Remember when category-killer domain names used to be all the rage?

Category Killer Domains

When I first started buying domain names in 2007 category-killer domains were all the rage. Just to make sure we’re all using the same terminology here, by category-killer I mean domains that describe a specific product category.

Here’s a relevant example of one today. So we all know that beer is so last year and hard seltzer is in, big-time right? (okay I personally still prefer beer but I’m starting to feel like the odd man out). Back in the early 2000’s a company that wanted to dominate the hard seltzer market might really want to get their hands on HardSeltzer.com. Domain investors would market names like these and say, if you own the category killer here then people will think of you as the market leader.

Over time, this faded away. Now if you search for “hard seltzer” in Google you’ll find White Claw, the category-leading brand in first place followed by Drizly, the alcohol delivery service that can get White Claw to your doorstep. My guess is that if you asked White Claw if they wanted HardSeltzer.com, they’d probably say – nope, we already have WhiteClaw.com.

Looking at the DNJournal top ten list from this year, you’ll see – no category-killers to be found:

Now you might say. Hey, come on Morgan, BettingTips.com that’s a category, it’s the “betting tips” category. Sure, kinda, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this post, I’m talking about product categories.

The idea years ago was that if someone wanted to buy something online, eventually they’d be able to just go to “that product” with a .COM at the end and viola – there’s your market leader. In reality what happened was companies like Best Buy, Amazon, Home Depot and many others built their own brands and people now go there to buy things.

People buy a new flat screen tv from BestBuy.com or Amazon.com, not FlatScreenTV.com which is parked.

If someone was opening a new online site for buying flat screen tv’s – today they’re more likely to go with something like TVDirect.com or TVSource.com, in short, the brandables won.

Of course I’m excluding a nice big juicy market here which I want to make sure not to gloss over – one-word .COMs. Yes, if you own a domain like Hammer.com, you can get a pretty penny for it…but chances are, someone isn’t buying it to sell hammers, they’re using it as a brandable just like Amazon and Apple do.

While there was a day where search results on Google came back with exact-match category-killer domains, that’s just not the case any more. Just do a search for anything from hard seltzer to baseball cards (dacardworld.com is #1 on Google for that one) and you’ll find the brands win the day.

For domain investors sitting on a category-killer domain that they think a big company is going to buy for big bucks because “they want to own the category” that ship has sailed, they already do own the category and they no longer need the domain to match.

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Jason Eisler February 27, 2020, 5:30 pm

    So what do you do if you own the “category killer” or to be more specific in this case – HardSelter.com?

    Obviously you can say “Devlop it…” Yeah easier said than done, just ask anyone whos built a successful online business.

    So, assuming those days are gone, that ship has sailed…and is never coming back!

    What does a domain investor do with his “HardSelter.com” / “Category Killer Domains”

    -Whether that be the actual 1 word “Category Killer ”

    – And 2-Word “Category Killer ” domain names?

    Jason

    Reply
    • Morgan February 27, 2020, 5:34 pm

      That’s a great question Jason, I’m not sure, I think in most cases you just need to be prepared to hang onto the domain possibly forever or dramatically reduce your price expectations. I think the best people to own these domains are people who have the ability to develop and monetize it themselves, as an investor these will most likely just collect dust IMHO.

      While I think the owner of a domain like this should reach out to companies in the space, I don’t think they’re going to get as much as they’d want for a domain like this. Going with the hard seltzer example, White Claw would seem like the perfect buyer but since they rank #1 in Google for “hard seltzer” and if you go to a bar and ask for a hard seltzer they hand you a White Claw, I think they’re pretty confident that they’re already #1 without a domain like this.

      Reply
  • Mark Thorpe February 27, 2020, 5:55 pm

    EMD category-killer domains ship has not sailed and never will IMO. Brandable domains did not win either. A balanced approach is required.

    Some companies still use EMD’s to build their business on or buy them to forward to their brand.
    Trust in quality EMD .COM domains has only gotten stronger over time.

    History repeats itself, just in a modern way and the pendulum will swing back in favor of EMD’s someday. So it’s good to own both EMD and brandable domains IMO.

    Reply
  • You Can Call Me Al February 27, 2020, 6:20 pm

    This is the most foolish and dumb article on domaining I have ever read. Linton, you clearly have no clue and need to stop giving horrendously bad advice. Maybe you really should switch from beer to hard seltzer. The beer has clearly diminished your brain cells.

    Reply
    • Mark Thorpe February 27, 2020, 7:05 pm

      Harsh, but yeah sometimes you’re not even in the ballpark Morgan with domain name advice.
      Sorry, eh. Lol

      Reply
      • Josh Schoen February 27, 2020, 10:05 pm

        I actually mostly agree with Morgan here. What I’ll say though is that since HardSeltzer.com is priced right now at just $25k White Claw should just buy it and take it off the market. I bet they have enough money to do so so they might as well, but they certainly don’t need the domain to continue to flourish.

