Organizations today are often the owners of hundreds or even thousands of pieces of real estate — and they may not even realize it.
That real estate is digital, in the form of domain names. Every enterprise knows about their main corporate website, where most customers or other interested web users meet them. But they may not be aware of just how many .coms and .nets are in their digital portfolio.
This digital real estate can be costly to maintain. And like all landlords, firms should be looking to maximize the return on their investments. They can start by ensuring that their domains “resolve to content” — that is, deliver visitors to a live website.
Companies have good reason for amassing large domain portfolios. Owning multiple domains can be a smart way to measure the success of various marketing campaigns, defend against user errors, and protect against trademark infringement and phishing attacks.
For example, many companies adhere to best practices for digital security by buying up domain names similar to their own. This keeps trolls from “typo-squatting,” wherein they register a similar domain name and populate it with their own content. That could include launching phishing attacks to capture the login credentials of visitors who have accidentally misspelled the web address of the website they were trying to visit.
A surprising number of the domains that organizations own are fallow, with little more than an error message or a notification from a web hosting company that someone owns the domain. Only 28% of domains owned by the 50 largest public companies in the Forbes Global 2000 resolve to live content, according to an analysis by GoDaddy Corporate Domains.
All those inactive domains represent missed opportunities to redirect people — perhaps potential customers or others worth engaging with — to the web page that meets their needs.
Some companies are doing things right. For example, if someone accidentally types “homedepo.com” into a web browser, they’re automatically taken to “homedepot.com.” Not only is this convenient for consumers — it also protects against potential hackers.
Or take Nike. If someone types “nikerunning.com” into their browser, they’re automatically taken to “nike.com/running.” This strategy allows Nike to prioritize traffic to its core domain without losing customers who may start their search for shoes with a different but completely understandable query.
Domain holders also can’t track traffic to domains without live content. So they don’t know if lots of people are heading to those domains for some reason — or if they can let an unvisited domain go to reduce expenditures.
A spike in traffic to a defensive domain, or a misspelled domain, might alert a company’s marketing team to brand awareness concerns that it could address with a targeted advertising campaign.
On the flip side, if web traffic data show that a defensive domain has received little to no attention, then it might be worth letting it lapse. A good rule of thumb is to ask whether it would be harmful if another entity registered the domain name in question. If the answer is no, and there has been no meaningful traffic to that domain for 90 days, then an organization can probably feel confident dropping it.
Finally, companies can’t forget about the foreign digital real estate they own — country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) like “.fr” for France or “.mx” for Mexico. Web users outside the U.S. often prefer to visit country-specific domains rather than “.com” or “.net,” which they may view as U.S.-centric. ccTLDs can also rank better in search within those countries.
The ccTLDs tend to be more expensive to own than generic domains. So the same rules for auditing website traffic and resolving to content matter here as well — maybe even more so.
Reviewing the hundreds or even thousands of domains that make up a corporate domain portfolio can be a tall order. But each and every domain an organization owns is a digital investment that is either contributing to or detracting from its mission. Enterprises should treat their digital holdings with as much care as they do their physical real estate.
Elisa Cooper is head of marketing at GoDaddy Corporate Domains (www.gcd.com).
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