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Is the Tech Community’s Preference for Namecheap a Sign of Things to Come?

Earlier this month I wrote a post about which domain registrars HackerNews users prefer. Among that audience, NameCheap came in first (35%), GoDaddy second (27%), and Gandi a distant third (6%). There was a lot of great follow-on discussion in the HackerNews comments about pros and cons of the various registrars that’s worth reading.

Several readers asked about the overall statistics, that is not just HackerNews visitors but everyone who has chosen a registrar on Lean Domain Search.

Here are those numbers from launch (Jan 16, 2012) through today (Dec 18, 2012):

45% of Lean Domain Search users who were prompted with the “Please select your preferred registrar” dialog chose GoDaddy as their registrar, followed by Namecheap (20%), Gandi (3%), and Dreamhost (3%). 17% selected “None” and the remaining 12% selected something else (all less than 2% of the total).

GoDaddy may be the most popular registrar, but HackerNews users are 75% more likely to use Namecheap than GoDaddy compared to the average Lean Domain Search visitor.

If the preferences of the tech community are an early indication of overall trends, Namecheap could pose a significant threat to GoDaddy in the coming years. Regardless of the outcome, the competition will force all registrars to step up their game and that is certainly a good thing for all of us.

20% Of The Queries on Lean Domain Search Account for 77% of The Searches

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to improve the quality of Lean Domain Search by decreasing the number of registered domain names that appear in the available search results. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting your hopes up because you found a great name only to find out that it has already been registered.

The causes of the false-positives (the registered domains that appear in the available search results) are complicated, but there are things I can do to mitigate it. The primary mechanism I have for improving the quality of the results is a script that I continuously run that double-checks that the available search results are accurate. If the script comes across an available domain name that is actually registered, it notifies Lean Domain Search so that that domain is not included in future search results.

The problem though is that the script is slow because it has to perform a WHOIS query for every domain that it needs to double-check. This yields itself to an interesting optimization problem: given that the script can only double-check so many results per day, which results do I check?

I could, for example, get a list of all the searches performed in the last few hours and then just go one by one through them and double-check the results. A better approach is to focus on the queries that people search for the most because inaccuracies in those results are going to affect more people than something that’s rarely searched for.

The question then becomes how many of the most popular queries should I have the script check?

By performing a little kung fu with the analytics data I can get a much better idea of how to allocate my resources:

Along the x-axis are the percentage of queries that it’s taking into account, on the y-axis is what percentage of the overall searches that those queries account for.

Some interesting results:

  • The top 10 queries (or 0.11% of all the queries) account for more than 4% of the searches performed
  • The top 1% of the queries account for 42% of the searches performed
  • The top 10% of queries account for 70% of the searches performed
  • The top 20% of the queries account for 77% of the searches performed (noted by the red lines in the chart)

This last result is particularly interesting because it conforms to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, which says that for many events 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Examples include 80% of the land in an area being owned by 20% of the population, 80% of a company’s sales coming from 20% of its customers, etc. In this case, this distribution follows suit: 77% of the searches come from 20% of the queries.

Using this information I can focus the script that double-checks the results on queries that are going to affect the most people which in turn is going to create a better experience and hopefully higher conversion rates.

Data is fun (and profitable!). 🙂

25% of All New Queries on Lean Domain Search Have Never Been Searched For Before

A few years back I came across an almost unbelievable statistic: between 20% and 25% of daily searches on Google have never been searched for before. Google has been around for almost 15 years at this point and gets a few billion searches per day so for more than 1 in 5 queries to be brand new — never searched before, ever — it’s really quite amazing.

I’ve been running Lean Domain Search for almost 11 months now and was curious to see how its numbers compared to Google’s.

I started by exporting a list of queries performed each day via MixPanel’s Ruby API. I then wrote a script to go day by day and check how many searches performed that day had never been performed before (either on that day or previous days). Casing and the presence of spaces were ignored so that “webdesign” and “Web Design” were treated the same.

Even though I knew Google’s 20%-25% number, I felt like things would be different. Google is a general purpose search engine; Lean Domain Search is a domain name generator. Surely the difference in purpose would be reflected in the numbers. Nope.

Here’s the daily average:

Here’s a weekly moving average:

On the day of the HackerNews launch (Jan 16, 2012) half of the queries had never been searched for before. Why half and not 100%? Because during day as more and more HackerNews visitors performed searches it became less and less likely that subsequent searches would be unique. By the end of the day 15,901 searches had been performed, but 7,954 were duplicates of other searches that had been performed that day.

