Part 3: 💀 Emoji domains have no future

A Digital Marketer’s Guide to the Power of Emoji Domains

John Harrison
Jun 11, 2017 · 9 min read
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don’t worry lil’ guys. I believe in you 👊

I see the present and future commercial value of emoji domains.

While talking to a fellow domain investor about the possibilities of 😎.ws 🍓.ws and 🎷.ws, he raised an interesting way of looking at the risk in investing in this domain category.

The risk I’m taking as a company that represents over 750 emoji domains can be reasoned with the same hypothesis that businesses should use to understand the advantages of this modern marketing tool.

The way the thinking exercise was explained to me was to imagine the opposite of what you believe to be inherently true. The opposite of what I believe would look like this:

Then you start listing events that would have to happen for that statement to become the truth.

Once you list the events that have to happen for the statement to come true you can analyse how likely the events are and therefore how much associated risk you’ve taken.

This exercise can de-risk what at first seems to be very speculative.

Here’s the list of events that would have to occur with reasoned logic as to why they don’t​ stack up.

1. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

Emoji have certainly exploded on the scene in quite a way. The popularity of the iPhone secured emoji some very wide exposure. Fads and short-lived trends often slip off into obscurity because their novelty wears off. A fashion trend or a new toy may be the thing for a couple of months because their only value is allowing you to stand out or allowing you to seem like you’re on the pulse or in the know. Their value wears off when time passes and others have what you have. Everyone has the toy now so you’re suddenly not special anymore.

If the value of emoji were time-bound due to their frivolity we would probably have seen the end of them by now. Emoji bring more to the game though. They are indicators of mood and they bring context to text alone.

The following two sentences mean very different things.

The first one might be construed as sarcastic whereas the second is genuine.

Emoji used to complement text has expanded our ability to communicate with more subtlety in text conversations- and we have a lot of text communications (email, text, chat messages, slack channels, medium posts)

2. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

Google just spent 18 months redesigning their gum drop emoji into emoji that look and feel much more like their iOS counterparts.

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android emoji evolution

They didn’t just change the gum drop shape to a circle though. They re-thought every single emoji in order to create a cohesive and unified design. A company as big as Google wouldn’t waste time re-designing emoji for the fun of it.

Another behemoth of a company, Apple, re-designed the paella emoji to better reflect its origins in response to campaigning. Yup, you read that right. People campaigned Apple to have the emoji changed.

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the old paella emoji on the left and the more authentic paella emoji on the right

I believe the difference with emoji is that people have naturally and organically used them. No business is forcing emoji down our throats and we don’t have to pay to use emoji. They are right there on your mobile- one click away from the keyboard you type on. That little tiny smiling face stands out in a sea of letters and must have been very tempting to press in the early days.

It seems that the people have spoken. Emoji are wanted and used. What the people want is what business want to give which will drive further integration.

Not too long ago, Slack began to integrate emoji communication for its massive user base and Microsoft finally solved the problem that made :) convert to J. Did it take Microsoft 7 years to solve this problem because its a hard problem to solve? Unlikely.

In my opinion, its more likely that they want to satisfy users by rendering their messages as they had originally intended. They don’t want to be seen to be lagging when the rest of the world lives by emoji.

Microsoft also added 770 new emoji in an update including interracial couples which was the first by a major vendor.

Twitter and Android users were able to use the new 2017 emoji one month earlier than anticipated. These companies integrate the new emoji not as an afterthought and here’s potentially why. The use of emoji increases engagement.

App Annie and Leanplum conducted a study which showed an 82% increase in clicks on push notifications using emoji. Where there are emoji, there is more engagement and where there is more engagement there is more allocation of a marketing budget.

3. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

The interesting thing about emoji domains is that the pictures are rendered via a coding system called punycoding which is the way emoji are communicated across systems and platforms. So, where we see the hourglass emoji, ⌛, the device reads the punycode associated with it to understand it. In this case, the punycode is xn — eih. So, when I registered this domain at GoDaddy, I had to type xn — to register ⌛.ws (well, before Jon Roig created ❤️❤️❤️.ws that is)

Currently only .ws- the country code top level domain for West Samoa (and a few other minor cctlds)- accept the registration of emoji domains via this punycoding system.

In the domain name investor eco-system it is a common argument to suggest that emoji domains won’t be accepted, nor recalled by the general public due to the complication of remembering ❤️.ws as opposed to ❤️.com.

