I’ve always wondered why a company, big or small, would use a hashtag or a Facebook page as part of their advertisements. It doesn’t make sense.
A domain name is the one digital brand asset that you have complete control over!
I was glad to see this article, backed by research and data, pointing out that hashtags are waning in television advertising. Advertising Executives seemingly continue to forget the lessons shown by this data. Put better, they don’t seem to realize how important domain names are in their overall strategy.
Some of the high points (in case you can’t read the article: it is a subscription service):
“TV advertisers have vastly expanded their attempts to drive people to their websites but are rarely pushing hashtags anymore, according to a study of more than 500,000 commercials since 2012 by iSpot.tv, which closely tracks ads on TV.
The biggest change was the increase of brands urging customers to visit a domain, from 1.6 billion in 2014 to approx. $3 billion this year.
“…advertisers have gotten smarter…”
Unfortunately they seem to learn the hard way. Here are a few stats also from the article:
Use of Hashtags in national ads:
2012 = 2%
2014 = 8%
2016 = under 2% again
Read the story… (may require a subscription)| Source: Ad Age | Date posted: 7/19/2017
I Interview Abdalla Omari, CEO of kenic (.ke registry).
Joe Alagna, Director of Business Development at Afilias (Registry Services) Interviews Abdalla Omari, CEO of kenic (.ke)
JA: You’re one of the first people I’m interviewing for the Country Code People series. I’m very excited about it. I remember coming to Nairobi for an ICANN meeting, it seems like five or more years ago. Do you remember what year that was?
AO: It was in about 2010.
JA: When ICANN has a meeting they usually have a Gala evening and I recall the one in Nairobi as one of the most fun I’ve attended. It was outside and you had a big tent, music and a lot of fun.
AO: That’s good.
JA: This is an important time in the history of .KE and I’d like to discuss that in a few minutes but let’s start by learning a little bit about the history of .KE, how you’re doing, and I’d like to learn a little more about you as well. How did you get involved in .ke and KENic.
AO: Before joining KeNIc, I was working in the ICT industry, but not at KENic. They were looking for someone to come in and to stabilize the registry, so I joined in the last three years. When I joined there were about 36,000 domains. Now we are at about 68,000 and approaching 70,000 domains in a few months. Our initiatives are working, if you look at the recent Africa DNS Study, .KE is now technically as well as market-wise the second largest registry in Africa besides .ZA and South Africa.
JA: Yes, if you look at that study, you can see that .KE is a part of that. Would you agree?
AO: Yes, I agree. If you see most of the government services are now online, you can now do your drivers license online and passport applications are now online. Most of our government services are online and they use the .KE domain. I think that is a major factor in us becoming number two in Africa. It is not just about selling domains but is more about utilization. Use of the .KE domain in the country is strong for the country at large.
JA: I’d be curious, is the typical user of the .KE domain within the country or are there more users outside of Kenya?
AO: A big pool of customers are within the country. I believe that the typical user is within the country and we are similar to most ccTLDs, the usual percent of any country is about 92% or so companies using .co.ke who want to identify with the country.
JA: So it is predominantly business or corporate users using .KE that you find?
AO: Yes, because they want to use .KE to identify with the country. If you are business and using .ke it shows you are part of the country. If you look across most ccTLDs this business usage statistic is generally about 90% so it is a percentage that is expected across the board.
JA: Is .KE allowed to be registered outside of the country or are there nexus rules that restrict registrations outside of the country?
AO: We are a three-R model, Registry, Registrar, Registrant. The current registration system we are working on to do this in an organized way is to accredit registrars only who have a presence in the country. However registrars can do business anywhere in the world.
JA: So in other words, you only accredit registrars that are within Kenya but you don’t restrict them from dealing with registrants around the world. In other words they can do business with registrants throughout the world. Is that correct?
AO: Yes, that is correct Joe.
