Author - Mike Sullivan

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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Weekend Recap

Not a bad weekend overall.  The Blackhawks are the 2010 Western Conference Champions, sold a domain, and celebrated my boys (plural, they’re triplets) birthday party with the family.

This is the first domain I sold via the Snapnames, a relatively low dollar sale for a hand reg purchased just a couple of months back.  The domain was SprayTanTents.com and a tanning chain in New Jersey picked it up as a “Buy it Now”.  I sold it through the Fabulous Domain Distribution Network on Snapnames.  The downside is that the commission rate is 20%.  Pretty steep.  But the upside is the level of exposure.   The partners in the network include the following:

  • Fabulous Domains
  • Moniker
  • GoDaddy
  • Network Solutions
  • Melbourne IT
  • Register.com
  • Tucows
  • Domain Tools
  • Domains Bot
  • LeaseThis.com

You can learn more about the DDN at the Fabulous information center.  I plan to list some more, but not all, of my domains there over the coming months.  I’ll focus on those I don’t already have buyers in mind for.

As far as my boys birthday, that’s really not until Friday of this week, so maybe I’ll have more stories by then.

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More Big Companies that Find Value in Key Word Domain Names

Poking around for news, information, and just generally wasting time, I came across several more generic keyword domains that are in use by some big companies.  Feel free to use this information in your discussions with potential end users to help them see the value of the keyword domains you are offering.  For example, if your end user happened to be a commercial toilet distributor and you were trying to sell  BathroomUrinal.com, you could say something like “This domain could be leveraged just as Hubba Bubba uses BuggleGum.com to attract additional customers.”  Obviously BubbleGum.com is a higher value name, but you get the point.

Here are some of the most recent names I have come across:

  1. Laptops.com points to Bing.com
  2. Towels.com goes to BountyTowels.com
  3. Motorcycles.com forwards to Powersports.Honda.com (Motorcycle Page)
  4. Scooters.com also forwards to Powersports.Honda.com (Scooter Page)
  5. Firstaid.com goes to McAffee (not the first company I would think of)
  6. Dentures.com goes to a Fixodent site.
  7. Mattress.com to 1800Mattresses.com
  8. Supplements.com goes to VitaminID.com, A Nature Made site
  9. Bras.com goes to CKU.com which is the Calvin Klein Underwear site
  10. Computers.com goes to cnet.com

It’s unfortunate that most companies don’t realize the value of key word domains and need to be educated on this.  But That fact that multi-million dollar marking departments for major corporations are taking advantage of generic keyword domains, lends some additional credibility to the pitch.  Like it or not, to be successful in selling to end users, you’ll need to do all you can to educate them on how this will be an investment in their business.

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Available Domains For You

On Wednesday I mentioned that Dewyze.net was available and it was soon snatched up.  I enjoy researching names trying to find good keyword hand regs.  Of course, I can’t buy them all, I’m already finding my portfolio too large for me to manage.  So I thought I’d put up a few of the domains that I found available tonight, but I’m not registering… and I’ll stick to dot coms tonight.  I’m sure someone will find them profitable and get some good use out of them.  If you do pick them up, I’d love to hear about it and how you ultimate use or sell them.

A couple of decent Google exact match names:

BubbleGumSong.com – This one pops out 9,900 exact match searches

ItalianRestaurantMenu.com – Here’s a hearty portion of 5,400 exact match searches and an estibobot value of $1,400.

Here are a couple that are just sort of fun:

WirelessGameSystem.com – Could this be the next hot thing?

PersonalExecutiveAssistant.com – I need to hire one.

Good luck!

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When To Pull The Plug On Development

I recently spent some time working on the development of one of my key word domains.  I started by picking up the name after hearing the topic discussed over a period of weeks among my wife and her friends.  Seeing that there was interest here, I thought it might make a good directory site so I did some searching and found a memorable, generic name that fit the niche.  I invested a couple of weeks kicking around different logo concepts and after much input from the target demographic, I selected a final logo.

