Interviews

Monster’s View – Part III

Hopefully you have already read parts I and II of this interview series with Rob Monster of Epik.com.  There is much to be gained from his insight, experience, and vision.  In this final segment, Rob takes us through site design, levels of  service, the revenue generation/sharing model and some recent enhancements.

Mike:  Are the sites on the Epik.com network plug and play or is there a lot of customization involved?

Rob:  We take a platform based approach to development in most cases.  We look to see if a particular site fits one of our platforms.  But in some instances, it doesn’t fit any of the cases.  If we think the name is strong enough, we may agree to take on a custom development.

An example of this case would be when Craig Peterson brought us Chat-Rooms.com.  We thought that a chat room network would be a very good fit with what we are building network wide.  That means that any site in the Epik network could be enabled with text, voice, or video chat.  This would tie back to your portable identity and portable reputation framework.  Single sign-on to any site, navigate to the chat tab and you should be able to log in and participate in chats without having to register at that site.

So we look at domains as to where they may fit in and is that domain big enough for stand alone development.

Mike:  Do you offer different levels of service?  Do you partner with some domain owners while other might just pay for your services?

Rob:  With every domain, we take the approach that we are a partner in the development.  The setup fee we charge for a given development, product portal is $249, video portal is $499, directory portal can be as low as $249 for a local geography and as high as $999 for a national directory like Dining.com.  In each case, the purpose of the setup fee is not to make a margin.  The purpose is to cover the hard costs associated with developing that  domain name into an income producing website.  Ultimately, the value we create is in the ongoing hosting and monetization of traffic which generates revenue.

Mike:  What does that revenue generation / revenue sharing model look like?

Rob:  We share between 50% and 80%.  It can be as high as 80% revenue share to the owner and 20% to us, depending on how much monthly revenue they are generating.  The starting point is 50/50, but the reality is that much of the 50% that we accrue, we turn around and use to develop improvements to the site with the objective to get it to position 1, 2, or 3 on the major search engines, notably Google.

Product portals are well oiled machines right now.  We produce about 200 of those every week and they are performing very well in terms of monetization.  Directory portals are somewhat newer and the mode of monetization is putting a much greater emphasis on selling directory listings.  We have acquired a company that gave us a call center which gives us the ability to build hosted directories with an emphasis on selling paid listings.  In addition, we have the ability to offer business owners  who are listing on our directories, additional ways to increase value.  For example, online appointment scheduling through our solution called Appointment.com.  The point to which we can extend  our value proposition to our clients using our hosted solutions is continually expanding.

That’s whats so exciting about what we’re building.  It’s not static.  It’s a complex ecosystem designed to make the web work better and in the process, there are ways to monetize some of the activities and work flows.

Mike:  I think you answered this question, but I wanted to ask if you promote the domains you develop?

Rob:  Yes, the SEO work is important and we do some of that and we have developed some vendor relationships that we think are pretty good and provide compelling value for white hat SEO.  However, Google is smart and the other search engines are getting smarter.  At the end of the day, the only way to sustain a top ranking on the search engines is by creating value.  That means original content and elements of community so users are contributing to content as well.

Mike:  What are some examples of users contributing to content?

Rob:  We just announced the Epik wiki platform.  I think that is a very good example of a user centric solution with a user emphasis on user contributed and user enhanced content.  If you look at the success of Wikipedia, Squidoo, Hubpages… they have all proven that if you get a bunch of users together who have shared interests, they will work together to create content.

So rather than happening on a one size fits all, all things to all people site like Wikipedia, we decided to bring this to happen on a domain name level where people who are enthusiast about a given topic have the ability to engage in contributing content.

We are applying a very similar model to video portals of which we announced at the end of last month.  Just like you have content sitting on sites like YouTube and more and more of these video aggregation sites, we think there is real value in creating segmented channels where video of a certain genre can be aggregated across a variety of sites, but ultimately is a direct repository of video of enthusiasts who are interested in that particular topic.

The power of this platform is that because we know that the video just submitted on a site is of a particular genre, the user has now effectively tagged that site as being of a particular type.  So keyword based, we now have the ability to syndicate that content to the other parts of the network.  YouTube has proved this, but the same concept can be applied on a federated basis.

To some degree, we are looking at models that worked elsewhere and questioning why this has to happen on a central site.  What would happen if we federated it and caused it to be distributed and mapped to a domain name when these core elements of content, community, and commerce can converge and thrive in the distributed hubs of activity where people have created value.

Mike:  What else would you like people to know?

Rob:  The big point that needs to be conveyed is that the era of parking has come to an end.  Domain names that go undeveloped don’t necessarily maintain their value.  What I mean is that getting ranked by search engines is getting harder and harder.  The longer you wait to begin to develop a domain name, the harder it will be for that domain name to get ranked on its strategic term.   There are situations now where hyphenated dot net names are ranking higher than dot com names with the identical term.  That seems counter-intuitive to the domainer.  The sooner you begin to develop and build trust with the search engines, the more valuable the name will be long term.  Waiting with the hopes that someone will come along and want to buy an undeveloped domain with the hopes of turning it into a more lucrative developed property may not be the optimal strategy.

What we have focused on is a capital efficient approach that allows us to develop a lot of names well, without spending a fortune.  You can experiment with developing and I think what you will learn is how difficult it is to develop a website successfully.  From the standpoint of helping people who are new to development to take large portfolios and convert them to income producing properties, it helps to have a capable partner.

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Condom.com

You can never be too safe.  Bob Ramstad, CEO and Founder of Condom Country, shared with me about about his domain, Condom.com and a bit about his success.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?

Bob:  We’ve been in business since 1994 and have been online since September 1994.  This is before Amazon, eBay, Yahoo existed.  (For the curious, I’ve testified in court cases involving e-commerce patents, as Condom Country was one of the first, and is considered prior art in the field.)

Mike:  Has has owning the domain condom.com impacted your business?

Bob:  I think it’s both a central marketing point for our company, as it makes people immediately recognize that we’re legitimate.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

I don’t feel comfortable disclosing precise numbers, but we’re consistently in the top five for condom related stores.


Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Bob:  We’ve tried a number of things over the years, but have found that there are no shortcuts.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before  condom.com?

Bob:  Not really.  The corporate parent is The Access Group and so for a while the site was at www.ag.com/Condom/Country but that was in the very early days.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Bob:  It’s been up and down, over the years.  In the early days, there weren’t that many people on the Internet, but there weren’t that many places to go.  When Condom Country was launched, we were one of perhaps three places online where you could buy something with a credit card and have it shipped to you.  As a result, there wasn’t a lot of Internet traffic, but pretty much everyone online in 1994 checked us out, and we were very visible as a result.  Over time, the number of people on the Internet has jumped massively, but there are many many many sites competing for the attention of surfers…  and of course, there are other sites selling condoms, where we had been the only one on the Internet for probably four years after we launched.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Bob:  No, we registered it with the registrars directly, and I believe in 1994 it was $40 for two years.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Bob:  Kind of laughable question actually, yes, of course.  Many millions of dollars of revenue over the 16 years can be directly attributed to the domain name.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Bob:  Well, it’s important, but I suspect that people who use logic, and a bit of cleverness, can find something workable.  Don’t just assume you need the most obvious term…  that would be my opinion.  Think about both the product or service that is sold, and also think about what problem(s) you are solving… there may not be any obvious product or service related names available, but maybe there’s a problem solving name that is easily acquired.

Mike:  What do you think your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

Bob:  I know competitors see condom.com as our major asset, and they are right, the domain and our established customer base are the two things that drive our sales and create most of the value for our company.

Our customers know that they are dealing with a reputable legitimate company because of the domain, and given the intensely personal nature of our merchandise, and the desire to buy quality product, it makes sense to do business with a market leader.  IMHO, no one wants “cheap condoms” — they may want something inexpensive, but not “cheap”.  We have good prices, every day, and back that up with great customer service.  Every condom we sell is purchased directly from the US manufacturer representative or from one of the two largest condom distributors in the country.  Every condom we sell has been FDA approved for sale in the United States.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Bob: As an entrepreneur I have always believed that you have to have a price in mind for everything… We do own condomcountry.com and a handful of other domains, so we could relaunch under a new domain if we had to.  If someone came along with $2 million USD in cash, we’d gladly sell condom.com through an escrow process.

We get a couple of unsolicited offers every month, and most of them are just silly, frankly, people offering a few tens of thousands of dollars.  Considering that our yearly sales are substantially north of a half million dollars, that kind of number is laughable.

(For the curious, given the difficulties of relaunching under a different URL, we’d sell the entire business, including inventory, related intellectual property and Condom Country itself, along with the domain, for $3 million.)

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Bob:  I do think we were in the right place at the right time for our niche.  There are still niches out there that can be profitable, but with some of the larger companies acting as category killers (Amazon, NewEgg), it becomes more and more important to think about what you can sell beyond putting something in a box.  Customer service, advice, editorial viewpoint — these are all very important additions.  Anyone can put a widget in a box.

Thanks Bob and continued success with Condom.com.

Can you give a little background on your business?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your site online, etc.

We’ve been in business since 1994 and have been online since September 1994.  This is before Amazon, eBay, Yahoo existed.  (For the curious, I’ve testified in court cases involving e-commerce patents, as Condom Country was one of the first, and is considered prior art in the field.)

Has has owning the domain condom.com impacted your business?