        Beverage brands are just about exactly that, the brand. People generally don’t buy drinks online, they buy them in the store, so a beverage brand’s domain name in way less important than a purely online consumer-facing business. Even if White Claw didn’t own WhiteClaw.com I’m sure they’d be doing just as well. There are plenty of beverage and alcohol brands that are insanely successful that don’t own their EMD, such as Fireball. Fireball doesn’t own Fireball.com, instead they use FireballWhiskey.com, and guess what, they’re a huge success. Another example is Patron, one of the most popular tequila brands in the world. They don’t own Patron.com, instead they use PatronTequila.com. So, the point of all these examples is to say that since beverage/alcohol brands don’t even need their exact-match domain to be successful they certainly don’t need their category-killer domain.

        I think the importance of owning your category-killer domain varies on what type of business you are and what industry you’re in but I think across the board it’s clear that brands have won over category-killers. I agree with Morgan.

        Reply
        • Mark Thorpe February 28, 2020, 1:47 pm

          They should buy HardSeltzer.com and forward it to their brand.

          Reply
          • Mark Thorpe February 28, 2020, 3:26 pm

            Whisky.com selling for $3.1 million in 2014 is a clear example of how valuable EMD category-killers names are.

    • Michael February 28, 2020, 3:09 am

      I disagree. It’s a solid post, whether you agree or disagree with it. It’s good to read a hard stance from an investors standpoint like this once in a while rather than the soft advice or newsbites that are the frequent content of most blogs. It’s also drawing out some good and well thought out comments. This is the kind of content that activates thinking and discussion. Also I give Morgan credit for taking a clear position and putting himself out there in publicly stating it.

      Lastly not for nothing but while I typically disagree that posting anonymous comments is as bad as some people make it out to be, in this case, while I respect your right to disagree, I think your criticism would not be so harshly worded Were you standing behind your real identity, and that therefore your negativity on the matter should not be taken to heart.

      Reply
  • Adam February 27, 2020, 7:33 pm

    The term category killer is akin to premium domain. I think you are talking more “exact match domains” rather than category killer here. 2c

    Reply
  • Tony February 27, 2020, 8:09 pm

    Very shortsighted and uninformed article that leaves me shaking my head yet again. Just glad that commenters are allowed to tell the emporer he has no clothes on.

    I would love to own HardSeltzer.com for the $4100 the current owner paid a few months back. That’s all I can say.

    Reply
  • Lifesavings.online February 27, 2020, 9:43 pm

    while we are talking specifically about HardSelzer.com it aint that great as far as EMD goes imo.
    You can’t sell liquor online. Best case is you use it for an existing brand or…

    Perhaps it’s better for a blog type/review/information site. Nothing something many people are anxious to do. Then what? How you make money? Selling beer glasses? Getting paid to review? Brewing gear? Sure there’s a lot you can do…but this route is a lot of work too, it’s not a 1-way ticket to riches domain that will fly off the shelf.

    Reply
  • Alexander February 27, 2020, 10:17 pm

    I guess any brand just paid a lot of money just to be well known and it works only for own value on the market when brand does good work.
    Category-killers work better from start but in the time being from very first rows on the market they are slightly moved to the middle because brands take more attention and became more known.
    Category-killers are more predictable in time in value and keep the value long time that is very important for investors like virtual property investors:) At the same time only top brands go up in value when others brands have zero value from start to the end.
    In your selection best of the best domains (oke, expensive ones) are just single words or niche key category-killer domains. As far as I see for decades they were always well paid by end users with helicopter vision. So no changes/surprise. One word domains and category killer domains are the most predictable products on our market when brands are just one chance to millions.

    Reply
    • Mark Thorpe February 28, 2020, 3:38 pm

      Category-killer domains are much more predictable and valuable than most brandable domains.

      Reply
  • Doc February 28, 2020, 8:06 am

    TOTALLY DISAGREE
    Ask Honda why they bought Motorcycles.com and Scooters.com at 6 figure pricing ? Absolutely the reason many many brands have bought or are buying direct EMD domains, there are list after lists of these companies that own the 1 and 2 word EMD. These BRANDS are not stupid and I dont care what you say today, people still type in those names or perhaps Cars.com got it wrong, even tho that domain was valued at 872 million. Yes they built a business on it, BUT it would never have been successful calling it Bozos.com, they would have spent more in brand awareness than they did on the domain name..or maybe we should ask Frank S why he bought DomainNames.com ??

    Reply
    • Mark Thorpe February 28, 2020, 1:58 pm

      Also, Google bought Streams.com, Amazon Streaming.com, Facebook Messenger.com among other domains and so on. Brands buying EMD category-killer names.

      Reply
    • Matt March 1, 2020, 6:40 am

      @Doc you cannot conflate a successful company like Honda buying motorcycles.com and that being the reason for their success.

      I have a motorcycle, I love domains, I know the company Honda very well and know they make motorcycles – but had no clue they owned motorcycles.com.

