Our Estimate: Verisign Manages Over 100 Million .COM Domains

A number of organizations track the .com domain registrations without taking into consideration the complete picture, thus underestimating the current count. Our research shows that the .com count is already well past that number.Verisign publishes a daily “zone file” of registered .com domain names with their associated nameservers.  Yesterday the zone file listed 99,837548 .com domain names and that number has been growing by an average of about 22,000 net new .com domain names per day so far in 2012.  But there are two general categories of domain names that exist but are not listed in the zone files.

The first category is well known, at least to people who work in and around the domain industry:  domains in the Redemption or Pending Delete periods.  Each day tens of thousands of .com domain names hit their renewal date. There are currently 2.1 million .com domain names in either Redemption or Pending Delete status.

The second category is much less well known, a category DomainTools refers to as ‘dark domains’.  Domain names that exist, but are not pointed to nameservers, are not listed in the zone file and therefore not counted by most sites that track domain registration data.   An example of such a domain is Spectrum.com; it exists but has no nameservers, and does not resolve to a website.  Another example is theexpertcare.com; the Whois record indicates a fraud alert on the domain name and a ‘suspended’ status.  This domain is also not in the zone file and yet is certainly not available for anyone to register.

Only Verisign knows for sure how big the list of dark domains is, but we have conducted ongoing proprietary research that reveals over 400,000 known dark .com domain names, as found in blank-nameserver.com.  This count is included in the  recently updated domain statistics data on our DailyChanges.com website.  Our calculation of .com domains includes those listed in the zone file plus the dark domains.  With that information in mind, we calculated the current total of .com domains managed by Verisign to be over 100.2 million.

100 million actively registered domains is an enormous achievement for the dominant TLD worldwide, and congratulations are in order for Verisign and the registrars which support .com.

As we all know, .com is the biggest top-level domain by a long, long way. For comparison, the next biggest gTLD today is .net with a relatively small 14 million domains. In country codes, Germany’s .de leads with almost 15 million. The closest competitor to .com among the gTLDs introduced by ICANN since the year 2000 is .info, with about eight million domains.

There’s no doubt at all that .com is the domain of choice for most of the world, but it’s taken it a long time to get to 100 million. From its creation in early 1985, it took the registry two and a half years to reach just 100 active names. It was not until 1997, in the middle of the rightly-named dot-com boom, that the one millionth concurrently active .com domain name was registered.  In addition, there have been over 300 million other unique .com domain names registered and deleted since the inception of the TLD.

Our records show that the biggest growth period for active .com names came between 2005 and 2007, the height of the domain tasting craze. During this time, many domain investors used a loophole in registration rules to sample type-in traffic for free.  Investors kept the domains they found that were most likely to profit from pay-per-click parking. In 2006 the .com zone grew by over 14 million names, driven by this speculation. In both 2005 and 2007, it grew by over 12 million names.

Since then, a change to ICANN’s rules means the tasting market has dropped to virtually nothing, but the .com zone continues to grow faster than it did pre-tasting, showing an increased demand for domain names as more new Internet users come online globally. In 2011, DomainTools counted almost 8 million net new active .com names added to the DNS. The number was about the same in 2010.

The big question in 2012 is: what will new gTLDs – such as .web, .music, .green, .shop, .paris, .gay and all the others, not to mention “dot-brand” domains – mean for .com? Many people believe that .com’s position is unassailable, that .com will always be king.

Will new gTLDs mean that .com will grow more slowly in future? Will companies use their new branded gTLD domains instead of buying up thousands of defensive .com registrations? Or is it more likely that for every registration in a new gTLD a company makes, it still feels the need to register a matching .com domain? Nobody knows the answers to these questions yet, but it’s going to be fun finding out!

What do you think?