A Domain Just Like Mom Used to Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike:  Do you have other premium keyword domains?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insight from the Castello Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

321,066 – (Direct Request)

57,944  – google.com/search

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike:  Please provide any additional thought you may have.

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

DJC – Live long and prosper!

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

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

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

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Would You Like To Get Your Claws on This Domain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc:  No this is confidential info.

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

Mike:  What online marketing strategies do you follow?

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

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

Marc:  No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now We’re Talkin’…. HeadSet.com

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

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

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

Mike:  Has owning Headset.com impacted your success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike:  Would you consider selling the name:

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

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

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

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SexToys.com (I’m blushing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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