At the same time, I spent hours researching the possible categories, parent companies, individuals, related products, ideas, etc.  I then worked out the details of how the site would work, how I planned to promote it, possible articles to include and what the break even point would require.  Still looking promising, I invested some more time and money into a layout concept for the site.  At this point, I asked myself the key question, “Is this where I want to spend my time?”

The answer was a clear “no.”  While I think the idea is a good one with a great market demographic, I am not ready to invest the time required to get this off the ground and running.  I don’t have a lot of personal passion around this particular topic (it’s really more of a women’s product).  I’m not saying that I won’t pick this up again at some point in the future, but time is precious.  I have other ideas and projects where I would prefer to spend my time right now.  Another option is  to possibly sell the name and logo.

Should I have thought this through before I started and saved myself some money?  Probably.  But I made the decision and the point that I think was best.  I started moving forward and reassessed the situation as I did.  I didn’t feel committed to the project to the point where there was no turning back, that could have been a bigger loss.  I think it was the best decision for the movement.  The time and money invested can still be leveraged in the future if I chose to pick it up again.  Developing a site with passion far out weighs the “work” involved in a site developed for the hopes of profit only.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/4649947/
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Lee Dewyze – American Idol

I’m not a fan of the show American Idol, but it’s been impossible to ignore all the buzz around Lee Dewyze.  He happens to be from my home town of Mount Prospect, Illionis.  This past weekend the town came to a screeching hault as the community rallied to welcome him home.  I haven’t seen him perform, but from what I have heard, he’s pretty damn good.  Just now, my wife and daughter are tuned into the program and I thought I’d use this time to get a post in.

The name LeeDewyze.com appears to be legitimately owned by the singer and the site is used to sell his music.  The .net was registered by a Jim Faile in January of this year and hosts a virgin WordPress installation.  The .org doesn’t appear to be registered by the singer, but it looks like a fan site or an Adsense monetization attempt with some videos.  I’m not at all surprised that someone snatched up these names, but it’s good to know that Lee has the .com version which is most important.

I took a look at just the last name, Dewyze, and found that the .com and .org are both parked pages.  The .net is available at the time of this post.

You may not be an American Idol contestant but your name is your brand.  This is going to be more of a factor as social media continues to advance and more people build their careers and networks online as apposed to the limitations of the cubicle walls.  Owning your own name is an real asset.  Do yourself a favor and snatch it if it is out there.  Otherwise, find something, some variation, and start to build your personal brand around that.  It’s probably less important what your domain name is and more important that people think of you when your industry, niche, or particular skill sets are discussed.

Now maybe I’ll tune in and see what all the excitement is about.

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Question Everything

I was pretty excited when I started acquiring domain names. I was focused on finding and registering keyword or geo names that others may have missed. I actually found a couple of decent keyword names, but I also learned some lessons. One lesson is to question everything.

I was reading one of the domain forums and saw someone selling some StateCity (not CityState) geo names and asking a pretty penny. So I thought I’d see what was still available to be hand registered. I found a handful of such names and when I checked them out on Estibot, I thought I hit gold. The names were each showing at a value of at least a couple thousand dollars a piece. However, when I took them to the market, there was little to no interest in the names.

estibot.com

Take FloridaTampa.net for example. Estibot shows this domain valued at $3,000. While there may be some SEO value around this name, it’s probably not going to generate any type in traffic. Additionally, it’s probably not a name that you want to build a brand around. In fact, one of the more experienced domainers that commented on this stated “Say the name out loud and then decide if you think it’s a good name,” which I think is an excellent piece of advice. This also works in reverse.  There maybe names that automated appraisal tools value low, but when you say the name out loud, you know if your gut it has high value.

Lucky for me, hand regs are cheap thus, this was an inexpensive lesson. But it could have been a more expensive lesson had I bought a similar name on the secondary market. It has also taught me to question other decisions and avoid some larger mistakes.

