Solving The Domain Puzzle

Colin King is 58 years old and the managing director of Jigthings Limited. He and his wife have spent their lives developing a business in the UK, supplying garden centers. Ten years ago, a large international company came along with an offer to buy the business. They jumped at the opportunity to have some financial security in their lives. Since then, they have been developing two online businesses – Jigthings and Education Quizzes.

Mike: Colin, can you give a little background on your business?

Colin: About 9 years ago we developed a range of products specifically for jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts including boards, cases, frames, tables, etc. because we recognized that there was a gap in the market for such products. At first we sold to distributors and retailers (as was our custom with the previous business) but then realized that the Internet was the ideal place to sell niche products. It was much more appealing to us to get retail margins than wholesale margins! The business is run by myself and two others. The UK site has been online for 6 years and our USA site for 3 years.

Mike: How did you choose this name, jigthings.com, and how has it impacted your business?

Colin: Our brand name is “Jigthings” and when we started our internet business here in the UK it seemed logical to trade as jigthings.com. At that time we had no idea that the name of the domain had any relevance to search engine rankings and to be honest we had never even heard of the term “Search Engine Optimization.” By the time we came to start our USA operation we had learned that a URL containing important keywords was of great help in getting up the rankings quickly. Inevitably many of the very best keywords had already be used in domains registered by other people – it would have been nice to have “puzzles.com” or “jigsaws.com” but these had already been taken. Research using the Google keywords tool suggested that the most often-searched keywords that were not already someone else’s domain name were “Puzzle Organizer” so that is what we went with. The results were astounding – we got to the number one position in the Google rankings for “Puzzle Organizer” in only a month or two whereas it has taken us much longer to get other key phrases near the top.

quiz domain

Mike: The UK version of the site goes by Jigthings.com. How does the traffic volume of the site compare to the US site?

Colin: We get about 50% more hits on the USA site than on the UK site although our search engine organic rankings are much better in the UK (we have been going for longer in the UK). We put this down to the fact that there are about 5 times more jigsaw-doers in the USA than there are in the UK and the competion in the USA is stronger.

Mike: I’m curious why you chose a .com for the UK site as opposed to .co.uk?

Colin: We always hoped that the business would become “International” and a .com therefore seemed the logical choice. If I were starting a business that was aimed solely at the UK then I would go for .co.uk. For a business operating solely in the USA or internationally I would go for a .com.

Jigsaw

Mike: Is it difficult to run a business in the US from the UK?

Colin: No, it is surprisingly easy. Most of our products are made in China and they go straight from the manufacturers to our warehouse/fulfillment centre in Olean, New York. From here in the U.K. we answer e-mailed customer queries and we have a telephone line whereby US customers can telephone us but only pay domestic rates. We have a good fulfillment house in the USA and they guarantee to dispatch orders the same day provided that they receive them by 12 noon. There were some teething problems but now it is just as easy to run our USA operation as it is to run our UK one.

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

Colin: I think that S.E.O. is king! If we were selling products in a very competitive market (like TV’s or computers) then I know it would be difficult to get to the top of the search engine rankings. As it is, we have comparatively few competitors and therefore our job is much easier. In the beginning we tried all sorts of advertising but by far the most effective for us was pay-per-click. Initially we were spending about 20% of our total turnover on pay-per-click but now that we are better known and we have good search engine rankings we spend only 4% on pay-per-click whilst our turnover is still growing strongly.

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

Colin: Unless you have a strong brand name that people will be likely to search for then go with a domain name that includes keywords that they WILL search for. I am ever more convinced that keywords within your domain name give you a fantastic boost up the search engine rankings.

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

Colin: When we started the business I was far too arrogant. I read that to successfully navigate your way to the top of the search engine rankings you need to research how other people use words in search phrases. I thought that I knew all about that – surely everybody thinks the same way that I do, don’t they? Evidently not, as has been learned from expensive mistakes!

