On-line Business

Marine.com gets 25% Type-in Traffic

Marine.com, LLC began in 1997 as Cyber-Marine, Inc. www.cyber-marine.com. In 2000, subsequent to an investment by MindDrivers, LLC, a venture development firm, the company became marine.com and with additional resources, funding and support, rolled out a vastly expanded product offering as well as expanded features and customer support. In late 2014, Marine.com was sold to the current owners well versed in all aspects of e-commerce and the boating industry. Marine.com is owned and operated by a growing team of experienced sail and motor boating professionals with expertise in retail e-commerce. Jim Houston took the bait and joined me for an interview.


Mike: How did you acquire Marine.com? Were you the first to register it or did you buy it on the aftermarket? If the latter, can you share what you paid?

Jim Houston:  I belong to a domain group in Linkedin, an individual on there was acting as a broker for the owners. He tossed out a post about a keyword domain in the marine industry going up for sale and was looking for interested parties. Limited details were given, he was vetting us as much as we were vetting him. Once he felt comfortable with us, he revealed the actual domain and the price range that the owners were looking for.

Mike: I imagine a name like this really reduces your need for advertising costs. Is that correct?

Jim Houston:  Yes and no. One of the first things we noticed once we got access to Google Analytics (GA) (pre-purchase) was the high bounce rate on the GA. The owners were not much help on the reason, as they were busy with their other businesses and really didn’t have time to go back and forth on all the questions. So we did a deeper dive in GA and came up with some interesting data points, it seemed that a large percentage of the traffic for marine.com was actually coming in for Marine Corp and not for boat supplies. But the traffic that was coming in for the boat supplies converted very well. So, to answer your question is Yes and No. The marine industry traffic (organic) converts great!


Mike: What is the volume of traffic the site sees? Do you know how many people find the site just by typing in Marine.com?

Jim Houston:  The site operates only on organic/referral/direct traffic, we do not advertise it at all. So, traffic is low, about 15k per month and 25% of that is type-in. The site was purchased as a pet project outside of our current domains that we own and operate. We spent about 6 months building out a backend to manage all the different vendors for drop shipping. Current, we have 5 vendors with roughly 48,000 products online. The site pays for itself and only takes about 15 minutes per day to update. Everything is automated on the site, we even have ranking system in place to give the vendor with a lower price and more margin for us first position to sell.

We have a new concept for marine.com to take it over the top, but haven’t had the resources to assign to the project. The boating industry lacks this portal and we know it will be a homerun, we hope by mid-2019 we can apply some resources to build this out or at least get an investor or two to help get additional resources in here to build it.


Mike: Have you had offers from people and businesses that want to buy the name? If so, what dollar amount have the offers been? What would it take for you to part with the name?

Jim Houston:  Yes, we get weekly inquires to sell the domain/business. As normal, 99% of them are tire kickers, but once and awhile we will get someone with more interest then normal. We have been offered in range of 100k, 200k, 250k. It’s hard to say what we would sell it for, being a pet product that pays for itself with limited resources applied to it.. But, we will always entertain serious offers.


Mike: Do you have a brick and mortar business to go along with the website?

Jim Houston:  No, marine.com is a virtual drop ship business.


Mike: Despite having a great domain name, what challenges have you found in running an online business?

Jim Houston:  Google, Amazon, Google, Amazon, Google.. Need I say more? Google has too much power over small business with no oversight, with one algorithm change. Google can wipe the small business of search results. Killing all hopes of the business surviving. Working the SEO myself, I’ve seen how our position changes daily, weekly, monthly.. One day the phones will ring off the hook with business and the next day, a few phone calls. We know immediately Google has ranked us differently. How can a small business compete with larger businesses that have fully staffed department of marketing/SEO gurus. We are lucky that we do not need this business to survive.

Same goes for Amazon, I love Amazon, I order from it damn near daily. But, being a small business, they are killing the small businesses. And if you are a small business and you start FBA with Amazon, they monitor everything. So, if you have a hot item, expect Amazon to find a quick knockoff and start competing against you.


Mike: There is a famous fisherman by the same name as you… Other than me, has anyone else mistaken you for him?