JA: So that brings up something I’m always curious about and every registrar thinks about this differently. In the US and in the English language a lot of words end with the letters, KE. I recently learned that you are going to begin allowing second-level registrations (whereas before you only allowed registrations only at the third-level. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
AO: Yes we will be accepting second-level registrations on the 23rd of this month. We will have the usual Sunrise Period that will last about three months. It’s a little bit long because in August we are having elections within the country and we realized that if we restricted it to one or two months, the elections period is going to take a whole month. The debate is mostly about elections right now. We are having elections on the 8th of August. So the Sunrise Period will last for three months, then a Landrush Period for one month, a Cooling Period and General Availability after that.
JA: So now someone can register right at the second level they will no longer have to use .co.ke or .or.ke for organizations, etc, right? However I’m sure that those types of third-level domains will still be available, correct?
AO: Yes, they will still be available but for example, governments will still be under .go.ke. It will be common for governments. We are working around a policy where second levels will not be available because for example, if someone registers tertiary.go.ke and then someone else registers tertiary.ke, it becomes a little challenging. So for governments, I don’t see them moving because they have to be recognized as governments online. But, from the 23rd, if you want, after Sunrise, you can go ahead and get Jo.ke as an example.
JA: Wow, that would be a great domain. Yeah, that’s kind of where I was leading. There are a lot of domain hacks around the world where people would want to find words that end in KE and build a domain out of it. So do you guys have any problem with that or do you charge extra for those?
AO: What we have done, we have taken a middle approach as far as pricing is concerned is we have put out recommended retail prices. Of course registrars can charge more or less. The reason we put out recommended retail pricing is that when we were doing our restructuring one and a half years ago, we noticed that the registrants didn’t know what was a fair price for .KE. So we gave out recommended retail prices and it had a positive effect on the growth of .KE. So we have taken the same approach on the second level. We have three recommended retail prices. During the Sunrise, the recommended price will be the equivalent of about +- $100 US. During Landrush, it will be about $900 KR Shillings (+- $90.00 US), then during the General Availability it will be about $70.00 US give or take after currency conversions.
JA: Of course then the registrars can choose their pricing?
AO: OK, well that is what we expect the registrant or end users to pay. So if you had a trademark during Sunrise for Joe and you went to a registrar, our recommended retail price states you would pay about ten thousand Kenyan Shillings (or about $100 US).
JA: You don’t force it but you have a recommended price, in other words?
AO: Yes, we recommend it because we want to prevent the prices from going crazy. It helped during our third-level phases and we want it to go for around those amounts in the second level as well.
JA: Great, that seems reasonable. Now you mentioned earlier that most end users of .KE are business users. Do you have any ideas on how you can help to promote .ke use amongst consumers, and personal users, for example people who want a personal website or a hobby website, or even non-profits?
AO: Yes, we have segmented our marketing approach. We mainly deal through ministries for governments through their policies for example, so we’re happy to say that governments should officially communicate using the country code domain, so that is happening. When it comes to the business community, we are dealing with business associations whom we partner with to get the business community. When it comes to non-profit making organizations, we partner with the regulators. For example within our country we have an organization called the NGO Board, who reach out to non-profit making organizations, so that is how we reach them. For schools and academia, we usually have small hubs and programs within the ICT students and sometimes business students who love ICT because you’ll find that most students who use .ke are business students. So we encourage them. They may not be the end-consumers per se, but we encourage them to be resellers of the domain. So we attach them to registrars to be resellers and that is how we get to the future ICT players within the country. As to academic institutions, the good thing is that all Kenyan universities are on .ke including private universities as well as government so there we have done very well. All of them have the country code domain. Secondary schools, we usually deal with an association that exists for principals of schools. We partner with them and also there is an association for principals of primary schools. Some are called headmasters, some are called principals depending on their seniority. So those are some of the variants of our marketing approach. I must say “Yes, we have not met deep entry to individual usage”. We are having an upcoming training for lawyers on the first of September. We’ll be training the lawyers through their associations and they’ll be earning professional points for that and this will be the first training of its kind for lawyers to understand the domain industry. There is an practice that legal professionals usually give the first advice when a company is forming so we want them to have the knowledge of domains and of arbitration practices too.