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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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Good Domain, Poor Site

There are some great websites developed around good key word domain names.  I’ve mentioned how I am often disappointed when I see a great domain name with a parking page, even though I utilize parking services myself.  It’s like having a great business location, but the building is empty.  I realize it’s an investment for the future and parking can pay well, so I’m not looking for arguments here.  But even more disappointing than a parked page is a good domain that is hosting a poorly designed site.

At least with a parked page, you know that there is great potential ahead for this domain, that in the right hands, it could be something phenomenal.  However, when you see a poorly designed site hosted on a good domain, it just doesn’t sit well.  It’s like driving through a neighborhood of expensive homes and seeing a shack amongst the mansions.  A Lamborghini with a Kia engine.

A came across a couple of sites like this.  A good example is Guitars.com, a guitar store located in Tennessee.  I have no idea what the traffic or volume of business this site does, but the site ain’t pretty.  This may be the most popular site in the world for guitar enthusiast for all I know, but as a casual viewer, I would quickly look for a more professionally designed site to conduct business with.  The design resembles that of something created in the mid to late 90’s.  Because of that, I think it loses some credibility. Compare this now to guitarcenter.com, a good name, but not as good as guitars.com, yet a far better website.

Another example is haircut.com.  This is a great name, in use by a company selling Flowbee and Robocut products.  This is a very poorly designed site yet an excellent domain.  Again, I have no clue as to how successful the site is, but I can promise you that sales would increase with a more professionally designed site.  It also has a retro design look to it.  The site goes back to Jan 25, 1999 on archive.org, yet the design hasn’t changed much in 10 years.

So keep in mind that owning a great domain can do amazing things for you, but be good to your visitors and give them something pleasant to look at.

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Now This Is a Sweet Domain Name!

When I thought of a single key word domains that I would like to own, Chocolate.com came to mind even before I ever visited the site.  It made me curious so I jumped over to check it out.  The web designer in me feels compelled to comment on the web site itself.  I really liked the simple, clean, and classy design. As for the domain, Mark McInnis, CEO of Chocolate.com, LLC, was kind enough to share some information on his company’s domain and business.

Mike:  How long has Chocolate.com been operating?

Mark:  Our chocolate gift marketplace has been active since late 2007.

Mike:  You’ve got an excellent key word domain.  How has owning the domain served you?

Mark:  The domain has helped with brand recognition and natural search. Our product catalog encompasses all types of chocolate, from world-class chocolate shops around the globe. So, the broad category domain matches our business model.

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?

Mark:  Affiliates have worked well for us. People love chocolate and love to publish information about the topic.  We have seen good results from PPC on our uncommon items such as chocolate covered bacon, fair trade chocolate, and vegan chocolate.Do you have other premium keyword domains?

Mike:  How many affiliates would you say you have at this point?

Mark:  We have 5,000 affiliates to date.  Some more active than others.  Affiliates represent about 10% of our business.

Mike:  Do you own any other premium domain names?

Mark:  No, but we are affiliated with Internet Real Estate Group who does. See InternetRealEstate.com.

Mike:  What is the main source of traffic to your site?

Mark:  Google Search is definitely the main source.  This accounts for about 60% of our traffic.

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

Mark:  Our growth has been approximately 60-100% YTY over the last 2.5 years.

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

Mark:  We don’t have many competitors who are building a global network of chocolate shops. We have many shops in our network who also sell through their own websites. They appreciate our service and the simplicity of our domain. They also enjoy seeing their brand represented on a site that covers the entire industry.  The domain carries authority, and we have found that people like to be affiliated with it.

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

Mark:  We have received many offers but at the moment we are more interested in growing our network to cover the USA, and the European Union.  We believe our unique service and local delivery network will far exceed the value of our domain.

Mike:  Any advice for the rest of us on choosing the right domain name?

