There’s a New Podcast in Town

I used to watch this?

A couple of months back, I was out with two of my old friends.  While tipping back a few beers and munching on the delicious bar food, we got into the topic of old TV shows.  You, know, old.  Like from the 70s and 80s.  One friend, who also happens to be named Mike, half-joking, mentioned on how the conversation we were having would be an interesting podcast.  As the conversation deepened and the beers flowed, we committed to making a podcast about these old shows just for fun.   My other friend, let’s call him “Scott”…   well, that actually is his name, had no idea what a podcast is and offered to do some dance moves in the background.  We played along.

Unlike most ideas, we didn’t let this one drop.  While it’s not a business venture and we’re not expecting to profit from it, it was a great reason to stay connected an get together more frequently.   We threw together a website, gave ourselves a crash course on podcasting, and recorded and released our first episode on iTunes today.  Making that first episode was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.  Looking forward to the rest of them.

While it’s not a domaining related podcast, I invite you to check it out “I Used to Watch This?” on iTunes or where ever you happen to get your podcasts.  Give us a rating if you like it and stay tuned for the next episode where we talk about one of my favorite childhood shows.  I’m not the youngest domainer on the block so some of these may be hidden treasures younger people should check out to see how good/bad TV used to be.

VPN.com – Just like that!

VPN.com

Michael Gargiulo is a simple visionary. He loves to dream and get seriously bored with people who do not know how. He enjoys building websites and driving quality traffic to them. He studied finance and risk management but his competitive advantage over others is in search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization.

Sully:  You are the founder and CEO of VPN.com.  Tell me about the company and what you do.  Is it a VPN comparison site?

Michael: Thanks for the opportunity Sully to share some ideas with your readers. And yes, I am the founder of VPN.com where we provide information on more than 900 different VPN providers to help you find the right VPN for your needs and budget. We have spent thousands of hours researching the industry and nearly every provider inside of it to make it easy for potential customers to quickly find the information they are looking for before buying and downloading.

Sully:  In 2017 you acquired VPN.com.  I’m going to take a wild guess that purchasing a 3 letter category killer name wasn’t a cheap affair.  Can you tell me about how you came across the opportunity? Are you willing to share the purchase price?

Michael: This was probably the toughest part of our journey thus far. I had been pursuing the previous owner for more than four years before a deal was struck. Most of the time, I didn’t get replies to my emails or phone calls so it wasn’t like a negotiation was made during that time either. Three years into my chase, I brought in a broker to help with the acquisition and after working with him for nine months we were finally able to put a deal together. I highly recommend a broker for large transactions like this as we nearly lost the opportunity to someone else several times there at the end.

And unfortunately, I am under an NDA through July of 2018 on the exact price but I can say we will be in the top 10 domain purchases of 2017 according to DN Journal’s 2017 Year-to-Date Top 100 Sales Chart.

Sully:  Why a VPN comparison site.  Why not offer your own VPN service with a name like VPN.com?

Michael: We looked at several models for our site. Of course, building and selling our own VPN was one of them. In this space, you need $2-3 million to develop a competitive suite of products. We were not interested in making that investment to become just another VPN provider. Instead we wanted to maximize the potential of our domain name and we let this guide us to the version of the site you see now. Just like Cars.com, Hotels.com, and Apartments.com, none of these multi-billion dollar corporations own the products they provide information offer.

I believe if we execute on our current strategy over the next 18 months, we can bring 20 million people to the site per month and that type of volume will continue to attract many opportunities.

 

Sully:  This isn’t your first crack at business and not your first time leveraging a premium keyword domain name.  Tell me about ProxyServer.com and the business there.

Michael: I have been in the proxy and VPN space for nearly a decade now and it started in high school when I was trying to unblock different websites behind the school firewall. Its interesting to reflect back on those days. Most grand visions, like ours, take years to prune and even longer to gather the proper resources for. I am lucky to have ProxyServer.com and lessons it taught us. Without it, VPN would have never happened.

ProxyServer.com was the precursor to VPN.com. While we were trying to acquire the VPN.com domain I actually had most of the technology we would attempt to initially sell on VPN.com already set up and being sold on ProxyServer.com. I knew if we acquired VPN, we could easily migrate it over or pivot to another model.

