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RealNames Clones Causing Confusion

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Earlier this year, I wrote about the closure of the RealNames system, which allowed Internet Explorer users to navigate directly to web sites by using ordinary words in place of URLs.

Since then, I've received a steady stream of emails from people who are hearing from other companies that suggest they've taken over the role that RealNames used to have with Microsoft. Here are two such emails:

"I received a call today from [company name removed” that claims to have a 10 year advertising deal with MSN.com. When a person types phrases into their web browser, they will be taken directly to those advertising with this company. I wanted to find out if you've heard of this before, and if so, what you've heard about it."

"We have been approached by [company name removed” to purchase keywords that would go to our site when typed in the address bar. What do you know about this? Is it legitimate, or will Microsoft stomp it out?"

There are several companies that provide keyword navigation systems or "namespace" services, just like RealNames did. For instance, Netword is a long-time player in the space, many years old. Common Name is one I've only recently heard of, but the company claims to have been operating since 2000. iGetNet is a brand new company, launched in May of this year.

Unlike RealNames, none of these companies offers native integration of their namespace services into Internet Explorer. In other words, when RealNames was operational, anyone using Internet Explorer had access to it. It was built into the browser. In contrast, the only people who can use the namespaces offered by these other companies via Internet Explorer are those relatively few who have installed special software or "plug-ins."

Microsoft ended its partnership with RealNames in May, and the RealNames system formally closed down a month later. Since then, Microsoft has not named another company to take the place of RealNames nor indicated any immediate plans to resurrect a wide-range namespace system of its own or through a third party.

There is a new MSN Keywords system that will roll out with the MSN 8 Explorer browser, expected to be made available later this month. Similar to AOL Keywords, these are a single words or short phrases that work only for those within the new paid MSN service. They will deliver people to particular pages that Microsoft has selected, such as "news" leading to MSNBC. The terms are not sold, limited in number and do not work in Internet Explorer, Microsoft says.

In short, any sales pitch suggesting that a namespace system is "built into" or "native" to Internet Explorer is incorrect. A sales pitch that a systems work with Internet Explorer is not wrong, but understand that this is only true for the relatively few users that have installed the necessary software.

Next, let's take a closer look at iGetNet, because that's the company I've been asked about the most, recently. iGetNet makes this pitch about their system on the keywords product page:

"With IGN Keywords, your customers don't need to know or type a long complicated Web address with www's and.com's. They simply type your IGN Keywords directly into the address bar of the Internet Explorer Web Browser and go straight to your website."

That true, but what's omitted is that this only works for those who have installed IGN's own proprietary software. As said, the vast majority of Internet Explorer users won't have done this.

How many people are IGN enabled? One reader told me that in a sales pitch, he was told there were 40 million people using it. To put that in perspective, there were 221 million active home internet users worldwide in June, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Recent WebSiteStory stats say that Internet Explorer has a 96 percent share of the worldwide browser market. So, give or take a few million, there are about 212 million Internet Explorer users. If 40 million are IGN enabled, that's a hefty 19 percent of the user base.

Don't get too excited. That was the sales pitch. When following up with IGN myself, I was told that there are currently only 1 million installations, though the company says the figure will rise dramatically soon.

"Based on current piggybacking agreements, this number should be at 5 to 10 million by the end of October," said Jacqueline Shaffer, iGetNet's director of media relations.

By piggybacking, Shaffer means that the program will be distributed by being bundled with popular downloads. There are also plans to do email and pop-under campaigns, cobranding and other partnerships, she said.

Even if IGN's installations do rise, it's important to remember that installations don't equal usage. The percentage of people trying to search or navigate via the address bar is going to be far less than the number trying to reach web pages the old-fashioned way, by using URLs.

For instance, we know from documents released by RealNames founder and former CEO Keith Teare that the company was doing about 163 million "resolutions" of RealNames keywords per month. From my last interview with RealNames earlier this year, I was told about 60 percent of these resolutions were from the Internet Explorer address bar. So rounded, that's 100 million namespace driven activities per month.

It's a big number, an audience anyone would want to tap into. It could also be higher if quality controls on namespaces were dropped. RealNames, liberal as it was, couldn't resolve a number of generic terms due to restrictions placed on it by Microsoft. However, the number is dwarfed when you compare it to search traffic.

Consider this. Google alone does on the order of 150 million searches per DAY. The total number of searches across all major search engines alone is probably in the range of 300 million or more per day (later this month, I'll be posting some figures showing how to estimate this based on "search hours"). That's 9 BILLION searches per month, versus 100 million address bar-driven namespace searches or 1 percent of the total search traffic.

Suddenly, that big audience is a lot smaller. It's smaller still, when you consider that none of the new players should have traffic approaching what RealNames had, since they aren't built into Internet Explorer. This is important to remember, in case you get pitches that you may be "missing" people trying to find you via the address bar. Most people probably aren't trying to find you this way and of the ones that do, most probably don't have namespace software installed. That means when they enter a term, they'll end up at the MSN Search page.

For example, let's say you are Federal Express and you are worried about people who enter the words "federal express" into their address bars. What happens? A list of sites from MSN Search comes up, and Federal Express is already amply represented.

What if you were a lesser-known brand and didn't come up? The solution is easy. Purchase a listing with LookSmart for your company name. Unless there are many companies that share your name, that should be enough to get you into the top results at LookSmart for your own name. What about if you want to target a generic term? Then purchase a top listing at Overture for that term, which will put you at the top of MSN Search for that listing.