This is a very valid point and one which can be demonstrated when rebranded to The CEO, Patrick Byrne, admitted that the rebrand was his ‘bad call’ in a conversation with financial analysts. 61% of customers automatically went to instead of confusing the consumer and obviously harming sales.

So, do emoji domains have the same problem? The difference here is that .co and .com are very similar. Whereas .com and .ws are not. For the time being and in the foreseeable future .ws has the lead on becoming the recognisable and accepted ending for emoji domains. These companies seem to agree:







In a world where thousands of new top level domains have been and will be released, including .top .sexy .horse .web .store .gay .art and .media to name a few, the public and consumer will over time become used to other options. It hasn’t happened as fast as new top level domain registries would have liked but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The other very important point to make here is that currently, its very unlikely that ICAAN will allow emoji to be registered in .com. There was a time where you could and a few very early adopters registered emoji domains like ✈️.com and ✌️.com.

Then ICAAN disallowed new registrations leaving the door wide open for another tld to become the defacto emoji domain ending. In fact, it was the cctld (country code top level domain) of West Samoa that took this crown when Coca-Cola used 😀.ws on a billboard campaign. Cctlds have the right not to adhere to the ICAAN ruling and offer emoji domain registrations. It’s likely Coca-Cola chose .ws because Google treats this extension as a generic tld (along with .co, .me, .tv and several others) rather than as one specific to a country (, .es, .fr, .to)

With time .ws should become the accepted ending for emoji domains.

4. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

Actually, the opposite is true. Text is more difficult to remember due to the different way our brains code text and image. Coding and therefore recalling text requires a 2 step process whereas an image only requires a 1 step process. This is known as the ‘picture superiority effect’.

So, graphical domains have an advantage over their textual counterparts which has obvious implications for advertising. Several studies cite interesting facts but one from 1997 conducted by Percy and Rossiter states:

Childers and Houston in 1984 follow up with:

These studies were completed in the pre-consumer internet era but the effect would extend to online advertising and emoji domain names.

The other point to make here is that text only domains have their complications too. Where some emoji might be confused with each other (answer: acquire all similar emoji) some popular naming techniques can also cause problems:

  1. (the double repeating letter)
  2. (the omission of a vowel)
  3. (.io cctld popular with tech startups)
  4. vs (plural and singular versions)

If existing companies have navigated these waters before, new companies with emoji domains will do just fine.

5. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

Currently, the most accessible way to use emoji is on your phone because the emoji keyboard is one click away from the keyboard you use to write text. So, if mobile internet use declines, so will the use of emoji which heralds the death of emoji domains.

It’s widely accepted that mobile has overtaken desktop in terms of internet use in developed countries and in developing countries, mobile is the primary device. We use our phones to get price comparisons when we’re in physical shops, to navigate city streets and motorways, to interact with friends and brands on social media, to chat with friends and sometimes to call (but probably using WhatsApp or Skype which, by the way, have great emoji integration)

These little pocket computers are with us all the time.

As messaging apps have overtaken social networking apps the trend for ‘mobile first’ seems to be cementing and as we chat through our phone it’s unlikely that mobile’s dominance would diminish.

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BI Intelligence study on messaging apps and social networking apps

6. For emoji domains to have no future you have to believe:

But aren’t emoji only for kids and millennials? Sure. Except, my 50-something year old dad and 60-something year old accountant send me emails and messages with emoji. The problem is we never see the value in something until someone else proves it to us.

Be honest, did you ever think Snapchat had more value than to sexting teens? Did you ever think you’d find your mum on Facebook or that your kid thinks Facebook is for old people? Did you immediately see the business value in YouTube when 99% of it was cat and fail videos?

Maybe you don’t see the value in emoji domains because not every single person uses emoji. But, here’s a staggering fact from emotional marketing platform Emogi to make you think twice:

Age didn’t really factor into these results as much as gender did with 78% of women frequently using emoji compared to 60% of men. Those are still big numbers though when you consider they’re just ‘silly cartoons’.

As late adopters and skeptics finally come round to the idea that the world should be a social place both online and offline and that the best way to keep up with their children’s lives is by friending them on Facebook or through WhatsApp messages, the more likely they will be exposed to and use emoji.

Emoji domains are going to play a pivotal role and there will be a window of opportunity for the first movers to take advantage.

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