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Checkmate, GoDaddy – Google starts flogging dot-word domain names

Ad giant threatens to flip market on head

Google has finally launched a domain-name shop, providing a clean and simple management interface that will put it in direct competition with market leader GoDaddy.

Called Google Domains, the service emerged from testing today – and allows anyone in the United States (international expansion coming soon) to register domain names under 80 or so gTLDs from dot-academy to dot-ventures. Domains cost between $12 to $30 to register, and $12 a year to renew.

Notable by their absence are top-level domains that Google itself owns, such as .google. The ad giant was the second largest applicant for new gTLDs, paying $185,000 each for 101 different dot-things ranging from .ads to .zip and pretty much everything in between.

Instead, the gTLDs today listed in Google's domain store are owned by other registries – for example, .builders is owned by Donuts. The shop may well expand one day to include Google's own new top-level domains.

There has been speculation for some time that the web goliath will offer domains from its own registry for free. That, combined with free hosting, email, cloud storage, chat services and domain management, could see the company up-end the registrar market in a similar way to what it did with Gmail and the hosted email world.

However, for now, Google looks like a less confusing version of GoDaddy. It offers simple domain management tools such as creating sub-domains, email and website forwarding, free private registration, domain locking, name servers configuration, and so on.

It has also partnered with website building companies to make the creation of a site as painless as possible, although it offers some of its own offerings including its Blogger platform and Google Apps alongside them.

A long time coming

The move has been known for some time: Google became an ICANN-accredited registrar back in 2005, and it first told of its Google Domains plans in June last year. That was enough to cause GoDaddy to delay its IPO. GoDaddy says it is still planning to go public early this year, but investors have been warned that Google's foray into the domain world may hit GoDaddy's own evaluation of $4.5bn.

With Google's technical proficiency, its extensive free services and its huge storage and bandwidth capabilities, everyone in the market will be worried. The one area where GoDaddy is likely to still have an edge is in customer service.

What will be more interesting to see is how Google uses its market power within the registry arena. With more than 450 new top-level domains launched in the past six months, and with a further 500 or so due to launch in the next six months, the route to market can be the difference between success and failure.

As by far the biggest registrar (with just under 40 per cent of the market), GoDaddy has been able to dictate terms to the registries whose domains it sells, even charging them for the privilege of appearing on its pages.

Google may be in a good strategic position to shake up those power politics and steal market share. However, if it does launch dozens of free domains, as some expect, that could put it in conflict with the rest of the market, which is desperate to recoup their investment.

As many have noted this week in Las Vegas at the NamesCon domain name industry conference, 2015 is going to be a very interesting year for domain names. Assuming, of course, that people actually start buying the new gTLDs. Doesn't everyone type just the name of the site into the browser these days? ®

Bootnote

As regular Reg readers may recall, Google denies claims its algorithms rank websites with new gTLDs higher up in search results.

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