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ICANN Does Some Domain Taste Testing

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the quasi-independent organization that oversees domain and registry practices, have launched an investigation into the practice of "domain tasting."

Domain tasting occurs when registrants take advantage of the grace period offered by ICANN when registering new domains in order to test profitability. Registrants have five days to finalize the purchase, and if they decide against it during the Add Grace Period (AGP), they are refunded registration fees.

Within that period, domain tasters will measure the popularity of the site to see if the potential revenue will surpass the yearly registration fee (approximately $6).

Six dollars seems like an innocuous amount in isolation, but when this is manipulated on larger scales, it can have big impacts. For example, a domainer can buy up 10,000 domains, slap AdSense ads on them and monitor their profitability for four days.

If 200 of those made-for-AdSense sites show a positive profitability, the domainer can return the other 9,800 and repeat the process. This can go on, obviously, indefinitely.

It may be safe to say that smaller, less inventive (read: less weasely) business owners don’t think in gaming terms. They have an idea for a business, a domain name they like, and then register the site without even realizing there is a grace period to begin with.

But it may have larger implications than just bulk domainers being clever enough to leverage a bureaucratic loophole. Manipulation like this can affect organic rankings in the search results, and most likely has a direct impact on the cost per click of paid advertisements.

And there’s where the smaller businesses (i.e., not so much the search engines) have a problem. 

ICANN seems to not like this practice, as it does tend to screw with their numbers (and revenues), but ICANN being the quasi-governmental entity that it is, it has to go through the proper channels before cracking down.

They put out the following notice over the weekend:

In view of the increase in domain tasting…the GNSO Council recently considered an Issues Report on Domain Tasting and resolved to form an ad hoc group for further fact-finding on the effects of this practice. The ad hoc group has prepared these questions to assist in gathering facts and opinions, while inviting both qualitative and quantitative input.

The fact-finding mission includes some interesting questions. The questionnaire asks: which industries benefit and which ones suffer; whether there is a security and stability issue associated; what are the reasons for the practice.

But more importantly to those in the domain game, the inquiry seeks guidance on just how ICANN should handle the situation. Suggested options are as follows:

A) eliminating the AGP so that domain registration fees are non-refundable between registry and registrar;

B) making the ICANN annual transaction fee (currently 0.20 USD per year) apply to names deleted during the AGP, or to a significant portion of them;

C) imposing registry ‘excess deletion fees’ charged to registrars for disproportionate deletes (for example in .org, PIR registry charges 0.05 USD per deleted domain if more than 90% of domains are deleted in a given time period).

This suggests that something will be done about domain tasting, and that earlier questions merely seek additional justifications. And that will leave a bad taste in the mouths of a few.

But that few will most likely be the ones making a tidy profit by gaming the system.

"If  ICANN did away with the five-day grace period on bulk buys only," suggests Susan Coppersmith, Director of Sales for iEntry, Inc., the publisher of WebProNews, "it would possibly help clean up organic search – could actually help the traditional small business owner be found a little easier.  I think it would also make the quality of the click better in paid search campaigns."

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  • http://www.mediaviper.com Clint

    The person who posted this should find a job at McDonalds

    “If ICANN did away with the five-day grace period on bulk buys only,” suggests Susan Coppersmith, Director of Sales for iEntry, Inc., the publisher of WebProNews, “it would possibly help clean up organic search ? could actually help the traditional small business owner be found a little easier. I think it would also make the quality of the click better in paid search campaigns.”

    Susan seems to forget domains registered for four days are not going to appear in the Google SERPs..

    Next I need to ask how this could help small businesses be found easier?

    Most domain buyers are not buying mom & pops printing shop business name…..

    She works for ientry???

    Can I get an application for her position…good lord she knows zilch….

    I’m surprised you allowed her to post such ridiculous statements which have zero validity behind them.

    Marketers expect better!!!!!

    • Don

      I don’t want to get in a war of words here, but Ms Coppersmith’s reply was quite reasonable.

      You may be right, it may take a while for anything to get into Google, but personally I think there is a way around it.

      My companies, A in Atlanta, B in Boston and C in Cleveland could do a rotating bulk acquisition from the three different registrar’s we use. (If I was richer, I could have twenty six companies.) The lists could be jumbled or shuffled with other lists between companies so no-one could easily see what I’m doing.

      Then I could not only test the market response to owning all possible versions of JoesElectric.com, I could find out how well it does in the search engines because I would have the identical stuff on-line for several grace periods. I would think six weeks – or nine registrations would pretty much cover it.

      Meanwhile Joe has to settle for JoesElectricofAlbanyNewYork.com.

      So… preventing bulk use of grace periods would work. At least in the short term.

      As for working at McDonald’s, keep the personal attacks confined to appropriate places.

    • Jason Lee Miller

      bad morning?

      I think you missed the point. The four days thing isn’t the crux of that argument…bulk buyers would keep the profitable domains, optimize them and slap ads on them which proivde no real value to the end user…if the search engines aren’t on their game (and they’re not often) the made-for-adsense sites would, after a certain amount of time and with enough links gain in the SERPs, thus displacing more deserving sites.

