Website Usage Analysis in the New gTLDs

Andy Simpson | Aug 12, 2014

A recent study, by EURid and the Leuven Statistics Research Centre, set out to better understand the most common usage of websites that are linked to domains, and we thought it would be an interesting exercise to extend similar analysis to the new gTLD market.  So, we analyzed all second-level domains registered in new gTLDs according to published zone files on June 29, 2014. Verisign utilizes our own proprietary process for classifying websites, which results in similar classifications to those by EURid.  The primary difference is that the Verisign classification method is machine-based and is evaluated for each domain independently, while the EURid approach leveraged samples that humans classified. 

One key finding from our June 29, 2014, analysis is that 3 percent of domain names registered in new gTLDs contain business websites. In this case, we define “business” as a website that shows commercial activity, a definition that is slightly broader than EURid’s “business” classification which is defined as a website that clearly shows commercial activity and that is designed for customer interaction. EURid’s usage stat for 8 established TLDs found that 30.5 percent of domain names on these established gTLDs contained business websites. 

Our analysis also found the most common use of domain names in the new gTLD space is Pay-Per-Click (PPC), with roughly 41 percent of all new gTLD domain names serving up PPC websites. A PPC website contains little user-generated content and almost exclusively advertising links. 

The prevalence of PPC websites in the new gTLD space can likely be attributed to:

  • Heightened speculation in the new gTLD space;
  • The practice of several new gTLD registries to register their own domains which are still technically available at premium retail pricing, and several campaigns that provide domains from the new gTLDs at little or no cost to end users (some reportedly without their prior consent), and at least one campaign which automatically creates PPC websites on those provided domain names; and,
  • The EURid approach classifies domains which immediately redirect or “forward” according to their ultimate destination.  In contrast, the Verisign method for website classification identifies domains that forward to an alternative destination as a “Redirect.”  The most notable change to augmenting the Verisign approach to classify domain usage according to the ultimate destination is an additional 2 percent of new gTLD registrations are linked to websites serving up PPC content.

 Figure 1 - Source Verisign (6/2014)

Finally, Verisign’s study also found that each of the new gTLDs have a personality of their own with very different usage distributions. Two such examples include:

  1.  Dot Chinese Online (.在线/.xn—3ds443g) has 91 percent of the registered base serving up “Error” websites. This usage spike likely correlates with their unique distribution model, where they agreed to assign a significant portion of their new names to the Chinese central government. All of the names that are presumably part of that deal fail to return websites when users from the United States attempt to access them. The usage distribution of the remaining top 10 TLDs can be seen in Figure 2.
  2. XYZ.COM LLC (.xyz) has a high concentration of PPC websites as a result of a campaign that reportedly automatically registered XYZ domains to domain registrants in other TLDs unless they opted out of receiving the free domain name. After registration, these free names forward to a PPC site unless reconfigured by the end user registrant. 

Figure 2 - Source Verisign (June 2014) 

While it is still early days for new gTLDs, this analysis offers an interesting snapshot of the first few months of new gTLD general availability. It will be interesting to see how website usage evolves over the next year as more gTLDs become available for registration.   

How about extending this to see which of the new gtlds have the highest percentage of business use? The answer may be beyond the top ten.
Interesting study. Can you elaborate on the classification "Other" at all or give some examples of domains that are classified in that way? I'm finding it difficult to picture domains with content, without errors, that do not merely redirect to pre-existing sites, that aren't simply parked for PPC ads, that are developed beyond mere holding pages, but that don't deserve the "business" label. In the case of .TIPS and .BERLIN, about 16% and 23% of domains (respectively) seem to be recorded as "other". And a share that large perhaps deserves some more detailed characterization. Can you give us a clue?
The robot registrations, rather than user initiated registrations, in .XYZ tend to go straight to a particular PPC parking company and it is the volume of these registrations that skews the overall PPC parking percentage. The reason for PPC parking being so high in the new gTLDs is typically due to the practice, not just limited to a few registrars in .XYZ, of registrars automatically parking their undeveloped domains on PPC landing pages. In the early stages of a TLD's operation, development will be quite low. But there is also an element of active PPC parking which may be due to speculation rather than temporary PPC parking. Eurid's methodology misses the nuances of development and usage in TLDs. The 110,000 domain web usage survey of .EU ccTLD that ran in early July showed that the usage of .EU ccTLD was more complex than Eurid's limited 5,000 domain survey suggested. Eurid's surveys rely upon a highly simplified set of categories that ignored things like clone websites, duplicate content websites, brand protection and many other important categories. These typically require a complex and automated process to categorise properly. A similar full TLD survey had been carried out on the top ten new gTLDs on 26th June using the same automated methodology. The Verisign results are broadly similar but do not include the "For Sale" category. This category tends to appear in newly launched TLDs but it is more disorganised than the same category in a mature TLD. Verisign's "business" category is interesting. The percentage of sites with the signatures of online stores and payments systems is typically going to be lower than the broader business category which would also included non-interactive brochureware websites. A single set of results for all new gTLDs can be misleading in that the new gTLDs did not have the same launch schedule so TLDs are being compared at different levels of maturity. The new gTLDs are already showing signs of divergence. A few are already developing into Truckstop TLDs (where users visit before being redirected elsewhere and the percentages of redirects is higher than the percentage of developed websites). Others are are finding the TLD string acting as a limiting factor and turning the new gTLD into a niche, rather than generic TLD. The effect of domains being held back by the registries or registry affiliated companies is also quite visible in some new gTLDs. Surprisingly, speculation is not as large a category as it has been in the launch of more recent large TLDs.