JA: It sounds like you’re making some progress and it is probably a similar situation across Africa. It may be more a problem of Internet access than it is of usage of the domain names. Would you think so?
AO: I have a different view. If you see in Africa, Kenya leads in Internet access usage. We lead in Africa. Look at the records. Now if you look at domain acquisition, South Africa leads by a big margin. They are over a million domains whereas we have about 68 to 69 thousand right now. So I think that is my own opinion; I have not done the research but it is an area where if I can get funding, we need to do some research to find a correlation between Internet access and the usage of domains. The disparity is huge. If their was a direct correlation, Kenya would be leading in domains in Africa.
JA: I understand that primarily, in Africa, that the Internet is accessed through mobile phones. But I would think that when it comes to people building website, it would be difficult to do so using a mobile phone. They would kind of have to have some kind of computer access to build a website. Or is there another way? What do you think?
AO: I think your hunch is right. I should put a disclaimer; I’ve not done any research, but you’re right because the Kenyan access to the Internet is primarily through the mobile phone. The cheap mobile phones which have now come into the market. As you say, developing a domain requires more than just a phone. It will require upgrading. Now, affordability of laptops and desktops come into play.
JA: Yeah, that makes sense. So what is your vision of .ke moving forward in terms of growth and the general Internet in Kenya?
AO: My vision and aspiration is to change the business and professional approach and to bring more awareness to the online presence. For example, a professional like me and you, whereby, a CV, as a document, is no longer enough to a personal presentation. You may need a custom website to give all your works on that website because someone just having a two or three page CV may not consolidate your twenty years of experience. But within a website, it may. So that appreciation is what is now part of our program at KENic. We are pushing that, it’s in early stages but we are doing it. The acceptance is pretty good. From the business perspective, my aspiration is to inform businesses, “Look here, you don’t have to have a second physical presence to expand”. Currently a majority of shops, if they are on Street A, and want to expand, they think they need to go to Street C for a second location. We want to give an appreciation that you can still be on Street A and have an online presence rather than having three or four shops across town. So that appreciation is a small journey, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I can see quite a lot of growth in that. Basically I’m talking of growth in ecommerce.
JA: Right, well that is a wonderful idea. I especially like the idea of helping people put their CV or resume online. I think that is really going to go somewhere I hope you can make it happen. Do you have anything you’d like to add on your mind?
AO: Yes, if you can get people who can fund us in that research that would be good so we can get proper data instead of relying on our hunches and feelings.
JA: That makes sense, I know that the recent study on Africa’s DNS was good and I enjoyed reading it. I hope that it will help many African companies to build their online presences and to build their ccTLDs. I’m looking forward to seeing you again. I wish you and KENic the best of luck in growing and continuing to grow your ccTLD. Thank you.
AO: What time is it over there?
JA: It’s very early but I don’t mind and I appreciate you taking the time to join us on our Country Code People interview.
As I begin my new job at Afilias I am looking forward to helping promote country-code Top Level Domain names (ccTLDs). Over 18 years I have enjoyed working with the diverse communities that make up this group of people (in fact it’s been a great privilege!). These are accomplished and educated people who are at the very forefront of technology within their countries.
Over the past few years, there has been much controversy over who controls the Internet. Some were upset because the United States ceded “control” of the Internet to a wider community through an ICANN process. The truth is that little changed. I wrote an article about this last year. The people who run ICANN are still there and in my view they’ve accomplished a lot.
These are people from all over the world. Many of them are what I’m calling Country Code People. Look for more articles and interviews over the coming months.
As I move on to a new career with Afilias, I want to share my thoughts on what makes a registry successful. I became interested in domain names in 1999, while working as a National Accounts Manager for AT&T Wireless. My Manager told me that he registered a bunch of “domain names” that described cities and the word “restaurants” (.com). I became intrigued and remain so to this day. Over the years, I have;
– been active in the domain investment community.