      First check out this site:

      http://www.rif.org/

      and then look into anger management.

       

      PS. I heard Home Depot’s hiring, no tests

    • http://www.bulwarkpest.com Thomas

      I disagree, THEY ARE BUYING MOM AND POP NAMES. For example, www.BulwarkPest.com is Bulwark Exterminating’s official website. They bought it 8 years ago. At that time, no one had any idea that pay-per-clicks would provide and avenue for “cyber-squating”.

      So BulwarkPestControl.cim and Bulwarkexterminating.cim were both bought. Now ICann has provided us an avenue to retrieve those domains since they are copy righted, but that process will now cost us $800. The guy hosting the domains requested $2000… what a joke.

      Why not be productive in life instead?

      Does Bulwark share some of that responsibility for not registering other possible domain names? Sure, just as much as Joey Tanker shares some responsibility for not having a car because he didn’t pay the Mafia for protection…

    • http://www.blogs.pn Chris McElroy

      They can register a name for 4 days. Drop it. Get a refund. Then re-register for another 4 days.

      Some companies have partner companies that help each other by re-registering what the other domain taster dropped and vice versa.

      They keep these domain names out of the pool for as long as they like.

      She is wrong though about that being a solution.

      The best solution is to eliminate the grace period altogether.

      ICANN won’t do that as long as google makes money from it and if they find a way to also make money from domain tasting.

      Vint Cerf heads ICANN.

      Vint Cerf works for Google.

      Conflict of Interest?

  • http://www.franglix.com Paul Betts

    This is superb news if they actually go through with it. I think all small web workers and businesses, and people searching online could do with there being a lot less background noise blocking and fogging up the real content.

  • http://www.kameir.com Chris Kameir

    There are companies that have been set up just for this purpose (domain kiting).
    Read:
    http://kameir.com/domain-kiting.html

  • sofakingdabest

    What a joke. No wonder there is so much garbage on the net. Make everybody pay for everything(no refunds) and that will get rid of the riff-raff. You want a quality internet, pay for it. You want free? Ya know what you get…

    • http://www.seoserviceprovider.com Chris McElroy

      Exactly

  • http://pestprojoe.com Joe Pest

    I agree that this practice should not be allowed. Ultimately it will cost the government more fees and time to reverse these registrations. That extra cost will eventually hit all buyers. So for those that are buying in bulk, all will be punished.

    That doesn’t seem just to me. And I hate being punished because of those individuals that would abuse our system. Its already bad enough that they are diluting Pay-Per-Click advertising.

    It would be easy enough to solve. Any bulk order of 100 domains plus should have to forfeit their cancellation option.

    • http://www.articlecontentprovider.com Chris McElroy

      Can you give me legitimate reasons why we need a 5 day grace period at all?

      I agree that everyone should not be punished, but a simple confirmation before submitting your purchase to make sure the domain names you entered are correct is enough, don’t you think?

  • B

    All I can say is this. They are out of their tree. So ok it is like a wine tasting. Any wine tasting I have ever attended required some form of fee or donation to be made so you paid for what you got. So now what if the domain were a car. Would you buy a brand new car without a test drive first? Even if everyone told you it was the best you would be a fool not to take it out for a test drive. So if you can not buy a domain and try it out for a bit, decide you do not want it and drop it the only difference is that this test drive cost you money but had it been any other physical product then you would have received the test drive for FREE. Sounds like a frivolous attempt at job security to me. How about ICAN cracks down on spammers at the domain level or spreaders of viri. Would that not make more sense? On a last note…

    If you were to buy say somedomain[dot]com and were unable to do anything with it that is your failure not mine so by you throwing it back in the jar others like myself who may have a far greater chance or vision to make the domain useful may have at it. Anyway that is my thoughts on the whole thing. Hopefully if they decide to govern anything it will be something for the greater good. Maybe I have it all wrong to so who knows.

    • http://www.blogcontentprovider.com Chris McElroy

      Not sure you understand this. When they drop them, you never see that the domain name is available. They can re-register it or another taster can do so.

      This is actually keeping millions of domain names unavailble to people who have a vision to use the domain name.

      Just suggesting you read up on just how many domain names are unavailable due to domain tasting.

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/domain_in_bad_taste/

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/how_domain_name_tasting_works/

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/impact_of_automated_domain_registration_tasting/

      Those articles are written by experts. I bet you have a different view once you read them.

  • http://www.freshpromotions.co.au FreshPromotions

    Domain “tasting” should definitely be stopped. Having all the quality domains snapped up by a select few companies so they can fill the pages with PPC is bad for almost everyone, from people who would otherwise use the domains to build worthwhile websites thru to the poor suckers who waste more of their time visiting web pages which are nothign more than advertising billboards. Of course the main beneficiaries are the tasters, the tastees and the PPC promoters so we shouldn’t expect anything to change too soon.

