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Separate Bedrooms: Domains & Hosting Are a Perfect Match So How Come We Don't See Each Other More Often? 

By Ron Jackson

I've been to dozens of domain conferences around the world since T.R.A.F.F.I.C. staged the first one in Delray Beach, Florida back in 2004.  While the primary focus of most of those shows has been domain sales and monetization, domain development has always been a key theme as well. So, I've always been a bit puzzled as to why hosting companies have rarely had a presence at the shows or in the many industry publications where they would be seen by readers who own large domain portfolios.

If someone wants to develop a domain they have to have a hosting account and many conference attendees have hundreds, thousands and in some cases, even tens of thousands of domains. With the huge downturn in parking revenue in recent years, an increasing number of portfolio owners are interested in development as a potential way to replace lost parking revenue. 

Domain hosting image from Bigstock 

That development can take many forms, from landing pages to mini-sites to full blown websites, but they all require hosting. In fact, I have three separate hosting accounts myself (two of which are reseller accounts that allow me to host multiple domains on one account). While DNJournal.com is a traditional website with thousands of pages of content and high traffic (requiring a more expensive  account to accommodate the higher bandwidth and storage needs), I use another hosting account for small sites and extra email accounts, including one used to send our free newsletters and site updates to opt-in subscribers. I use yet another hosting account to serve up custom landing pages I have made for hundreds of domains that are for sale (the landing pages pitch the reasons to buy that particular domain and are usually accessed by surfers who type the domain in their browser to see what is there). Those domain were previously parked but even though many had traffic, the downturn in payouts dropped to the point where it made more sense to direct that traffic to my own landers and emphasize the availability of the domain for purchase.

As someone who has thousands of domains and has utilized multiple hosting accounts for many years I would think I would be an attractive potential client for hosting companies, but I almost never see them in the places I hang out professionally (at domain conferences and at news and information sites online). Of course, many of the biggest players in the domain space, including Go Daddy, InterNetX, Rightside (parent of eNom.com and Name.com) and many others offer hosting but their emphasis at domain conference has naturally been on their domain services. Many others who are primarily hosting companies offer domains (often free of charge with a hosting account) but they rarely pitch their services in the professional domain space.

So, having had the "why is that?" question at the back of my mind for several years, I was pleasantly surprised to get a joint invitation from the organizers of the first WorldHostingDays conference ever held in the U.S. (WHD.usa, staged at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago), and one of their top sponsors, InterNetX, to attend my first hosting conference. This would give me a chance to get answers to several questions. Not only "why we don't see more hosting folks on our side of the fence", but also why a lot of domain companies (especially new gTLD registry operators) were going to WHD.usa. Plus, I was curious to see how a hosting conference might be different from the domain conferences I've become so familiar with.

I found several key differences at WHD.usa so, to set the stage, I will start with those, then we'll talk about why a lot of us barely know our brothers in hosting and why it is the domain companies who are trying to bring these should be lovers out of their separate bedrooms.  

Location is the first thing that set WHD.usa apart from what we see in the domain conference world. Cologne, Germany based WorldHostingDays (the world's largest series of events for the hosting and cloud service provider industry, anchored by the massive WHD.global conference that drew a record 6,300 attendees to this year's event in Rust, Germany) looks for remote resort locations for their many events. Their theory is that putting everyone together in one place with few surrounding distractions is the best way to keep people onsite and doing what they presumably came there to do, network and build relationships. In the domain business conferences are typically held in major cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. There is a lot of action in those cities so people like to visit, but that environment often results in people spending a lot of time offsite and even sleeping in the following mornings leaving conference meeting rooms half empty.

The only time I've seen the WHD approach used on land in our industry was when Sedo held an event for their clients at the scenic Mohonk Mountain Resort in New York State's Hudson Valley (right before the 2007 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in New York City). To this day, that remains one of the enjoyable events I've ever attended. Everyone stayed together in one fabulous resort, meeting together, eating together, working and playing together in astonishingly beautiful surroundings. So when I saw WHD.usa would be held at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in western Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands (about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh) that was a big reason I decided to go - and the show delivered the kind of experience I was hoping for.

A ski lift and giant alpine slide undulates down one mountainside viewed from the front 
entrance of the WHD.usa 2015 hotel at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. 

The WHD approach was used at sea twice in our business when Patrick Ruddell staged the only two domain conferences that have been held on cruises ships in DNCruise 2010 and DNCruise 2011. Both of those events were well received by those attended and in Pennsylvania I was told that WHD had also considered putting their first U.S. show on a cruise ship. However, their research reportedly showed that people were divided on the cruise conference idea, with some loving it but others having no interest in being that far away from it all. Certainly there are pros and cons to all of the options, big city, remote resort and at sea. I have enjoyed them all but found WHD.usa (as was the case with Sedo's Mohonk event) to be a very welcome change of pace, so perhaps we will see more of a mix in the domain business one day as well.

The other big difference at WHD.usa compared to domain conferences was a heavy emphasis on creating networking opportunities in a more socially oriented environment. At domain shows the networking goes on in the hallways, perhaps a speed networking session and, of course, at the usual show parties after the sun sets. Like all conferences, WHD.us had the hallway networking and a night time party (a great one sponsored by Weebly.com) but at lunch time every day they offered outdoor activities like Segway and ski lift rides, a giant alpine slide and even bowling. Half of the second day of the two-day event was devoted entirely to major outdoor team events including a sky high zip line experience, shooting clays and a golf tournament. These were all great events that really helped people get to know each other better on a personal level by interacting outside of the usual business environment.