– worked for a registry that went from a few domains per day to several million.
– helped prepare/file 60 new gTLD applications including .xyz, .club, .blog, and .law*.
– worked for a registrar focused on ccTLDs and the digital brand management business.
These experiences have given me many perspectives and a view of the industry from all angles.
So what makes a registry successful? It starts by recognizing a registry has two types of clients. The first are partner types, your sales channel, like registrars and resellers. The second are end user types like all of the various kinds of domain name buyers. It’s an ecosystem that includes domain investors, enterprise and brand management types, small and medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and startups, non-profits, and personal users or hobbyists interested in sharing ideas online.
Below are the five pillars. They spell out TRUST. I view trust as the currency of success in this business:
Merriam Webster describes a registry as an “official record book”. In today’s world that means a database. To be official, the record must be open and trusted. By their very nature, domain name registries need to be open. They need to operate in a manner that allows registrars, resellers, and end users to understand what is going on in a domain zone and what the registry offers. Your sales channel and the public both need to know what is registered and what is available. Your registry WHOIS record is a tool that can be used to do business (check which domain names are available and which are taken) and to keep the Internet running well (find out who is behind fraud, spam, phishing, and other online malevolence).
The Internet has made communication so easy. You can’t hide information easily anyway, so why force your clients to guess about what you are doing? Eventually everything gets out. Operating in an open and transparent fashion makes a huge difference. Operating transparently takes preparation. I run across registries from time to time who have not decided fully on their pricing and premium domain name structures. This harms their chances for success and should be worked out fully before a registry opens for business.
Rules of engagement should be clear, concise, and documented. The idea is to play fair. Rules should include the ways that you offer your domains, who offers them, a complete domain name life-cycle that goes from registration through deletion with time frames, and how disputes are dealt with at various stages in time. There’s more than that; plenty of examples exist for reference.
Rules for your Sales Channel
Your sales channel wants to know that there is an equal playing field, that they have an equal chance to succeed in the market. Establishing clear rules from the start will go far in helping them to feel that way. What channels will you use to sell your domains? Will you have a direct channel, and if so will your prices undercut your partners? There is nothing wrong with having a direct channel but competing with your partners based on price will likely sow distrust among partners. This is one of the oldest rules in a channel playbook but is sometimes ignored.
Rules for End Users
How will you deal with trademarks? Will you work with dispute mechanisms such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the ADR Forum? How will you handle abuse, fraud, spam, and phishing when it is found and reported? These questions need to be addressed in your rules; your Terms and Conditions. This stuff will come up and the reputation of your zone file will depend on how you handle this. DomainTools recently put out a white paper and reported one new gTLD as “Pure Evil and the #1 Hotspot of Badness” in terms of spam, phishing, botnets, and malware. That can’t be valuable to that registry and will surely hurt their reputation for some time to come.
The good news is that the most important rules and processes are already established through ICANN’s deliberations. This makes that job much easier. But there is some wiggle room and things are often overlooked. A registry needs to be diligent and ask of themselves, “How do we want to be perceived by our clients? Will we be prepared to go to market?”
There are a lot of ways to reach markets, but a full cadre of accredited registrars is vital. Part of success is having a strong and supportive channel, most importantly the registrar channel. Many ccTLDs rely only on a direct channel (their own website) or a group of local registrars and ISPs within their countries. They lose opportunity because there is often much more demand from the larger out-of-country markets.
Experience shows over and over, that if you have more registrars you will sell more. This is cash flow that can be used to expand or (if you are a non-profit or government operator), to subsidize other valuable and important programs. Some registries charge a smaller fee to in-country registrants and a larger amount to registrars that are out of the country; it’s a good way to be supportive of your own citizens while enjoying the financial benefit of larger markets.