Mark:  If you are going to offer a variety of products and content, choose a broad domain. If not, choose a narrow domain because this will give you an upper-hand in competing for natural search results.  For example, if you want to provide news about active volcanoes, you should try to acquire ActiveVolcanoes.com. If your goal is to optimize for search, think in terms of matching the most commonly searched phrase that matches your offering.  If your goal is to create something new and different, then don’t be afraid of a unique domain that is memorable but not related to your content (see monster.com).

Thanks to Mark McInnis for sharing his thoughts and perspectives.

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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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5 Questions For Your Web Designer

You’ve seen similar posts on other sites, but here is the perspective from a web designer who has developed sites for others, and for his own business purposes.  Me.  Whether you’re a domainer looking to develop some of your best names, or a business owner look to launch or relaunch your existing business online, the thought of web design may have you a bit confused.  I have identified what I have found to be the 5 crucial questions to ask of any web designer you are considering.

1.  Can I see your portfolio?

Seems like a logical first step, but you would be amazed at the number of clients that have come to me from other designers and complain of the quality of their newly developed site.  In many cases, they hired the designer without looking at their body of work.  This happens as the result of someone referring a friend who “does this on the side.”  There is nothing wrong with hiring a part time designer, we all have to start somewhere and it will be cheaper than an experienced designer.  Just make sure they can do what you are asking and that you can get a look at other sites they have designed.

2. Can I contact some of your current and past clients?

If the answer is “no”, move on.  You want to know what you are getting into.  Good web design isn’t cheap.  What better way to find out about quality, responsiveness, skill, business accumen and customer service than to talk to those that have used the designer or firm already.  If the designer is proud of their work, they will be happy to provide you with references.   If the customer had a good experience, they’ll be happy to talk about it.

3.  Do you outsource?

Many designer firms outsource.  This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, but it is something you’ll want to know.  If they outsource to offshore talent or have an offshore team, this may impact turn around time for changes or updates.  If you know that you’ll require immediate responsiveness, you’ll want to discuss this with your designer to avoid any unnecessary stress down the line.

I have had an offshore team for several years.  I let my clients know up front that there will be a 48 hour window for any requested changes.  If something urgent comes up, I either handle it myself or have an onshore colleague address it.

4.  What type of SEO is included?

Most web designers are not SEO experts.  Design and optimization are two entirely different arts.  Although they need to integrate, they come from different areas of specialization.   You should expert your designer to include some of the SEO basics, but if your looking to dominate in key word searches, you’re going to need to invest in an SEO.  Consider the web designer the builder of your virtual store or office.  The SEO expert is your virtual advertising department, or at lease a portion of it.

Your designer should have at least two SEO professionals to refer you to if you are interested.  Any less than that and they are not networking well in their own industry.

5.  Who owns the site?

This may be the most important question you ask.  If things don’t work out between you and the designer in the long run, you’ll want to know who owns the copyright to the design and coding of the site.  Are you free to move  the site and hire another designer or are you just licensing the site from the designer?  Honestly, there is no reason you shouldn’t have complete ownership of the site.  If you are considering a firm that insists on using some proprietary code, ecommerce or back end system, I suggest you move on to another designer that offers the same package but gives you the ownership rights.

Most importantly, read the contract.  Everything should be clearly outlined including the scope of the project, ownership, time line and payment terms.  Question what you read and be sure you are comfortable before signing.

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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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Big Companies that Find Value in Key Word Domain Names

I am always looking for evidence that keyword domains are valuable.  I mean, aside from the monetary value that gets assigned to a domain in the marketplace, I look for ways in which domains are used, talked about, or leveraged in unique ways.  It is helpful to have some additional support when I have conversations with a potential buyer.  So I spent a little time typing in keyword domains to see what I would find.

I found that, for the most part, the majority of the names were parked.  Probably making decent revenue for the owners, but certainly not at their full potential.  I’m usually disappointed when I see great names parked, even though I have many parked pages myself.