Over the next month the number dropped from 49% new to 40% to 36% and then down to the mid-20s. What’s really amazing is that it’s hovered around that point ever since then despite the fact that more than 300,000 new searches have been performed since that time.

The overall daily average since launching is 24.75% meaning that 1 in every 4 searches has never been performed before. That was true in February, it’s true now, and if Google’s stats are any indication, it’s probably going to be true in a few years as well.

NameCheap is More Popular Than GoDaddy Among HackerNews Users

One of the best decisions I made while developing Lean Domain Search was to ask visitors which registrar they use after their third search. By asking you which registrar you use, I can customize the interface to make registering domain names through that registrar easier for you which in turn leads to higher affiliate revenue for me.

For example, after your third search you will see something like this:

If you select Namecheap, the Register Now link you’re shown when you click on an available domain name is tailored to use Namecheap, making it easier for you to purchase the domain name:

Lean Domain Search stores your selection in a cookie so that you get that customized experience every time you use Lean Domain Search in the future.

If you select None of the above you are asked which registrar you use that way I can keep track of which registrars I’m not supporting and add them if they are popular enough.

All of this information is tracked using MixPanel, which makes it really easy to segment your data afterwards. In this case, I want to see which registrars people select when their initial referrer is HackerNews:

You can then export the results as a CSV file so you can perform your own analysis.

With more than 1,500 visitors from HackerNews this year who have selected a registrar, here’s the breakdown of which registrars they selected when prompted:

NameCheap comes in at 36% followed by GoDaddy with 27%, Gandi with 6%, and Dreamhost with 3%. The “Other” category is made up of the rest of the registrars that are displayed, all of which come in at less than 2% of the total: Hover, Moniker, Enom, Network Solutions, a123reg, Bluehost, Dynadot, and NameTerrific. 19% selected “None of the above” and 94% of those people did not enter a registrar when asked which one they use.

Because almost 1 in 5 visitors from HackerNews selected none of the above and did not enter a registrar, we can’t say with certainty that exactly 36% of all HackerNews users use Namecheap. There also might be some difference between the average HackerNews user and one who performs three or more searches on a domain search tool. It’s possible, for example, that the more tech savvy of a HackerNews user you are the more likely you are to use a domain search tool and the more likely you are to use Namecheap instead of GoDaddy, while less savvy users are less likely to use a domain search tool and more likely to use GoDaddy.

What we can say is that Namecheap is extremely popular among the HackerNews community, which won’t come as a surprise to many after GoDaddy’s initial SOPA support and HackerNews’s vehement reaction.

What do you use? Namecheap, GoDaddy, or something else? Comments on HackerNews here.

If you’d like to check out Lean Domain Search for yourself, click here to head on over to the homepage.

Orlando Has More Domain Names Per Capita Than Any Other Major US City

Orlando, Florida

It might come as a surprise to you to learn that Orlando has more registered domain names per person than any other major US city.

With 243,195 people and 21,877 .COM domain names that begin with “Orlando”, it has more domain names per thousand people (90) than any other major US city. Miami comes close with 87, followed by Reno with 75, Atlanta with 69, and Tampa with 59.

Orlando tops the list because it’s relatively small (it’s only the 78th largest city in the US) and because businesses have grabbed a disproportionate amount of domain names likely in an attempt to capitalize on the large number of people searching for Orlando on the web thanks to its close proximity to Walt Disney World just south of the city.

Here’s the top 40 cities:

You can download the full spreadsheet here (41 KB) if you’d like to analyze the data yourself. You can download a list of all of the 21,877 .COM domain names that begin with Orlando here (90 KB).

For anyone interested in replicating this analysis, here are the details:

  • The domain counts are based on the number of domains in .COM zone file that begin with the city name
  • The population figures are based on 2011 population estimates from US Census Bureau
  • The analysis only looked at major US cities (cities with more than 200,000 people)

As someone who lives in Orlando, these results were a pleasant surprise 🙂

Using Domain Name Registrations To Determine What Businesses a City Needs

captioned. http://leandomainsearch.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/simcity.png | A screenshot from SimCity 2013.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: if you were put in charge of planning a city from scratch, what businesses would you need to include?

To answer this question you might start by thinking about what businesses you interact with on a weekly basis and what dependencies they have. You need food, which means you need a grocery store. You need transportation to get to the grocery store so you need a vehicle which means you need a car dealership where you can purchase a vehicle. You need roads to travel on, you need people to take care of those roads, you need people to transport the food to the grocery stores, people to repair those vehicles, people to operate the gas stations. You can get pretty far using this technique but you’ll inevitably run forget to consider some things because of the limitations of your own knowledge.

