Last Updated: December 5, 2020

Domain name registrars have total market customer base of billions. Anyone with Internet access can purchase a unique domain and build a website. While this massive market may be exciting, it also poses a major challenge to registrars. If these companies try to appeal to everyone at once, they will either waste marketing resources running multiple campaigns or they will make campaigns so general that they appeal to no one at all.

The most successful domain name registration companies choose a segment of their global market and try to connect with them more directly. They appeal to the needs and concerns of certain demographics so they can secure a piece of a very big pie. This is why many marketing professionals use the science of psychology in their advertisements. Psychological techniques in research and communications help marketers determine the best way to speak to their customers.

The Psychology of Marketing Domain Name Registration

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited
GoDaddy: “Danica Patrick Gets a Massage”Professional racecar driver and GoDaddy spokesperson Danica Patrick gets a massage from a young woman who wants to star in the next GoDaddy commercial, who makes a fool of herself.Men and women ages 18-35Popularity-Value Association: This commercial acknowledges the criticism that GoDaddy’s use of sexuality in advertising has nothing to do with domain name registration, but the scenario still suggests that people are passionate and excited about GoDaddy anyway. The ad implies that GoDaddy is very well-known, reflecting the celebrity of Danica Patrick as a spokesperson. It communicates that if the company and its commercials are popular enough to self-reference, then GoDaddy must be a reliable domain registration service.
VeriSign: “Dot Net Campaign”Various entrepreneurs describe the web-based businesses they will register with VeriSign under a “.net” suffix.Professionals ages 21-45Inspiration for Entrepreneurs: The commercial suggests that VeriSign is the preferred domain registration service for young professionals and start-up businesses. It connects the “.net” suffix with being unique and professional, hoping to capture the attention of aspiring business owners. The commercial is specifically targeting a small business market by implying that VeriSign supports the dreams of web-based innovators.
HostGator: “One Penny Promotion”A voiceover describes all of the services offered by HostGator for those who want to build and register a new website.People with limited experience with web technology, all agesRisk-aversion: This straightforward ad highlights a number of services provided by HostGator that are useful for people who have limited to no experience with web design. It mentions templates, built-in tools, and customer service, all things that are most valuable to those who have never built a website before. Combined with the promotional offer to access these things for one cent, the commercial makes HostGator seem like a very low-risk option for people who may be apprehensive to approach web design at all.

A segmented market

Domain registrars like GoDaddy, VeriSign, and HostGator have a generalized product that has the potential to appeal to a very large cross-section of consumers. In the above three examples, each company is attempting to appeal to just one segment of their market. They demonstrate that it takes different techniques to market to non-professional individuals for their personal websites as opposed to professionals for their business websites. Likewise, marketing to tech-savvy people is different from marketing to people who have no experience with web design.

Domain Bias

There is a concept called “domain bias” that claims Internet users are significantly more likely to click on a domain name they know and trust, even if it isn’t the most relevant to their search. A study conducted by Microsoft and Stanford University in 2011 to confirm domain bias, revealed the concept to be true. In a “blind taste test” experiment, a majority of users selected content from less popular websites when the users believed the content came from more popular websites.

For example, they strongly preferred any web address connected to WebMD over less popular medical websites. While domain bias may prove a challenge to companies that profit from the registration of new domain names, this means that the marketing materials registrars create must instill consumers with trust in the company’s ability to generate popular, trusted domains.

Source: Study conducted at Microsoft Research. Ieong, S., Mishra, N., Sadikov, E., & Zhang, L. (2011). Domain bias in web search.

Companies like GoDaddy that try to appeal to many different kinds of people, use general stimulation like sex in advertising campaigns to call attention to the company and encourage repeat viewing of the commercials. If a domain company’s customers come from many different backgrounds, it is more efficient to merely raise awareness about the service in a way that will reach a large number of individuals.

Other domain registration companies have opted for a clear message aimed at a specific demographic. For example, a company that wants to appeal to business clients may attempt to appear professional and connect with the ambitions of entrepreneurs and business owners. Rather than use a message that is popular but generic, a focused campaign can posit a company as suited to a small, but focused niche.

Rather than try to capture the popular or business market of its competitors, smaller companies like HostGator aim for a specific, under-served population of people who know very little about Internet technology. For people who are new to a product, it can be valuable to make them feel less intimidated about the unfamiliar nature of the product with risk-reducing measures like low cost promotions and promises of customer service. This is how HostGator appeals to individuals or to business owners, but not to tech-savvy people who tend to prefer larger domain registrars.

Staying on the good side of net savvy consumers

Late in 2011, GoDaddy briefly supported the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an attempt to legislate the regulation of the Internet. SOPA was extraordinarily unpopular with the American public, especially in online communities. In protest, many angry customers of the company organized “Dump GoDaddy Day” on December 29th, 2011. GoDaddy CEO Warren Adelman released an official statement soon after the 29th claiming, “We have observed a spike in domain name transfers [to other registrars], which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA, which was reversed.” This controversy was ultimately about trust between consumers and the GoDaddy brand, and a perceived betrayal of that trust.

Why psychology matters

As demonstrated by the three different approaches of GoDaddy, VeriSign, and HostGator, different customers have different needs and concerns. Advertisements and other marketing materials attempt to connect with consumers in ways that are interesting and meaningful to them as individuals. This goes beyond raising awareness and involves research and testing to see what is psychologically appealing for a given customer base. To learn more about how consumer psychology affects marketing practices in other industries, click here.

Number of Top-Level Domain Names

According to the WHOIS Source Internet statistics organization, there were 142,497,445 unique, top-level domain names in the world as of November 1st, 2012. Most importantly, this number grows in small increments as not only new domains are registered, but existing domains are deleted or transferred to new owners. This means that many of a domain registrar’s customers are those who wish to purchase high-performing domain names previously owned by others, creating a need for marketing materials that appeal to feelings of opportunism and ambition.

Source: WHOIS:

Domain registration marketing careers

Domain registrars need to reach customers across multiple media, including web, print, and television. This means there are many opportunities in the domain registration field for people in marketing-related professions.

Internet Marketer

Internet-focused services like domain registration do the majority of their marketing online. An Internet marketer is a professional who connects with consumers through Internet platforms like social media, search engine optimization, web analytics, and many others. Click here for more information about Internet marketers.

Web Designer

A web designer is responsible for the code, visual aesthetics, and information engineering of a website. A designer determines how a user experiences a website and navigates through its pages. This is essential for establishing the image of an online company. Find out more about being a web designer here.

Number of Domain Name Dispute Cases by Year

Occasionally, one company or individual will ask that a newly registered domain be taken down because it conflicts with another, existing domain. This has happened many times with the Coca-Cola Corporation, as in the 2009 case when Coca-Cola demanded that Murat Cem Kasim cease using a domain with the term “Rock’nCoke.” Most domain disputes do not enter legal conflict, but regulatory bodies and domain registrars tend to arbitrate disputes to keep larger customers like major corporations happy. The number of disputes per year fluctuates, but they do tend to rise overall.

Year: # of Domain Disputes

  • 1999: 1
  • 2000: 1857
  • 2005: 1456
  • 2010: 2696

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization- Arbitration and Media Center