Are GeoDomains in Trouble? How Google’s Focus on Local and Big Brands is Taking Over.

I’ll begin this post by making it clear that I am not a GeoDomainer/Developer, this post is written by me, Morgan, as a guy who avidly uses the web to find things in the many cities that I visit. I spend at least one week every month in a city outside of the United States. When I’m in these cities I usually go to Google at some point before my trip begins and do searches for things like, “city_name hotels” and “city_name restaurant” and of course, my personal favorite “city_name bars.”

When I started traveling the world like a maniac seven years ago I found that most of Google page one was filled with regular websites. Now the landscape is changing dramatically and I’m now seeing Google’s own local places results followed by some of the biggest brands on the net. Here are a few examples:

los_angeles_hotelsLooking at the results for Los Angeles Hotels you can clearly see that almost all of the above-the-fold space is dedicated to Google’s advertisers, Google places results, and then a little site you may have heard of, Expedia. In general it is believed that less than 15% of search traffic goes to sites below the fold which is why above-the-fold space is so critical.

new_york_hotelsLooking at New York Hotels it’s a very similar story. Now I would like to point-out that NewYorkHotels.com and NewYork.com is still on the first page, but they’re below the fold which means they’re missing-out on a majority of the search traffic.

san_francisco_restaurantsNow taking a look at San Francisco Restaurants and the top portion of the screen isn’t filled with ads, but Google places results still dominates followed by Yelp and OpenTable above the fold.

I do think there are people that are doing some very unique and innovating things in the GeoDomaining space and I’m more than sure that they’re doing fine and seeing their business grow. The people I’m talking about here are guys like The Castello Brothers and Elliot Silver who are absolutely innovating in the GeoDomain space and building real brands that will be around for a long time.

So who do I think is in trouble? It’s the long-tail guys and new Domainers that I think may have to be careful with their expectations around GeoDomains. I’m talking about the people who email me every single week and own domains like CityNameBars.com or CityNameRestaurants.com or CityNameHotels.com and have put-up a ten-page mini-sites and are waiting for their payday. From where I’m sitting, not as a business-person but as a consumer, I don’t know if their payday will ever come.

If you’re building a full-scale brand on a GeoDomain I think your strategy is solid and know that you can add serious value. If you’re not going all the way and building a real brand though I think the GeoDomain space could be a dangerous place to be. No matter how you slice it there is more search traffic than direct navigation traffic by a very wide margin. Getting above-the-fold for a popular search phrase will bring a huge amount of traffic, with Google owning the entire above-the-fold section of the first page for geo-related results means that they own that traffic.

Now for my open question to all of you. Once again I’d like to re-emphasize the fact that I am not a GeoDomainer, I’ve never built a GeoDomain and I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means. What I am saying is that as someone who uses the Internet a lot to find hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. in the cities that I visit I find that 99% of the time I’m never encountering a GeoDomain, instead I’m finding Google Places and Yelp to be the main destinations I land on.

Now it’s your turn, comment and let your voice be heard, are GeoDomains in trouble?

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Jesse August 11, 2011, 10:32 am

    Morgan, you are spot on with this article. I have seen the same changes you are talking about and I think the main factor anyone that is either in or looking to get into the geo domain game needs to remember is that Google doesn’t care about you at all. Google has made it abundantly clear that their focus is on providing their visitors with what they need, which is relevant quality results that are the most likely to provide them quick and easy access to the content they want, or on other words “content that fulfills a need or provides an answer”. Simply having a site about cityname-flowers.com etc that has 12 pages of affiliate products and 3 outsourced articles is definitely not going to cut it anymore, brands will be king from now on.

    Reply
  • D F August 11, 2011, 11:03 am

    After some thought I think that those niches those type of geo’s maybe in trouble. But if your talking insurance, loans, real estate I think those geo’s are only going to get more expensive. Any state, loan or real estate name at the very least should range in the 50k to 500k area. Really depends on the area.

    Imagine owing Newyorkrealestate.com, Californiainsurance.com, Coloradoloans.com, not our properties but Imagine putting those type of names on a billboard. Those are different types of services.

    With food it is different most people are on the go or out of town and want a quick review of where to go. I think in the end great reviews and good food will always make a restaurant come out ahead. But, what if people are bashing a restaurants food. Say a nearby competitor with 10 alias on a fourm. Many problems with these type of listings and services.

