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VeriSign, RealNames push keyword browsing

The companies ink a deal to sell simplified keywords through VeriSign's network of domain name registrars.

VeriSign said Wednesday that it inked a deal with naming service RealNames to sell simplified keywords through the company's network of domain name registrars.

Under terms of the deal, Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign will make keywords available to its global network of domain name registrars by the end of the year, adding to their traditional Web addresses ending in .com, .edu and .gov, among others. Like America Online's keyword system, RealNames' service allows a company to buy words related to its products or businesses. For example, Sony could purchase "Sony PlayStation" and direct consumers to the related page on its Web site.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal is a coup for RealNames, which has struggled--with incremental success--to build demand for its keyword service with businesses and consumers. Last year, the company received a 20 percent investment from software giant Microsoft and entered relationships with prominent companies such as online auctioneer eBay.

RealNames faces the onerous challenge of changing the habits of Internet consumers, who despite the inconvenience are accustomed to typing "www" and .com into address bars. The partnership clears the way for a broad adoption of keywords through companies looking to promote faster, more direct navigation to their products and services.

"One of (RealNames') struggles has been: How does it reach its target audience? And this deal allows them a channel directly to that audience," said Michael Hoch, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group. "VeriSign has something like 32 million domain names in their registries, and now all of those are selling opportunities for a RealNames keyword."

RealNames and VeriSign also hope to appeal to new Internet users, who may be more likely to use natural language to navigate the Web, Hoch said.

Gartner analyst Whit Andrews says VeriSign's keyword partnership with RealNames fails to address a fundamental problem: The current Web domain naming conventions are good enough for most people.

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VeriSign owns the vast majority of the domain name marketplace. It operates its own registrar and manages the naming registry for nearly 90 global registrars. For this reason, VeriSign's influence over the partners' sales practices is regulated. As a result, the registrars have the option to sell RealNames' keywords, Hoch said.

As RealNames has matured, the company has honed its pitch to marketers. In the last year, the company has appealed to businesses by selling its keywords as direct navigation to lower-level domain names. Because many businesses have thousands or millions of complicated Web addresses, keywords can direct consumers to specific pages with little effort. For example, Volkswagen can direct consumers to a page specifically for its Beetle without pushing customers through its home page. RealNames said that usage of its keyword service has gone up more than 250 percent in the last year.

Analysts say keywords improve Web addressing internationally because foreign cultures must translate their languages into English to navigate the Web. Keywords allow direct navigation in non-English languages.