However, I did find a handful of names that either pointed to major company websites or represented the company’s actual site.  These are really just random names that popped into my head.  I had no preference for any of these companies, in any of the industries they represent, as I was keying in the domain names.  They are:

  1. TennisShoes.com forwards to KSwiss.com
  2. Dishes.com forwards to dawn-dish.com, the Dawn dish washing detergent site.
  3. DogFood.com forwards to PetSmart.com
  4. EatHealthy.com forwards to KraftRecipes.com
  5. BubbleGum.com forwards to Hubbabubba.com
  6. Bologna.com forwards to KraftBrands.com with the opening page featuring Oscar Meyer.
  7. Books.com forwards to BarnsandNoble.com
  8. Meatballs.com is the primary domain for the Spaghetti Warehouse restaurant.
  9. ToothPaste.com loads up as the Crest website.
  10. Salad.com goes to HiddenValley.com, the salad dressing company.

I see this as strong evidence of the value of a key word domain.  These are just a handful of names that are in use by major corporations to increase exposure to their products.  I would love to know which names the companies had the foresight to register, if any, and how much they paid for the names on the open market.

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Using “INTITLE:” to Focus in on Key Words

Most of the businesses I contact when looking for potential domain buyers come from exact match Google searches for the key words in the domain name.  For example, if  I was looking to sell the name 3DUltraSoundPhotos.com, I would perform a Google search (including the quotes) for “3D Ultrasound Photos” and start with contacting those who are paying for PPC adds in the search results.  Then I would move on to those in the natural results to find interest.  To be honest, I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Recently, I decide to try using “INTITLE:” in the search.  The format looked like INTITLE:”3d Ultrasound Photos”. I had first seen this on a YouTube video showing how to find improve search results.  In using this search, I was able to find all the sites that use the key words in the title tag of the site’s HTML coding.  It makes sense that these might be better prospects to contact because they understand the value of the key words (SEO) and are using these exact words in the title.

This may not be news to everyone, but it was a technique that worked for me.  Granted, it was a low dollar sale, but I plan to use it more frequently and with some higher value domains.

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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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Google Voice

I’m a big fan of Google and most of  what they offer.  Google docs, Gmail, and Google Voice are among my favorites (not a big fan of Buzz at the moment).  I was recently engaged in a discussion about Google Voice on a domain forum.  I was surprised how many people hadn’t even tried the service yet.  If you’re not familiar, Google will give you a new phone number, or you can use your cell phone number if you prefer.  What exactly is it?  Well, several things.  Google Voice allows you to have one number that will ring all of your phones.  For example, if you have a land line at home, a cell phone, and an office phone, you can set GV up to ring all those phones anytime someone calls you at your Google number.

That alone is pretty cool.  You just give out your new number and you can get calls anywhere from anyone.  But we’re just getting started.  If you receive a call on your cell phone through your GV number and now your at home you can press a couple of keys and pick up your home phone to seamlessly continue the conversation without burning up your cell minutes.  Or even better, if you’re at work and you’re still on a call at quitting time, you can switch over to your cell and finish the call on your way home.

GV also transcribes your voice messages to text and will email and SMS them to you.  Granted, the automated transcription isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to give you an idea of what the message is about if you don’t feel like dialing in to listen to it.  You can also play the voice message from your GV page or through your email if you have Gmail.

The call widget is a handy feature you can use on your websites.  The call widget is something you add to your web page that allows users to initiate a call with you without actually knowing your number.  You can set the widget to call any one of your phones or go directly to voice mail.   This gives you the opportunity to customize a message for any and all pages you use the widget on.   You could even use it to provide informative messages to your audience and allow them to use the voicemail to provide feedback.  I’m currently using the widget on just one of my sites, but I plan to use it on other sites in different ways in the future.

Here is an example of a widget with a custom message:

One thing GV doesn’t have at the moment isVOIP calling (like Skype), but with the acquisition of Gizmo5, I think we can expect to see that soon.  There is a Blackberry app that allows you to make outbound calls from your phone using the GV number.  There are many more features, so I encourage you to check it out.  I have one GV invite left for the first person who wants it.