A WHD.usa 2015 attendee riding a mountaintop zipline above 
Pennsylvania's Seven Springs Mountain Resort seen in the valley below.

There was one other difference that domain audiences usually don't see. WHD.usa offered both a standard ticket ($349) and a VIP ticket ($999). The latter came with several perks including:

  • VIP status with a distinctive badge and a valuable VIP present (one present per room and only in the 7Springs Ski and Mountain Resort)

  • Special VIP seats for all main.FORUM talks and a guaranteed place in all hosting.SESSIONs

  • Special lunch restaurant with gourmet VIP catering

  • VIP concierge for all your needs

  • VIP treatment at the hotels (free mini bar)

  • WHD Connect (up to five Contacts)

It was nice to have the VIP option if you wanted to spend the money but the nature of the service resulted at times (like lunch and dinner) when the crowd was divided. One of the big appeals of domain conferences has always been that a newcomer on a limited budget could buy a ticket and wind up sitting next to one of the biggest names in the industry like a Frank Schilling or a Rick Schwartz at lunch. Having said that, I understand that promoters have to recoup their costs (and hopefully turn a  profit) and a VIP ticket is one way to generate more revenue. It also accommodates  people who want to pay more for a higher level of service, something that is standard operating procedure in the business world. I didn't hear any complaints about it at WHD.usa nor see any instances where anyone had an issue with it as there were still plenty of places to meet and chat with high level executives including the parties, hotel bars and social networking events.

Chris Sheridan (left) holding court at the Weebly.com 
booth  in the WHD.usa 2015 Exhibition Hall

Of course, domain shows and hosting shows also have some things in common. Both give attendees a chance to meet service providers face to face. At domain events you can meet the people who run the brokerages, aftermarket sales platforms and monetization companies - and you may even sell a few domains to fellow guests. At hosting conferences much of the spotlight is focused on those who provide products and services to hosting company owners, affiliates and resellers, people like Odin, CPanel, Ascio, hardware providers like HP and Dell and others like website builder Weebly.com (represented at WHD.usa by a former domain industry leader, Chris Sheridan). Weebly hopes to get hosting companies to incorporate their service in hosting accounts to make it easy for people who have a domain and hosting account to build their website without looking any further. 

As I noted earlier, while we rarely see hosting companies (other than those major domain companies who also offer

hosting) at domain conferences, there were a lot of domain industry people at WHD.usa. InterNetX, Sedo, .CLUB, Key-Systems, OpenSRS and Radix all had people  there and also helped sponsor the event. Others sent attendees, especially companies operating domain registries. What was the attraction for them? .CLUB's VP Of Business Development, Michele Van Tilborg, summed that up in a tidy package for me - saying it all comes down to getting your extension included  in hosting packages. 

As I mentioned earlier, many hosting companies offer a free domain to new hosting clients. However, the domains are often limited to specific extensions, so registry operators, especially those running new TLDs that need to gain recognition and market share, want to make a case as to why hosting companies should offer their extensions). An added bonus is that someone who is getting their domain with a hosting package obviously plans to build something on the domain. Having invested in building a website, they are much more likely to renew their domain year after year. 

Domain industry pioneer Monte Cahn, who co-founded new gTLD consultancy RightOfTheDot, noted another huge incentive for new gTLDs to cut deals with hosting companies. "The most important thing for new gTLDs are to have live websites up and running as must as possible which will give them the kind of relevance and credibility legacy TLDs .com, .net and .org have," Cahn said.

Those new TLD registries who understand their success hinges on their marketing efforts also take every opportunity to talk about their extensions, no matter how far afield they have to go to do that. WHHD.usa featured one panel discussion devoted solely to domain names and that gave moderator Monte Cahn and his panelists (from new and established companies alike) Alexander Siffrin (CEO, Key-Systems), Ken Hansen (CEO, .CO.COM), Jeff Sass (CMO, .CLUB) and Brad Lemire (VP, Business Development for North America, at Sedo) a high profile opportunity to talk about their offerings and evangelize for 

RightOfTheDot Co-Founder Monte Cahn

the domain industry in general. Helena Schindler, the Global Sales Manager at InterNetX, also had her own solo presentation on domains in one breakout session (though InterNetX's primary reason for being at this show was to promote there robust hosting services). 

Domains took center stage in this session at WHD.usa 2015

I'll close with my primary question - given how closely intertwined domains and hosting are - why don't we see hosting companies promoting their services at domain conferences? Cahn said, "Domain conferences are primarily focused on domain investors with a few end users. The core value to a hosting company is having a domain be a hosted website so it is probably more important to them to have domain presence at a hosting conference than vice versa. Go Daddy, 1&1 and Web.com already  dominate the hosted domain market because it is part of their upsell and platform and system." That being the case most hosting companies may not think they will get enough return on their investment to put resources into reaching in professional domain investor market. 

Still, .CLUB's CMO Jeff Sass thinks some hosting companies may be making a mistake by underestimating the value of the domain name. They often give them away free of charge with a hosting package, but Sass noted. "the cycle starts with an idea and then a specific domain name that conveys that idea to the consumer. If people can't get a relevant domain, they may not even take the idea to the next step, which is getting a hosting account -  the last thing they consider in the process. If a hosting company makes sure they can offer the client a relevant domain they have a much better chance of getting them to complete the process and order hosting." 

For the time being at least, it looks like it will be up to the domain companies to do the initial wooing in the domain-hosting relationship and it is good that they have taken the initiative to do that because more  cross-pollination, regardless of who asks the other out on a date first, should benefit both sides as the Internet continues its relentless expansion. 

.CLUB CMO Jeff Sass


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