School Auctions – Interview with a Dot NetMike Sullivan
Roger Devine runs a business selling software that helps school groups run fundraising auctions. The company’s domain is SchoolAuction.net. Roger answered some questions for me about his business and using a dot net domain.
Mike: Tell me a little bit about SchoolAuction.net. What do you do and how long have you been in business, etc.?
Roger: We provide web-based software to help schools, PTAs, PTOs, Booster Clubs, and community non-profits plan, manage and run fundraising events – gala auctions, online auctions, art sales, and more. We started the business 5 years ago, and have been experiencing steady, accelerating growth in our customer base ever since. We were mostly a regional company until early 2009, when we “broke out” and started selling to customers in every part of the country.
Mike: Did you purchase this domain name from someone else or were you able to register it on your own?
Roger: We were able to register it on our own.
Mike: You have a first page result for the term “school auction” (without quotes) and you rank above the .com version of the name. Did you have to work at achieving this ranking? What means of marketing do you use?
Roger: Yes, we continually work at our rankings. We also (as of the day I’m typing this) have the top ranking in Google, Yahoo and Bing for “school auction software”, which is something I’m pretty proud of. We use SEM (primarily Adwords), internal SEO (and despite our small successes, I have more work to do there), email autoresponders, and offline marketing. We also spend a lot of time cultivating successful, happy customers – and while it may be difficult to trace the effects of that on our search engine rankings, I know we do get the equivalent of “word-of-mouth” referrals in forum discussions and the like.
Mike: Do you find there are any challenges with owning the .net version of the name while a .com website exists? Does it cause any confusion for people?
Roger: I’m not sure. We probably do lose some prospects due to confusion. But we are often selling to customers who have .org or .edu addresses themselves, and thus may be a little more willing to pay attention to the whole address.
Mike: Are you willing to share your visitation statistics? How much traffic does the site receive?
Roger: It’s not a number that would impress anyone, but really? I’m okay with that. We sell a niche product, to say the least. I am much less concerned with getting raw numbers than I am to getting highly qualified, targeted traffic. How are we doing with time spent per visit/number of pages seen/downloads/email signups? I’m never satisfied, but we improve every month.
Mike: What has been the most challenging aspect for you when it comes to running an online business?
Roger: Identifying the best calls to action. We know our sales cycle takes between 3 weeks and 3 months – seldom is there a single, clear “buyer” within a volunteer organization – buying decisions are usually made by boards or committees. So finding the right actions for website visitors to take that will keep them engaged with us, and introduce us to the others who share in the buying decision, is extremely important. We’ve had a lot of success with our email newsletter, Procurement Tips for School Auctions – in that newsletter, we provide high-value, free information on a topic that is really important to school auction chairs. The idea is to establish us as more than a software company – we’re experts in planning this type of fundraising event.
Mike: Would you ever consider selling the name if an offer came in? Have you received offers?
Roger: We won’t sell this name unless we sell the whole business. It’s too integral to our branding.
Mike: Anything else you’d like to share?
Roger: We also sell our software under two other brands: Tofino Auctions (for non-school, community non-profits) and PartySupporters.com (for county and state political party chapters) – and are actively working on making those brands as successful as SchoolAuction.net.