on various topics (such as what features were most important to them in choosing a registrar) and the results could be shown within seconds on a projection screen. A lot of the service providers who spoke in the seminars were fascinated by this instant feedback on what their customers really wanted.

Later in the week, Domain Roundtable staged their first live auction and again they pulled a revolutionary new platform out of their hat that wowed those in attendance as well as people around the world who were able to not only watch the proceedings live on the Internet, but to actually bid for domains in real time right along with those sitting in the auction hall. That potent combo produced over $3.8 million in sales and gave the already exploding live auction format a powerful new weapon to use in the fight for aftermarket dollars.

While the new advances in technology gave Roundtable a serious wow factor, the person to person human element, as it always does, underpinned the event and opened doors for attendees that only face to face networking can push open. In this article we'll take you along with us for the entire ride so you can experience the people, places and programs that made show week in the Pacific Northwest such a special treat. 

While the official opening day was Monday (August 13), Westerdal and Douglas arranged a Sunday night cocktail party to entertain those who arrived in Seattle early. Our plane from Florida arrived in time for us to catch the second half of this soiree. That allowed us to catch one of the first of many cool "photo ops" as we saw Jothan Frakes who produced the first two Roundtables hand the baton off to new producer Stephen Douglas (Frakes moved to a new position with Oversee.net's DomainSponsor after the 2006 conference, opening the door for Douglas to steward the third edition of this event). 

Fortunately, we also caught Internet Real Estate Group co-founder Mike Zappy Zapolin's turn at the podium near the end of the evening. His pep talk about the endless opportunities in this industry (illustrated with examples from IREG's  

Current Roundtable Show Producer 
Stephen Douglas (left) with his 
predecessor Jothan Frakes

many successes) served as a perfect stage setter for the week ahead. Also Sunday night exhibitors started setting up booths to show off their products and services in the days ahead (see our Roundtable Photo Gallery for shots of several of these displays and the company representatives who were there to answer all of the attendees' questions).

After registration and a sumptuous breakfast Monday morning, the main agenda got underway. I had the privilege of sitting on the opening panel with Ali Farschchian (CircleID.com), Andrew Allemann (DomainNameWire.com), Frank Michlick (DomainNameNews.com) and Ezra James (Modern Domainer Magazine). Our session was about the ever growing domain news media corps. The fact that these (and many other) media outlets have sprung up to cover this industry is proof positive that this is a business that a lot of people are interested in. It is an extremely healthy development for the industry and we are fortunate to have dedicated, knowledgeable people like those on the panel reporting on developments in the domain world and giving their unique perspectives on industry events. 

Mike "Zappy" Zapolin
Co-Founder, Internet Real Estate Group

The next session was a domain industry roundtable featuring Name Administration chief Frank Schilling (who would return to deliver the conference's keynote speech Monday night), IREG's Mike Zapolin, Sahar Sarid (Recall Media Group) and Adam Strong (DomainNameNews.com). This was a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion with many highlights. Schilling and Zapolin agreed that more and more traditional capital investors are looking at the domain space and Schilling noted that they are pushing prices up because they are competing for a very limited number of high quality domain names that are available for sale.

Zapolin commented on the amazing price escalation involving premier generic domains. For example his company originally bought CreditCards.com for just $100,000. In 2004 they turned around and sold it for $2.75 million. The buyer put some development 

work into the domain and just this month filed  a $115 million IPO plan for the property. That kind of run-up is understandably drawing attention.

Sarid said his company has little interest in selling their domains as today's 20-cent click could easily become a $20 click in the future as the value of targeted traffic becomes recognized by advertisers. As millions of new businesses (and domain investors) search for suitable domains, Strong noted that longer, more descriptive names are increasing in value, deflating the long held notion that only short (preferably one-word) domains were worth investing in. The sheer magnitude of the migration to the web is creating many different models for success. 

After a lunch break sponsored by NameDrive.com, the afternoon sessions switched to dual-track mode - meaning that seminars on different topics were held simultaneously, increasing the options for attendees so they could customize a program to better fit their specific interests. For dual track sessions I split my time evenly between competing sessions so we could bring you at least some of the flavor from every seminar. Though I did that for reporting purposes I also found it to be a productive strategy for learning more about a wider variety of topics. So whether you picked one seminar and stayed wire to wire (as most did), or opted for conference room hopping as I did, the time wound up being well spent.

