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Bob Hawkes

Domain Name Sell-Through Rates

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By Bob Hawkes, Nov 21, 2019
  1. Bob Hawkes

    Bob Hawkes formerly MetBob NameTalent Gold Account VIP Trusted Blogger

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    The domain name sell-through rate is the percentage of domain names that sell in one calendar year. For example, if your sell-through rate was 2% and you had 400 domains in your portfolio, on average you would expect to sell about 8 domain names per year. In this post I look first at the apparent industry-wide domain name sell-through rate, and then from that estimate the actual sell-through rate. The important figure, however, is not the industry-wide rate, but your personal sell-through rate. That will depend on several parameters including the quality of your domain names, pricing, and your approach to selling.


    Apparent Sell-Through Rate

    It is easy to calculate the current apparent industry-wide sell through rate. In the past year NameBio show about 106,900 domain name sales. Dofo Advanced Search can be used to find the number of domain names currently for sale across all of the major sales platforms. On the day I checked (Nov 18, 2019), there were about 22,444,000 domain names listed for sale. Combining those two numbers yields an overall apparent industry-wide sell-through rate of 0.476%.

    One can similarly calculate the apparent sell-through rate for any particular domain extension. For example, these are the values for the main legacy extensions.
    • .com 0.601%
    • .net 0.387%
    • .org 1.053%
    • all TLDs 0.476%
    We see that both .org and .com have better sell-through rates than the industry as a whole. Note that depending on the day you search, the Dofo and NameBio numbers will vary slightly, as will the computed sell-through rate.


    Real Sell-Through Rate

    The problem with apparent sell-through rates, however, is that NameBio does not include all domain sales, nor does Dofo have access to all domain names that are currently for sale.

    I think that the Dofo value is probably a good estimate of the real number of domain names actively for sale. Dofo include domain names from the largest sales venues such as GoDaddy, Sedo, Afternic, and Undeveloped/DAN, as well as the main registrar marketplaces including Dynadot, Namecheap, Epik, and NameSilo, and a growing number of other places that domain names are sold. It is true that they are missing domain names that are only listed on individual domain investor websites, as well as much of the content at brandable marketplaces. On the other hand, Dofo over estimate due to domain names that are no longer actively for sale but were left listed on domain marketplaces. It seems to me based on personal experience that some of the marketplaces have a few percent of names in this category.

    Therefore, I would say that Dofo misses some names actively for sale, but not many, and includes a few names no longer for sale, but the overall number is probably a good estimate of the total number of names for sale.

    The NameBio database only includes a fraction of the total number of domain name sales. This is simply because of which venues report to NameBio. For example, most sales that take place at Afternic and DAN/Undeveloped are not included, nor are many of the registrar marketplace sales. For Sedo only sales within a certain price range are included, and only if neither the buyer or seller paid an optional fee for privacy. Most registrar marketplace sales are not reported to NameBio unless the seller or buyer report them individually. In general brandable marketplace sales are not included. A few registries report some of their premium sales, but most do not.

    Some time ago Michael of NameBio provided a list of what was included in the NameBio database. While there have been a few changes since then, I think that it is still pretty accurate.

    We don’t precisely know what fraction of domain name sales are excluded from NameBio, but given that Afternic and DAN/Undeveloped, as well as many Sedo sales and probably most private sales, are excluded, it must be substantial. I would roughly estimate that perhaps 20% of all domain name sales above $100 are listed on NameBio. If the 20% figure is right, that would mean that that the actual sell-through rate for .com is about 3.0% while the actual rate for all domain names is of the order of 2.4%. In both cases this is based on sales of $100 and above. Clearly if a higher cutoff were used the rate would be much lower since the majority of NameBio reported sales are at modest prices.


    Why Not Include Sales Less than $100?

    The publicly-available NameBio database only includes sales of $100 and above. With a NameBio membership plan you can access sales less than $100. If we were to include these sales the sell-through rates would be much higher. For example, looking at .com in the past year, there were about four times as many sales below $100 as above that figure. Therefore the overall apparent sell-through rate would increase by a factor of five and become about 3% (and the real rate another factor higher than that).