As for buying from one of these namespace companies, it might be a way to pick up some ancillary traffic. Just be sure to ask how many people are guaranteed to reach you and divide by the cost you'll pay for them. That's the cost per lead, and you can compare that to the cost per click you pay for adverting through search engines such as Overture or Google. Use those costs to give you some perspective.

Also be sure to ask how the traffic will be delivered. One person posting about iGetNet on Usenet noted that some traffic might come from pop under windows, rather than via keyword navigation. That type of untargeted traffic may not be what you are after. However, iGetNet also said this traffic was supposed to be in addition to any keyword-driven traffic.

"We offer our reseller pop-under traffic as an additional promotional product depending upon the dollar volume purchased. This product was offered to our resellers to offer their customers some traffic while we implement the installation of the plug-ins. There has been considerable customer confusion whereby the customer associates this traffic to the performance of the keyword. We have since trained our resellers how to offer 'pop under' traffic without causing this confusion," Shaffer said.

In my view, the resellers have caused more confusion by rebranding IGN Keywords with their own names. I saw this on three different reseller sites that I visited, and it gives the impression there are many different competing systems that you may need to consider. iGetNet says it expects to solve this problem going forward.

"Most of our resellers represent the IGN product and utilize our trademark, however, in our high growth we have not fully fixed this issue. In the near future all resellers will be promoting the IGN brand," Shaffer said.

Considering purchasing IGN Keywords? If so, the company says this is done now exclusively through its resellers. And what are you likely to pay? This varies based on several factors:

"In the United States, a one word keyword typically sells for $5,000 to $10,000 per year retail depending upon performance. A two word keyword sells from $1,000 per year retail and a three word or greater keyword typically sells for $200 per year. These prices may vary depending upon perceived value and performance. Prices also vary depending on country," Shaffer said.

Who's buying? iGetNet says it has made direct sales to major brand names such as Expedia, Hallmark, MasterCard, Staples, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Pizza Hut, Perrier, Godiva Chocolate, and Western Union.

How many customers overall? On iGetNet's web site, the company's first press release in July said that "tens of thousands" of RealNames customers had "migrated" to IGN. At the end of August, another press release put the customer list far lower, numbering "over 3,500. Shaffer now says the figure is 4,500 customers and that the thousands that migrated from RealNames was a reference to keywords rather than customers.

"I apologize for the inconsistency in the release, but at the time, we were still working out the bugs of high growth and did not have accurate numbers. We did carry over 11,000 Keywords from our previous customers at RealNames," she said.

As for total number of keywords sold, one reseller site I reviewed placed it at 50,000 while I could find no figure posted at iGetNet's own site. Following up with iGetNet, Shaffer said the figure is 28,000.

Overall, you'll need to look closely at any namespace system that is pitched to you. The key attraction RealNames had was distribution. The system never took off until the company began distributing its links ironically through search engines. It then later won the Microsoft deal, giving it the crucial advantage of being native to Internet Explorer.

At the moment, none of these other companies appear to have significant distribution. That could change, and buying your keywords now from them might protect you in the future. However, you should definitely get some traffic guarantees that you are comfortable with and not be afraid to push for a better deal. After all, we've had namespace companies operating since at least 1998 and the most successful of these -- RealNames -- went belly up.

RealNames To Close After Losing Microsoft
The Search Engine Report, June 3, 2002
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/02/06-realnames.html

Background on the RealNames relationship with Microsoft.

How RealNames Works
http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/archives/realnames.html

For Search Engine Watch members, this page provides links to all past major articles about the now-defunct RealNames system.

Netword
http://www.netword.com/

Common Name
http://www.commonname.com/

iGetNet
http://www.igetnet.com/

IGN Keywords Product Page
http://www.igetnet.com/iGetNet_SearchPhrases.html

IGN Downloads
http://www.igetnet.com/iGetNet_IGNDownloads.html

You can get the IGN plug-in here or alternatively get an uninstaller, if you have it on your system inadvertently.

Gates to launch MSN 8 in October
InfoWorld, Oct. 1, 2002
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/10/01/021001hnmsn8.xml

More information about the launch of MSN 8.

Nielsen//NetRatings: Global Internet Index
http://www.nielsen-netratings.com/hot_off_the_net_i.jsp

Figures on the global internet population can be found here.

The Incredible Shrinking Browser
WebSideStory, Aug. 28, 2002
http://websidestory.com/cgi-bin/wss.cgi?corporate&news&press_1_193

Stats on Internet Explorer versus Netscape usage.

Keith Teare's Weblog: Essential Reading (RealNames/Microsoft)
http://www.teare.com/stories/2002/05/15/theListOfDocumentsToRead.html

Figures on RealNames resolutions can be found in the 88-page PDF file referenced on this page.

RealName Keyword/iGetNet Comments
alt.internet.search-engines, Aug. 25, 2002
http://groups.google.com/groups?th=698119fe9455e0fe

Discussion covering one person's experience of being told iGetNet might deliver some traffic via pop under windows.

Stupid Internet ideas and the people who finance them
Ansible Journal, Aug. 13, 2002
http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/04/ivan/q/J/

One person's account of being approached by an iGetNet sales person and being told the iGetNet system was going to be incorporated by Microsoft into Internet Explorer. John Krass, general manager of MSN Search, says Microsoft has no business relationship with iGetNet -- and iGetNet says the same.

"We work within the Microsoft IE browser but have no relationship directly with Microsoft. This may have be a misrepresentation from one of our resellers. We currently have 40 reseller groups and this can happen. However, we have implemented a quality control group that calls each reseller multiple times each month as a 'secret buyer." If that reseller makes a misrepresentation, we immediately notify them and usually this problem is quickly fixed," iGetNet's Shaffer said.


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