      Them owning motorcycles.com had no influence on me buying a motorcycle and I expect it influences very few people. They bought it because they could, they wanted to stop others from using it and it may become important for then in future.

      To say owning a category killer product .com absent of any solid business smarts is the ticket to success is ridiculous – look how that worked out for Toys R Us when toys.com was listed under their assets when they went bankrupt.

      Reply
      • Doc March 2, 2020, 8:02 am

        Not true..When they bought them , which was not recent..They did not buy them to keep them from someone else..How do I know..because I talked direct with the Honda buyer because they wanted to buy a domain I had and he explained why they were buying many domains and to simplify it..They wanted the traffic from both.

        Reply
  • Doc February 28, 2020, 8:09 am

    And this was posted by Andrew Miller on Linked in just 2 days ago

    Below, My Top 10 Reasons Why Your Category and Exact Match Dotcom Domain Name is So Critical to Own: I have paid ” 7 figures”for category & exact match .com domain names, as a founder/CEO, investor, advisor. I founded CreditCards (.com)& InsuranceQuotes (.com), both market leaders today. I have helped CEO’s, Founders, Executives, & PE/VC Firms acquire domain names that have become category leading brands & businesses. I have spent 20 years building relationships with other domain name experts who have done the same. I have had a Founder/CEO who sold to PE for $1.6B say to me; “the domain acquisition was ultimately worth $250 million to our exit”; I have a Fortune 500 CEO/Founder say “I did not understand how powerful owning the category domain was until a week after we acquired it”. -Provides immediate credibility, perceived authority -Recallable no matter when, where advertised -Proven to convert stronger in paid search -Per Google, prominently displayed in mobile search -Easy to Spell -Proven to attract customers who have yet to make a brand decision -Is memorable -Not P&L expense; is an appreciating asset/investment, with resale value -A defensive investment to protect your brand and product -The smartest companies are acquiring daily

    Reply
    • Mark Thorpe February 28, 2020, 3:44 pm

      Andrew Miller knows what he is talking about.

      Reply
  • DomainBoss February 28, 2020, 9:20 am

    This post isn’t that bad I guess.

    Many times when Morgan writes blog posts I don’t find them adding value to the industry or visitor. Most of the posts appear to give the impression of an advertisement of a person or company. Many times feels like he is trying to pump certain stuff/companies. His interviews give the same impression.

    Other times you wonder if he is a newbie who is trying to learn from others but the funny thing is he markets himself as an expert or consultant like he is an authority figure in the domaining industry.

    I think it will serve you much better if your posts are actually value adding like few other domain blogs. Also don’t be afraid to criticize the people or companies in the domaining industry, people will respect you much more and your blog traffic will be much higher if you say the way you see it my friend. Don’t hold back.

    Just my two cents as an observer.

    Reply
    • Morgan February 28, 2020, 1:59 pm

      @DomainBoss – thanks for sharing your thoughts, sorry to hear you don’t like my blog posts very much but hey, everyone is entitled to their opinions so I can’t fault you there!

      I’ve said many times I’m not an expert, I’ve never been a full time Domainer. For nine years I worked at Sonos and then for the last eight years I’ve been the co-founder of a startup in SF. That being said, I have invested in domain names rather than putting much money in stocks or real estate, and domains have been a great income source for me so I definitely love this space, which is also why I blog about it!

      I’m never afraid to criticize but I’m a pretty darn positive person and feel that most people really are trying their best so you probably won’t find me criticizing too many people or companies, it’s just not my thing.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing. One thing that’s always been important to me is that whether people like my blog or not they’re able to comment freely and let their voice be heard, so more power to you DomainBoss, keep on reading and commenting!

      Reply
  • DomainBoss February 28, 2020, 2:13 pm

    Morgan,

    Perhaps your upbeat and positive style sometimes come across as endorsement/advertisement like. Perhaps you should blog more about companies that are sticking up to the domain registrants like VeriSign, PIR/Ethos etc, then it be much easier to criticize the monopolies 🙂

    But hey I shared my honest feedback and I do appreciate that you are not deleting unfavorable comments.

    I am also domaining (you can call it more of a hobby-lol) for a long time (almost 20 years) but on the side. I do have a full time job which I love and don’t plan to let go of anytime soon. I consider myself dangerously knowledgeable about domains (not expert by any means) because I learn every day.

    Anyway, have a good weekend….wish you the best.

    Reply
  • DomainBoss February 28, 2020, 2:23 pm

    Sounds good, looking forward to share a beer with you sometimes…

    Thanks.

    Reply
  • Michael February 29, 2020, 1:39 am

    If I was White Claw I would buy HardSeltzer.com build a unique website site on it and let it run. Once the website is created Google will start pulling it up when people type in Hard Seltzer no problem! If some other company gets it guess what! Now White Claw has more competition.

    We all know Google stop pulling up park pages and for sale pages because that is not what real people are looking for.

    Reply

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