Joshua Steimle is the founder and CEO of MWI, an SEO services firm based in Utah that Steimle started in 1999 while a student in college. The company website can be found at MWI.com.
Mike: Can you give a little background on your business? How long has Declare Media been online, number of employees, etc.
Joshua: In August, 2010, MWI launched a subsidiary called DeclareMedia (www.declaremedia.com) that publishes thousands of local business directories. With just myself and one other employee working part-time on the project, we have launched 2,728 individual directories, each hosted on its own domain. They have 631 listings, with 5-15 listings being added each day.
Mike: How did you get into the business of investing in domain names?
Joshua: One night in 1999 when I was a college student I needed to wash a shirt late at night and was looking for a laundromat. I called every number in the phone book but of course, nobody answered, and most facilities didn’t have any sort of message. Those that did have a message didn’t specify their hours, or if they did but said they were closed. In frustration, I went out driving around town looking for an open laundromat, but couldn’t find one. I kept thinking “Why isn’t there an online directory of laundromats where I can go and see all of them in my area and see which, if any, are open this late?!”
I decided to launch a laundromat directory and bought the domain laundromatic.com for the purpose. Over the next 10 years I hired 6-7 programmers and spent around $15,000 but nobody could build the system correctly. It wasn’t that complicated, but the people I hired just couldn’t get it right and each time I had to scrap everything and start over. Finally, this year I found the right programmer and he got it launched in one month. By this time, the idea had expanded to building a system that could manage tens of thousands of directories, hence the investment I’ve made in domain names.
Mike: What are some of the domains you have in your portfolio? How many domains do you own?
Joshua: Although our focus is primarily on localized domain names like www.bostonseofirm.com and www.findcaliforniaattorneys.net, we do manage a number of national directories like www.seofirmdirectory.com, www.mywebdesigncompany.com, and of course, www.laundromatic.com.
Right now we own just over 3,000 domains, but that number is growing quickly.
Mike: Can you share the volume of traffic that your sites receive? Which is your highest visited site? Are they generating income?
Joshua: In total, our directories have received 10,945 unique visits so far this month (as of 25 October). www.utahwebdesignfirms.com is certainly the most successful directory so far, although all our directories are just a few months old and the traffic is growing rapidly. For example, the Utah Web Design Firms directory received 414 visitors all last month, but is already up to 762 so far this month. Based on the trend I expect traffic to double or triple in November over October. Every single directory we have is receiving traffic. The sad thing is that some of them are receiving quite a bit of traffic but because they’re so new nobody knows about them yet and they have no listings! If someone were to be the first company to list on those directories they’d get 100% of the traffic.
The sites are generating income, but it’s pretty minimal so far (about $2,000 during the first three months). Obviously we expect that to grow quite a bit, but at the moment we’re thrilled that ANYONE has seen fit to spend money on what we’re providing. We know the business model works, we just need to get our directories in front of the right people. But we’ve been so focused on launching the directories that we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing them.
Mike: With an SEO background, what strategies do you use to promote the sites in your portfolio?
Joshua: Buying the right domains and building the site template correctly have been the primary components of our success thus far. Once they start attracting listings then this creates the unique content that will cement the high rankings in the search engines. But we also plan on creating additional means for unique, relevant content to be created on each site. Our entire business model depends on each directory ranking well in Google, so that’s our main focus.
Mike: Did you hand register all the names or did you purchase some on the aftermarket? What was the process you went through to acquire them?
Joshua: All our domains have been hand-registered. It’s been more affordable than the aftermarket, although in many cases we’ve had to compromise when it comes to getting certain domains. It’s amazing both what has already been taken, as well as what is still available.
Mike: Are your domain names for sale?
Joshua: Nope. We might get rid of some non-performers in the future, but it’s too early to tell which those will be.