Don’t underestimate the demand for your string. Many registries, gTLDs and ccTLDs have succeeded beyond their dreams through proper execution and sometimes through luck. Some of these were thought to be hopeless before moving forward. Think .XYZ; many said they would fail, “Who would want to register .XYZ? What does it mean?” – They proved their critics wrong. Who would have thought that .ws would do as well as they have? Who would have expected .bz or .io to become as big as they have? Your ccTLD is no different. You just have to put it out there and look for where the growth will come and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
Another advantage of reach is that buyers, whether in your country or not, want to do business with large and stable registries. I’ve spoken to many ccTLD operators who wonder why people from within their own countries buy .com instead of their ccTLD. The reason is often that those registrants want to go with the bigger guy; the one who they can trust to be around forever. It’s just human nature. Getting bigger sooner is a good way to ensure continued and long-lasting success for your ccTLD.
Looking at the history of sponsored domain names, you often see that (usually due to business pressure) they loosen their restrictions. Over and over, the payoff is a huge boost in registrations and revenues. This is more proof that reach matters. That brings us to… keeping your market…
Unhindered (Let Your Market Do What Markets Do)
There is a domain name market ecosystem that is quite beautiful to watch if you allow it to happen. A successful registry will not be a hindrance to the market.
If you are a new registry, domain investors (“domainers”) along with large corporations that own trademarks are likely to be your first supporters. Domain investors are commonly lumped in with cyber-squatters and this they are not. This is a common large mistake. There is a large, important, and legitimate industry sector represented by domainers. By investing in your domain names, these types become stakeholders with an interest in seeing your domain registry succeed. I dare say that domain investors along with enterprise and brand-conscious end users are a key component in a fragile market ecosystem for new registries. They are the ones who are intensely interested in your new products and initiatives and who will support you when you need business the most.
Small businesses and other kinds of end users simply are not aware nor interested in domain names regardless of whether they should be. At times in the growth of your business when you need buyers the most, only those who are intimately acquainted with the industry have an interest. These are important clients (domainers and corporate).
Another thing to remember is that domains are subscription products. Every day that goes by without a domain name registered is lost income. Years can go by very quickly and every day that a potential name is unregistered equals lost time and money that will most likely never be recovered. “Saving” a domain for a higher price later doesn’t usually bring added value to a registry.
Finally, even if you try to sell your domain(s) for a premium price, it’s important to consider the market’s perception of your actions. If you think your clients become happy when they hear you sold a premium domain name for high dollars, you are simply mistaken. In fact, their perception is generally one that causes mistrust and suspicion of the registry. The market chatter about this is not positive nor relatable to them because the premium revenue goes directly to the registry. It may be helpful and necessary in the short run. I just don’t think it helps long term.
It’s much different than when the market hears about an end user selling one of your domain names for a significant price. That is relatable to them. It is encouraging to them. It causes them to want to invest in your TLD. The news of a high-priced sale in the aftermarket is very valuable to a registry, likely the cause of significant increases in registrations for some time afterwards. People begin to feel like “Maybe this can happen to me!” Your domain string becomes valuable in the market. This is healthy long term revenue and growth for your TLD.
How secure is your registry? Are your zone files signed? I like to tell people that your Internet connection is like your front door, except that troublemakers are constantly trying to get in using a multitude of tricky methods, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. If you are trying to wing it about security, you put, not only your own business at risk, but you potentially put hundreds of thousands of others at risk too. You simply must take every precaution and implement all possible systems to ensure the security of your TLD. Delaying these procedures can be much more costly in the long term. Security Programs should include multi-level security enhancements such as:
DNSSEC – Many registries now sign their zone file, thereby offering registrants a more secure way to build their online presence. Cyber Crime Analytics – There are many tools today that can help you fight cyber crime in your TLD. Security Tools, Firewalls, and DNS Security Expertise – You need to use the best tools available and qualified security personnel to make sure your systems are safe. Server Security – Servers must be protected on all levels. Cooperation and Coordination with Authorities – Authorities world-wide are anxious to work with registries to fight spam, phishing, and all kinds of online fraud. Continuing Education for Staff – an educated workforce is as important as any tools.
