Last week, I explained how simple it can be to gain insight into companies’ product plans by using DomainTools to track the domain names they register. If you’ve been using our services to do that fora long time, you’ll have no doubt noticed that every company has a different strategy, in terms of how,and more importantly when, they register domains related to new and upcoming offerings.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest names in mobile computing, for example. Just last week news emerged that Blackberry maker Research In Motion had registered over 300 domains for its new Curve phones. The list of domains covered a broad range of extensions, as well as variations using hyphens, abbreviations and additional keywords including the scary “sucks” suffix.
These were classic cases of defensive registrations – domains registered in order to keep them out of the hands of opportunistic cybersquatters. For a brand owner particularly at risk of squatting, preemptively registering hundreds of domains at $10 each may sometimes make more economic sense than later filing a UDRP complaint, which can cost many thousands of dollars.
Other companies, such as Google, take a less comprehensive approach, preferring to register a handful of key domains before they launch a new product, and pick off egregious cases of cybersquatting later. Google obtained plus.me in November 2010, for example, even though Google+ did not launch until June 28 this year. It had owned googleplus.com since winning it with a UDRP complaint in 2002, and won googleplusone.com in early June 2011 the same way.
But within 24 hours of Google+ launching, dozens of domains had been registered by people hoping to ride the wave of the service’s expected popularity. Registrations included straightforward cases such as googleplus.biz, keyword domains such as googleplusgames.com, typos such as googlepuls.com, and domain hacks such as google-pl.us. These kinds of domains are extremely vulnerable to cybersquatting claims and have virtually zero resale value to experienced investors.
If Blackberry is at one end of the spectrum, and Google occupies the middle ground, then Apple is an example of a company that often virtually ignores domain names when it launches products. When Apple launched the iPhone, it did not own iphone.com and later was forced to pay a seven-figure sum to the registrant, who had owned it since 1995. The company still does not own ipad.com, which was registered by somebody else in 1997. If it chooses to buy the domain now, it will probably have to pay more than it would have in 2009, before the iPad launched.
But this may actually be smart strategy for Apple. The company has always developed its new products in strict secrecy, encouraging its fan base to speculate about its next move. This created grassroots buzz for months before the moment Steve Jobs took the stage to officially unveil the company’s latest innovation. With so much brand capital relying on these staged, set-piece announcements, a premature domain registration or purchase may, for Apple, be more damaging than having to pay a couple million bucks later for an important domain.
When it comes to registering domain names, whether defensively or as part of a marketing plan, there’s no one-size-fits all strategy for the world’s biggest brands.