I think it’s both a central marketing point for our company, as it makes people immediately recognize that we’re legitimate.

Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

I don’t feel comfortable disclosing precise numbers, but we’re consistently in the top five for condom related stores.

Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)

We’ve tried a number of things over the years, but have found that there are no shortcuts.

Did you have another domain for your site before  condom.com?

Not really.  The corporate parent is The Access Group and so for a while the site was at www.ag.com/Condom/Country but that was in the very early days.

What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

It’s been up and down, over the years.  In the early days, there weren’t that many people on the Internet, but there weren’t that many places to go.  When Condom Country was launched, we were one of perhaps three places online where you could buy something with a credit card and have it shipped to you.  As a result, there wasn’t a lot of Internet traffic, but pretty much everyone online in 1994 checked us out, and we were very visible as a result.  Over time, the number of people on the Internet has jumped massively, but there are many many many sites competing for the attention of surfers…  and of course, there are other sites selling condoms, where we had been the only one on the Internet for probably four years after we launched.

Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

No, we registered it with the registrars directly, and I believe in 1994 it was $40 for two years.

Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Kind of laughable question actually, yes, of course.  Many millions of dollars of revenue over the 16 years can be directly attributed to the domain name.

Has the hyphen in t-shirts.com been an issue for you or does it fit the domain name well?

Cut and paste error, I think…  We don’t like hyphens in domain names.  In this particular case, I can see using it, as the words are commonly hyphenated.

Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Well, it’s important, but I suspect that people who use logic, and a bit of cleverness, can find something workable.  Don’t just assume you need the most obvious term…  that would be my opinion.  Think about both the product or service that is sold, and also think about what problem(s) you are solving… there may not be any obvious product or service related names available, but maybe there’s a problem solving name that is easily acquired.

What do you think your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

I know competitors see condom.com as our major asset, and they are right, the domain and our established customer base are the two things that drive our sales and create most of the value for our company.

Our customers know that they are dealing with a reputable legitimate company because of the domain, and given the intensely personal nature of our merchandise, and the desire to buy quality product, it makes sense to do business with a market leader.  IMHO, no one wants “cheap condoms” — they may want something inexpensive, but not “cheap”.  We have good prices, every day, and back that up with great customer service.  Every condom we sell is purchased directly from the US manufacturer representative or from one of the two largest condom distributors in the country.  Every condom we sell has been FDA approved for sale in the United States.

Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

As an entrepreneur I have always believed that you have to have a price in mind for everything… We do own condomcountry.com and a handful of other domains, so we could relaunch under a new domain if we had to.  If someone came along with $2 million USD in cash, we’d gladly sell condom.com through an escrow process.

We get a couple of unsolicited offers every month, and most of them are just silly, frankly, people offering a few tens of thousands of dollars.  Considering that our yearly sales are substantially north of a half million dollars, that kind of number is laughable.

(For the curious, given the difficulties of relaunching under a different URL, we’d sell the entire business, including inventory, related intellectual property and Condom Country itself, along with the domain, for $3 million.)

Any other information you’d like to share?

I do think we were in the right place at the right time for our niche.  There are still niches out there that can be profitable, but with some of the larger companies acting as category killers (Amazon, NewEgg), it becomes more and more important to think about what you can sell beyond putting something in a box.  Customer service, advice, editorial viewpoint — these are all very important additions.  Anyone can put a widget in a box.

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Monster’s View – Part II, Portable Identity

In the first part of this article with Rob Monster of Epik.com, we learned of Rob’s vision of the Internet.  We learned that Epik is taking an “Internet by Design” approach to creating a more user centric evolution.

In this part, Rob tells us how individual sites can compete against giants like Amazon and how our identity and reputation needs to be portable from site to site.  Be sure to read Part III next.

Mike:  Rob, in theory, it sounds great to move to a more focused level from a consumer standpoint.  But does this add a layer of complexity for the consumer dealing with multiple site?

Rob:  Yes, we have to make it easier for the user to navigate from site to site.  The walls have to come down around the siloed approach we have seen historically.  Early on in the development of Epik, we embraced the idea of portable identity and portable reputation as users go from site to site.  Single sign-on is a start but that is only one piece.

Another important piece follows the lines of you are an important contributor on site “A”.  Now you go to site “B”, “C”, or “D” but nobody knows you.   How can you benefit from all the effort you have put into developing a reputation on site “A” when you register on site “B”, “C”, “D”?  A real life example is if you have spent a decade building up your seller reputation on eBay, and now you want to create a different auction framework.   Good luck taking your reputation with you.  That creates a barrier to movement.  It makes it impossible to take your reputation and identity with you as you go from site to site.

We have been working on a way to do this.  Sites like Questions.com, Comments.com, Chat-Rooms.com are in development, built on the  assumptions that we will have horizontal components in the the architecture.

Mike:  How do you tie this back with your city planning metaphor?

Rob:   So just like the surface of a city, you have buildings.  But underneath the city you have sewer, water and electric that are architectured in a common way and are used in a common way by all the people who are building on the surface.  The same principle can apply to the Internet where we can have some common components that by designing them for shared use, everybody benefits.

Mike:   Obviously this architecture will exist within the Epik network, but what about sites beyond the network?

Rob:  Yes, this will be within the Epik network but we will open it beyond.  For example, the Comments.com framework will be opened up to sites that want to use that framework.  So now if you go to Comments.com/sully, there you would find all of your comments in one place.

Mike:  This sort of crosses into social networking, with people following comments of an individual, correct?

Rob:  If you think about how the web works today, if I want to “follow” you as people speak of Twitter, how would I follow you?  There is no convenient way to follow all of your thought provoking comments across the web.

One way to solve that is to take an aggregation approach.  Not just aggregating post fact, as some people are doing, aggregating by design.  The fact that there is single sign-on from site to site makes it possible for these comments to be automatically attributed to the person  who owns them.   I should be able to go to Comments.com/sully to find all of Sully’s comments but I should also be able to Identity.net/sully and be able to see everything that is known about Mike Sullivan that he wants me to know.

This is a very ambitious work in progress, but in the next evolution of the Internet, we have to make it more user centric and more intuitive.  The best way I know to do that is by starting with the who/what domain names and being able to map content to domain names in a way that is intuitive.

Mike:  How close do you think you are to making this model a reality?

Rob:  It’s a continual process.  We have already developed and launched these various components.  If you go to, for example, Dining.com and you review a restaurant or leave a comment about a restaurant, the comment is now visible on Comments.com in abstract form.  That’s useful for creating a back link,  but also for creating an essential way to discover comments made about certain topics.  The user handle you create on Dining.com or Comments.com is the same across any website in the network.

So architecturally,  it’s already happening.  We are now releasing our first major upgrade of our product portal platform, the first upgrade in four months, a major front end upgrade.  There, you will see evidence of portable identity and the portable commenting framework will show up in a whole class of site that didn’t initially have community.   The foundation has been laid in parallel to developing stronger foundation of shared developing components.   We are also building more of what I call “sky scrapers on Main street” as well as lesser  structures for situations that don’t require massive developments on the scale of say, Dining.com.


Mike:  What is your screening process when someone comes to you with a portfolio or domain they would like to get into the network?

Rob:  We really have an appreciation for names that have a high exact search volume.  It’s a great start having names with 1,000 plus exact searches, although we have had success developing with as little as 300.   Another good filtering is looking for CPC of greater than $1 as a further indication that there is enough margin in that category to justify developing.

At the end of the day, our objective is to make our clients money.  If we take a domain for development, there is a burden of responsibility on us to make an evaluative call on whether or not this is a domain we can make into a profitable domain.

There are two elements of profit.  One element is the operating income from the ongoing revenue of the site.  The second, which in many cases is even more valuable, is the increase in capital value, the resale value of the developed site vs. the value of an undeveloped domain.

When we look at a domain, we look at it as an uncut diamond.  What can we do with this?  We look at the business model or the value proposition that could be developed around this domain name in as cost effective manner as possible.

There will be a part III (the final chapter) to this article where Rob talks about the platform of the Epik sites, the revenue model and the promotion of the sites.

Chat-Rooms.com
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Monster’s View of the Internet

I had a great conversation with Rob Monster of Epik.com a couple of days ago.  I ended up with so many scribbled notes from that call that this is going to end up being a multi-post interview.  I’m just not sure yet if it will be two parts or three.  I hate to cut anything out of this one.  Rob has a strong background and a vision for the future.  Talking to him gave me a sense of his passion for his vision.

Mike:  Can you tell me a little bit about your background?  Who is Rob Monster?

Rob:  I’m Dutch-American, based in Seattle.  I grew up in the Netherlands and in Philadelphia.  I spent the summer time with my mother’s family.  They were all farmers.  I received my undergrad and MBA at Cornell.  Then I went to work for Proctor and Gamble  in Germany for 4 years and 5 years in Japan.  I moved to Seattle in 1999 to start my first company, Global Marketing Insite (GMI) and it grew about 100% per year for seven straight years.  I raised $48 million in private equity as part of that enterprise and remain a large shareholder and director.

In 2007 I spent a couple of years angel investing and started domaining as a hobbyist.  Then in March, 2009, I came up with the concept of Epik, based on creating something really game changing in the in the domaining/developing world.

Mike:  What is your overall vision for Epik?

Rob:  Two levels, one element is empowering domain developers and a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build income producing websites that they can operate without having a deep technical background.  It should be possible for a generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build online businesses but not have to master the subtleties of DNS and PHP.