Jim Houston:  Yes, I get it a lot on Linkedin and I use to bass fish a lot and compete in local tournament around Lake Okeechobee, Florida. It was fun to see my name on the leader board and people looking all around for Jimmy.  Then I walk on stage and silence from the crowd. Tournament directors always got a kick out of it.


Chili.com – Not what you would expect

Giorgio Tacchia is the Founder, President and CEO of the CHILI.  CHILI is an European digital entertainment player.  In August 2017 CHILI launched the only Entertainment Centred Marketplace.  A transactional service which offers Cinema Previews, New Releases, a digital catalogue with over 50.000 films and TV Series, DVDs and Blu-Rays, Exclusive Gadgets and lots more.  CHILI provides its service on Smart TVs, Blu-Ray players, PCs, Tablets and Smartphones.  There are no monthly fees nor activation costs.  CHILI offers the widest range of titles with thousands of movies and TV Series, thanks to agreements with the most important production companies, local distributors and independent labels. Founded in June 2012, CHILI is controlled by its founding managers. Other shareholders of note are: Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom, Warner Bros.

Mike:  Giorgio, what makes Chili.com different that other entertainment providers?

Giorgio:  CHILI represents the first entertainment centred marketplace that enhances the transactional experience, including first vision, cinema previews, news, information on cast, reviews, photos, clips and customer ratings on theatrical releases and also cinema ticketing and booking, movies’ merchandising and DVD/BluRay Disc. CHILI offers a wide range of titles with more than 50,000 movies and TV series, thanks to agreements with the most important Major Studios, local distributors and independent labels.

Mike:  What factors led you to selecting the name CHILI for your service?

Giorgio: At the beginning, we wanted to find a brand name which wasn’t directly related to movies, the digital distribution or internet. We liked the name CHILI because is international, easy to remember and easy to play with (like our section the chillest). Our domain name was initially CHILI.tv but we changed to CHILI.com in order to become more international and to emphasise our presence on all devices. It is also possible to represent CHILI with a self-explanatory icon, t’s a short name near the beginning of the alphabet.

Mike:  CHILI.com sounds like a really great service.  When I type in CHILI.com I’m greeted with the message “Sorry! CHILI Cinema is not yet available in your country. We are working to make it happen.”  Why is the service not yet available in the USA?  What is the primary market that you serve?

Giorgio:  CHILI was founded in 2012 in Italy as a pay per view-streaming platform for watching on demand movies and TV series, and thanks to the domestic success we extended the perimeter of distribution to Austria, Poland, Germany and the UK. Now we are focused on commercially launching the new platform in these countries which represent 60% of the European market. At the moment we are concentrating our efforts in Europe, to further extend distribution perimeters is one of our future goals and  we will definitely start with English speaking countries.

Mike:  Can you tell me how you acquired the domain name?  Was it a complex process?

Giorgio:  Easy process, just expensive!

Mike:  How has owning a premium name like CHILI severed your business needs?

Giorgio: For sure, at the beginning, having a brand name which doesn’t immediately bring to mind our services in phase where we are creating brand awareness has been complicated, on the other hand the name is intriguing and stimulates curiosity. Now in Italy, after 5 years, the brand notoriety has increased, overseas will catch up following the launch

Mike:  What type of traffic numbers do you see at CHILI.com on a monthly basis

Giorgio: We have reached more than 1.3 million clients and we are increasing 50/100k clients monthly.

Mike:  What are the types of hurdles you face as on online media business?

Giorgio:  At the end the hardest issue is to catch the consumer attention in a very competitive arena, consumers are targeted in many different ways but the time they have for media consumption doesn’t increase.

Finally the piracy still remains rampant even though the  quality is very low.


Choosing a domain, building subscribers, and SEO

I like to read.  I read blogs and news feeds, but I really enjoy reading books.  I like to learn new things and get new perspectives or new ways of looking at the same old situation.   I also like to throw in the occasional fiction novel as well.  Think about how much you could learn.  I’ve tried other substitutes for reading, such as podcasts…. and they fill a need.   But, I always wished I could read more books and read them faster.

