Is there a viable business with truly local domain names in the form of zipcodes like 01801.PRO, 01801.US or 01801.COM?
A few days ago, EnCirca posted a blog entry regarding the rapid growth that .PRO has experienced in the past few years. The data we used came from the Registry Reports published on the ICANN website, which are current as of three months ago.
Today, we received a note from Michael Berkins of Thedomains.com, asking me if we could explain a sudden drop of 42526 .PRO domains being reported by registrarstats.com but not yet indicated by the ICANN reports.
After some quick checking, we were able to confirm what is happening – These are all 5-digit numeric .PRO domains matching the Postal codes in the United States. For an example, do a whois search at www.registry.pro for 01801.pro.
Two years ago, there was a bulk registration in .PRO of all of the 5-digit U.S. postal codes. The single registrant of the domains was a company called HGTN sharing the same ownership as Hostway, the .PRO registry at the time. (The .PRO Registry has since been sold to Afilias)
This is not the first time someone has created a network of zipcode based websites.
Marchex has had a network of over 75,000 zipcode-based .COM and .NET domains for nearly 10 years now.
Neustar, the .US registry has operated a similar network for six years now, leased to a company called Vendare. (We note that these .US domains expired yesterday)
Presumably, the premise behind these networks is either that these domains will generate type-in traffic or be highly ranked in the search engines. We suspect this premise fails on both counts.
Although we can’t speak to the possible type-in traffic, some random searches appear to show that search engines do not cooperate in ranking these sites simply due to their string matching a zip code. An audit of several zipcode searches on Google show that none of the top search results display hits from these comprehensive zipcode networks.
Several months ago, EnCirca considered pursuing the acquisition of zipcodes domains in .PRO. But we were not convinced of the economics of the business model. Does anyone out there have any ideas or suggestions? Feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will publish them in a future post.
In the meantime, the zipcode.pro domains will be dropping soon. EnCirca would be willing to offer a special registration rate to anyone who wishes to register these names in bulk.