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Are Your E-Mails Spam?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve sent out my fair share of e-mails to potential end user purchasers.  The thought hadn’t really crossed my mind that what I was sending out would be considered spam.  I mean, it’s not like a was sending thousands or even hundreds of e-mails at a time.  But just for the hell of it, I decided to see what really constitutes spam.  I quickly came across the Federal Trade Commission website and the “CAN-SPAM Act.”

The first thing that jumped out at me was that the act isn’t just for bulk e-mail, but also covers “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”  Whoa, that’s a large net to be casting, but it also screams “THIS MEANS YOU.”  The fee for violating the regulation can be pretty stiff.  Upwards of $16,000 per e-mail.  Yes, per e-mail.  So what can a domainer do to protect him or herself?

Well, I’m not a lawyer so I won’t give out any legal advice.  You can consult the FTC website for an online compliance guide that does seem quite straight forward and helpful.  If you enjoy light reading of legal information, you can read the entire text of the law here.

But there  are a couple of things that you might like to remember.  I’m going to skip over some of the things I’ll assume you are already doing if you are an honest domainer (like using the correct header information in you e-mails).

  • Make sure your subject line indicates the purpose of the e-mail.  If it’s regarding a domain, don’t have your subject read “Long time no see” or some other misleading wording.
  • Let the recipient know how to opt out of future e-mails from you.
  • Include your physical address.

You are also responsible for what others do on your behalf.  If you have hired a 3rd party to manage your email campaigns, be sure they are in compliance as well.  I’ll be tweaking my emails going forward to include my business address and letting recipients know that a will not contact them again if they notify me in a return e-mail.  Be sure to visit the links above to get all the details you’ll need.  When in doubt, consult your internet savvy lawyer.

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Twitter a Bit Like Domaining

I created a Twitter account today.  I haven’t used it in the past for anything, but I know it can be a great tool for marketing and just for fun.  I found it frustrating that the username I wanted to use , SullysBlog, was taken.  I settled for an underscore and went with Twitter.com/Sullys_Blog but not what I really wanted.  I checked to see and someone was actively using SullysBlog, so it’s not as bad as if someone signed up with the name and then wasn’t really using the account.

This caused me to draw some comparisons about Twitter and domaining.  First, whether you use your account for business or pleasure, you want a relevant user name for your Twitter account, just as you would for your website domain.  Second, the name you want for your Twitter account may not be available, just like a domain name you desire may not be available.  Sometime you need to get creative.

If you own a business and have not yet secured your name in Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking tools, I recomend that you do.  These social outlets can be the greatest professional and personal branding tools available to you.  I came across a link that suggested how to purchase names that are currently in use.  I’m not interested in pursuing that option at this point, nor do I suggest that to others.  Eventually, it may be worth the investment, but I don’t see that value right now.

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Google Support

I thought it would be great to reference some information direct from Google on the value of keyword domains, so I headed over to the Google help center.  Of course, after several minutes of searching and finding no results, I decided to call Google and ask the question directly. But wait…. there is no support number listed in the help center, at least not one that I could find.  So back to Google for a search.  I entered “Google Contact” and the first listing provided what I was looking for.  It was www.google.com/contact/ (ok, maybe I should have thought of that first). And a phone number!!  I’m in luck!!

1 650-253-0000

After a messaging directing me back to the help center and some other suggestions, I was told to press “5” for customer service.   After doing so, I was given three options 1- to add my site to the index, 2- delete the cached copy of a page from the index, or 3- other.   My question seemed like “other” to me so I selected 3.  The friendly recorded voice then told me that I Google does not provide live support.

Of course I wouldn’t just let it end so easily.  I called back and dialed zero.  I surprisingly, it actually led to a live person.  I asked my question as directly as possible and was told something along the lines of “You can find an answer to that question in the help center.”  When I explained that I tried and couldn’t find that information, I was told Google does not offer live support and the person on the phone could not provide the information.

Interesting… I wonder if other companies could survive with a support system in place similar to this?

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