Deleting Domain Names – Part 1

So, you have a list of domain names that you think produce no value for the organisation. Or, perhaps you have been tasked with identifying the domains that you should consider deleting to meet your budget number. Where do you start?

The key is that you understand the value that every domain name generates for you, whether measured by return from e-commerce on that domain name, brand and IP protection or more traditional marketing methodologies such as page views, bounce rates, clicks and so on.

For organisations that have thousands of domain names trying to get a handle on which domain names add value and which are worthless can be a daunting task, especially if a portfolio has simply been left to mushroom over the years. The fads of single, double and dare I say, treble hyphenated keywords have long gone, consigned to the SEO bad practice waste bin, but the domain names are still there in the portfolio. Registrars aren’t generous to let you renew domain names for nothing if you aren’t using them unfortunately – they have to pay the registries. Therefore, as part of an adoption of the principles of maintaining a healthy domain name portfolio that balances the risks and rewards of the digital landscape, understanding what domain names could and should be deleted is an important step to take.

In this first part of the steps to take, we will focus on three particular questions that need to be answered. Most of the steps you need to take are not binary – they are not as simple as requiring a Yes/No answer. If it was that easy then the process would be simple but would create inherent risks of deleting domain names that do have value both to an organisation but also to others who could profit from the goodwill and intellectual property built up over many years.

For instance – if the first step was “Does the domain name resolve”, a “no” response isn’t cause enough to determine that the domain name is deleted. Suppose it doesn’t resolve because the web server is offline or that the registry’s DNS is down. A valuable domain name may be deleted because of issues outside of the sphere of control and influence.

To put that into perspective, how much revenue and brand recognition is associated directly with domain names such as Apple.com, Amazon.com or Paypal.com? And how much does their respective .com domain names cost to renew each year?

Whilst the steps below refer to a domain name in the singular, the steps can be carried out on a number of domain names at a time, based on the tools you may have available.

Step 1 – Where does your domain name resolve to?

Unless you really know where the domain both is supposed to and actually resolves to, then you cannot make a call on whether to keep it or not. As mentioned above, the resolution of a domain name not only depends on it having a valid IP address but also that IP address translating into a “thing” that works. This shouldn’t be binary. A domain name that resolves now may not resolve in 30 seconds for a number of reasons within and outside of your control. However it is important to understand where it is resolving and where to – the latter comes more into play in later steps.

The simplest way to check this is to put the domain name into a search box and press ‘Enter’. You will get an answer pretty quickly. But it is also important to understand the DNS settings for the domain name, which you can do by using a number of free online tools such as http://www.whatismyip.com or http://www.who.is

It is possible that a simple check like this may result in you getting a nasty surprise about where the domain name is currently resolving, in which case it is essential that you take action now to correct it before any (further) reputational or revenue damage is done.

Step 2 – Where does your domain name rank in natural search?

SEO is an expert art and something I profess to not knowing an awful lot about, but I do know that in order for any website, and thus the domain name, to be ranked by the search engines, it really needs to resolve. So once we have overcome the question in Step 1 we should understand whether the page/website the domain name resolves to has a natural search ranking. Rather than putting the whole domain name into a search bar, try adding just the keywords or the SLD (the characters to the left of the dot).

For domain names that contain key terms you may see, as well as the domain name in question, social media pages, Wikipedia entries and some other sites that have referenced the term. However, it is the result related to the domain name you want to understand, which may not be evident from the first few pages on natural search. The more you have to search for the domain name within the search results, the less value the name currently generates for the organisation.

Of course, the keywords that you use may not just be related to your organisation and there is a possibility that, as search trends change, the domain name may become more valuable. We will cover Google Trends a bit later but it is also good at this stage to understand what the trend data is for the keyword(s) used in the domain name.

Step 3 – Is there any AdWord campaigns still using the domain name or keywords?

It is possible that in big organisations one department may not always be on the same wavelength as another. So, you may be thinking of deleting a domain name which the marketing department have just built a brand new campaign around – unlikely but it has and does happen on occasion. Following the same process as in Step 2 will show you if there are any paid search campaigns running using the keywords of the domain. It will also reveal whether any of your competitors (or worse – infringers) are bidding on your keywords to divert traffic away. If yo do find the domain name being used as part of a campaign, you should investigate further before deleting the domain name.

Coming up in Part 2 – Who owns other domains that use the same keywords?, What incoming links are there to any websites that the domain name resolves to and Does the domain name have any monetary value?

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