New owners hope they can expand usage of .link beyond just websites.
.Com has been very profitable for domain investor Yoni Belousov. But he recently got into new TLDs in a big way: acquiring an entire extension. He acquired .link in the UNR auction last year, and the deal was completed earlier this year.
I recently sat down with Belousov and Vaughn Liley, General Manager of .Link TLD, to understand their plans for the domain.
Belousov said he’s been eying new top level domains for a while.
“I was planning to get into this business some time, probably was looking more towards the next round of applications,” he explained.
But he said the uncertainty of when the next round would open and UNR deciding to auction off its TLD portfolio last year created an opportunity.
He bid on .link and, somewhat to his surprise, won the auction. While the price he paid is confidential, Belousov said that the market for new TLDs is competitive and he will have to grow the extension to make it pay off.
“This business is extremely competitive to the point that I’m not sure you can actually acquire an extension based on the current profitability of the extension itself,” he said. “A lot of the value is really almost locked in, in the form of what’s possible in the event you make it very successful.”
Belousov and Liley have big aspirations for the domain. They hope to grow from 200,000 registrations today to one million within five years. In the long run, they hope to get to ten million. And they don’t plan to do this by offering the domains for pennies like some other registries.
Anyone who has followed new top level domains since their launch nearly a decade ago will wonder how this growth is possible. Their answer: change how you think about domains and what they’re used for. They believe .link is uniquely positioned for this.
Link in Bio
Perhaps the most significant opportunity for .link is to take advantage of the market for “link in bio” services. Users of many social media platforms use these services to link out to their online destinations: other social media pages, websites, etc.
It’s a big market. LinkTree, just one of many large competitors in the space, has 27 million users.
TechCrunch noted in an article about LinkTree’s latest funding round (valuing it at $1.3 billion), “Who would’ve thought that an entire swath of startups would spring up all because Instagram, TikTok and Twitter only let you link to one website in your bio?”
Users of these services end up with a subdomain or, worse, a subdirectory on the main domain of these services.
.Link would like to partner with link in bio services to let them offer second level .link domains instead. It also sees opportunity with link shorteners.
With .link sold exclusively through registrars, this could create an opportunity for the company’s registrars.
.Link also wants registrars to rethink the typical onboarding of customers. Today, the typical flow is that someone registers a domain to create a website. This involves a lot of work, even though website-building platforms have made it much easier in recent years. There’s a reason people decide to just create a Facebook page instead of a website.
What if registrars helped customers establish a simple web presence with a link in bio page?
“I think link in bio is going to be even bigger than websites as a whole, as a category,” Belousov said. “People thought everybody would have a blog. But instead, everybody has a Twitter account, right? Why? Because it’s way easier. And it’s kind of like a micro-level version of a blog. So the link in bio thing is, in my opinion, the same thing to websites as a Twitter account is to blogs.”
Liley pointed out that a link in bio account is a low-friction entry point for new customers. Registrars that onboard customers with a service like this could then upsell other products and services.
“In a nutshell, we would like to see .link become the de facto standard in anything link-related,” Liley said. “So that could be link in bio. It can be link shorteners and branded links.”
The company does not plan to offer competing services to link in bio and shorteners but instead to supply them with .link domains through registrars.
There’s a lot of controversy about Web 3 blockchain domains. Belousov has been active with cryptocurrencies and NFTs and sees opportunity here.
Web 3 domains are good for some things but bad for others. Similarly, traditional domains can’t do everything blockchain-based domains can do. What if you can link the two?
“I feel like there is a very big problem from the perspective of, you have Web 3 domains and you have, let’s call them Web 2 domains…and as far as I can tell at the moment they have nothing to do with each other,” he said.
“Now, Web 3 domains have their own services; Web 2 domains have their own. I’m very interested in connecting the two. So linking Web 2 with Web 3, maybe call it Web 2.5, because I feel like we could leverage Web 3 domains and give them some Web 2 functionality. We can do the same thing for our own extension and give [registrants] Web 3 functionality of some sort.”
He pointed out that Web 3 domains don’t have email capabilities, among other issues.
Any discussion of Web 3 and .link is sure to bring up eth.link, a domain that was registered to make it easier for Web 2 users to connect to .eth blockchain websites. That domain is currently mired in a legal battle. As a registry, .link is not involved in the dispute between the former registrant and two domain name registrars but hopes it gets resolved soon.
But before .link can execute its plans, people need to be able to register the domains. And that means getting on more domain registrars’ shelves.
Some registrars, most notably GoDaddy, dropped all of UNR’s (then Uniregistry) domain names in 2017 after the company decided to significantly increase prices. Registrars dropped .link even though prices on .link barely budged in that price hike.
Liley has been working on getting registrars to pick up .link again now that it’s under new ownership.
.Link continues to be competitively priced. Standard registrations carry a $7 wholesale price, with one premium tier at $100. (Registrars add their own markup.) The registry might add additional premium tiers, but existing registrations will be grandfathered in.
Belousov has been working hard on .link since winning the auction. He hired Liley, who previously worked for MMX, UNR and ICM Registry. He has also taken on a couple of investors. Jeff Gabriel, a domain broker and co-founder of Saw.com, is one of the new investors.
The investors have put up their money on the bet that .link can become much more than it is today. Can they get registrars to rethink the traditional purpose of a domain name? Will link-related services adopt .link as a value-add?
Only time will tell if the company can link .link domains to something bigger.