As you would expect, the Domains 101 seminar in the Aspen Room attracted the many industry newcomers at the conference. A panel including GoDaddy's Domain Business Manager Nate Curran, Matthias Mueller (NameDrive.com), Sean Stafford (DNZoom.com) and Jothan Frakes (DomainSponsor.com) covered all of the basics. Curran gave tips on finding a good registrar, Mueller explained how to get started with domain parking and Stafford detailed why good domains make sound investments noting that there are few assets that you can buy for $8 and potentially sell for $8,000. Frakes also focused on the value 

Sean Stafford (DNZoom.com) comments 
during Domains 101 seminar as Matthias 
Mueller (NameDrive.com)
looks on.

inherent in domains as platforms for advertising and branding a business as well as providing a revenue stream from your investment.

While that session was going on, another group of attendees was in the Willow Room listening to a Registrar Executive Panel moderated by attorney Derek Newman. The panelists were Enom.com President Paul Stahura, Rebel.com CEO Dave Chiswell and Moniker.com VP Victor Pitts. Stahura expressed his opinion that other extensions besides .com will grow in popularity in the years ahead. Using population centers as an analogy he said  "New York was a big city 200 years ago and it is still big, but that doesn't mean that other cities won't become fairly large too. For example, Las Vegas has become a large city in less than 50 years." 

Registrar Executive Panel (left to right): Paul Stahura (eNom.com), moderator 
Derek Newman, Dave Chiswell (Rebel.com) and Victor Pitts (Moniker.com)

Chiswell went a step further saying that acceptance of alternate TLDs had already happened in many parts of the world. Speaking of his own country, Canada, Chiswell said "There has been great growth in .ca and we are now seeing almost as many businesses in Canada using their ccTLD as use .com."

During this session the power of the nTag was demonstrated as attendees were invited to vote on some registrar related questions. When asked what was the most important thing they wanted from a registrar the largest number of attendees chose "extensive domain management features" (43%) followed by "low prices" (25%) and "great customer service" (21%). A couple of other choices barely registered; "easy transfer in/out" (6%) and "regular email notifications about expiring domains" (3%).  

The first of several sessions devoted to search engine optimization SEO 101 and Beyond was next. The all-star panel for this seminar included Aaron Wall (SEOBook.com), Malcolm Lewis (Local.com), John Tompkins (Trellian), Dave Bascom (SEO.com), Dustin Woodard (AllRecipes.com) and John Andrews (Johnon.com). Some of the key points made by this distinguished group was the importance of having original content on your site, focusing on the right keywords and if possible, using a domain that defines the category your subject matter is devoted to. 

Woodard showed a series of slides showing how good SEO could produce a 40-fold increase in revenue over a standard parking page. Another tip was to check out the local directories offered by Local.com that will help you add relevant localized content to your site. You can also sell your own ads in these turnkey directories. SanFrancisco.com and Nashville.com are among the sites already using this service.

Dave Bascomb, SEO.com

A pair of back to back legal sessions; TM Bullies and Intellectual Property Workshop, featuring attorneys Brett Lewis, Aaron Kornblum (Microsoft), John Berryhill, Jeremiah Johnston (Sedo) and moderator Derek Newman also drew well. While a lot of attention is paid to cybersquatters (those who register and profit from from trademark-related domains) Berryhill noted that this is a two-way street. Some trademark owners try to reach far beyond the boundaries of their marks. Berryhill pointed to the Target Corporation as just one example. They have lost three recent UDRP decisions and in the last two the panels made a point of telling them they had no universal right to the word "target" in a domain name when those names are not used in relation to the narrowly defined scope of Target's mark (as a general merchandise retail store). 

Aaron Kornblum
Microsoft Senior Attorney

Kornblum said that Microsoft owns over 25,000 domain names and that they are delighted to be part of the domain industry. He said the company is supportive of domainers - but not cybersquatters whose activities harm the interests and image of legitimate domain owners. Kornblum said, "Microsoft would like to see the domain community grow and expand. It is the cybersquatting community that we would like to see contract."