The second aspect is a bit more audacious.  That is to play a significant role in capitalizing the rearchitecture  of the internet.  Not to talk so much publicly about web 3.0 or semantic web, but a big portion of what we are setting up to do in building this network of developed domains is also applying certain elements of the unified architecture to every new domain that we develop.

Mike:  How do you decide which submitted domains will be developed?

Rob:  I approve every name that goes onto the network.  The idea being, with each new site, where does this fit into the larger ecosystem.  Just as in designing a city, you might have some design assumptions on where should city hall be, the numbering system for streets, where should the airport be relative to down town…  When you get to a city that works, it’s pretty obvious it’s well designed.

Mike:  How does that vision compare to the Internet we know today?

Rob:  The Internet, in its origins, is very much like the wild west.  Things just happened organically, bit by bit.  The structure has kind of evolved, but not with an eye toward architecture or design planning.  As a result, to some extent, the internet has become overwhelming to a lot of people.

Mike:  How does Epik fit into this picture?

Rob:  Part of what we are doing with Epik is taking an architectural approach to finding what pieces go with what pieces and to create a more intuitive, more useful, and more user centric version of the Internet that can take things to the next level.

Mike:  I have seen some of the Epik portal sites.  What is the concept supporting these?

Rob:  What we are essentially talking about here is federating or distributing Amazon.  The person looking for a particular type of goods may not be the same person looking for housewares.  You can federate the web and have  different types of information on different domains as opposed to having everything residing in one massive repository.  It’s implausible that any one company is going to be best of breed at everything.

At some point, the Amazon model with cease to scale because there will be subject matter experts that can tell you detailed minutia about scuba diving gear and they don’t work for Amazon.  The degree to which we can bring together  content, community, and commerce into these federated sites, we are building a framework of a web that works better.

Mike:  How does this apply to other types of sites?

Rob:  The same principle applies to, for example, directory portals.  Just as we have yellow pages, it is possible to federate yellow pages so that there is a yellow pages for a metro area, a yellow pages for people looking for a certain type of service provider.  By creating these segmented sites that cater to a particular audience, we are creating the ability for content, community, and commerce to converge.

Look for part 2 of this interview in the coming days where Rob explains how multiple sites can compete with a giant like Amazon and how the silo version of sites we know today will need to change.

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Domain Magic

Like most kids, I was fascinated with magic tricks when I was growing up.  I would save my money and make weekly visits to our local trick shop.  I’d buy some little gadgets and practice for hours in preparation to amaze the other kids in my neighborhood.  I have to admit, I’m still a fan of magic tricks today.  Jackie Monticup of MagicTricks.com is living my dream and sharing the experience with us.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?
MagicTricks.com has been in business online since 1997. Peter Monticup, a professional magician since the age of seven, opened the website as an extension of his brick-and-mortar magic shop in Charlottesville, Virginia called, appropriately, Magic Tricks. Peter has owned a string of magic shops since 1971, first in upstate New York and later in Virginia. The name “Magic Tricks” was chosen because Peter realized that previous “clever” names for his shops (including The House of Magic and The Old Curiosity Shop) didn’t always make it clear what he was selling. When he opened the Virginia shop in 1994, he decided to be direct and call the shop simply “Magic Tricks”. It worked well.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  What was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name MagicTricks.com?
When we decided to launch the website, we used the same philosophy, and opened “MagicTricks.com“. Fortunately, the previous owner of the name was not using it, and was letting it expire. Literally the second “MagicTricks.com” became available, we snatched it up, paying only the yearly registration fee.

Mike:  Has has owning the domain MagicTricks.com impacted your business?
Obviously, the name clearly spells out what we sell, and that helps. Also, having the keywords “magic tricks” in the domain name has helped with SEO.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow?

Over the years, we have tried most of the popular marketing strategies. Google ads are beneficial if you have a specific strategy in mind (for example, if you know that customers are looking for a specific product, and you want to come up on the first page of the search for that exact product, you can buy your way onto the first results page). Since the beginning, though, we’ve concentrated on good basic website practices- building an easy-to-use site that offers frequently updated pages. Fresh content is very, very important.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before MagicTricks.com?
Yes. When we first decided to go online, MagicTricks.com was not available, so we chose MagicSupplies.com. Even when we chose that first name, we felt that domains made from keywords were the way to go. We operated as MagicSupplies.com for a few months before obtaining the MagicTricks.com name.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.
In 1997, our business was totally brick-and-mortar. By early 2000, we closed the storefront and operated totally online. It was that quick. In the last ten years, we’ve seen steady continued growth, due in part to the fact that people are becoming used to online shopping. It’s a part of our culture now.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?
Absolutely! All it has cost is the yearly fee.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
DO consider using keywords as your domain name, or adding keywords to your personal or business name. If your exact name is not available (if your name is Bill Smith, for example), try adding a descriptive word to your name, like BillSmithPhotographer.com

There are still great names available, so don’t be discouraged when your first few name ideas are already taken. Brainstorm with your friends, and you’ll be amazed at the flow of good ideas.

DO use keywords in your domain name. Blissful is a company that sells body lotions, so bodylotions.com or blissfulbodylotions.com or even calmingbodylotions.com would be good choices. DON’T use hyphens. When you verbally communicate your domain name, it’s awkward. “Good-times.com” becomes “Good dash times dot com” over the phone.

DO look carefully at how your domain name looks in print. Sometimes it spells something other than what you intended. If you sell 50’s classic music on CD, you might consider using the keywords “oldies” and “hits”. But probably not as oldieshits.com.

DON’T use words that are hard to spell. If you use the English spelling for “color” and spell it “colour”, then people will probably misspell your domain name “ColourVisions.com” and not find your site.

Similarly, DON’T use cute or alternative spellings, such as “Books4U”.

DO use only the .COM domain. Customers think “.com”. Make it easy for them to find you. It also looks the most professional.

Mike: What do your customers think of your domain?
Our customers find our name very easy to remember, and very clear in meaning. The name is an advertisement in itself.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?
To sell the domain name, we’d have to sell the whole business. We do receive unsolicited offers every few months or so, but we are enjoying operating MagicTricks.com too much to sell it right now.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?
Thanks, Mike, for asking us to share our experience with you!

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Domain Profit Sharing

I originally reached out to Doug Marks, Vice-President of Click Shops, Inc., to inquire about the keyword domain “MassageChairs.com”.  Here I had found a nicely developed e-commerce site with a great generic name and I wanted to learn more about the company.  I soon found out that there was a great deal more behind Click Shops.  ClickShops.com has other great names in their portfolio, including GunSafes.com, LeatherFurniture.com, BackupGenerators.com and more.  Additionally, DomainProfitSharing.com is another facet to the company.  Doug and I had a great conversation about the business.

Mike:  Tell me a little bit about ClickShops.com.  How many sites do you have under the ClickShops.com umbrella?
Doug:  It’s constantly changing.  I think we currently have about 30 sites.  Even though we are involved in online e-commerce, our customers really benefit from our customer service.  There are people that don’t want to talk to anyone, and the online sales work fine.  But for those that do, our customers are assigned a customer service representative that are with them through the entire order.  The satisfaction our customers have expressed has really been exceptional.  ClickShops.com has 10 employees, all in Sanpoint Idaho.  There are a couple of contractors, but just a couple.  The company has been in business since 2004.  GarageCabinetsOnline was our first store.

My brother Richard is the founder of the company.  We founded it together and he was working it full time.  As it grew, we got an office and I just recently left the private law firm I was working with and came on full-time.   We started with a couple of names and then bought a couple more and built them from scratch.  We’ve developed a number of them over the years.  We’ve acquired our names from private individuals, a partnership, and brokers as well.

Mike:  How did DomainProfitSharing.com come into existence?
Doug:  It’s really just an extension of ClickShops.  Domain Profit Sharing came about because as we were interested in domain names for our business, we found that people were emotionally attached to the names they were selling.  It’s a strange business, maybe it’s a bit like real estate, but we found that the price they were asking were really not justified in many cases.  DPS gives us an opportunity to establish sites on good domains and gives domain owners an opportunity to make more money than they would if they just parked the name.  We also like to include the option to buy the domain in a set number of years at a fixed price.  That fixed price is often close to what the domain owner believes the domain is worth.

Mike:  How do you determine what you are willing to pay for a domain?
Doug:  We do all the keyword research on our end.  We can make a pretty good projection of what a domain is going to be worth based on the number of sites we have taken from nothing to page 1 in Google and the other search engines.  We can compare the keyword research with actual results.  We don’t have to guess what a name will be worth.

Mike: Among the estimated 30 sites you are operating, how many of those fall under the Domain Profit Sharing model.
Doug:  At the moment, none of them are operating at under the DPS model.  That’s something we’ve reserved for big domains that are really going to make money.  We haven’t really put a lot of effort behind promoting DPS.  We haven’t taken out any ads or anything like that.  Part of the reason is that we just bought LeatherFurniture.com and we’ve been focusing on some of our other sites.  It’s not our main focus at the moment.  We are in discussions with a couple of domain owners, but nothing has been finalized.

Mike:  What criteria are you looking for in domains?
Doug:  We look for a lot of searches and related searches.  We also look for names that will support products with fairly good sale prices.  We don’t really want to get into the $20 – $30 per sale market.  For example, we’re selling massage chairs anywhere from $200 to $7,000.  Same with gun safes.  They’re big and they’re heavy and they are higher priced items.  We’re looking for just generic names for big items.

