The above is something I hear often from entrepreneurs – domain names don’t matter, people will find me on Google. It is a logical thought and an easy way to get the problem solved quick – throw some cash at SEO or just buy some ads – problem solved. Building your own brand, on the other hand, takes time and effort, care and thought, commitment from the whole team. But it pays off and if you are in it for the long run, it should be something to at least consider.
You’ve probably heard of Rand Fishkin, a leader in the field of search engine optimization tools, resources & community and co-founder of SparkToro. He has a lot to say when it comes to search engines. His latest article on the topic of big tech crippling innovation by favouring their own products is a must read for any entrepreneur. Here are some highlights that will make you think twice about investing in a strong domain name and building an independent brand on it.
Imagine you’re a venture capitalist, sitting in your calf hide leather chair, sipping on the delicate blood of fired startup employees whose unexercised shares bought your second mansion, deciding whether to invest in the latest pitch. The founder has an amazing new marketplace that matches parents with childcare facilities, a multi-billion dollar industry that almost no one in tech has touched (probably in no small part because the young, coastal, white dudes you allow to come in for pitches don’t think much about childcare). But there in the back of your skull is a troubling feeling. It can’t be your conscience. (You sold that years ago to pay for your vacation island.)
“What’s to prevent Google from building their own childcare marketplace widget?” you ask.
“Yes, Google. If you get traction, Google will see that in their data, and pre-emptively build a clone that removes any market opportunity?”
“But that’s not their business.”
“Neither was flights, or hotels, or stock charts, or mortgage calculators, or song lyrics, or checking people’s download speeds, or hosting video, but look how those sectors turned out.”
“Oh… I see.”
“Yeah, you should give up. Please help yourself to some proletariat blood on the way out.”
As an investor, and a founder who talks to many other founders, I can promise you that perturbingly similar discussions take place in the startup investment world every day. Investors are scared to back businesses in sectors Google might choose to enter, those that rely on search traffic for discovery, or those that are easily replicated by someone who already dominates 92% of worldwide web search. Hell, entrepreneurs themselves are scared to start businesses in those fields, knowing that Google could one day come in and make them disappear. (Insert image of a chipmunk smoking and whispering, “Hipmunk? I haven’t heard that name in a long time.”)
No matter whether you’re in B2C, B2B, D2C, or any other field, you’re almost certainly losing out to these tech giants. Google is putting their widgets, content, and properties above yours. They’re removing your ability to get video snippets or maps listings or marketplaces ranked above theirs. For every one business they acquire and give favored placement to, a hundred no longer get even a chance at visibility.
Amazon is, similarly, pitting their products against yours. They’re learning which of your products have the highest margins and the most demand, then they’re making their own (usually zand worse) versions, and placing them above yours in Amazon’s marketplace. Worse, they’re labeling them like they’re more trusted and authentic by using the Amazon’s Choice labels (which is often code for “the most profitable product for Amazon;” they’ve got 45+ wholly-owned lines!).
Same as Rand Fishkin (and likely any entrepreneur), I hope for this to change. In all cases, with or without tech giants monopoly, the only way to build a strong, lasting brand is to invest in it yourself and make sure it is as independent as possible. A good domain name strategy is an integral part of that.