I’m giving away ideas, and a domain… like ’em or not

I’ve got so many ideas about business ventures that I’d like to try, there is no way I will get to them all.  It’s challenging enough to manage the few things that I do.  To get some of these things off my mind and help me focus, I’d like to offer them up to anyone who would like to take them… or leave them.  This is the first idea I’ll be sharing this year, but I expect to unload several others.  My goal here is to provide something of value, inspire additional thinking, and potentially to put ideas in the hands of people that will execute on them.

A while back, I registered 69Dollars.com when I had a thought about a development idea.  We’ve all let domains drop in the past and often times these domains are scooped up again.  Companies like Namejet, Pool, and Snapnames typically start the bidding for these names at $69.    Sometimes $69  might be the highest bid while other times it ramps up into the thousands of dollars.  As a result, the prior owner gets zero.

My thought was to offer domainers a place to list their domains that they are not planning to renew.  All domains would be listed at a flat fee of $69.  Maybe a buck or two from each sale would go to the house.  There would be some rules set up such as how close to the expiration date the domains need to be listed as well as other rules.  I just haven’t thought it through that far.  My idea is to keep it simple, fair, and not turn it into anything too complex.

The main idea is to put an opportunity in front of the drop process.  This would save buys some money and the prior domain owner could make a few bucks on the drop as well.  Now there are some registrars such as Fabulous (and Fabulous may be the only one) that will share some of the revenue with the prior owner of the domain, but most do not.

If you’re interested in picking up this idea, I’ll push the domain to you for free at Moniker.  If you like the idea and not the domain, then take the idea.  Don’t like either?  That’s fine too.

Turning Passion Into a Successful Business – LoveSongs.com

Vincent James creates custom love songs for couples and families worldwide for many occasions including Weddings, Anniversaries, Birthdays and holidays. Over the last several years he’s written dozens of custom songs for clients in the US and abroad including Canada, Austrailia, UK and Singapore.  Vincent also owns the domain LoveSongs.com and shares a little bit about his business and the domain.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?  How long you’ve had your site online, etc.

Vincent:  I started LoveSongs.com just about 10 years ago.  I was just searching online looking at different things and found the domain parked and immediately I thought wow….my musical style is love songs and it would be absolutely amazing if LoveSongs.com were for sale (at the time it wasn’t listed for sale).   So I contacted the owners of the site and it turned out they were looking to raise some funds for another site they were building so yes they were interested.  Within a few weeks I had launched the first incarnation of LoveSongs.com

Mike:  Has has owning the domain impacted your business?

Vincent:  Actually before I had LoveSongs.com I had never written custom songs before.  I had written many songs both for myself as an artist and sometimes for other artists.   But it wasn’t until after I had launched the first version of the website that I started thinking what would make sense for the domain.   So the domain actually helped create the idea for custom songs even though its something I could have been doing all along.

Mike:  Who contacts you for custom love songs?  How does the process work?  Do your clients provide you with the background information and you take it from there?

Vincent:  I get contacted by couples looking for a wedding song, husbands and wives looking for anniversary songs and guys/gals just looking for a very special gift for a holiday or birthday for their significant other.    I email out a questionnaire for them to fill out and I ask them to tell me as much information as they feel comfortable in sharing.  I then sit down at the piano and use their story as inspiration to create their song.   Whats interesting is some of the best songs I’ve ever written were custom songs… simply because the inspiration came from real people and real emotions instead of something I was dreaming up in my head.

Mike:  What has been the strangest song request you’ve received?

Vincent:  Hmmm….I’ve done a song for a child’s pet horse (“Magnum Opus”) and I’ve done a song for Lionel Richie’s birthday that was commissioned by his official fan club (“So Many Songs”).   Perhaps the most interesting song I’ve done was for a radio station contest a few years back.   The station DJ’s and I both expected the winner to request a romantic song for their love….however the contest winner was a young mother who had recently given up their child for adoption..she wanted a song to tell the story of how she felt so she could play it for them some day if she ever got the chance.   I wrote the song and recorded a basic demo in one night and they aired it the next morning on the radio.   Being a parent myself I was so touched by the song that I did a full recording of it and included it on my “One More Night” CD and have played it out at many shows to tell the story.  The name of the song is called “So Many Things” and you can hear it at www.lovesongs.com/adoption

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

Vincent:  We get approximately 1000 unique visitors per day from all over the world..maybe 30-35% from the US and the rest from every country you can imagine.