When we first started with online sales, the word was that you can’t sell big items online.  You need to sell books and clothes.  We just kind of asked our selves “why?”  Especially with GunSafes.com and then GarageCabinetsOnline.com.  It’s a great deal for customers to be able to look at a huge selection online.  Much more than any store can carry.  If they do buy, they can have the items shipped to their home.

Mike:  How important are exact match keyword domains as opposed to brandable names?
Doug:  It’s hard to say. They’re important.  Having the key word name makes it easier, there is no doubt about that.  We have both kinds.  For example, GarageCabinetsOnline.com incorporates the keyword but it’s not exact.  But for “Gararge Cabinets”, “Garage Storage”, “Garage Storage Systems”…for all the biggest phrases, we’re right in the top of the search engines.  So it can be done, we know how to do it.  Getting to the top in Google is a lot harder if you don’t have a keyword domain name.  But it can be done.

For anyone interested, there is a submission form on DomainProfitSharing.com where you can submit your domains for consideration for a Click Shops site.  The email will go directly to Doug for review.  Keep in mind that they are looking for keyword domains with good search value.  They aren’t looking for brandable names.  They offer 3% of total sales, not just 3% of profit.

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Domains That Will Float Your Boat

I first reached out to Mike Gallucci to discuss Boating.com, but soon learned there was more than meets the eye.  Mike Gallucci is Director of Marketing at Triton Web Properties, owners of Boating.com and other quality names.  To avoid confusion with the same first names, I’ll be using last names in this interview.

Sullivan:  Can you tell me a little bit about Triton Web Properties?

Gallucci:  Triton Web Properties was created with the realization that our existing e-commerce strategy that operated SportsMemorabilia.com had huge potential to be a blueprint for new ventures.  Triton as a parent company is only a few months old but the basic principles and platform all stem from SportsMemorabilia.com which we acquired and redesigned in 2006.  The initial team that supported the first functional year of Triton’s first property included 4 guys; and currently, throughout all properties, it has turned into a 50 person operation.

The realization came when our numbers from Sportsmemorabilia.com were just rocking.  We saw huge increases in our year over year and now we are hovering around a 70% yoy increase for 2010 with impressive EBIT numbers that continue to rise as well.  The increase is contributed to a unique blend of team members from our marketing team to phone agents, building on what we learn from analytics and reporting every day, and great leadership from our c-suite executives.  That being said, the application of our platform to our other properties has been successful and we are already seeing positive results.  We’re really excited about the future of Triton.

Sullivan:  Among your properties are Boating.com, Yachting.com, Biking.com, Barbecuing.com, Skiers.com and SportsMemorabilia.com.  How have these domains positively impacted your business?

Gallucci:  The strong domain names that lend themselves so easily to branding are huge impacts.  Their names are easy to remember and not only support an efficient natural organic search strategy but type-in traffic as well.  Besides customer-centric branding, the domains attract attention from some of the largest and most well known industry leaders for obvious reasons.  If you are a vendor of ski gear it makes perfect sense to partner up with “Skiers.com”, and if you are a top barbecue manufacturer “Barbecuing.com” should definitely be on your radar as well.  The same can be said for all of our other properties.

As the offline world starts to understand the importance of partnering with companies who own prime time real estate online as well as know how to market online, our potential as a corporation to do some really special things increases.  Let me also say there are still challenges to this practice.  If we didn’t have the revenue numbers and analytics from our previous ventures made of the same mold, it would be much more of a frustrating process to find partners for product/services.  For example, when I pitched Boating.com to the major companies we have already partnered with, if I lacked a strong foundation of WHY we make sense as a partner besides our domain, I would have a frustrating time getting their attention.

If you want to stick your foot in the door of big time partners to talk about site development you better have your track record on hand and not just be taking shelter under your domain name.  So, it’s fair to say the premium domain is not necessarily the “secret sauce”, but it is part of the equation for our success.

Sullivan:  Does Triton own any other premium keyword domains?

Gallucci:  The Triton line up includes: SportsMemorabilia.com, Boating.com, Yachting.com, Biking.com, Barbecuing.com, Skiers.com, BabyFormulas.com, HollywoodMemorabilia.com, and CigarMarket.com.

Sullivan:  What type of marketing strategy does the company use?

Gallucci:  If you play around with various memorabilia search terms on Google you will find there is no secret that SEO is a big part of our strategy.  Thankfully we train and operate our SEO strategy in house.  The bill SEO firms hand over when they take on strategies like ours are extremely high and can run you into the ground if you aren’t careful.

It’s almost advantageous if our competitors seek outside SEO companies for help because chances are it drains their marketing budget while never actually getting them to a point they need to be at to compete.  This is the reason most partners choose to work with Tirton – they know our capabilities of mastering the search game in their industry and they often don’t have the time or want to spend their budget testing SEO firms.  We cover all other aspects of internet marketing but our complete strategy is obviously something that we keep safely inside the doors of our office.

Sullivan:  Can you provide the volume of traffic that any given site in your portfolio receives?

Gallucci:  We’re still a privately held corporation so we currently don’t release traffic numbers.  I can tell you currently SportsMemorabilia.com receives the most traffic from any sports memorabilia site on the net according to Alexa’s traffic rankings.  Our other properties are still new in our hands but we’re successfully growing traffic exponentially on all sites.

Sullivan:  What is the main source of traffic to your sites?

Gallucci:  Google is king in our world but it can’t end there.  Traffic flows in from a host of different places including type-in and shopping channels.

Sullivan:  How did you go about acquiring these names?  Can you share the process you went through with one of them?  Will you share what you paid for any of the names?

Gallucci:  The initial consideration comes from Triton’s CEO Jesse Stein, who has been the mastermind behind acquiring these high profile names.  Once he gets the initial batch of domains available, our EVP Stefan Tesoriero jumps in to add to the brainstorm.  It’s a lethal combo of minds that takes it to the next level.  They decide which of those domains mesh nicely with our model while researching our competition to find an opportunity in a market.

Companies or individuals can have a great domain name but if the potential to build the platform and strategy isn’t there then you are just a one sided player, which we aren’t.  Basically, you can look good in the uniform but if you can’t play the game then you’re not a valuable player.  The strong domains are just a facet of our game.  Some of the domains carried a high price tag, I can tell you the Boating.com & Biking.com properties were among our larger domain investments.

Sullivan:  Are you still acquiring quality domains or are you focusing on the ones you have at the moment?

Gallucci:   Jesse is a serial entrepreneur, his wheels are always spinning.  You never known when you’ll come into the office and hear about a new domain or strategy we’ve been commissioned to build out.  For the sanity of the Triton programming team I’ll say we are currently focusing on the ones we currently own.  In any event, Triton Web Properties is an exciting company to be a part of and everyone in our office is always up to the challenge of a new venture.

Sullivan:  Are you involved in any partnerships / joint ventures or do you own all of the domains outright?  If not, would you consider this?

Gallucci:  All are owned and operated by Triton Web Properties, Inc.  If someone comes along and wants Triton to be a part of their build out of a premium domain it’s possible.  But right now we’re doing very well on our own.  We consider anything, we enjoy hard work and success.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
Gallucci:   Like I mentioned before, it’s all about what you can handle.  Choosing the domain is a big step, especially if the domain is premium, but just know there is a lot going on behind scenes to make it actually work.  I think most people have these grand ideas of what they want to do but end up spending a ton of money on programming and design without knowing what actually generates the revenue.  In the end it’s the marketing that sells your product so make sure you have the right team and a smart strategy ready before spending your capital on a domain.  If you don’t, appropriate capital elsewhere.

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The Domain That Ties It Up

In a continuing series on keyword generic domains, Omar Sayyed, the COO behind Ties.comNeckTies.com, and WildTies.com provides some insight on the company, their business philosophies, and some great domain names.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?
Omar:  As a business, we have been operating since 1998 in the ecommerce space. As an organization our primary function is to develop and provide high-value men’s formal-wear accessories, always keeping Ties.com at the leading edge of fashion and representing those products and services through avant-garde electronic/ digital means. A great deal of our success can be directly attributed to our amazing team. They are the ones who keep the wheels turning. Certain members of our core team have been part of the organization since the doors opened. We strongly believe that as an organization when we take care of our employees, they in turn will take care of our clients who of course take care of our company.

Mike:  How has owning these domains impacted your business?
Omar:  I will be the first one to admit that owning Ties.com comes with responsibilities. We view it as a privilege to operate a “one-word” domain and aspire to do great things. Certainly there are inherent advantages to owning such a “juiced” domain. It gives us the ability to brand ourselves in much more powerful ways.