    I don’t think we should be including those sales, however. The majority of sales less than $100 are either transactions between domainers or sales to domain investors on venues such as expiring domain auctions. Since the majority of these domain names do not contribute to the for sale numbers, it is not logical, in my opinion, to include them in sales figures.

    Some would argue that the sell-through rates I calculated above should be reduced, because some of those sales even above $100 are domainer acquisitions. While there is certainly truth in that view, it is remarkably hard to find a clear cut-off figure for separating wholesale and retail domain sales, and some sales at not much above $100 are end-user retail sales. Overall I personally think $100 is as good a dividing line as any other, but there is no doubt that wholesale prices are increasing over the years and this question should periodically reconsidered.


    Your Personal Sell-Through Rate

    Nothing you have read so far in this article applies to you!

    By that I mean that what matters to your success as a domain investor is your personal sell-through rate, rather than the industry-wide value. Unfortunately, while the personal rate is what is important, it is difficult for new domain investors to estimate their personal rate.

    Long-term domain investors with large portfolios can look at their own sell-through rates, and adjust their value according to changes in portfolio quality. Probably most successful domain name investors do this instinctively when they evaluate names without specifically thinking of the numbers.

    I think for each of us it is valuable to compute your own sell-through rate each year, and set a goal of either increasing that rate or increasing the net returns per domain from year to year. Let’s say in year one your personal sell-through rate is 0.5%, but this year you feel your domain portfolio has more quality names and also you are more aggressively listing and promoting your domain names. It is probably reasonable to assume that your sell-through rate should be higher this year, perhaps 1-2%.

    If you are brand new to domain investing, you will have even less information on which to base a personal sell-through rate. If you sell only in a particular niche, for example brandable domain names, it is possible that announced sell-through rates for that venue may be helpful, since a third party made a decision regarding acceptance in that marketplace.

    I would suggest that it may be helpful to objectively compare the quality of your domain names with those for sale and sold in that niche. Use Dofo to search for the term, then try to rate your domain name amongst the domain names for sale in that term. Similarly, in a NameBio set of domain name sales, try to place your own names on that list in terms of their overall quality. It may also be helpful to use the Category and Subcategory features of NameBio to generate a comparison list.


    Improving Your Personal Sell-Through Rate

    Your personal sell-through rate will depend on a number of factors including the following.
    1. The quality of your domain names
      Most low-quality domain names will never sell, so it is possible to have a personal sell-through rate that is very near to zero. Better acquisitions will lead to higher sell-through rates.
    2. How effectively your domain names are listed
      If you do not have active landers and a listing on at least one major marketplace, lacking other steps to sell your names, your sell-through rate will be very low. On the other hand listing on multiple venues and with superb landers likely improves your rate to some degree.
    3. Pricing
      A few premium names may sell even at very high prices, and low-quality names probably will not sell even at registration prices, but the probability of many sales is sensitive to pricing. Domain pricing is hard, but getting it right will lead to more sales, as this recent post argues. On the other hand, some argue for high pricing, possibly leading to better long-term returns despite the much lower sell-through rates.
    4. Inbound or Outbound
      Some domain investors do strictly inbound, while others actively pursue outbound leads. Clearly this can impact your sell-through rate. There is also promotion including social media or similar contacts that is not traditional outbound but may improve your sell-through rate.
    5. Type of Domain Name
      The sell-through rate depends on the type of domain name you have. For example, an attractively priced liquid domain name, such as a short lettered or numbered .com, or a common and positive dictionary word, can have a sell-through rate near 100%. That does not necessarily mean it is always a good investment, as that depends on the acquisition cost and sales price for the domain name.
    6. Buy-it-now Pricing
      There is a difference of opinion on this, but most seem to support the idea that having a buy-it-now price will lead to more domain name sales since it encourages impulse purchases and eases the process of acquiring the domain name.
    These and other factors can suggest ways to improve over time your personal sell-through rate.


    Final Thoughts

    A huge amount has been written on domain name sell-through rates on NamePros. For example, you can use the following list of NamePros contributions that were marked with the sell-through keyword. Note that one should also search on sell through as sometimes it is written with and without the hyphen.

    As a tip for effectively searching NamePros, remember that you can use a Google search with the site option. For example, I did a Google search with the following phrase domain name sell through rates site:NamePros.com. It shows more than 15,000 results relevant to this topic.

