RealNames expands Web 'keywords' in VeriSign deal

Businesses buying Web site domain names through VeriSign will soon be able to add "keynames" that will allow customers to find them more quickly on the Internet.

Under a deal announced today between VeriSign and RealNames Corp., companies registering their Web site names will also be able to select and register keywords, giving their customers the convenience of typing fewer characters to reach their Web sites. The RealNames keywords will only work with Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer Web browser.

For example, instead of going to the Web site of The New York Times and typing in an Internet address to sign up for the paper online, a customer might be able instead to type "NY Times Delivery" and automatically be sent to that site. Keywords can be easier to remember and use than a Web site's formal registered name.

Businesses would pay additional fees beyond their domain name registrations to set up keyword linkages to their sites. The keyword fees range from US$49 to $199 annually, plus a $299 one-time fee to review the proposed keywords to be sure they are unique and appropriate. Generic words such as "car" or "book" and other words found in a dictionary or synonymous with entire categories of goods or services aren't permitted.

VeriSign's approximately 90 registrar companies, which sell domain names on behalf of Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign and then forward the information for inclusion in the official Internet site registry, will have the option of whether or not they want to also sell keyword services.

"The keyword Web navigation product will complement the popular .com, .net and .org domain name services that we currently provide to registrars," said Don Telage, senior vice president of VeriSign Global Registry Services.

VeriSign said it expects to offer the additional services by the end of the year.

Keith Teare, founder and CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based RealNames, said in a statement that VeriSign's adoption of keywords is "an important validation of our vision" of making it easier for customers to find business Web sites on the Internet.

RealNames has been offering keywords for several years by providing an additional naming layer on top of the Domain Name System servers. The DNS servers convert character-based Web site names behind the scenes into numerical addresses to allow users to locate sites.

Now, though, the company plans to greatly broaden its reach to domain holders by partnering with VeriSign, which has a well-known name in the industry.

Carol Baroudi, an analyst at Baroudi Britton Inc. in Arlington, Mass., called the addition of keywords for Web sites "long overdue."

For companies, paying for the addition of keywords for their Web sites will become part of the cost of doing business, she said.

"The old Yellow Pages, if you paid for a business phone line, you got a listing, but you had to pay more for a display ad," Baroudi said. For businesses that want to use keywords to help steer customers to their sites to make purchases, they'll have to "bite the bullet and pay," she said.

So far, about 1.5 million Web sites have been signed up by RealNames to use keywords with Internet Explorer browsers.

Adam Braunstein, an analyst at Robert Frances Group in Westport, Conn., said that while that number is impressive, it's far lower than the estimated 100 million domain names that might exist on the Web.

For keywords to be a success in the marketplace, he said, VeriSign and RealNames have to carefully market them and be sure that consumers and other Web users quickly learn more about them. "I don't think a lot of people are familiar with RealNames so far," he said.

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