 

Sully:  How important have you found the quality of your domain name to be in relation to the success of your business?

Michael: The domain name was the best investment the company will ever make. VPN providers, teammates, new hires, and even competitors take us seriously and for no other reason than our name is VPN.com. I have had many great conversations with CEOs and executives of some of the largest VPN companies on earth because our name is VPN.com.

I still don’t think we fully understand the value of owning the name. Moving forward, I think the domain will continue creating inbound opportunities for us especially as we move on to page one in Google for “VPN.” No matter if you are a provider, competitor, end user or investor, people will always respect a name like ours.

In addition, we receive dozens of offers on a monthly basis to buy or invest in the project along with some incredible partnership opportunities from various VPN providers. This tells me we are on the right track and that people are watching.

Sully:  You seem like you’re still a young guy, but while in college you bought and sold more than $2 million dollars of unwanted gift cards. How did you do this?

Michael: The gift card hustle was a critical period of my life. Primarily through Craigslist and eBay, I was able to purchase cards at a discount and resell them to larger buyers and make my cut on the spread. Selling the cards was much easier than finding people you could trust and buy from. Thankfully, I developed several relationships with contractors and builders who were constantly turning over cards and needed a quick way to cash them out.

Most of the profits I generated from gift cards I invested into my first websites. I knew gift cards would not last forever and wanted to move to a form of income that was a bit more hands off. Looking back on it, it was small decisions like this that moved me in the direction of what became VPN.

 

Sully:  You also built and grew 3 websites to 3,000,000+ monthly visitors (making $2-3k per day).  Can you give up some of your secrets? What’s the story behind these sites?

Michael: My biggest secret is buying a great name. The location you offer your products matters even more online. I was fortunate to make some solid domain acquisitions early on in my career that offered me great insight into search engine optimization. I grew all of my sites organically through search engine traffic and I have always believed if I couple a great name with a great experience there was absolutely no way I could lose with my visitors and no way I could lose with search engines like Google. Basically, this is the same formula I used for VPN.com and I expect to see similar results with it over the next 18 months.

Thank you for this opportunity Sully and everyone reading. Check out our latest VPN article on Yahoo targeted at Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, and Netflix VPNs. We plan to deliver more accountability to brands who don’t take the privacy of their users seriously. Stay tuned!

And feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Vaporize the dot com

dot ca

Vaporizers.ca is a family run business and was started to help spread the word on vaporization and show the world that there is a better way to get the benefits from plants and essential oils.  Damon Inlow is the owner of Vaporizers.ca and took some time to discuss with me.

Mike:  Damon, you have a category-defining keyword domain for your website.  Did you register this domain through the normal process or did you purchase the name on the aftermarket?  Tell us about the process.

Damon:  Back in 2005, there was only a handful of American Vaporizer dealers, and we were the only Canadian vaporizer dealer. Not many people even knew about the concept of using herbs with vaporizers and very few people sold them. One big advantage of being the first vaporizer dealer in Canada is that we did have our pick of .ca domains. We decided to go with vaporizers.ca through the normal registration process.

 

Mike:  The tld of your domain is dot ca, which represents Canada.  How well have you found this tld to work for you as compared to a dot com name?

Damon:  With our product, we wanted to focus on the Canadian market. The .ca has been good for that, but it certainly limits your United States rankings and search exposure. If your goal is North America, you definitely want a .com as well as a .ca. For a focus on the Canadian market only, the .ca domains are a great choice.

 

Mike:  I don’t smoke or vape.  The site mentions “a much safer and healthier alternative to smoking.”  Is that a scientific fact or merely a guess based on limited information available?

Damon:  Smoking is combustion; combustion produces tars and other toxins. If you remove the smoke part and vaporize, you then only get the essence of the herb. Some herbs, like tobacco, are still bad news, but most herbs are safe when vaporized. There are many studies on vaporization, mostly medical, that are easy enough to find. Israel has done a lot of those studies.

 

Mike:  I’m not familiar with the laws regarding the devices.  Are there laws in Canada and the US regulating the sale?  Does that complicate things for you?