Another way to answer this problem is to look at what businesses most cities already have. Most cities have car dealerships and doctors so that’s probably a good indication that you will want to include them in your city. In practice though how would you accomplish this? You could grab a copy of the YellowPages and start flipping page by page, but you would likely give up long before you had a complete list. Is there a a better way?

Looking at domain name registrations

Each day a company called VeriSign publishes a massive list all of the registered .COM domain names in what’s called a zone file. Rather than look through the YellowPages to see what businesses are present in a city we can just check the list of registered domain names related to that city. Want to know if Arlington has a bath remodeling business? See if ArlingtonBathRemodeling.com is registered (it is). Want to know if Dayton has an antique store? See if DaytonAntiques.com is registered (it is). These websites might not actually be in use, but the fact that someone saw fit to register them indicates that there is a market in that location.

Therefore to figure out what businesses a city needs we can use the zone file to look at which domain names are already registered for that city and then compare those to other cities and see which businesses they have in common.

The results

For this analysis I looked at domain names that begin with one of the top ten US cities by population: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose and then checked which domain name endings they have in common.

Not all of the results represent their own industry or business. For example, some names like “At a Glance” and “Pro” simply make good website names (think Dallas At A Glance or Houston Pro) but the majority are in their own industry. You’ve got everything from lawyers (abogado in Spanish) to Zumba, a popular cardio program, and everything in between. You’ve got business that take care of your car (Auto Repair Service), help you with your finances (Bankruptcy Attorney, Refinancing), take care of your house (Bath Remodeling, Window Cleaners), your body (Chiropractic, Orthodontist, Beauty Salon) and just about every other local business that you interact with on a daily basis.

A quick note on interpreting the results: the presence of, say, “adagency” means that NewYorkCityAdAgency.com, LosAngelesAdAgency.com, ChicagoAdAgency.com, and so on are all registered domain names. Because it’s registered for all 10 cities, it is included in this list.

list. abogado abogados ac academy access accident accidentattorney accidentattorneys accidentlaw accidentlawfirm accidentlawyer accidentlawyers accidents accommodation accommodations accountant accountantguide accountants accounting accountingjobs acls aclspalsbls aco activities acupuncture ad adagencies adagency addictionmed address adoption ads adulted adventurepark advertising advertisingagencies advertisingagency advisor afterdark afternoon agent air airconditioning airconditioningcontractor airconditioningcontractors airductcleaning airlines airport airportcarrental airporthotel airporthotels airportlimo airportparking airports airportshuttle airportshuttles airporttaxi airporttransportation airtravel alarm alarms alarmsystems alfaromeo allergy alliedhealthschools allstars amateurgolftour amateurtour ambulance angels animalcontrol animalhospital annuities annuity answeringservice answers antiques apartment apartmentbuildings apartmentbuildingsales apartmentforrent apartmentlocator 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One in Seven Registered .NET Domain Names Have an Unregistered .COM

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you when I tell you that there are more registered domain names that end with .COM than with .NET. After all, the .COM Top Level Domain (TLD) is still what most non-technical people associate with websites so if you’re planning on starting a new website then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t use the .COM. The numbers support this: .COMs outnumber .NETs by almost 7 to 1 (106M registered .COMs vs 15M registered .NETs).

Given the importance of owning the .COM, you would think that hardly anyone would use the .NET version of a domain if the .COM was available to register at no extra cost. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how to come up with domain names, I was curious: how many .NETs have an available .COM and are they any good? This post is about how to figure it out.

If you’d like to skip the nitty gritty technical details, you’re welcome to scroll down a bit and download the full list of .NETs with available .COMs for yourself.

Sampling the zone file

VeriSign publishes something called a zone file each day for both .COM and .NET which contain most of the registered domain names for those TLDs. I previously wrote about how to apply for access if you’re interested in downloading the zone files yourself.

The simplest way to estimate the number of .NET domains with an unregistered .COM is to take a random sample of .NETs from the zone file and then check to see which of the .COMs are still available using a WHOIS query.

There are about 15 million domain names listed in the .NET zone file. By testing the availability of just a few thousand of those domains we can estimate with a high degree of certainty what the overall proportion is.

The first thing we need to do is take a random sample of domains from the .NET zone file. To do this we can run the following Perl command on Mac OS X to randomize the file:

terminal. $ perl -wl -e ‘@f=<>; for $i (0 .. $#f) { $r=int rand ($i+1); @f[$i, $r]=@f[$r,$i] if ($i!=$r); } chomp @f; print join $/, @f;’ net.zone > net.random.zone

And to grab the first 2,000 of the now-randomized zone file, we can run the following:

terminal. $ head -n 2000 net.random.zone > net.random.2000.zone

Now that we have a list of 2,000 random domain names from the zone file we can run a WHOIS query on the .COM of each domain to determine which are still available.