    There has been much discussion regarding whether an industry-wide sell-through rate of the order of 2% is a concern. I think most would agree that a higher sell-through rate, if it could be accomplished without significant price reductions, would be beneficial. It is certainly possible that innovation and disruptions may in future result in overall sell-through rate improvements.

    I don’t think we should regard current rates as a failing, however. Selling domain names is not like selling food items, clothes, cars, technology or even real estate. Each of those products has a clearly established user need and less product differentiation than domain names.

    Each domain name is individual, so they should not be compared with less differentiated products. I suspect that if we compared the sell-through rate of domains to highly differentiated products with less agreement on worth, such as original works of art by emerging artists, the sell-through rates are probably not all that different.

    I think one of the biggest concerns with respect to the low sell-through rates is that it means that typically any individual domain name will take many years to sell. We have no guarantee that trends in domain names will not change significantly over the years, and while you wait for a sale your domain name may decrease in value. This is one of the risks associated with domain investing. The domain name could, of course, alternatively increase significantly in value during that period.

    I would urge readers to keep in mind that sell-through rate is only one factor to consider. Your success as a domain name investor will depend on both the sell-through rate and the net proceeds from those domains that do sell, as well as your costs.


    What Do You Think?

    I would love to hear your thoughts on domain name sell-through rates. Please feel free to comment on anything related to the topic, but in particular I would urge responses to the following.
    1. What fraction of domain name sales do you believe are reflected in the NameBio database?
    2. What is your personal sell-through rate?
    3. If you are a long term domain investor, has your rate gone up over the years?
    4. Do you think that overall the sell-through rate is too low, and if so, what steps should be taken to change this?
    5. Do you feel that it is likely that the industry-wide sell-through rate will increase or decrease in future years?
     
    The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of NamePros.
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  4. Bob Hawkes

    About The Author — Bob Hawkes

    Domain analyst, writer and educator, with particular interests in domain name phrases and non-business uses for domain names. I am a risk averse domain investor who only invests modest amounts in a variety of extensions and niches. Don't hesitate to contact me - I like to help!

    This is Bob Hawkes's 16th blog post on NamePros. View all blog posts

    Home Page:
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  5. Comments (36)

  6. The Durfer

    The Durfer Upgraded Member Gold Account VIP

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  7. Paul T

    Paul T Upgraded Member Gold Account

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  8. Recons.Com

    Recons.Com Top Member VIP

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    We have been at this multiple times.

    Apparently, 3.0% if way way too high that shows that the whole analysis is flawed.

    While I agree with the estimate that NB reports under 20% of all sales, the main problem here lies in inclusion of low xxx sales from GD auctions and similar from other places. Those are not end user sales, most are acquisitions for re-sale and also are registrar sales, so shouldn't be included in the analysis for domain investors.

    While there is no easy way to separate the wholesale purchase from sale, raising the minimum sale threshold to above $400 (maybe even above 300) should solve most of it, as for example HD bids almost on every name that is valued at $2K and gets a bid from anyone else and pays 9-10% of the valuation, that will take care of their auto bids for names valued under $4K, which is absolute majority. It will also exclude the wholesale acquisitions of 4L.com and similar liquid names that have wholesale prices of low xxx and higher.

    With all these done, NB number will show 0.1% to 0.2% range sell through industry wide, I expect, and then multiplying it by 5 will give 0.5% to 1% which would most accurately reflect the empirical observations for the most.
     
  9. Keith DeBoer

    Keith DeBoer Top Member PRO VIP

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    This article is a reminder of how our industry is sorely lacking in comprehensive data for realistic business planning. Despite some good research and writing by Bob we are left with vague estimates and guessing about listings, pricing, sales and sell through rates.

    I once heard a wise man say: "follow your own progress."

    My advice:

    Forget the alleged sell thru rates of other domainers or sales platforms. Instead track carefully what's paid out and what's come in over 6, 12, 18 and 24 months. Assume hand regged domains have no liquid resale value and that short liquid domains, like 4Ls, are worth 25% less than what it cost to acquire them.

    Using this accounting framework ......... Take a hard look at your expenses, incomes and "assets" after 2 years.