Security is a deep topic and there are many more issues that need discussion here. But those details are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that security is of paramount importance and very difficult to achieve on your own unless you are a technical and security expert. In today’s security environment, scaling while securing your registry may require outsourcing. Only the largest registry service providers can scale at the rates necessary to keep up with the crooks online today.
Stability is a result of strong security but I add it here because the word transcends technology and expertise. Registrants need to know that they can depend on you as their registry. Someone once compared ICANN to a glacier, they pointed out that although a glacier is unstoppable, at least you have time to get out of its way. I appreciated that. Everything we do as a registry says something about our stability. If we are changing policies and pricing as fast as a jackrabbit changes direction, that says something about our character and doesn’t go unnoticed. Your clients will do better if you make decisions deliberately and thoughtfully.
The vast majority of domain registrants expect domain names to be registered instantly. The domain industry is highly automated and highly transactional. There are a few registries with nexus rules or qualifications for registration but it is always important to be timely in our industry. We’re in an unusual business where products are actually not created until a customer is ready to buy. If you think about it, that is very unusual. Customers check domain names that they are not sure even exist (because they may already be taken). When they see that the domain name they want is available, they become very anxious to buy it. Patience is naturally very thin.
Your technology for qualifying registrants and helping them secure and manage their domains needs to be quick and dependable. Although you may see yourself as the only place they can buy your particular domain name, you are competing in a world where other registries stand very close and competitive. If someone can’t get their .law domain for example, there is a .lawyer and .attorney domain name as a quick backup (this is just an example and I’m a fan of .law – they are a unique and generally efficient registry). The point I make here is that with over 600 generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), and 250 or so country-code TLDs, there is a lot of competition today. Every registry needs to consider that and ensure that their technology makes the grade (allows registrars and registrants to secure and manage domains quickly and dependably).
Blocking and tackling in the domain industry consists of the following:
Domain Lookups – Domain Registrations – Domain Renewals – Domain Transfers (inbound) – Domain Transfer (outbound) – Domain Registrant Changes (Internal) – Bulk Domain Lookups – Bulk Domain Registrations – Bulk Domain Renewals – Bulk Domain Transfers (Inbound) – Bulk Domain Transfers (Outbound) – Bulk Registrant Changes (Internal) – Name Server Setup – Name Server Changes – Registering Name Servers – Domain Forwarding – Masked Domain Forwarding – Bulk Domain Forwarding – Bulk Masked Domain Forwarding – Email Forwarding – WHOIS Identity Protection – Bulk WHOIS Identity Protection – Default Settings Capability (Name Servers, Auto Renew, etc.) – Auto Renew Systems – Domain Locking Systems – Advanced Domain Lookups – DNS – DNS Setup – DNS Changes
Many / most of these functions need APIs and EPP handles that registrars will use to automate things. It is no small task. I know this part is jargon to some readers here but this article is intended for a Registry audience. These are critical functions that registrars and registrants (your clients and end users) need to do almost every day if you are to succeed. This is another area where automation is important. Many of these functions fall upon Registrars but they will depend on you to help them make things happen. Here again, a registrar needs to be prepared. Outsourcing can be helpful or critical to the successful growth of your registry.
Should You Use a Registry Services Provider (RSP)?
After eighteen years of observation and study, one thing I know for sure about the domain name industry is that trust is more important than price as a factor for buying (or investing) in a domain name. Registrars and registrants are looking for a foundation to build their businesses on. A domain name is that foundation.They need to know that you can be trusted and each of the five pillars matter. If they lose confidence in you, they will choose a different foundation and there is no shortage of choice today. An RSP can help you fast-track each of these initiatives so you can get them in place much more quickly and, since time is always of the essence, it may be the best way to get it done. An RSP can also give you near instant access to a world-wide channel of registrars.
As a final note, these pillars are a summary. I recognize that there are many other factors involved in the success of a registry. My goal was to put together some of the main points and to emphasize the importance of that one, often overlooked factor, trust.
Wishing you the best!
– *some subsequently acquired
– gTLD – generic Top Level Domains
– ccTLD – country-code Top Level Domains
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