What Factors Affect a Consumer’s View of Whether a Domain Name is Reputable, and thus Worth Much More Money?

In the paper embedded into this post “Domain Bias in Web Search,” several Microsoft employees and Stanford University researchers seek to establish definitively that a “domain bias” exists on the internet wherein consumers, irrespective of all other factors, will click on a domain name even as all other variables are changed around it.  But what makes a domain name trustworthy to an online consumer of information, products or services? 

However, clicks are fraught with biases. The most widely studied bias is position bias [12, 13], a user’s propensity to click on a search result just because it appears closer to the top of a search results page. Much work has been invested in both establishing the existence of position bias [8, 18], as well as understanding how to remove position bias from click activity [2, 3, 7]. Other biases are also known to exist, for example, snippet attractiveness bias, a user’s propensity to click on a result because the query terms appear in bold in the title multiple times [23].

In this paper, we uncover a new phenomenon in click activity that we call domain bias—a user’s propensity to click on a search result because it comes from a reputable domain, as well as their disinclination to click on a result from a domain of unknown or distrustful reputation. The propensity constitutes a bias as it cannot be explained by relevance or positioning of search results.

The study on domain names is interesting in many regards.  Every domainer should read the article in full.  Here are some takeaways: 

  • Despite the increase in content on the Internet, search engines are returning fewer domain names.  This is apparently because consumers have a level of trust built up around certain domain names, and thus prefer to see results, even multiple results, from those domain names.
  • While there is a preference in the domain search result order (the results returned closer to the top of the search results are generally preferred), there is also a preference for domain names.  Users do not blindly visit results returned by the search engines, but instead show a preference for the domain names they visit.
  • A domain name URL influences perceived relevance to consumers of internet content.
  • The domain name itself is an indicator of trustworthiness to Internet consumers.  While a domain name can have inherent trustworthiness because of the prior relationship with the consumer (Wikipedia), the domain name itself can also be an indicator of trustworthiness. 

Of course, domain name owners have known for years that a strong generic or descriptive domain name can create trustworthiness with consumers.  If you are trying to attract web visitors who are looking for an “internet lawyer,” it is better to have a website which incorporates the words “internet lawyer” such as www.internet-lawyer-usa.com.  Not only can Wikipedia create a level of trustworthiness with consumers based on familiarity, domain owners need to sell and market their domains in a way which emphasizes that a great domain name can create an inherent trustworthiness, increased traffic, and thereby increase value. 


Domain Bias


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