    Now if your talking geo types of services like caterings, weddings, then a geo owner could really crush the competition with exact keyword for that state. You have a trust factor with all of these reviews and different types of sites.. But in all food would be in the most danger. Most people looking for insurance, loans, catering are going to really search out many sites before setting on just one….

    Just my Thoughts

    D1

    Reply
  • RH August 11, 2011, 11:23 am

    Its true that Google is just taking the top spots for their places. Then you have other sites like Yelp. So yes I agree if you own a bunch of them, sell them now and keep the very best which hopefully you are local to, build a real brand there and focus on that. But owning hundreds of them is risky. You may get that lucky end user offer you $500, but I don’t think big money except for a top city hotel which seems to still hold value.

    Again IMO

    Reply
  • Mark August 11, 2011, 11:48 am

    Morgan,

    Can you tell me what exactly the Castello brothers are doing that is innovative in their space of GEO domains? Powerful sites? Absolutely. Money Makers? Yes. Innovative? Not that I can tell….would love to be wrong here.

    Reply
  • Elliot August 11, 2011, 12:42 pm

    I think there are far more people innovating in the geospace than me… In any case, In the last year, Burbank.com traffic has more than doubled (over 35,000 visits/month) and it’s because people are finding information about events, businesses, and local news (although the site lacks a bit in that area). I believe that if they find it to be a good resource, they will return for other local information.

    Reply
  • Fred Mercaldo August 11, 2011, 1:28 pm

    I was about to begin this post by stating “I’m not a surgeon, but I will write about surgery for today’s post” until I read all the way through your comments, Morgan. Here are some of my comments based upon my experience…first of all, Google is being put to the test by the FTC (see today’s Wall Street Journal on Page One of MARKETPLACE with the headline “FTC Sharpens Google Probe”); next, take Scottsdale.com for example….62% of our traffic over the past 3 months was natural type in traffic…..completely not dependent on Google results at all. If you Google “Scottsdale Restaurants” we come up 2nd, after the sponsored results and Places….and I’m fine with that. And as much as this is about Google, I am a huge fan of Google, as I believe they reward websites that have relevent, updated, interesting content. CitiesPlanet manages 65 GeoDomain properties, and each month not only have our sales increased, but also our traffic. 55 of these 65 sites have been launched in the past 14 months, so growth is to be expected….but it is solid growth nonetheless, and we continue to be very bullish on the pure City.com brand. I cannot comment on the long tail, as I’m not in that business. Fred.

    Reply
  • Tommy Butler August 11, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Hi Morgan

    Its a very intresting post. as a geo developer having the pure geo .com is a brand its more than just a domain name. its like Nike, Coca Cola. its the brand for the city and thats what counts.
    I have a mixture of names that you mentioned. city name plus bar or city name plus restaurant.
    but I also have number 1 name for my city and surrounding towns. Glasgow.com. our traffic is up to over 425.000 visitors a month thats due to the network that we have build round Glasgow. sample is here. http://www.glasgow.com/glasgow-network-sites.php I have let about 8 of the links drop due to no traffic, give you a sample our Glasgowaccountants.co.uk get over 1200 uniques a month. not great but its a start. as a network its starting to work still have lot work to do.

    For selling advertising locally you cant beat the .com it will only get stronger as years roll past.
    Now I also have around 8 hotel sites for the city. about 5 pub sites, 4 restaurant sites, grabbing the traffic from everywhere.

    Hope this helps

    Reply
  • Poor uncle August 11, 2011, 2:32 pm

    I would love to own a couple of city names. Hopefully the guy who own mycity dot com read your article and decide to sell it cheap 🙂

    Reply
  • Morgan August 11, 2011, 5:23 pm

    Great comments everyone and some really excellent points being made.

    @Fred – you are definitely a major leader in the space and are building real brands. I think you will continue to see your businesses grow and flourish.

    Where I still think there is a major problem is all the new Domainers who are buying GeoDomains thinking they can rank well only to find-out that Google, Expedia, and Yelp have them beat before they can even play ball.

    I think that Fred made a really excellent point specifically about some of the ways in which Google is currently being investigated. At the end of the day it’s time to level the playing field and having Google competing with it’s customers just isn’t right.

    @Mark if you look at what the Castello Brothers have done with Nashville.com this is a great example of the innovation they are doing. They are absolutely building real brands, reaching-out into the community, and creating major online destinations!

    @DF, good thoughts and I appreciate you sharing them! At the end of the day it all depends on what you do with the domain, however if you can’t get above-the-fold you’ll really have to rely on direct navigation and outbound marketing for your traffic.