When I ran a WHOIS script on the 2,000 random domains from the .NET zone file, I found that 280 of them had available .COMs. In other words about 14% or 1 in 7 registered .NET domain names have an unregistered .COM.

Determining all of the unregistered .COMs

You could run a WHOIS script on all 15 million .NET domain names to check which have available .COMs, but that would take a while and it would also violate VeriSign’s WHOIS service Terms of Use. Fortunately there’s a much easier way to accomplish the same task without executing a single WHOIS query by performing some analysis on the zone files.

Here’s how to do it if you’re on a Unix-based machine:

1. Use diff to determine how the .COM and .NET zone files differ

terminal. $ diff com.zone net.zone > diff.zone

Here’s the start of the file (and yes, these are actual domain names):

textfile. < 0—0———————————————————-0//< 0—0———————————————————-2//< 0—0———————————————————-3//< 0—0———————————————————-4//< 0—0———————————————————-5//< 0—0———————————————————-6//< 0—0———————————————————-7//< 0—0———————————————————-8//< 0—0———————————————————-9//< 0—0———————————————————-A//…

Most of the differences are domain names that appear in the .COM zone file but not the .NET (denoted by lines that start with <), but as we will see there are more than a few .NETs which don’t appear in the .COM zone file (denoted by lines that start with >).

2. Extract the unregistered .COMs

Because we only want to look at the domains that have a registered .NET but not .COM we can use grep to extract just the lines that start with >:

terminal. $ grep ‘^>’ diff.zone > available.coms.diff.zone

textfile. > 0—X//> 0-0-0-1//> 0-0213//> 0-0NET//> 0-0V//> 0-1LIFE//> 0-24GYORSSZOLGALAT//> 0-255//> 0-2LIFE//> 0-3LIFE//…

3. Remove the leading > so that just the domain names remain

We can use the cut command to split each line by the space after the > and return just the second section, the domain:

terminal. $ cut -d ‘ ‘ -f2 available.coms.diff.zone > available.coms.zone

textfile. 0—X//0-0-0-1//0-0213//0-0NET//0-0V//0-1LIFE//0-24GYORSSZOLGALAT//0-255//0-2LIFE//0-3LIFE//

Analyzing the results

To count the number of results you can run:

terminal. $ wc -l available.coms.zone//> 2215883 available.coms.zone

According to these results there are 2.2M registered .NET domain names whose .COM is available.

One thing to keep in mind is that the zone files are not 100% accurate which means that you can’t rely on the exact number too heavily because some of the domains will actually be registered. I ran a WHOIS script to check 1,000 random domains from the results and 78 were actually registered. The total number of .NETs with available .COMs is probably more like 2.05M. Since there are 15,327,645 in the .NET zone file, this represents about 13.3% of all the .NET domains, about the same proportion we came up with when we sampled the zone file above.

You can download the results here:

button. Download List of 2.2M .NETs with Available .COM (ZIP, 12.3MB) | http://leandomainsearch.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/registered_net_with_available_com.txt.zip

When to consider using one of these domain names

If there is an established website using the .NET you probably don’t want to use the .COM for your own site. Not only will it be hard for you to outrank the established site, but you could get yourself into legal trouble for cybersquatting:

Cybersquatting (also known as domain squatting), according to the United States federal law known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, is registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.

However, the odds are good that if the .COM is not registered then the .NET is either not being actively used (otherwise the owner would have started with the .COM or registered it when it became available).

For example, if you are interested in starting a software company and are looking for ideas, you can run the following command to get a list of .NETs with available .COMs:

terminal. $ grep ‘SOFTWARE$’ available.coms.zone

textfile. ABBEYSOFTWARE//ABVSOFTWARE//ACCOUNTINGPROGRAMSOFTWARE//ACHILLESSOFTWARE//ACTIVEASPSOFTWARE//ACTIVITYAUDITINGSOFTWARE//AECLECTICSOFTWARE/…

Scrolling through the results, you’ll find some decent names such as WaterfrontSoftware.com, which is indeed available and WaterfrontSoftware.net is not being used.

If you are looking for an additional method of finding available .COMs, you just might find a great unused name using this technique.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. As always if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to drop me a note: matt@leandomainsearch.com or @mhmazur on Twitter.