Domain sales aren’t typically a major discussion point in the local marketing community, but the recent acquisition of Vacation.Rentals, in what’s being called the largest recorded sale of a new top-level domain, is leading some to believe that a tipping point has been reached in the war between search and social as competing channels for marketing funds.
The acquisition of Vacation.Rentals for $500,300, a move that was announced just this morning, is one of a number of marketing plays by the domain name registry Donuts Inc. The company, which provides its registrar customers with services for the discovery, registration, usage, and monetization of domain names, also recently acquired the .Travel top-level domain.
According to John Pollard, executive vice president, registry, at Donuts, the sale of Vacation.Rentals shows that a simple marketing hack is becoming a strategic trend on which businesses of all sizes could capitalize. With search now driving more website traffic than social, Pollard believes the acquisition of Vacation.Rentals is representative of the importance of not only keywords but also domain names for businesses hoping to capture customers’ attention via SEO.
The shift from social to search is backed up by a new report from the content marketing platform Shareaholic, which found that site visitors were more likely to be referred from social networks prior to 2017, but that traffic is increasingly coming from search engines today. Although search placed behind social in share of referred visits from 2014 to 2017, it’s now in the lead, driving 34% of site visits compared to 25% from social.
“For many years, the term ‘vacation rentals’ has been one of the most frequently searched terms used by vacation travelers,” Pollard says, explaining the strategic acquisition of that domain.
Pollard believes that top-level domains like .Rentals and .Travel will only become more compelling for businesses as voice-based searches proliferate via Google Home, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana.
A former executive at Expedia and Amazon, Pollard believes the increased reliance on search over social will play a major role in what he’s dubbing “online travel 2.0,” with sites like Airbnb and HomeAway facing a new crop of viable competitors.
The travel industry has traditionally been an early adopter of new technologies, and with search becoming an even more important mechanism and voice search in particular moving into the foreground, Pollard says he already sees property owners and website listing companies recognizing the importance of cutting through online clutter with what he calls “real world” domains like .Travel, .Cruises, .Rentals, and others.
“Branded short links and natural domains allow brands to embrace real-word links and new top-level domains—think www.peets.coffee or www.tmobile.careers—so consumers speaking in real-time are connected with the real, correct words rather than a string of meaningless characters,” Pollard says. “In turn, customer experience will continue shifting as brands imagine a whole new way to interactively and contextually offer virtual ‘shelf spaces’ and store displays.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.