Mike:  I see you have Google Adsense on your site.  Does that generate significant revenue for you?

Vincent:  I wouldn’t call it signifcant but it definitely covers the cost of running the site and I’ll also be using that revenue to do a full remodel of the website next year.    Most of the income I currently generate off the site is from the Custom Songs.

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

Vincent:  Currently we do not…all the traffic we receive is organic in nature from the Search engines or people just typing in LoveSongs.com .   Once the website is remodeled in early 2011 we will be utilizing several online advertising methods to draw in new traffic.


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?

Vincent:  Yes and I definitely wish I had the foresight to register it myself several years earlier 🙂    What I usually tell folks is that for the price I paid for LoveSongs.com I could have gotten a brand new compact car..the difference is 10 years later the car would probably be gone and 10 years later the domain is still going strong earning revenue.

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

Vincent:  I might be willing to sell it some day but the asking price would need to be significantly more then what I originally paid for it.   I have gotten dozens of offers over the years…most have not included a started price but the few that have usually start out close to what I originally paid.

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

Vincent:  I’m absolutely amazed how the internet has allowed me to write and record songs for people all over the world.  In the past year alone I’ve written songs for clients in Austrailia, Canada, India and Singapore.   I’m just thrilled to be able to share what I do with so many people and cultures across the globe.

Over 3,000 Domains and 2,728 Directories

Joshua Steimle is the founder and CEO of MWI, an SEO services firm based in Utah that Steimle started in 1999 while a student in college.  The company website can be found at MWI.com.

Mike:  Can you give a little background on your business?  How long has Declare Media been online, number of employees, etc.

Joshua:  In August, 2010, MWI launched a subsidiary called DeclareMedia (www.declaremedia.com) that publishes thousands of local business directories. With just myself and one other employee working part-time on the project, we have launched 2,728 individual directories, each hosted on its own domain. They have 631 listings, with 5-15 listings being added each day.

Mike:  How did you get into the business of investing in domain names?

Joshua:  One night in 1999 when I was a college student I needed to wash a shirt late at night and was looking for a laundromat. I called every number in the phone book but of course, nobody answered, and most facilities didn’t have any sort of message. Those that did have a message didn’t specify their hours, or if they did but said they were closed. In frustration, I went out driving around town looking for an open laundromat, but couldn’t find one. I kept thinking “Why isn’t there an online directory of laundromats where I can go and see all of them in my area and see which, if any, are open this late?!”

I decided to launch a laundromat directory and bought the domain laundromatic.com for the purpose. Over the next 10 years I hired 6-7 programmers and spent around $15,000 but nobody could build the system correctly. It wasn’t that complicated, but the people I hired just couldn’t get it right and each time I had to scrap everything and start over. Finally, this year I found the right programmer and he got it launched in one month. By this time, the idea had expanded to building a system that could manage tens of thousands of directories, hence the investment I’ve made in domain names.

Mike:  What are some of the domains you have in your portfolio?  How many domains do you own?

Joshua:  Although our focus is primarily on localized domain names like www.bostonseofirm.com and www.findcaliforniaattorneys.net, we do manage a number of national directories like www.seofirmdirectory.com, www.mywebdesigncompany.com, and of course, www.laundromatic.com.

Right now we own just over 3,000 domains, but that number is growing quickly.

Mike:  Can you share the volume of traffic that your sites receive? Which is your highest visited site?  Are they generating income?