Damon:  Vaporizers can be used with hundreds of legal herbs so there are no laws against them. The American Government tried to cause problems over a decade ago, but they lost in court. The court clearly saw how many legal herbs you can vaporize and its medical uses. We have dealt with many non-legal complications like PayPal issues and advertising restrictions.

Mike:  Do you do any advertising outside of organic search engine results?  Do you use Google AdWords or any other paid advertising results?  If so, what has been your experience?

Damon:  We use organic searches as well as some limited advertising. AdWords blocked Vaporizers many years ago as well as Facebook. It was a very unpleasant experience at first as they were very ignorant of the benefits of vaporizing and the policies were not clear at all.

Mike:  What has been the biggest challenge running an online business?  How have you navigated this?

Damon:  Getting the page setup and getting those initial sales is tough for sure but we find the biggest challenges are the logistics. Not only getting the inventory to us but shipping across the country. Takes a lot of work and shipping is always a loss money wise. Every year rates go up and we lose more money on shipping. You can go dropship, but it’s hard to find a reliable one you can trust. Customer satisfaction is key and if your dropshipper fails, you fail.

Shocking Interview

keyword domain

Kelly Bedrich is the Co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com and President of Cypress Capital Ventures. He is an IT entrepreneur focused on acquiring, marketing, and improving e-commerce sites. His current emphasis is on taking ideas from startup to maturity with sustainable business benefits.

Kelly is skilled at building and executing strategic initiatives by leading global product teams and guiding technical teams to bring results-oriented businesses to life. He is driven to build and develop efficient operational sites that maximize sales and marketing pipelines through low cost of customer acquisition and high retention.

Mike:  Kelly, what got you interested in comparing utility plans?

Kelly:  Good question. My co-founder and I both live in Texas, which has had an active retail energy deregulation market since around 2002. Like most Texans, we would have to choose our electricity provider and sign a new contract every year or so. To do that, we would usually visit the comparison site operated by the Texas Public Utility Commission called Power To Choose. The last few times we did this, we became increasingly confused and frustrated by their site and knew there had to be a better way. We wanted to answer some basic questions like:

  • What would be the $ amount of my utility bill if I chose a specific plan?
  • Why does Texas have 3 electricity rates on each plan?
  • What’s the catch with the teaser rates that appeared to be too good to be true?

The PUC site and other comparison sites in the market weren’t doing these things, so we decided to start our own. We focus on rate transparency and quality content that explains some of the inner workings of the retail electricity industry so that customers can make informed choices and save money in the process.

Mike:  Were you the first to register  ElectricityPlans.com and NaturalGasPlans.com  or were these domains you purchased on the aftermarket?

Kelly:  We acquired ElectricityPlans.com in late 2015 from a broker. However, we were able to purchase the .net version as well as both NaturalGasPlans.com and .net in 2016 as new domains. We launched ElectricityPlans.com in early 2017.

Mike:  Explain your business model.  How do the sites generate revenue?  Do you get a cut if someone switches providers?

Kelly: That’s correct. Like most comparison sites we are basically a matchmaker between buyers and sellers. Our focus is for the buyers (electricity shoppers) to find the best possible rate for their needs. To make this happen, we get paid a small commission from our retail electricity partners if a customer signs up for one of their plans. We do this both through affiliate links and through direct APIs with the electricity providers. We also have a free electricity shopping service for Texas customers where we compare a customer’s usage to our database and select the right plan for them.

Mike:  How well do your sites rank in Google?  ElectricityPlans.com comes up on the first page when I search for “Electricity Plans” (without quotes).  Did you have to put any extra effort into that ranking?

Kelly:  Since our industry is highly competitive on specific keywords, we don’t focus much on how our overall site ranks in Google or Bing. However, we religiously watch how certain keywords rank for us. Our customers typically don’t search for ‘electricity plans’ but instead search for keywords that vary by different states. We currently have 382 keywords (including variants) that appear in the top 10 slots on Google. We also have similar numbers on Bing. We’ve accumulated these results through classic SEO techniques like content focus and site authority.

There’s definitely extra effort over and above simply acquiring and launching an EMD (Exact Match Domain) site. There’s really no such thing as an EMD bonus anymore from Google. In late 2012, Google cracked down on ranking sites simply based on their domains. In fact, they began to penalize EMDs with poor quality sites according to Search Engine Land (source: https://searchengineland.com/ library/google/emd-update ).