    If you're not showing a profit, liquidate and move on to another venture. The domain industry is littered with hype, puffery and misleading claims about easy profits and wealth . Don't drink the kool aid and throw good money after bad based on the smoke and mirrors of expectations generated by things like alleged sell through rates.

    One's personal, bottom line profits (or losses) are all that matters.

    May all your sales be to end users!
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2019
  10. biggie

    biggie Top Member VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    totally agree @Keith DeBoer

    worry about what you can control
    and don't spend all your time analyzing useless and often misleading data

    imo...
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2019
  11. Recons.Com

    Recons.Com Top Member VIP

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    There is some merit to analytics and estimates. You can benchmark your performance, for example, you can plan your growth etc.

    My own estimate is that there are about 15 million domains that have 1%+ sell through if priced right. There is probably another batch of 15 mill that has sell through of 0.5% and then there is pure trash of the rest (from investment perspective, not that they all are bad names), where an occasional sale can happen by sheer luck with average sell through below or around 0.1%.
     
  12. equity78

    equity78 Top Member TLDInvestors.com TheDomains Staff PRO Gold Account VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    Wrong Keith @Keith DeBoer great comment I have been saying this for a long time, your email and your bank account tell you everything about how you are as a domainer.
     
  13. Ostrados

    Ostrados Entrepreneur Gold Account VIP

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    This is very great insight as usual @Bob Hawkes I am really grateful that you are a member at NP.

    Here are my thoughts about this subject:

    I think sell through rate that people commonly use is flawed (typically 1% to 2%), because it is just an average of all sell rates for many sub categories. Sell through rate should be specified in discreet levels, domains of high value naturally have lower sell rate, so a portfolio of high value domains will naturally have lower sell through rate but higher profits.

    An accurate sell through rate should be calculated on ranks, like for example:
    • Rank 1: $50,000+
    • Rank 2: $10,000 - $50,000
    • Rank 3: $5,000 - $10,000
    • Rank 4: $1000 - $5000
    • Rank 5: $100 - $1000
    So the sell through rate will be much different between these ranks, for example lets put just some rough numbers for illustration purpose only:
    • Rank 1: 0.25%
    • Rank 2: 0.5%
    • Rank 3: 1%
    • Rank 4: 2%
    • Rank 5: 3%
    Now all these estimates assume that the domains are priced correctly, if a domain is overpriced it will have much lower sell through rate, so for example if someone has:

    1000 x Rank5 domains priced at $50k
    Sell through rate < 0.0001%
    (lottery winning chance)​

    Practically how we derive these sell through rates is to simply calculate it same way @Bob Hawkes did but this time do it separately for each price ranking group, however most domains are overpriced or under-priced with much more tendency towards overpricing, and as stated before overpriced domains have lower sell rates, which means the sell through rate for each rank will be lower than the optimal level (where optimal level is the ideal case were all domains are priced correctly).

    My 2 cents
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2019
  14. boker

    boker Top Member VIP

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    I know that you were saying that for you doesn't worth to sell at a lower rate, but for example I'm counting on low value sales, to cover my acquisitions and renewals. For example, I have a double digit STR, counting all my sales, with 14k in sales this year, just for sales under $400( with a average acquisition price of $3.25), so from a business point of view, for me it's worth it, for sales up to $400 as well. If you make 100k profit from real estate, stock market or anything else, probably you will not want to deal with low sales, but if you are trying to see if it's profitable, than a domainer dealing only with sales under $400(who knows what he is doing), will make more than an average small shop or business.
     
  15. Recons.Com

    Recons.Com Top Member VIP

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    And that is absolutely fine and great. The point here is that those sales are almost indistinguishable from acquisitions. And total for the category makes small percentage of overall market in money terms if we managed to separate them. So basically for me sell through means sell through to end users at market or near market prices.
     
  16. Brands.International

    Brands.International formerly lolwarrior Gold Account VIP

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    That is exactly my thinking as well. For example, when I do appraisals for new gTLDs, I always try to figure out price range, for which I think (feel, guesstimate) it will have STR (sell through rate) 1% for any given year. And I usually note also that domain can achieve higher price, but STR will go down. Or we can sell it at lower price, with STR going up.

    So STR for particular portfolio is very important indicator, but without knowing how the domain names were actually priced, it does not say much.