Mike:  The sites, Ties.com, NeckTies.com, and WildTies.com all seem to operate independently. Is that the case or are they all tied together (no pun intended).
Omar:  Very funny ;). Yes, the sites are operating independently because they each have their unique niche in the marketplace. Ties.com (TC) is our flagship store and it is, what we consider “America’s premier tie store”. TC’s main demographic ranges greatly from mid-twenties to beyond and aims to serve the trendy to the conservative. NeckTies.com, conversely is built to serve more price conscious shoppers who are seeking the latest styles but also want quality neckwear. WildTies.com (WT) is our oldest website. Like any proud parent, I can tell you we have a special place in our hearts for WildTies.com. WT is what put us on the map and continues to a viable force. WT has a dedicated and highly appreciated client base who have a deep sense of brand dedication.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic that your sites receive?
Omar:  So I should preface that we are a privately held company hence don’t discuss our figures publicly. Our visitorship is impressive and continues to grow exponentially given our talented marketing team.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?) What results have you seen from these?
Omar:  Your question reminds me of a great quote from Abraham Lincoln I recently heard. He said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 hours sharpening the blade.” Preparation, research, and authenticity are what we aim for at Ties.com when we look at any marketing platform. We are a very data driven group. While I can’t discuss exact strategies, I can advise everyone (if I may) to think strategically about marketing decisions. As a CMO or Director of Marketing, I am sure you have a plethora of options vis-a-vis where and how you can spend your budget. Maximizing your budget and meeting your ROI is only part of your challenge. Understanding what works for you and why it works for you, should also be something that you concentrate on. Not every platform or solution will be right for you. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of every marketing outlet will be the key to your successes.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?
Omar:  Aside from Ties.com and NeckTies.com, we don’t have any other “premium” domains. Again, it would be remiss if I did not to emphasize to your readers that premium domains are only part of the equation. The marketing arm that drives that vehicle of sales ought to be your main focus. Finding the right vehicle (if I can stay with the analogy) will be anyone’s biggest challenge.

Mike:  What is the main source of traffic to your site? (ie. Google searches, links from other sites, type in traffic, etc.)
Omar:  Most of our traffic comes from organic searches through Google and Yahoo. Marketing strategies are cards we keep pretty close to our chest, so I can’t share exact figures… but some basic research can reveal a lot of information.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.
Omar:  As mentioned before, our traffic continues to grow (almost) exponentially. We have an incredibly dedicated and loyal team who are extremely creative to say the least. We definitely view customer service as an absolute priority, which I feel has a direct correlation with our continued success. Our CEO would give the shirt off of his back if it meant making the end-user experience more friendly.

Not to go off on a tangent, but during a time when many companies are cutting back and customer service has been eroding as an idea, companies who have dedicated customer service response teams will flourish. On a personal note, I am dealing with a company that has failed to deliver what I have paid for. While widgetsRus.com is very nice about fixing the problem, their solutions caused more problems and seem to be hurried. This brings me to my next point. In college, my favorite philosophy professor would say, “practice doesn’t make perfect… perfect practice makes perfect.” Offering a solution to your client’s problem is (again) part of the solution. Offering the right solution is what you (as a company) ought to be aiming for.

Mike:  Did you purchase the names from someone else that owned it? If so, what was the process you went through?
Omar:  We did purchase our domains from other individuals. The process of acquiring domains can be very simple to more complex, depending on the asking price and the people involved. We have never released the prices we have paid over the years for domains, but some were very affordable and others have been astronomically high.

Mike:  Have the domains been worth the cost for you?
Omar:  Sure. It does however depend on what you mean by “worth”. Since we are absolutely passionate about neckties and consider ourselves evangelists for men’s accessories, we wanted a domain that best described our passion and product. While you have to amortize the cost of such purchases, cost-effectiveness is something that I am very sensitive about. Before even a penny is spent (especially for big ticket items) the right analytics (un-skewed and completely objective) have to support those decisions.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?
Omar:  Good luck!! I personally know people who, during the early stages of the internet bubble, were writing programs to snatch up words. It can be a daunting task trying to find a domain that describes you, your company, and more importantly your product, etc.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain? What do your customers think?
Omar:  For the most part, I think our competitors like our name. If for nothing at all, our branding for Ties.com, helps the industry that they are in. Our customers LOVE our domains. Our domains are short and very descriptive. Again, with each respective site having its own niche, it allows us to focus on and cater to different demographics accordingly.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point? Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?
Omar:  Our exit goals are sensitive topics, primarily because we feel very passionate about our company, our customers, our product, our employees, and our corporate culture. We regularly get unsolicited offers, but nothing we would ever seriously consider. Not to sound like Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, but we know we have a sense of responsibility to our employee and their families and more importantly to our clients and their experiences.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Omar:  Two things… 1) Set goals, and chase them… unconditionally. Don’t continuously change your goals. When you are aiming at a moving target, it makes it difficult to hit the bull’s-eye. 2) Perhaps more importantly, don’t be married to your ideas. Often we come up with what we think is a great idea and we get tunnel vision. We don’t hear or see criticisms, suggestions, or opportunities.

As a thank you to your readers, we have engaged Sullyblog10 as a 10% off of all of our neckties, tie racks, cufflinks, cummerbunds, and other accessories on Ties.com. Enjoy!!

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Sharing a Domain With Other Businesses

While doing some general research, I came across the RootOrange.com web site. Their business is built on the technology to share a single domain across multiple businesses in multiple cities, stating that you can increase Click-Thrus by 45-105% with a Generic Domain.   I reached out to RootOrange.com for some additional information and here is what Camilo Acosta, a company representative, had to say.

Mike: Can you give a little background on your RootOrange.com?  How long you’ve been in business, number of employees, how long you’ve had your business online, etc.

RootOrange:  We’ve been in business for just over a year and currently have six employees. We went live with our website at SXSW on March 15th. We were finalists at the SXSW Accelerator competition that week.

Note:  The 2010 Microsoft Bizspark Accelerator showcased 32 of the hottest startups in a heated competition for most innovative in four categories: Entertainment, Innovative Web Technology, Personal Social Media, and Business Social Media.

Mike: What is it that RootOrange does for domain owners. Your approach to making domains load different business websites based on geographic location is unique.

RootOrange: Though we own domains of our own, the vast majority of names in our system are owned by domain owners large and small. Many have been struggling to monetize their domains since the demise of parking over the last few years. We currently do not work with geo-domains because of the limited sales scope they offer. Our focus, for the time being, is strictly on keyword domains.

Mike: Do you have any competition? Your site mentions patented technology.

RootOrange:  Nope!

Mike: How many domains are operating under this approach at the moment? What are some of those domain names?

RootOrange:  We have several thousands of domains under management. Our top tier includes names such as Attorney.com, DivorceLawyer.com, and YogaClasses.com

Mike: What appears if a particular region does not have someone leasing the domain space?

RootOrange: At the moment you get a Root Orange splash page in those regions. That will hopefully be changing soon – stay tuned!

Mike: What have your customers had to say about the service?

RootOrange:  Customers love it and are using it in creative ways we hadn’t thought of before. One of our enterprising customers pointed the domain he got from us to his business’s Facebook page!  Check out our Customer of the Month profiles on our home page for some success storie! There are also several testimonials on our website as well.

Mike: What struggles have you faced?

RootOrange:  One struggle is educating the public that we’ve shattered the old paradigm of ‘one domain, one website.’ Now many websites can use the exact same domain.

Mike: Is there any additional technology or services in the works that we’ll see soon from RootOrange?

RootOrange:  Our goal is to further refine our location targeting so we can get down to the zip code level and beyond.

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Diapers.com – Serious Type-In Traffic

I was a fan of the old sitcom, Cheers.  Every week Norm would walk in and take his seat and the patrons would yell “Norm!”  After that, Woody would sometimes ask, “How’s life treating you Mr. Peterson?”  The reply would differ from week to week, but the only one that sticks in my mind is “Like a baby treats a diaper.”

I’ve changed my fair share of diapers, so I am quite intimate with the topic.  Additionally, there has been some buzz around Diapers.com.  Matt Lindenberg, Associate Director of Marketing at Diapers.com and Yuriy Krivenko SEO Analyst, answered a few questions about Diapers.com.

Founded in Montclair, New Jersey by Marc Lore and Vinit Bharara, Diapers.com is the largest online specialist offering baby care necessities in the United States. As dads themselves, Marc and Vinit understand the world of diapers.

Mike:  Has owning the domain impacted your business?

Diapers.com:  Yes, diapers.com was essential to our record growth. The domain provided a great platform for our customers to find and buy various baby products. It was also instrumental in cutting our expenses and successfully building our brand reputation.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Diapers.com:  We are working hard to grow our on-line presence and visibility. Diapers.com traffic volume closely follows both off-line and on-line marketing campaigns and our overall growth patterns.  The 2010 Internet Retailer 500 listed our monthly traffic at just under 1.6 million monthly visitors, a number that continues to grow.

Mike:  What other online marketing strategies do you follow?   What results have you seen from these?

Word-of-the-Mouth is the best strategy. Happy moms drive our record growth.  Aside from that, we have an extremely strong cross-channel marketing program, and are always testing new things.  We participate in most of the major programs you’d think of – affiliate, display, search, comparison shopping, and more.  We also have some major integration partnerships with sites like Babycenter.com and WhatToExpect.com.  We’ve seen strong results across the board, and are always looking for new and interesting ways to scale our business.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?

Diapers.com:  Diapers.com is our primary domain; however, we are working on anther project. More information to come.

What is the main source of traffic to your site?

Diapers.com:  Returning customers are the most often visitors to our site. We get new customers by various marketing campaigns, including alliances with established websites, email campaigns, pay-per-click advertisement, organic traffic from Google and other sources.  We also have a very strong offline marketing program, including direct mail, print, hospital programs, television, and more.

Mike:  What percentage of traffic do you receive from type-in traffic?