While the legal panels were underway a Traffic Domains for Rent seminar was being conducted in another room. Ofer Ronen (Sendori.com), Jonathan Boswell (LeaseThis.com) and Yossi Goldlust (LookSmart.com) covered the ins and outs of the rapidly growing domain leasing field. Sendori's system is a hybrid that allows you to use standard parking that shifts traffic to a specific advertiser only when that advertiser bids more for your traffic than the parking page 

will provide. Many large protfolios owners have used the Sendori system with very good results. LeaseThis.com was featured earlier this year in a DN Journal article and they continue to gain momentum in the leasing space with four million domains now available on their platform. 

That session was followed by a wide-ranging Parking Services Summit featuring eight leaders in the PPC space; Ron Sheridan (Domain Sponsor.com), Donny Simonton (Parked.com), Jeremiah Johnston (Sedo.com), Jacob Knightley (NameDrive.com), Brian Carr (NamMedia), John Smrekar (RevenueDirect.com), Michael Robertson (Fabulous.com) and Ammar Kubba (TrafficZ.com). Parking may be the single most competitive sector in this industry and Johnston said domain owners are benefiting from the continual one upmanship in that category.

Speaking of one upmanship, after most of the panelists spent much of their time talking about their new graphics rich landing pages, TrafficZ's Kubba made a point of saying (with some justification) that these were features his company had rolled out three years ago, a time when competitors said fancier pages were a mistake because they would not convert traffic as well as "plain jane" pages. Though everyone is now offering pages that look more like websites, several companies still believe the plain pages work better and one said they only offer the fancier pages because customers are demanding them. Kubba said there is more to the equation than traffic conversion. He said more attractive pages have "curb appeal" that make domains more attractive assets to those interested in buying domains who land on more stylish pages. 

TrafficZ's Ammar Kubba (at podium) says "we've already been there and done that" 
as Sedo's Jeremiah Johnston (far left) and NameDrive's Jakob Knightley look on.

All of the companies on this panel have been successful. The best advice is probably to try several of them to see where you portfolio will perform best, as well as whose management system and customer service appeals to you most. The Parking Summit closed the Monday seminar program and led in to the main event, the after dinner keynote address from Name Administration chief Frank Schilling

Schilling is one of the industry's greatest success stories as well as one of its nicest, most down to earth guys (also a key measure of success in my view). Schilling shared the story of how he built his empire from scratch and, in the question and answer session that followed, what he would do today if he had to start over with just $5,000-$10,000 to spend. 

On  the latter point he said he would try to buy a category-defining generic domain in an affordable niche, using his own RumCakes.com (for which he paid $6,000) as an example. A full-blown business could be developed on such a domain that could provide a lifetime income for the owner. Of course, this approach involves development rather than basic domaining (acquiring names that provide a revenue stream without development through either resale or PPC monetization). However as any development proponent will tell you, that approach can yield far greater profits if you have the time, energy and commitment needed to do the job well.

Frank Schilling (Name Administration)
delivering his keynote speech

I could spend a lot of time pulling highlights from Schilling's talk, but there is no need for that as the entire presentation is available on the web. You can view it here and I can tell you that the 54 minutes spent watching and listening to Frank will be time well spent. 

After Schilling's speech everyone boarded buses for the short trip to Seattle's Sugar night club and TrafficZ's official Domain Roundtable party. In a nice twist, the event was set up as a fundraiser for a very worthy cause - Grassroots.org, an organization that supports and enables many other non-profit organizations to help them fulfill their missions.

A bevy of beautiful models was brought in with partygoers then bidding on the right to bodypaint their favorites. While there was a preponderance of women on the auction block, there were also a couple of males for female domainers to choose from. One of those was attorney Brett Lewis who a good enough sport to completely drop the legal profession's usual decorum to help drum up money for the cause. 

Above: attorney Brett Lewis 
shows his true colors at TrafficZ fundraiser

At the end of the evening $7,500 had been raised - a number that was short of the kind of support that Grassroots.org really deserves. I encourage you to check out their site to learn just how much good work they do, then visit http://donate.grassroots.org to make the largest donation you can. 

Coming Up on the Next page:

  • Experts Tell You Where the Best Domain Investment Opportunities Are Now

  • See Who Won the Name Intelligence Industry Awards

  • We Take You to Domain Roundtable's Multi-Million Dollar Live Auction

Continue to Page 2
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