In our experience, building out an EMD site really boils down to basic SEO – have a good quality user experience (including mobile), write good content, and focus on building backlinks. The benefit that you have from including an informative keyword in your domain is that you immediately set the user’s expectation for what they will get. If you site is done well, this will help your site’s overall authority and help in areas like bounce rates and backlinks. In our case it also helps potential partners find us.

Mike:   Have you received any unsolicited offers on the names?  Anything worth considering?

Kelly:  Yes, occasionally, but since we are an active revenue site I think buyers tend to shy away from making offers on just the names. There is an active market for domains in the energy vertical and we do watch the market for domains with our keywords. We have purchased several related keyword domains more as a defensive move than anything else.

Mike:  Do you feel it’s possible for anyone to make a living online with a good domain name?

Kelly:   Unfortunately, no. It takes a combination of several factors to make a living doing this in my opinion.

First, it isn’t really about the domain. It’s more about the product/service, content, and experience that you give to site visitors. Simply launching a site with a few keywords in the domain won’t get you very far. Think through your own digital shopping experiences and consider your recent positive experiences. This includes everything from things like product quality and customer service to the site interface itself. Do these things well.

Second, your product/service has to be marketed. If simply launching your site with a keyword or two in the domain is your marketing plan, you’ll likely be waiting a while (if any sales come through at all). By the way, marketing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. There’s a lot of room for creativity here.

Next, focus on your competitive advantage if your site is entering a competitive market. Do your due diligence on competitors and see what you like or don’t like about their products.

Finally, there’s the personal and financial aspect of owning a site. Do you have the financial backing to not only launch a site but scale it up to profitability? Do you have the patience to write content and duke it out in the battle for keywords? Have you determined what makes you uniquely qualified to fill a specific need? All of these factors come into play when deciding if you can head down the entrepreneurial path and make a living online.
Mike:  I noticed you have only a couple of states associated with the gas and electric sites.  Why is that?   Any plans on expanding?

Kelly:  Yes, definitely. We are currently in Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut with our electricity site and Ohio and Michigan with our natural gas site. We are definitely planning on expanding to other deregulated markets (there are 14 total for electricity and 20 for gas). We will soon go through the licensing and certification process in the other deregulated markets and enter them in an orderly manner through the end of 2018.

In addition, many countries have varying degrees of energy choice for consumers. Our long term plan is to enter these markets as well.

InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com – Geo domaining lives on

geo domain

Tina Willis graduated 2nd in her class from Florida State University College of Law.  She has worked as a big firm defense attorney and as a law professor, not to mention the many awards under her belt.  She now focuses her time as a personal injury attorney.  She is using InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com as her domain to her business site and likes to refer to herself as an Orlando car & truck accident attorney.

Mike:  What attracted you to practice law from the start?

Tina:  My grandparents raised me and we had very little money or connections.  As I became a young adult, who thankfully was able to attend college, I became more aware of the societal and economic pressures that had made life difficult for my grandparents.  So I suppose you could say that I wanted to help those who were less fortunate when they needed an advocate. That was because I knew how it felt to need help, and not be able to find anyone who really cared.  That is one big reason that I love my current practice area, which allows me to help those who could not otherwise afford to hire a lawyer, instead of helping large corporations.  Plus, I have always loved a good debate!

Mike:  You’re leveraging InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com along with tinawillislaw.com.  Are there any other domains you own?

Tina:  On the advice of a not great SEO agency, when I first started my practice, we purchased over 100 domains, and still own quite a few of those.  These days, we only maintain and regularly update my primary domain (InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com).  We made the decision to focus our efforts online because maintaining more than one website, much less many other websites, was far too challenging.  We also get virtually no traffic or leads from the other domains we own.  So basically we learned the hard way that the advice to purchase many domains was not good.

Also, as a side note, managing multiple domains is so problematic that tinawillislaw.com is not even forwarding properly (to my primary domain).  We purchased that domain name only for email and offline marketing.  But the forwarding has never worked.  Your interview actually reminded me that I need to check with my tech/website support people, to hopefully get that resolved.   But that’s a perfect example of how multiple domains can lead to many unexpected complications.