Diapers.com:  Roughly half of our customers come from type-in traffic.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Diapers.com:  Inc 500 ranked Diapers.com as the fastest growing retail company in the US in 2009. http://www.inc.com/inc5000/2009/company-profile.html?id=200900350.  We’re also #85 on the 2010 Internet Retailer 500.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Diapers.com:  Yes, the domain name was purchased.   Unfortunately, we cannot share the cost.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?
Diapers.com:   Yes, it is at the core of our business.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Diapers.com:  The domain name should be ideally short, but represent the business well. Having a highly-competitive keyword in the domain URL also helps to conquer most of the search traffic for this keyword.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

We’re not sure what competitors think of our domain. As for our customers, diapers.com associates well with our business, as the key replenishment item that forms our relationship with our moms. It is also easy to remember and type-in.
Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?

Diapers.com:   The domain name is instrumental to our company and as such would not be sold.

As for the owners Diapers.com, life seems to be treating them well.   A generic domain with 50% type-in traffic probably the best example to be found.  I look forward to the other project in the works and hope to hear from Matt Lindenberg and Yuriy Krivenko again soon.

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Andrei Polgar and Auctionpus.com

Andrei Polgar of Auctionpus.com took some time to answer some questions about his new domain name auction platform.  The site surfaced prior to the Bido shut down and stirred up conversation on some of the domain forums.  The unusual name, 8 domains on auction per day, who is this guy?  What’s he up to?

Mike:  Tell me a little bit about your background and that of BillionDollarMedia.com

Andrei:  A lot of folks like to talk about how they started from scratch but then they all of a sudden start mentioning that $5,000 or $7,000 they had saved up and when I compare that to how things were back when I was learning the ropes, I find myself asking just one question: how is that starting from scratch?

I come from Eastern Europe (aka the middle of nowhere) and here’s what *my* reality looked like:
About 10 years ago, I didn’t even have heating. I used to live a 2 bedroom apartment heated by this electric thingy and to be perfectly honest, I have some great memories. I didn’t live in what you would call a secure environment (even a retired kindergarten teacher could have kicked that thing we called a front door into oblivion) but my past is a part of who I am.

When I first started looking at the Internet as a moneymaker, holding $200 – $300 sounded like a far away dream and as far as loans were concerned, let’s just say that they were out of the question. The result: I got started with an empty moneybookers account (we didn’t even PayPal over here back then).

Not a lot of people remember how they “fought for the first dollar” (most use it as a figure of speech) but I actually fought for my first dollar… literally. I’m sharing this story for the first time: I was on this forum and some dude offered to pay $1 (yes, one dollar) for performing some random task. Well, I did what he told me and he refused to pay. Next thing you know, I was “chasing him”, replying to every post he made about how he’s a scammer who had better give me that dollar! I kid you not, 100% true story: I actually chased after some guy for a buck.

Of course, I gradually upped my game and everything I did had one thing in common: I always offered services at rates which were so incredibly low that competing with me wouldn’t have been worth it for everyone else. I kept it simple, one service at a time and later on one site at a time. Then PayPal finally let us in and everything became a LOT easier.

I’ve seen it all and gradually went from making my first $50 per month online to making my first $100, then $500, then $1000, then $5,000 and so on. I’m anything but a one hit wonder and again, I’ve literally seen it all: services, development, paying for traffic and monetizing it via affiliate programs and then domaining.

People always ask me what I do and to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to answer. Do you develop websites? Yep. Does your company offer online services? Yep. Which services do you offer? It would be easier to say what we DON’T offer. Do you invest in domains? Yea. I never quite understood why some folks want to define themselves or anyone else as someone who does just one thing. If it makes money, I’m there and if anyone wants a definition of what I do, here it is: I make money for a living.

Mike:  With all of the auction platforms around, what differentiates Auctionpus.com?  Why should domain owners list with you?

Andrei:  Simplicity taken to the extreme, that was my business model for Auctionpus.com right from day one. There’s this octopus that’s pointing at 8 domains, that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.  I only list quality domains and with only 8 spots available, I’d have to be a complete idiot to choose a different approach.  The “hey everyone, let’s sell crappy domains” cycle needs to end because NOBODY wins. Sellers probably won’t even break even, buyers pay money to own a liability. Not exactly a win-win situation!  By only listing investment quality domains, you’re building something on a solid foundation and that’s what Auctionpus.com is all about.

Mike:  Do you feel your platform is a good alternative with the fall of Bido?

Andrei:  Auctionpus.com is what it is. I never like to compare my sites to other projects and as far as Bido is concerned, the owners are great guys who tried their best but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Mike:  I realize the site is in it’s early stages.  What is your ultimate vision of the site?

Andrei:  My goal for year #1 is a median sales price of $500 and as far as the future is concerned, this much is certain: get used to the octopus because you’ll be seeing more and more of each other 🙂

Mike:  You encourage no reserves and starting bids of $1. What has been the average winning bid on domains sold through Auctionpus.com?

Andrei:   I need to experiment like a maniac in order to find out what the market wants and act accordingly. I don’t have enough data to draw conclusions yet because I basically went with a different approach each day. Some days saw a median sales price close to my $500 goal, some didn’t, it all depends on the domains which are listed.

Mike:  Why the name Auctionpus?  It’s clear once the site is seen, but I have heard others comment on “pus” being mistaken for “puss” or a typo of Auction’plus’.com.”  Any concerns there?

Andrei:  Let’s not forget that I’m selling to people who make money online and not to folks who have just heard about the Internet. In other words, I’m pretty sure traffic leakage will not be an issue.  It’s an *octopus* which points at 8 *auctions*, in other words an *auctionpus*. Some people love it, some people hate it and that means I must be doing something right. I would have been worried if people had a neutral attitude towards this project to be perfectly honest, now there’s a nightmare for any marketer!

Mike:  Are you accepting submissions, today’s items all appear to be owned by you?

Andrei:  I am accepting submissions but only if we’re talking about quality domains priced to sell. Otherwise, I’m better off moving my own inventory. If I accept crappy domains, nobody will buy them. If I accept good domains with outrageous reserves, nobody will buy them. Win-win or no deal, that has always been my way of doing business.

Mike:  As mentioned previously, you encourage $1 starting bids, yet only one of your names has a reserve of $1.  Five names are at $45 opening bid and two at $145.  Can you explain that? (Note:  This question was based on domains listed earlier in the week.)

Andrei:  At this point, I’m experimenting. I’ll run no reserve auctions today, then reserve auctions tomorrow. The day after that, I’ll run 8 4-figure domains only to see how the market reacts to 8 2-figure domains a day later. It’s all a matter of finding out what the market wants.

Mike:  Are there requirements around the type of names that you’ll auction?

Andrei:  We prefer dot com domains but will gladly accept other TLDs if we’re talking about quality one-word domains with commercial appeal.

Mike:  What type of feedback have you received to date?  Are you open to suggestions from visitors?

Andrei:  We’ve received some amazing feedback from our visitors and are definitely not just listening but also implementing changes based on what our users want.  People thought that our initial design sucked, no problem. We changed it and now practically everyone agrees that it’s great.  This is just one example, let’s just say that only a moron would ignore advice given by someone who invested a few minutes of his or her time in order to contribute without asking for anything in return.

Thank you,  Andrei, for your time and your words.

What do you think of Auctionpus.com?  The site, the concepts, the information above.  Please post a comment and share your thoughts.

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A Domain Just Like Mom Used to Make

Today’s keyword domain interview is with Stan Sandberg, co-founder of Cookies.com.  Cookies.com, LLC was formed in 2009 and the launch of the e-commerce website was in early 2010. Cookies.com is a  relatively new player with big plans to be the leading gourmet baked goods gifting site.  “We want to bring cookie gifts top of mind when people are looking to send gifts to friends, loved ones or clients/employees,” said Stan.   There are three co-owners and a small team of employees.

Mike:  How has owning the domain Cookies.com impacted your business?

Stan:  Owning the domain name Cookies.com has had a significant impact on our business. Not only does it have high brand recall, but it also adds a lot of credibility to the story when working out deals with partners and suppliers. Customers trust the brand and that helps to convert shoppers into customers.  A lot of people are delighted by the name.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Stan:  We don’t publicly disclose traffic stats but I can say that we get tens of thousands of visitors every month and are growing rapidly.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)  What results have you seen from these?

Stan:  We haven’t launched our large-scale marketing program yet but have big plans for SEO, PPC and other types of online advertising. With our testing so far, the results have been great.

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?

Stan:  Cookies.com, LLC does not own other premium keyword domains but we are always interested in looking at domains of this caliber. The key thing to look at is if the product(s) associated with the domain can be sold easily online or used to generate sale-able leads. Many people get caught up in domain names that don’t seem to make sense from a business perspective. We only look at product/industry and lead generation oriented domains.

Mike:  What is the main source of traffic to your site? (ie. Google searches, links from other sites, type in traffic, etc.)?

Stan:  Right now, most of our traffic comes from type-in and organic search. As we launch and grow our online marketing initiatives, this should change in a big way.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc?

Stan:  Again, I can’t give exact numbers but both our traffic and sales have increased significantly since launch. As opposed to the affiliate world, owning your own brand allows you to re-market to customers and get repeat sales.  As we build Cookies.com into a real brand we’ll also see a direct impact on traffic growth.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Stan:  We purchased the domain name from the last owner and cannot give exact figures, but it was a significant amount of money and would definitely be high on the charts in terms of domain name sales. It was a relatively easy deal that we closed using Escrow.com.  We purchased the domain with the intent to build real enterprise value as opposed to arbitraging the name in a short term sale.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Stan:  Absolutely. We would have probably paid more. When looking at the long term case for building a highly recognizable brand and category leader, owning the best domain name is a no brainer.   I’ll admit we were very happy when we closed the deal.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Stan:  Think big. If you can’t acquire the category defining domain name, see what people are searching for and go after those names. Make sure to get the .com and a name that is not prone to too many typos. Also, if the cost for the domain name is a barrier, get creative with deal structure and/or finance it.  Finally it helps if you have some familiarity with the business or at least love it enough to dive deep.

