Performance Marketing

The Intersection of Domain Names & Affiliate Marketing: A Q&A with Morgan Linton

Monica Gordon

Domain owners have many different options and channels to choose from once a domain name is acquired. When it comes to monetizing a domain name, one option (besides selling it) is to go with the affiliate marketing route.

I had a chance to talk to Morgan Linton, CTO of FashionMetric.com and CEO of Linton Investments to talk more in depth about the domain industry, how it is evolving, and the role affiliate marketing is playing in that space. Since 2007, Linton Investments has been helping startups acquire domain names.

Monica: What is the state of the domain industry today? How has it evolved over time?

Morgan: The domain industry has gone through an incredible transformation, particularly over the last five years. The largest change was the massive drop in direct navigation traffic as Internet users opted for using search engines over direct navigation. While some domain investors will tell you that parking is alive and well if you look at the data, it tells a very different story. Yes, there are still people making money parking, but they are making a lot less money than they used to.

The industry is now focused on premium domain names that are short, easy to remember and easy to spell. With TLDs like .ME and .CO gaining steam it is clear that the influx of new gTLDs is going to change the domain name world forever.

While I think .COM will always be the gold standard and continue to hold its value, TLDs like .NET, .ORG, .BIZ, etc. are going to be left in the dust with close to 2,000 new TLDs hitting the market. For domain investors I think this means a greater focus on acquiring the right .COM names and a mix of super premium gTLDs that have strong interest with brands.

New TLDs like .XYZ, .APP and many more are poised to disrupt the market by taking innovative approaches to embracing their registrants and creating a real community around their extensions.

Monica: What are some of the most common ways for domain name owners to monetize their domain names?

Morgan: Domain owners have moved from a focus on monetizing many domains at once to focusing on monetizing one or two domains at a time. A lot of this has to do with a change in focus from direct navigation traffic to search traffic along with strong growth in social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Domain owners are turning to WordPress in many situations to expedite the development process and streamline the addition of more complex features that can easily be added through plugins and widgets.

Platforms like Shopify have also made it easier than ever to put a fully functional ecommerce store on a domain. There are many ways to leverage platforms like Shopify to sell affiliate products and directly tap-into data feeds from affiliate providers like Commission Junction and ShareASale.

Monica: How are Domain Names & Affiliate Marketing are intersecting with each other? What advice do you have for startups or clients about approaching this intersection?

Morgan: I think there is more cohesion between Domain Names and Affiliate Marketing than ever before and a lot of it has to do with the shift in traffic from direct navigation to search. One often overlooked part of the equation is the role that CTR plays in search rankings.

The more times your site is clicked by people searching on Google or Bing the higher it will rank. Good domain names tend to get more clicks than obscure hard to read names. A really good one-word .COM is often seen as an authority.

If you are looking for a dentist would you rather click on Dentist.com or TheBestDentist.net. While exact-match domains no longer provide the same ranking benefits they used to, they do get more clicks, and this in turn increases the ranking of the site.

For affiliate marketers a good domain name can increase trust which has been proven to increase conversions. Combine this with better rankings due to higher CTRs and it’s clear that Affiliate Marketers and Domainers really have a lot in common.

Monica: In general, is affiliate marketing becoming more of a focus in the domain industry? Can you summarize the trend of domain name owners that leverage affiliate marketing?

Morgan: Absolutely. With a shift away from parking and a new focus on development affiliate marketing is more important than ever. The trend is a clear one that is growing every year. Domain owners want to make more money from their developed sites and the next logical step from PPC advertising is affiliate marketing.

The problem many domain owners have is that while they know a lot about domains they often know very little about affiliate marketing. It’s a new skillset to learn and that takes time.

Monica: Are there specific types of affiliate programs that tend to do particularly well

Morgan: I think this depends a lot on the niche that the domain name is focused on. Typically credit/debt, insurance, and education have been the hottest affiliate niches. Dating has also seen a lot of growth over the years while travel has certainly seen a massive decline due to mega-sites like Expedia taking most of the market share.

Monica: What trends in affiliate marketing and domain names do you foresee, heading into 2014?

Morgan: New gTLDs are going to change everything for domain owners and affiliate marketers. In a world where you can actually own a domain like Phone.xyz or Insurance.app without spending millions of dollars really levels the playing field. I think we are going to see some very interesting innovations and cross-pollination taking place in both spaces.

The key for domain owners and affiliate marketers is to stay focused on building quality brands that consumers trust. In a world where just about everyone is shopping for just about everything on Amazon it is getting harder and harder to show an Internet user why they should buy from your site. Having a meaningful domain is still just as important as it has always been, now there are just more options than ever before!

Author
Monica Gordon

Monica is TUNE's Senior Marketing Manager. Over the years, she has developed cohesive marketing programs for Seattle-based technology companies (and even dabbled a bit in product, working closely with product managers and developers). Offline, you will likely find her enjoying the great outdoors, traveling the world, or riding her Vespa. You can also find her on LinkedIn.