    Reply
  • Tommy August 11, 2011, 5:33 pm

    I just did a search for “kayaking” and Google displayed “Places for kayaking near MY CITY” using Google places. Is the kayaking vertical in trouble?

    I don’t see innovation in PalmSprings.com, Burbank.com, etc. These sites have content, aged content in the case of the Castello brothers, not technological innovation. Business listings, attractions, events, and maybe news. Just like your sites, it’s content.

    There will be more and more competition for content from Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and so on.

    Reply
    • Morgan August 11, 2011, 5:51 pm

      @Tommy thanks for your comments! I think that Geo’s do have a ton of competition, luckily for kayaking there are a ton of non-geo search terms that Google places doesn’t exist on. As for your comment about IE, Firefox, and Safari taking-away type-in traffic with one browser revision I think you’ll need to refine this a bit. There still are people that type in city_name.com, rather than just city_name. While you and me may never do this there are still plenty of Internet users that go to what they are looking for with a .COM appended to it. You might not believe it but it’s still happening albeit declining over time.

      Reply
  • Tommy August 11, 2011, 5:39 pm

    Fred,
    IE, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome can take away your type-in traffic with one browser revision.

    Reply
  • Richard Douglas August 13, 2011, 7:19 am

    Morgan,

    You’re article is waaaaay off base. You should have interviewed some active geodomain developers or a least used city examples where there is an active geodomain in the space. ie. one that is updated daily with fresh content, has social media engagement and [gasp] perhaps even reporters on the ground.

    On our sites, we’re dominating the SERPs with top 3 rankings for just about everything. That brings is 1000’s of regular daily visitors, plus we’re getting 1000’s more in type in traffic.

    As with many niches, long tail is the sweet spot on the geodomain space, too. What I mean by that is the long tail searches lead to higher conversions for our local advertisers.

    If you want a source for future articles, don’t hesitate to reach out.

    – Richard.

    Reply
    • Morgan August 13, 2011, 9:28 am

      Thanks for your comment @Richard but I’m not sure if you read my entire article.

      First – my observations are not off-base, these are absolutely 100% verified. Five years ago when you did a search for “Los Angeles Hotels” or “New York City Hotels” what came-up in the search results were domain names. Now Google places results show-up. That’s not a guess, that’s a fact from my own observations and is absolutely a move that Google has made and many, many, GeoDomainers big and small have complained to me about.

      I did a search for “Oakville Hotels” and don’t see Oakville.com anywhere on the first page. I do see OakvilleHotels.com but it is way down below the fold. When I search for “Oakville Bars” I do see that Google Places hasn’t taken over however I also don’t get Oakville.com anywhere on the first page.

      All this being said, Oakville is a small city in Ontario. Actually an awesome city which I’ve been to a number of times as my fiancĂ©’s Mom was a school teacher there for 30 years. The problem I am talking about really applies much more to the cities I visit frequently cities like, New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, etc. If you go back in time five years ago, doing popular searches around these cities would yield nice exact-match domains above-the-fold for the most popular search terms. Now I only see Google Places results, ads, and major brands like Expedia and TripAdvisor.

      So please understand that I’m not attacking GeoDomainers, like I said in my post I think there are a lot of people doing a great job with GeoDomains like Elliot, Castello Brothers, Fred, and many more. All I’m saying is that as an Internet searcher, not a Domainer, I have seen page one of Google change dramatically since I started traveling heavily seven years ago. This is 100% verified and true, it doesn’t mean GeoDomains are dead…however it does mean that Google Page one has changed and that impacts GeoDomains which used to hold those top spots.

      Keep the comments flowing, I love this discussion and hope everyone always feel comfortable sharing their opinions on my blog, that’s what this is all about! Comment and let your voice be heard!

      Reply
  • Jesse August 13, 2011, 9:05 am

    Richard,

    Did you read the whole article? Here’s a quote from the above article “If you’re building a full-scale brand on a GeoDomain I think your strategy is solid and know that you can add serious value. If you’re not going all the way and building a real brand though I think the GeoDomain space could be a dangerous place to be.”

    I think that falls into line with your statement “one that is updated daily with fresh content, has social media engagement and [gasp] perhaps even reporters on the ground.”

    SO, in summary I think you both have more in common with your thoughts on this topic than you have differences. And remember, Morgan said this post was about his first hand experiences as a consumer not as a GoeDomainer so really there is no way this post could be off base at all.

    Reply

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