  • http://www.freshpromotions.co.au FreshPromotions

    Domain “tasting” should definitely be stopped. Having all the quality domains snapped up by a select few companies so they can fill the pages with PPC is bad for almost everyone, from people who would otherwise use the domains to build worthwhile websites thru to the poor suckers who waste more of their time visiting web pages which are nothign more than advertising billboards. Of course the main beneficiaries are the tasters, the tastees and the PPC promoters so we shouldn’t expect anything to change too soon.

  • David B

    Took long enough.

    I, for one, hope this practice is stopped in all its forms. These guys and spammers are the bottom feeders of the Internet. I’m shocked ICANN has let them get away with it for this long.

    Certainly there must be some Nigerian scams they could be peddling instead.

  • http://www.veritrad.com Andrew Bayly

    Hi,

    As they say in French, “Je ne suis pas n

  • http://www.CliffRoe.com Cliff Roe

    Only a quasi-goverment organization would have such a silly return policy. If you buy them you own them, it’s that simple or limit returns to 1 per month just incase a buyer makes a mistake.

  • http://www.summerhawkusa.com/ Cindy

    I paid $35 for my first domain in the 1990′s registration process. My decision to purchase my domain was carefully thought out. I was a very small startup business at that time, and the $35 fee was more burden than asset on my very limited budget. If there was a grace period to cancel and obtain a refund, no one told me, not that I would have done so.

    Sadly, maybe we need to return to those higher priced registrations for the abusers of the system. I am no authority, but I believe it is impossible to justify the purchase of 10,000 domains at one time for any legitimate purpose, so it must be either a dishonest business practice or criminal intent. The whole idea seems absurd to me, and should never have been allowed. It is ridiculous that anyone could purchase even 10 domains at once and be allowed to return more than one of them for refund within a few days. Once the domain is attached to a website on the Internet (test driven), no refund in any amount should be given for returning that domain name. There should be no free ride. The domains were taken off the market for 5 days and unavailable to other potential purchasers. Further, they may return with Internet baggage (illegal or objectionable uses) attached to them for the next purchaser to be burdened with. Before a returned domain name is put back on the market, there should be checks to determine whether the name was used for any criminal purpose. The surrendering owner of the domain should pay a fee to support this investigation.

    This category of

    • http://www.newsandmediablog.com Chris McElroy

      Further, they may return with Internet baggage (illegal or objectionable uses) attached to them for the next purchaser to be burdened with. Before a returned domain name is put back on the market, there should be checks to determine whether the name was used for any criminal purpose. The surrendering owner of the domain should pay a fee to support this investigation.

      Spot on! They could be blacklisted by search engines because of something they did and the next registrant who actually buys the domain name for a legitimate purpose gets punished.

      What about registering a domain name, sending out millions of spam emails for 4 days, then dropping the domain name back into the pool?

      The grace period allows for that. Some still think this is a minor problem. People need to research this. It is serious.

      ICANN only wants to find a way to make their fee out of it and ignore the harm, to everyone else.

  • RP

    Great article. This subject often flies under the internet radar and deserves a follow up in my opinion. There are some great stories out there of domain-tasting not only buying anything and everything, but scraping data from domain searches. For example, while doing research to see if a domain is available you type in “mybestdomainnameDOTcom” while searching for several others. After deciding on that one you find out that it’s somehow been registered. This way the tasters have a chance to not only get free ad revenue while ‘tasting’ but are more likely to be contacted by someone who wants to buy the domain name in earnest, for a much steeper price. The best course of action currently is to just wait five days and try purchasing it then after the taste test.

    Still, there are entire companies that appear to be subsisting heavily on this model. My research into it a 6 months or so was eye opening, even after working in the biz for some time and handling large numbers of domain purchases.

    • http://www.wholettheblogout.com Chris McElroy

      Here are some more articles on domain tasting.

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/historical_analysis_domain_tasting/

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/domain_tasting_in_spotlight/

      http://www.circleid.com/posts/criminal_checks_domain_name_tasting_kiting/

  • http://www.seo.pn Chris McElroy aka NameCritic

    You are much too nice and way too optimistic about ICANN and domain tasting.

    The grace period should be eliminated altogether. When registering a domain name, all that is needed right before you hit submit for payment, is to ask the registrant to look over the domain name they are about to register to make sure they spelled it correctly and confirm that this is the domain name they wish to register.

    Domain Tasting takes millions of domain names away from users that SHOULD be available to register for legitimate business owners or people who just want a domain name for their personal website. When one domain taster drops a name, another domain taster registers it for another 5 days.

    More people are needed to monitor what ICANN is doing. It affects you and everyone who uses the web, whether you own domain name sor not.

    More about GA list monitoring in http://www.dnso.org/dnso/notes/GA.list-monitoring.html

    Currently, there is a limit of FIVE postings per day on the GA mailing list

    To subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the General Assembly list, please send an email to with the words subscribe ga (or unsubscribe ga) in the body of the message.

    Make your voice heard and monitor what goes on behind the scenes with ICANN.

    More about this in my post responding to your article at http://blogs.pn/domain-tasting-and-icann/

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