    Or said differently, if I put my portfolio on auctions here at NP, bids starting $1, I would have STR probably 98%, but my profit would be neglectable. Alternatively, if I price it highly and focus my attention to different clientele (CEOs of companies), I can have STR only 0,2% (so from 1000 domain names I can sell only 2 names per year), but if I sell them to end users for very good prices, STR does not matter after all :)

    To conclude: STRs should be used in appraisals more frequently, as if someone asks how much is my domain worth, and you answer 10k, you should be also able to answer with what STR he/she would get their 10k. Imo.
     
  17. biggie

    biggie Top Member VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    Hi

    a sell thru rate, is an "after the fact" measurement
    and it varies year to year, depending on so many variables

    it also doesn't determine the value of a portfolio or how much the owner of those domains makes per year.

    as, domains may not sell this year, because it isn't time for them to sell
    domains may not sell, because they are earning ppc
    domains may not sell, because owner made enough money last year, so they don't have to sell for next 3 years

    also, trying to break down such rates by extension is as flawed as the idea to attempt it.

    why?

    because you don't know who owns what volume of each extension, nor do you know their needs, budgets, portfolio sizes, capital, or the quality of each respective name, in each respect extension,,,. that are owned by each respective domain owner.

    with so many unknowns, how can one even rationalize a conclusion, from so much inconclusive data?

    puff, puff, …i don't know, ahh...maybe i trippin. puff,puff... it's possible, snort, snort.. the bud is too flame

    imo...
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
  18. Bob Hawkes

    Bob Hawkes formerly MetBob NameTalent Gold Account VIP Trusted Blogger

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    Thanks for the excellent contributions, and look forward to others expressing their opinions as well. I have had a fairly busy day but here are some first reactions I would have to some of the points made.

    I agree this is the biggest issue @Recons.Com. I don't think it's true that almost everything $100 to $300 or $400 is wholesale, though. By looking at use one year after sale (i.e. if for sale, in use, or neither) I once tried to see if there was an obvious link between price and sale. It took too much effort to do, so I gave up before a large enough dataset, but many at all price levels were not in use. The fraction that were in use seemed very loosely a function of price paid. Some $110 sales are it seems to end users, and some $900,000 are to domainers. There is a slight correlation, but other than the fact that under $50 virtually everything is to domainers, I am not sure there is a good dividing line.

    Anyway I agree with you that the main uncertainty in the data is dividing out sales to domainers, and by inadequately doing that it makes sell through rate too high. I am not sure that the 5 factor is not too low, however, and that would work in the opposite direction. Certainly Verisign used a much higher factor in their blog 'analysis'.

    Sensible advice. thank you @Keith DeBoer. I agree 100% with the emphasis on tracking one's own success, or lack thereof, and respond accordingly. As I said (this is about STR but of course price is also critical to track on a personal basis, and expenses as you say).
    So why even look at industry wide averages? I think for several reasons - like if the sell through rate overall was much lower in two year's time compared to now, shouldn't we know that? Another reason is well stated by @Recons.Com
    Just as real estate professionals, car salespeople and many others benchmark against some reference group, I think it makes sense to look at how you are doing compared to others.

    What a superb post @Ostrados - thank you! Absolutely it is too generalized to talk of one sell-through rate. Yes, by focussing on how easy it is to do, I hope that people will run with what is of importance to them. For example if you sell only .org at prices of $500+ you can readily calculate that sell through rate or any other set of parameters that are meaningful to you.

    I think more than sometimes realized do exactly this. Small value, but more frequent, sales to both other domainers and to end users can provide a steady stream while waiting for those less frequent major sales.

    I agree with that too. The vast majority of dollar volume is in the high-value sales. But the numbers are dominated by the lower-value sales.

    Yes, originally this post was planned as even longer, with a section showing how sell-through rate depended on price. Since it was already too long, I did not follow that, but I absolutely agree. I like the way NameWorth estimate a very different probability of sale for 6 different price levels for the same domain name. A super interesting, but really difficult to answer, question is where is the right balance. To some degree the shoot/don't shoot for moon argument going on now is around that idea.

