Pristine(.com) Domains vs. Confusing Brands: Lessons Learned and Some Forgotten

One of the most memorable takeaways (and there were many!) of Andrew Rosener's interview with Michael Saylor over at DomainSherpa was represented by the fact that betting against mega-trends that have trillions of hours as well as dollars behind them would be counter-intuitive... to put it mildly. More specifically, why on Earth would you bet against the English language on the one hand and why on Earth would you bet against the dot com extension on the other? Why not focus exclusively on Pristine(.com) domains, to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to a domain Andrew Rosener owns?

As far as the English language is concerned, Michael Saylor made it clear that no other language can top it in terms of vocabulary richness. Having studied the history of science extensively, Saylor explained that this richness makes perfect sense in light of the fact that English is the language of both science and money. When two bright scientists from different continents share papers so as to create something bigger than themselves, what language are they likely to use? The same way, what is the common denominators in terms of languages over in the business world? English in both cases.

Investing Against the Trend

As a Romanian for example, I have invested approximately 1,500 hours over a 12-year period just to learn English at school and a fair case could be made that a 10-figure number of individuals (over one billion people who learn English as a second language) have done something similar. In my case, for career-related reasons, I ended up taking things much further but let's just go with the 1,500 hours number for the sake of our discussion when it comes to those who learned English as a second language.

Needless to say, far more hours have been invested in a manner one could consider conducive to learning English by those who live in English-speaking nations such as the US. In their case, even more time has been spent learning how to properly spell, on vocabulary building and the list could go on and on.

I am not sure about you but I for one would have been penalized had I written "lyft" instead of "lift" when delivering a school paper. Even if I would have done it, the bad grade I might have gotten would have convinced me not to repeat that mistake and the exact same principle is valid when it comes to all students who have learned English in one way or another.

From learning how to properly spell during class to there even being competitions dedicated to just that, a lot of time, energy and brainpower has been dedicated to teaching people how to spell. This reality has also been pointed out by Michael Saylor, for whom it makes little sense to "bet" against such a trend by choosing to brand your business on a more or less edgy misspelling.

Keeping It Simple

Whether you are a marketer, domain investor or business owner, keeping it simple tends to be a staple of the trade. If you for example run a website selling Product A but in order to buy it, customers have to fill out a mile-long form, your conversion rate will be disastrous and it tends to be a golden rule that you only ask people to fill out the bare minimum in terms of order-related information. The name of the game is making it simple for potential buyers to place an order, not complicating their lives and charging them for it.

The same way, why go with a domain which risks confusing potential customers?

Let's revert to the Product A example for one minute and assume that the website owner stubbornly chooses to insist on making customers fill out an extra-long form when placing an order. We will also assume he is looking for more customers, so he spends a lot of money on Facebook Ads so as to drive potential buyers to his website. His stubbornness will end up costing him whenever he is trying to convert a visitor to a buyer. With a slim order form, he might have had a conversion rate of x% but given his stubbornness, he has to settle for a disappointing x%/2. As such, marketing campaigns which could have ended up being profitable turn into... well, flops.

Moving on to confusing domains, pretty much the same principle is valid, even if the manifestation is different. In our case, a confusing domain won't necessarily lead to a lower conversion rate but instead, will most likely affect the CTR or clickthrough rate. In other words, the percentage of individuals who click on an ad featuring a certain company is likely to be higher if the company in question went with a solid rather than confusing domain. The lower your CTR is, the higher your average CPC or cost per click is likely to be, since the algorithms of Facebook Ads, AdWords and pretty much everyone else are designed so as to generate as high of CPM (or cost per thousand impressions) as possible.

In a Nutshell: It's Going to Cost You

While there are success stories out there involving companies with very poor name choices that did well, it's important to understand that they did well despite their terrible name and not thanks to their terrible name. Furthermore, their decision has cost them every step of the way, as outlined through the previous examples. Yes, it is true that marketing professionals oftentimes recommend edgy domain choices which tend to be confusing but as Michael Saylor pointed out, a lot of them tend to be more talented at burning through client budgets than generating a positive ROI.

There is a reason why branding-oriented ads tend to be a dream come true for marketing professionals and that reason primarily revolves around accountability. More specifically, they know that they would be called out for their poor performance if instead of branding, the goal would have been generating a CPS (cost per sale) that is as low as possible. Or to put it differently, it would become obvious that the emperor has no clothes if results would be properly measured in a manner which places an emphasis on the elephant in the room: sales.

Why Not Join Forces with Marketers?

Many domainers wonder what exactly the problem is and why domainers and marketers shouldn't simply join forces? If marketers want confusing domains, why not give them just that... isn't the customer always right?

Indeed, it is true that quite a few domainers have managed to successfully sell edgy/confusing domains and even more so, have built a very profitable business model around just that. However, this article is written from the perspective of a long-term investor such as Michael Saylor, someone who invests with a time horizon of decades in mind.

Such investors, who are in it for the long haul, simply cannot afford to keep jumping from one trend or another. Are .io domains still as hot? What about iDomains? Have eDomains come back in style and if not... will they? These are questions ultra-long-term investors simply do not have interest in, because they want to acquire assets they can hold for an extended period of time, knowing that it is precisely time that works in their favor.

Someone with a more flipping-oriented mindset who simply wants to hop from one trend to another and book profits along the way won't mind the extra legwork and pressure involved, it's ultimately all a matter of articulating clearly what exactly it is that you want and how you intend to go about it. As always in the world of domain investing, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Some people don't mind flipping domains frequently and therefore choose to focus on edgy names indefinitely. Others intend to flip themselves to a solid bankroll and then play the buy and hold game (in an effort to transition from a domain flipper to an investor with Michael Saylor's long-term outlook), business models come in all shapes and sizes.

Timeframe, Timeframe, Timeframe

The word above sums up the conclusion rather nicely. If you are interested in domain names that are likely to pass the test of time and have a long-term outlook, staying away from confusing terms is the way to go because why would you dabble in the unproven when you have mountains of evidence pointing toward the staying power of non-confusing domains?

If you have a shorter-term outlook and decide that at a certain point in time, there is more money to be made flipping fad/edgy domains, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as you understand the rules of the game you are playing and don't delude yourself into thinking that fad domains are the way to go when building a portfolio that passes the test of time. It's all a matter of... you've guessed it, time preference.