Mike: What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

Stan:  Many of our competitors have approached us to sell their products on our site and a few have approached us about buying the domain/website outright.  Our customers have been very happy.  We are very focused on creating a really great customer experience.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Stan:  Although we receive regular offers, we don’t have plans to sell Cookies.com anytime soon. We want to become the leader in the space and build the Zappos of the baked goods industry.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Stan:  In appreciation for you and your readers, we are happy to offer the following discount code, which will save 5% off any order on Cookies.com. Cookie gifts are great for friends, family and co-workers. Use Sully2010 at checkout to save 5%.

I’ll be sure to check in with Stan once the fully execute their online strategies.  Until then, be sure to visit the site.

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Insight from the Castello Brothers

When an opportunity presents itself to learn from those who are successful, seize it.  The Castello Brothers took some time to answer my questions about some of their domains, their business, and to provide their perspective on the future of the industry.

The Castello Brothers own and develop some of the most recognized Geo and Generic domain brand names in the world. In 1997, they were the first to significantly monetize a geodomain with PalmSprings.com by generating 100% of its static advertising revenue from local businesses. Today, the Castello Brothers’ portfolio includes over a thousand high profile brands including Nashville.com, Manicure.com, Daycare.com, Bullion.com, Acapulco.com, Whisky.com, Cost.com, PalmSprings.com, Sample.com, Rate.com, LagunaBeach.com, Banana.com, Suntan.com, LongBeach.com, WestPalmBeach.com, Kennel.com, Driven.com, GolfClub.com, Grape.com, Chili.com and Traveler.com.

The Castello Brothers are members of ICANN’s Business Constituency. Awards include the Domainers Choice Awards for Rising Star and Domain Ambassador (DOMAINfest), the GeoDomain Hall of Fame (GeoDomain Expo) and the Domainer Hall of Fame (T.R.A.F.F.I.C.).

I will refer to Michael Castello using the initials MAC and David Castello using the initials DJC.

Mike: I’ve heard that Michael acquired many of these names as hand registrations back when others thought they were worthless. Today, do you think that it is possible for someone new to domaining or a part-time domainer to acquire a great one or two word domain, or is that totally out of reach?

MAC – The current economic climate presents a huge opportunity in acquiring great brand names and category “key word” specific domains. The last two periods of opportunity were in 1997 and after the dot com bubble in 2000. Convert whatever assets you can into these virtual properties. I believe they are the best bet for the future. One can also buy a good descriptive domain name and build a passion of content into it. Hopefully you choose one that relates to what you know and love and over time elevate it with great content to become an asset that others see value in.

DJC – Anyone can acquire a great one or two word domain with the right offer. However, the days of hand registering a generic one or two dotCom domain are now the same historic lore as that of the 1849 Gold Rush.

Mike:  You deal with many premium key word domains. What percentage of traffic would you attribute to direct, type-in traffic? Does it vary by domain?

MAC – Yes, they do vary by name and search traffic has varied of the years. Back in 1997 before Google, Yahoo was king and PalmSprings.com had around sixty major URLs that were ranked number one in Yahoo. They actually banned PalmSprings.com at one point for some reason and we barely saw a difference in our traffic. These days since search has become a greater avenue of traffic I can say when analytic sites like Compete.com or Quantcast.com show Daycare.com getting 19,000 visitors a month. We actually show over 100,000 unique visitors a month. They reference google.com, yahoo.com, ask.com and Bing.com, clearly direct navigation is not getting the credit it deserves.  I would give all search around 30-40% of our traffic. I don’t know why the analytic sites are depended on so much, but I am guessing that national advertisers have no other way of knowing what are eyeballs looking at and what traffic is qualified. Our advertisers and customers DO know and that is why most have been with us for ten years or more.

DJC – With an undeveloped name it is all type-in traffic. Our developed names receive anywhere from 20%-75% type-in traffic. Of course, as a developed site achieves search engine rankings the percentage of type-in traffic will drop, but it will still be significant. Whisky.com has great SEO and is still 30% direct.

Mike:  Could you share the traffic stats for one of your domains? How much of that is marketing and how much is due to having a great name?

MAC – I somewhat explained that in the last question and have no problem letting readers know our numbers. Let’s take Daycare.com from last December;

321,066 – (Direct Request)

57,944  – google.com/search

Search, including the others, is a higher number but I want to express the power of two brands here; the dominant player on the internet (Google) and the dominant player for “Daycare” (Daycare.com) as seen by internet traffic. Our traffic is qualified and is the type of traffic we spend time nurturing and the type of traffic our advertisers what to meet.

DJC – Nashville.com does about 4,000 visitors a day with 25% being direct. However, type-in traffic is just one facet of having a great Generic or Geo name. I believe that the public’s ability to instantly remember the name of the site plays a huge part in its success. And as I’ve said many times before, if someone has to always search to find your site you’re not branded.

Mike:  What is your top traffic site? Why do you think that site gets the highest volume of visitors?

MAC – Our top trafficked site would be our longest running site; PalmSprings.com. We fluctuate between 6,000 to around 4,000 visitors a day depending on the season. The reason why I mention “site time online” is that as the internet exponentially grows, so does your website in it. It counters content saturation of other sites over time. Believe me it will get much more saturated as time passes. Such is our reasoning that you take this opportunity to snag a great domain name. You want to be that mountain top above the clouds. Below those clouds is going to be hell.

DJC – PalmSprings.com is our #1 traffic site with an average of 5,000 visitors a day. And I must stress that this is highly convertible traffic. Many media sites with large readership do more traffic, but not much of it is convertible to revenue. PalmSprings.com does great traffic because it is a very popular and memorable Geo brand.

Mike:  If you were going to personally mentor someone starting out in the business today, what are three things you would advise them to do?

MAC – 1) Get a dot com (there are other great extensions but this is the horse I would want in the race)

2) Purchase a name that means something to you. Something you love. Something that will not be work and something you have access to.

3) Put at least an hour a day into creating great content and images. (Pretty simple but huge in the scope of events to come)

DJC – 1) Stick with dotCom unless you’re based in country with a highly (and locally) utilized ccTLD like dotDE or dotFR.

2) Learn basic development unless your strategy is to park and/or flip names.

3) No matter what anyone says (including me), go with your gut.

Mike:  What is your vision of the internet and domaining industry in the next 5 – 10 years? What will it look like in 10 years from now?

MAC – Well, I lose in either way I express this. In ten years the world will probably look nothing like is does now. These are historical times. The upside is that everyone will be trying to survive using the most basic and effective means available to them. The internet will be much more like a virtual world with communities and niches that benefit those of like-mindedness. There will also be consolidation amongst those that moved early in the game foreseeing those social impulses that will emerge from people’s needs and empowerment.  Domaining and the development therein is what will help empower many people and businesses alike.

DJC – There are many visions, but two that come to mind are that advertising dollars will increasingly migrate away from traditional media to the Internet and the general public will increasingly realize that a great domain name is important to their personal and/or business identity. Facebook is already “educating” the public to see their name/identity in a URL. Many of these people will “graduate” to wanting their own domain names.

Mike:  In your opinion, what are the benefits of a key word domain name over a brandable name?

MAC – That’s a very good question. It all comes down to your master plan. How do you see yourself in the future? If you want a niche of local, dear and near, then I would go “Key Word” domain name. If, on the other hand you “want the world and you want it now”, I would go with the global brand name but be prepared to fight for it.

DJC – They are many times one and the same: Apple.com, Hotels.com, Nashville.com, etc. Of course, you can make up a name like Google or eBay and achieve great success, but we were able to build businesses like PalmSprings.com, Daycare.com and Whisky.com solely on the strength of those names

Mike:  Please provide any additional thought you may have.

MAC – Read as much as you can and form clear cognitive skills and understanding. There is a lot of information out there and while some is good, there is also a lot of disinformation. Believe in and form your own instincts and intuitiveness. Believe in the fantastic!

DJC – Live long and prosper!

You can visit Castello Cities Internet Network at CCIN.com.  Thanks to Michael and David for sharing their stats and views with us.

You deal with many premium key word domains. What percentage of traffic would you attribute to direct, type-in traffic? Does it vary by domain?
MAC – Yes, they do very by name and search traffic has varied of the years. Back in 1997 before Google, Yahoo was king and PalmSprings.com had around sixty major URLs that were ranked number one in Yahoo. They actually banned PalmSprings.com at one point for some reason and we barely saw a difference in our traffic. These days since search has become a greater avenue of traffic I can say when analytic sites like Compete.com or Quantcast.com show Daycare.com getting 19,000 visitors a month. We actually show over 100,000 unique visitors a month. They reference google.com, yahoo.com, ask.com and Bing.com, clearly direct navigation is not getting the credit it deserves.  I would give all search around 30-40% of our traffic. I don’t know why the analytic sites are depended on so much, but I am guessing that national advertisers have no other way of knowing what are eyeballs looking at and what traffic is qualified. Our advertisers and customers DO know and that is why most have been with us for ten years or more.