    I find value in trying to look at things as quantitatively as possible, even while recognizing that there are some things we can't know precisely. I realize that many prefer not to think about things that way, and that is totally fine. The fact that I fairly readily found 15,000 NamePros posts mentioning sell-through rate told me that people talk about it enough that it was worthy of putting together some numbers and thoughts for people to respond to.

    Keith talked about a key problem is there is too much unrealistic hype about domain selling being easy and near guaranteed. I agree 100%. As I often have posted, domain investing is not easy, fast or certain, and only invest what you can afford to lose. I think by stressing that even with optimistic numbers an average domain name may take 30 to 50 years to sell, we can temper some unrealistic expectations.

    When I said this I meant that most who have been in this a long time have developed the right instincts and don't need to break things down analytically to make the right decisions. But those who are newer may find value in trying to analyze, just as those who are still learning a sport can find analysis helpful to improve. At least that was my hope.

    At the very least I think I learned a few things from writing this :xf.wink:. The critical thinking of others has helped me learn even more. Thank you.

    And may your sell-through rates and sales prices both be on the rise! :xf.smile:

    Bob
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
  19. oskaaay

    oskaaay Founder, GetDomainData.com Gold Account

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    wahooo.. indeed in-depth and helpful article. thanks for sharing.
     
  20. DpakH

    DpakH Upgraded Member Blue Account

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  21. Soofi

    Soofi Top Member PRO VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    This is today's lesson for me.

    Thank you Keith!
     
  22. Ostrados

    Ostrados Entrepreneur Gold Account VIP

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    I took a sample for only domains listed at:
    • Godaddy
    • Afternic
    • Uniregistry
    Then looked at Dofo and Namebio for only these markeplaces with only BIN prices, I excluded Sedo because the "asking price" shows as BIN price in Dofo for Sedo "Make Offer" domains. And I got the following results:

    Price ($)#Domains (Dofo)2019 Sales (Namebio)STR
    100-50003,652,47453,9001.45%
    5k-10k354,0023710.10%
    10k-50k289,7012040.07%
    50k+51,957200.04%
    These results should be accurate enough without the need to fix it with 5x multiplier because Namebio reports 95% of sales on these platform.

    EDIT: the STR numbers for domains higher than $5k are corrupted (reduced) by number of overpriced domains (many) and thus a seller will get better STR (in ranges > $5k) if his domains are priced correctly.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
  23. vikki88

    vikki88 Established Member

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    aheiven Established Member

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  25. Bob Hawkes

    Bob Hawkes formerly MetBob NameTalent Gold Account VIP Trusted Blogger

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    Thanks for great work but Afternic results (in recent years) are not in Namebio so I don't understand this statement (a few individually reported are).
     
  26. Ostrados

    Ostrados Entrepreneur Gold Account VIP

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    I think Afternic sales show as Godaddy sales because most of them happens there.. but I am not sure about that
     
  27. Bob Hawkes

    Bob Hawkes formerly MetBob NameTalent Gold Account VIP Trusted Blogger

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    I don't think so. If you go to the link in my article to Michael's statement of what is included for GoDaddy it is only the expired auction data.

    Another way to confirm that Afternic is not in is use that as the venue and there are only 10 NameBio listed .com sales in 2019 (supposedly listed by sellers). Back years ago Afternic did used to report to NameBio.
     
  28. HandMadeDomains

    HandMadeDomains Established Member

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    Very quick takeaway after a brief scan of the posts:

    The biggest thing missing is a reliable industry wide metric that allows apples to apples comparisons.
    (or YOY if you prefer) that could be applied to domain sellers rather than overall sales totals.Other than that we are left with extrapolating data from disparate sources.

    I tend to use 1% as a sort of baseline. That figure seems to pop up a lot in various discussions.
    But as Bob noted above, there are so many factors that will affect sales.

    These threads are invaluable for at least getting a sense one is headed the the right direction.
    Thanks @Bob Hawkes !
     
  29. Ostrados

    Ostrados Entrepreneur Gold Account VIP

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    673
    You can redo the calcs and include the marketplaces that you are sure Namebio covers by 90% or more.
    However my point here is not the numbers themselves my point is that sell through rate is dependent on price, and wide range STR could be deceiving especially for new domainers, for example someone might price all his domains abover $5k then wonder why the 1-2% STR does not apply on his portfolio.
     
NameWorth
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