Company Business: .XXX Looks to Future
Despite the negative predictions of many industry naysayers, the much-storied .xxx top-level domain sponsored by ICM Registry continues finding new customers.
According to ICM Registry CEO Stuart Lawley, the registry is in the best position and shape since its launch, with three main factors contributing to the success of .xxx — greater SEO performance, rising relevance on Alexa, and brisk domain renewal rates.
Lawley explains that previously, users who appended “xxx” in their search terms with Google found .xxx sites to be ranking well — but a new trend has emerged over recent months, which ICM sees as a startling development; where sites using a .xxx TLD began ranking on Google’s first page for highly competitive search terms.
Lawley points to Porn.xxx, which hit the prized top spot on Google’s first page for the high-volume search term “porn,” back in December.
“Porn.xxx now seems firmly rooted on page one in most locations around the world,” Lawley told XBIZ. “In our opinion, given that the site is less than a year old, this is a staggering position for one of the world’s most popular search terms — especially when considering the other well established mega-sites that tend to be featured on page one.”
Google is also showing first page results for many other adult search terms that do not include the letters “xxx” in the search query.
For example, some popular keyword searches that did not include the term “xxx” but still delivered sites on the .xxx TLD on page one of Google in the U.S., are porn, hentai porn, teen porn, Anal porn, lesbian porn, sex porn, black porn, HD porn, mature porn, porn cams, porn sex and extreme porn.
“With .porn coming to market this year, we expect to see the SEO performance get even better as it is clear that the search engines are now correlating good quality, relevant content to .xxx domains,” Lawley said, adding that ICM’s domain matching program will ensure existing .xxx owners have the right to register the matching .porn domain.
The TLD has also seen dramatic performance gains in its Alexa ranking, with a month-by-month increase bringing ever more .xxx sites into the service’s listings.
Lawley notes that excluding small gTLDs with less than 100,000 registrations, such as .travel and .aero, etc., .xxx surpassed .com early this year as the gTLD with the most number of sites (per thousand registrations) in the Alexa Top 1 Million sites list, putting .xxx in the premier position amongst all TLDs.
Citing stats from Zonefile and Alexa Stats, ICM reports that as of January, 2014, the number of sites (per thousand registrations) in the Alexa Top 1 Million, listed by TLD, show .xxx in the lead at 5.44 — compared to 4.85 for .com. Next up is .pro at 4.17, .org at 3.66 and .net at 3.53. Other TLDs came in at much lower volumes with .info, .name, .biz .asia, .mobi and .TEL, respectively weighing in at 1.95, 1.83, 1.56, 1, 0.45 and 0.07 sites per thousand registrations listed in the Alexa Top 1 Million.
“This shows that not only are the .xxx sites doing well in SEO, they are also gaining a lot of traffic,” Lawley added. “Again, for us, this is a staggering achievement after only two years, and we expect this trend to gather momentum in the years to come.”
Lawley told XBIZ that the high renewal rates for .xxx domains are another strong signal of the TLD’s long-term success.
“After a very successful first year renewal rate of just under 70 percent, we are pleased to report that as of January, more than 65 percent of the names registered in December 2011 are still owned by the same registrant two years later,” Lawley stated. “Final accurate stats will not be known be known until the full ‘drop’ period is complete but the data so far indicates that the Year 2 renewal rates are going to be very high — between 80 and 90 percent.”
As for the current state of alternative TLD rollouts from ICM and how these domain options will work together beyond their value for brand protection, Lawley says that he sees .porn as the most promising of these alternatives.
“With our domain-matching program there are no extra costs whatsoever for those registrants who already have a .xxx name and who simply would prefer to do nothing, so the .porn equivalent effectively stays reserved for the ad infinitum; sitting on the shelf gathering dust and never being sold to any other third party.”
Lawley says it will be interesting to see how these rollouts play out and notes that he believes that .porn will perform strongly in SEO based on what he’s seen with .xxx over the past two years, but still sees .xxx as being the premium brand for adult destinations and does not expect to garner anywhere near as many registrations for .porn.
ICM also sees .adult and .sex as less attractive options than either .xxx or .porn and is offering the same no cost domain matching protection for both of these extensions, too.
ICANN has already accepted ICM’s proposal for .porn and .adult, and the company expects to launch these new TLDs later this year, but .sex is another matter.
“.Sex is still subject to a ‘contention set’ with another applicant, who will not be offering the domain matching program, and we expect to secure that string in auction in early 2015, which would likely lead to a late 2015 launch for that string,” Lawley said. “There will be a cut-off date to qualify for the domain matching program at some stage this year, so we would reiterate our call for participants to make sure they already have all of their bases covered in .xxx, so that they get full rights in these new strings at no extra cost.”
ICM is responding to the ongoing challenges of promoting .xxx as “the” place to find adult-oriented content, along with facing moves such as U.K./E.U. efforts to force content filtering at the ISP level, by continuing its extensive global outreach program to industry, consumers and policymakers.
“This was always a very long-term effort, as was shown by the eight years it took to gain approval,” Lawley said.
Reaching out to governments and policy makers in particular is perhaps the greatest challenge facing ICM, given the delicate intersection of public policy and technology on matters such as free expression and online child protection.
“Sometimes the politicians can tend to introduce new initiatives as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the sentiments of their voters, even knowing that the programs they suggest are, ultimately unworkable,” Lawley said.
As evidence of the difficulties in finding a workable solution, Lawley points to many such policies over the years such as Australia’s proposed national filter, which eventually fizzled out and died, but warns that past failures are not a barrier to future attempts.
Part of the balance with such initiatives involves taking a stand on fundamental issues, such as developing an effective age verification system that passes regulator scrutiny, which given ICM’s corralling of adult TLDs, the company is in a great position to do.
“A workable, nonintrusive, yet effective age-verification solution has been on our radar for a decade [but] there are many complexities with newer, less developed regions of the world coming online, with all the challenges that brings,” Lawley explains. “We continue to have dialog with all of the major providers of such services and there are some interesting new technologies based around social media that may present some acceptable options.”
Whatever the company brings to market will have to be acceptable to both the industry as well as the other involved stakeholders, and as such is a very intricate subject.
Another intricate subject is ICM’s continuing plans for a suitable cross platform age-verified micro-payment system as a means of allowing providers to monetize their content. As such, the company is continuing to refine its proposed offering and plans to partner up with a suitable, strong and known infrastructure provider to roll out this offer.
“With the advent of bitcoin and the scrutiny it is under and is attracting the focus of the governments at local and nation level, particularly in the U.S., anything we bring to market not only has to be first rate in terms of usability and functionality for the consumer and provider, but it also will have to pass muster with all regulatory agencies and have all the necessary licenses,” Lawley said.
As for the current and near-term future for adult and how ICM fits in, Lawley notes that while the adult industry has had a pretty torrid time since 2007, it appears that seven years later things have stabilized somewhat.
“Our mission has always been to provide tools and technologies to help the legitimate provider of online adult content to continue to thrive and to enjoy new sources of revenue against the ever changing backdrop of evolving online habits, global regulation and latest technological developments,” Lawley said.