Joshua:  In total, our directories have received 10,945 unique visits so far this month (as of 25 October). www.utahwebdesignfirms.com is certainly the most successful directory so far, although all our directories are just a few months old and the traffic is growing rapidly. For example, the Utah Web Design Firms directory received 414 visitors all last month, but is already up to 762 so far this month. Based on the trend I expect traffic to double or triple in November over October. Every single directory we have is receiving traffic. The sad thing is that some of them are receiving quite a bit of traffic but because they’re so new nobody knows about them yet and they have no listings! If someone were to be the first company to list on those directories they’d get 100% of the traffic.

The sites are generating income, but it’s pretty minimal so far (about $2,000 during the first three months). Obviously we expect that to grow quite a bit, but at the moment we’re thrilled that ANYONE has seen fit to spend money on what we’re providing. We know the business model works, we just need to get our directories in front of the right people. But we’ve been so focused on launching the directories that we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing them.

Mike:  With an SEO background, what strategies do you use to promote the sites in your portfolio?

Joshua:  Buying the right domains and building the site template correctly have been the primary components of our success thus far. Once they start attracting listings then this creates the unique content that will cement the high rankings in the search engines. But we also plan on creating additional means for unique, relevant content to be created on each site. Our entire business model depends on each directory ranking well in Google, so that’s our main focus.

Mike:  Did you hand register all the names or did you purchase some on the aftermarket?  What was the process you went through to acquire them?

Joshua:  All our domains have been hand-registered. It’s been more affordable than the aftermarket, although in many cases we’ve had to compromise when it comes to getting certain domains. It’s amazing both what has already been taken, as well as what is still available.

Mike: Are your domain names for sale?

Joshua:  Nope. We might get rid of some non-performers in the future, but it’s too early to tell which those will be.

5 Ways to Sabotage Your Domain Sales

I’m always looking for good ways to increase opportunities for domain sales.  We all know, it’s not as easy as it sometimes looks.  While pursuing positive means for improving sales, I always find more experience in “what not to do.”  Sometimes I find these things in my own experiences and other times I pick them up from what I see others doing.  If any one of these items can save you some time, then it’s equally as helpful as “what to do.”  These 5 Ways to Sabotage Your Domain Sales come in no particular order.

1. Panic

Don’t freak out when an unsolicited offer or inquiry comes in.  Just because someone is asking about your domain does not mean they are willing to pay top dollar for it.  Often times, they are just curious and not even serious players.  If you take the price too high just because you think someone is interested, they’ll quickly back away.  It’s important to have a predetermined price you are looking for.  That way, you know what you will be satisfied with and not have any regrets over a lost sale or a completed deal.

2. Do Nothing

Unless you have category killer names you should be taking some type of proactive action to sell or develop your names.  It’s not likely that buyers will be knocking on your door to make you an offer on ReusableExamGloves.com.  However, if that happened to be a real niche, a little research and a couple of dozen emails might land you a few bucks.  Alternatively, investing a little time into developing a site about the benefits (or dangers) of this product with a few affiliate links could also produce a small revenue.   That name might then pay for itself, at a minimum, while increasing some traffic numbers for a future sale.

3.  Over Promote

I often get Twitter followers who only tweet the domains they have for sale.  I rarely follow these people back.  I don’t recommend using Twitter or other social media outlets as a feed for strictly advertising the sale of your domains.  No one wants to see that.  Mix it up with some valuable information sharing or even some personal comments.  Another aspect of this is pimping your domain name to every domain forum, auction site, spam blitz and any other means you can find.  If the name is seen frequently and doesn’t generate interest, it might just die on the vine from over exposure.

4. Misrepresent

This goes without saying.  Well, no it doesn’t so I’ll say it.  Never, never, never misrepresent your domain’s search, visitation, or monetization statistics.  There is no better way to quickly develop a bad reputation.  That said, every buyer needs to do their due diligence and shouldn’t blindly trust the stats provided.

5.  Price Shift

It hasn’t happened to me, but I have heard and read many stories where a domain had a set asking price and when an offer arrived, the seller upped the price.   A more common example is when a seller accepts an offer and then reneges to accept a second, higher offer.  This will not only lead to legal issues, but word travels.