DJC – With an undeveloped name it is all type-in traffic. Our developed names receive anywhere from 20%-75% type-in traffic. Of course, as a developed site achieves search engine rankings the percentage of type-in traffic will drop, but it will still be significant. Whisky.com has great SEO and is still 30% direct.

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Would You Like To Get Your Claws on This Domain?

Marc Braunstein, VP Business Development at Lobster.com gave me his perspective on owning a single word premium domain name.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your Lobster.com business?

Marc: Lobster.com has been in business for about 6 years, but was re-launched last year into the heart of the holiday buying season. We are ‘virtual’ in the sense that our company’s owners each run companies which contribute to the success of Lobster on a daily basis, so number of employees isn’t particularly relevant here.

Mike:  Has has owning the domain Lobster.com impacted your business?

Marc:  No denying that owning this domain gives us some weight and respectability. Also no denying that direct traffic to the site is a great advantage.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Marc:  No this is confidential info.

Note:  Compete.com showed over 6,000 unique visitors in December 2009, which coincides with the holiday season relaunch mentioned above.

Mike:  What online marketing strategies do you follow?

Marc:  We are very aggressive Google ad marketers, as well as active in developing links in some unique and productive places.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before Lobster.com?

Marc:  No.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Marc:  Very strong growth after re-launch of our business with new brand mark, new messaging and new site design. But again, specific numbers are confidential.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?  If so, what was the process you went through?  Will you share what you paid for the name?

Marc:  The founding partner was the first one to the registry. So all he paid was registration fee. Probably worth quite a bit more now I’d be willing to venture.

Mike:  The hand registration fee must have been well worth the cost.

Marc:  Yes. But answer might be different if we’d had to shell out (lobster pun) tens or hundreds of thousands.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

Marc:  It’s going to be impossible to fall upon a name like we did. It’s even almost impossible to find a unique 2 or 3 word construction. That said, you find some amazing successes with less-than-obvious domain names, so it’s really all about the value proposition and how well the site conveys it.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

Marc:  I don’t know what competitors think of our domain (maybe envy?), but every customer we’ve ever spoken with LOVES our site. When we first revealed our logo, the professional design community was particularly complimentary at how well it married the simplicity of the domain with the feel of quality and authenticity experienced on the site.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

Marc:  If the offer was an exceptional one, we’d be happy to entertain it. And yes, we have received offers in the past.

Mike:  Any other information you’d like to share?

Marc:  Only that we’d like all your readers to visit us and find some excuse to share the joy of lobster with family and friends. “Hey, it’s Friday!” “Hey, it’s summer!” “Hey, I just got my tax refund! Let’s order some lobster!”

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Now We’re Talkin’…. HeadSet.com

Yesterday, I received a call from Jon Lechter, President of Call Center Products in Toronto, Canada.  Jon’s company uses the name HeadSet.com as the main URL for the company.  We talked about the domain name and how it has influenced his business.

Mike:  Jon, can you tell me a little bit about your company?

Jon: Call Center Products distributes all major brands of headsets.  We’ve been in business. Oh, I don’t know, maybe 19 years now.  We have 18 employees an tens of thousands of customers.  We know headset technology better than anyone and that’s what we focus on.  We have a major focus on customer service, which is what differentiates us from our competitors.  We actually call a decent percentage of our customers after they place an order and make sure that they have ordered what they need.

Mike:  Has owning Headset.com impacted your success?

Jon:  Absolutely.  There is no doubt that people look at Headset.com.  While I don’t know exactly what impact it has had, I know it’s a good name and easy to remember.  We also own CallCenterProducts.com, which is the company name.  One of our suppliers actually owned the name.  We had such a great business relationship that he handed it over without any problem.  We also registered some of our supplier’s names years ago.  Their lawyers eventually contacted me and asked for the names.  I handed them over willingly.  I don’t think it helped or hurt our relationship in anyway.  It was kind of a neutral move.  I could have put up a fight but I chose not to.

Mike:  Any idea what your competitors think of your domain?

Jon:  Actually, one of my competitors owns the plural, HeadSets.com.  I know him, he’s a good guy.  He’s done a nice job developing his website and promoting it as well.  I’m sure I have benefited from that… people looking at Headset.com instead of Headsets.com.  But I think it works both ways.  I’m sure he has benefited from what I have done too.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Jon:  We get a lot of traffic.  I don’t really know the numbers, you can look that up online somewhere.
Note:  After the interview, I looked up the site on Compete.com.  It showed average monthly unique visitors at 1,374 which seems quite low for a keyword domain such as this.  The plural, Headsets.com on the other hand, shows over 26,000 monthly unique visitors.  Compete.com is based on a sample population of internet users to estimate results, so these results may not be accurate.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?

Jon:  No, we registered the name back in 1995.  It was given us a great deal of credibility.  Credibility is priceless.

Mike:  Would you consider selling the name:

Jon:  No, I would only sell the name as part of the business.  We’re talking a million plus.  It’s not for sale unless the business goes with it.  I have received a few inquires for the name, but I tell them all the same thing.  It’ll be sold with the business.
Mike:  Do you have any additional online marketing strategies?

Jon:  Our plan for this year is to focus heavily on SEO.  That is where we are going to invest our time to grow the business.

A keyword domain name is a great asset to any company, but it needs to be backed up by a good product or service and additional marking strategies.  I want to thank Jon for giving his perspective as a business owner on the value of a good domain name.

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SexToys.com (I’m blushing)

This is the first interview in an ongoing series of interviews with key word domain business owners.  You’ll see how they value their domains and the impacts these premium domains have had on their business success.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Farlow of National A-1 Internet to gain a little bit of insight as to how SexToys.com has benefited the company.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?

Mark:  Sextoys.com is owned and operated by National A-1 Internet.  National has been in business for over 15 years and employs over 200 people.  For the last 10 years our focus has been to create high quality value oriented websites for our customers.  Sextoys.com is one of those sites.  We believe in building our business for the long term, and part of that is to create relationships with our customers and suppliers based on respect and honesty.

Mike:  Has has owning the domain SexToys.com impacted your business?

Mark:  You can never go wrong owning good domain names.  The most obvious benefits to owning the domain Sextoys.com is brand recognition.  People remember the name, and come back because of it.  It allows us to effectively market the domain, and there is no question in the consumer’s mind as to what the nature of our product is.  Another benefit is the Search Engine Optimization.  Having your main keyword as your domain name really helps when folks link back to you.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your site receives?

Mark:  Due to the nature of our affiliate program www.toysales.com, accurate traffic stats of the sextoys.com domain are not possible.  I will say that it is a high volume site receiving traffic from URL type-ins, Search engines, and affiliate traffic.  We rank highly in Google and Yahoo for most of our keywords.

Mike:  Do you have any other online marketing strategies that you follow (google ads, seo, banners on other sites, etc.?)

Mark:  We utilize a mix of Google Adwords, SEO, and our affiliate program to generate our traffic.  We have staff dedicated to our marketing and branding.  We also promote our brand through print ads, trade shows, on-line advertising outlets, and consumer shows and events.

Mike:  Did you have another domain for your site before SexToys.com?

Mark:  Yes, National A-1 Internet owns and operates a great many domains.  Our business is to monetize our key domains by offering valuable products and services to consumers.

Mike:  What type of growth have you seen in traffic to the site, sales, etc.

Mark:  With proper SEO and marketing growth has remained consistent over the last few years.  When we first launch a site, we spend considerable time performing proper SEO, and building a strong marketing network pre-launch.  This allows us to ramp up traffic quickly within the first 6 months.  After the initial launch, we reassess our marketing and SEO strategies on a scheduled basis.  This allows us to overcome any new marketing obstacles, and maintain a steady rate of growth.

Mike:  Did you purchase the name from someone else that owned it?

Mark:  We’ve owned the name sextoys.com for as long as I have been with National A-1 Internet.  I couldn’t say how we acquired the domain.  We quite frequently purchase domains either through registrars such as Network Solutions or GoDaddy, as well as at auctions or through other individuals looking to unload their domains.  The process is different in each of these situations.

Mike:  Has the domain been worth the cost for you?

Mark:  Absolutely.  A good domain name is worth its weight in gold.  That being said, it is still possible to have monetize and create a strong brand with almost any domain name.

Mike:  Any advice for start ups, small business, or business of any size for that matter on choosing the right domain name?

If possible, think about keywords, and what your customers are looking for.  If you can’t get the domain name you really want, find something that is catchy or has a ring to it.  You can create a brand with almost any name if you are willing to put in the effort and resources.

Mike:  What do your competitors think of your domain?  What do your customers think?

We are well known in our market.  We have friendly competition with other sites in this market space, and while it is highly competitive I believe we all respect each other.  As far as what they think, you might want to ask them.

We pride ourselves on our customer support.  We were one of the first sexual health sites to offer 24-7 live phone support.  We offer comprehensive order tracking, and 24 hour problem resolution.  We are nothing without our customers, so we treat them with the respect and gratitude they deserve.  The fact that we have a large number of repeat customers says volumes as to what they think of us.

Mike:  Do you think you would be willing to sell your domain at any point?  Have you ever received any unsolicited offers?

At this point selling the domain is not an option.  Of course you never know what can happen. We receive many unsolicited offers to purchase our domain.  I politely thank them for their offer, and let them know it is not currently available for sale.

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