Monster’s View – Part IIIMike Sullivan
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.