Mike: I have to ask some questions related to law.  If I were to be injured at work or at a business, what are the first steps I should take?  Is that any different if I were to get injured on someones residential property?

Tina:  Most of the cases that we handle are either auto accidents, such as car, truck, or motorcycle accidents, or premises liability, such as slip and fall, or negligent security cases.

Your question relates more to premises liability.  But many of the steps for an injured victim to take after any accident are the same.

First, they should make sure they get immediate medical treatment.  If their injuries are serious, the best scenario in terms of adding value to their injury case is to be transported by ambulance to the hospital right after their accident.

Second, or simultaneously, they should report the accident, either to the police (in an auto accident), or the business owner (in a premises liability case).   They also should take detailed photos of the accident scene, vehicles involved, property defects in a premises liability case, and any visible signs of their own injuries.

Finally, they absolutely need to call a personal injury & accident lawyer ASAP.  Injured victims have the burden of proving their cases in court.  And that burden is a heavy one.  So we need to quickly gather evidence, which could, and often does, disappears very soon after any accident.  This includes documentary evidence, physical evidence, and witnesses.

Although they have a duty to report the accident to their own insurance company (in auto accident cases), usually within a short period of time, they should call a lawyer first.  The reason is that their own insurance company wants to pay the least amount of money possible, on every claim.  If their insurance company might owe any money under an uninsured motorist (UM) policy, they WILL ask questions, sometimes very innocent-sounding questions, to get information that can significantly reduce case value.  Injured victims have no obligation to communicate with the other party’s insurance company, regardless of what they say.  Either way, injured victims need a lawyer speaking and working for them, very quickly, particularly if they sustained serious injuries.

If someone were injured on residential property, there might be different issues involved, primarily with getting the home owner’s insurance policy.  Lawyers do not have access to homeowner policies.  So we might need the client to get the homeowner’s policy, or we would have to reject case.  This happens in dog bite cases, for example.  One exception would be if the residential property were an apartment complex, and some defect with the apartment caused their injury.  Then we might be able to accept the case, and hold the landlord, management company, or owner responsible.

The bottom line with all injury and accident cases is that the facts can change the outcome.  So there really is no substitute for a consultation, during which we tell our clients what they need to do to get the most money possible in their cases.  We provide free consultations so we encourage potential clients to take advantage of those.

 

Mike:  How has this descriptive, geographic domain name helped your traffic and what made you decide to try this approach?

Tina:  We believe the domain name has helped our online presence because we tend to rank well for many of our targeted phrases.  But, as you know, the Google algorithm doesn’t send you a message telling you what helped your phone ring.  So we cannot be sure.  That’s just a hunch / gut-feeling.  We purchased this domain name on the advice of an SEO professional and friend.

 

Mike:  Have you considered other domains with TLDs such as dot law or dot legal as some other attorneys have?

Tina:  I have considered the other TLDs, primarily because I have friends who have successfully used them.  But, after just going through a conversion of my website from http to httpS, there is no way in the world that I would change domain names at this point.  Besides, my personal opinion is that dot com will always be the best.  Plus, the algorithm awards domain age.  So I wouldn’t want to convert an older URL to a brand new domain name, for the sake of possibly better keywords.  Also, many of the exact match domain names have already been purchased, so we would still have to settle for a partial match domain.

Mike:  Would you recommend a geo name for other businesses, such as “orlandodentist.com?”  Why or why not?

Tina:  As I said, I think having geography in the name has been helpful.  But I have no statistics or analytics to support that theory.  I just assume they help, based on what I have been told, and we seem to rank reasonably well.  On the other hand, since the algorithm involves hundreds of factors, there definitely could be other factors that are helping our website rank.  I am not aware of any way to test any one specific factor.  That all being said, if I were starting a new business, with a new website, then I definitely would try to include geo factors.  That creates a problem of finding an available, exact match domain name.  Partial matches aren’t as helpful.  As it turns out, actually, mine is a partial match, because an exact match was not available.  On the other hand, if I had an established domain, then I wouldn’t switch domain names just for the geo component.