I’m not pitching some speed reading program to you that will allow you to breeze through a phonebook and memorize the entire contents.  I’m letting you know about a cool site linked to a domain name I recently came across.  FourMinuteBooks.com.  Nik Goeke is the man behind it and he has some great tips.

Mike:  Tell me about fourminutebooks.com.  What gave you the idea to provide book summaries and how did you know people would find value in it?

Nik:  First, I’d been reading book summaries myself via a service called Blinkist for about a year and really enjoyed it, but didn’t retain as much information as I would have liked to. I knew it wasn’t the first paid service in this area and saw it growing in popularity.

Second, I validated the idea by offering a few free summaries via blog posts and downloads on my blog, where I also put up a sidebar banner ad for Blinkist after joining their affiliate program. This resulted in $300 in commissions over 3 months, without me doing any additional work, which lent credibility to my thesis even more.

Mike:  Did you hand register this domain name?  How did you come to choose it?

Nik: Since I set this website up with affiliate income in mind from the beginning, there were some factors I debated for a while – branding or streamlining? Logo, name, color scheme, I knew making these closer to the Blinkist brand would help with selling, but in turn keep me from making this a proper brand and turning it into something more.

Nevertheless, I initially settled for another, unbranded, affiliate-optimized domain: blinkistreview.com. Very quickly though, I realized two things:

1. The name is uninspiring, boring and non-descriptive for someone who’s never heard of the app.

2. Blinkist’s name is registered, which likely prevents others from using it in domain names.

Clearly, another name was in order. I’d been writing content for two weeks at this point and the average length of posts was 4 minutes. Since one of the key benefits of book summaries is saving time, I thought the 4 minute duration would be a good hook.

After experimenting with a few other numbers and units (like seconds, etc.), I quickly settled on Four Minute Books after seeing it spelled out in various fonts and dabbling in logo design a bit.

By the way: any resemblance to The 4-Hour Workweek is arbitrary, I love that book and Tim’s blog, but it didn’t even cross my mind at the time.

Mike:  Funny, I was actually going to ask if there was any insiration there from Tim Ferriss.  I see you also offer coaching.  In what areas do you coach?  What do your customers gain from the experience?

Nik:   Coaching was one of the first activities I explored in my online career. I was using coach.me to track my own habits and had built up a couple of streaks, and to this day I’m grateful for Tony Stubblebine, the CEO, to reach out when they started their coaching program.

I’ve coached a variety of very specific habits ranging from No Alcohol to Building Mental Toughness to Setting Goals, but have now settled into productivity and project management.

My clients and I have a monthly, 60-minute Skype call in which we move through four questions and tie together loose ends. That results in a very specific action plan for the next month, with three target outcomes and an action plan for each one. I follow up weekly via email to hold them accountable and help them overcome any obstacles until we meet again the next month.

What my clients love the most is the accountability, paired with the outside perspective of someone playing devil’s advocate to their plans and getting them to take the most efficient path, not the one they might be romantic about taking. I only take on a handful of clients at any given time.

Mike:  You write a blog, read tons of books, write book summaries, you’re a student, you coach people, answer at least one question per day on Quora… Where do you find all the time to do these things?

Nik:  I’m very deliberate with how I spend my time. I’m aware we only get one shot at this thing called life, so I’ve decided to NOT invest any time into a few things which quickly become huge time-wasters, such as:

– Staying on top of the news in any form whatsoever.

– Watching TV. I don’t own one. I occasionally watch movies on my laptop.

– Using social media only to produce, never to consume (except for Youtube, my guilty pleasure and TV show replacement).

– Consumption in general. I buy very few things for non-practical reasons and in fact, buy few things at all. Two big chunks of my money go to rent and food and that’s pretty much it. I never go shopping or browse electronics – unless I need a new pair of pants or my phone is broken.

– Cooking. This one I’m not proud of, but I’m not perfect. I spend a bit more on food in order to not have to prepare it myself. One of the trade-offs I’m making that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, at least not if you enjoy the act of cooking itself.

If you cut out the things 80% of people lose 80% of their time on, you suddenly have a lot of time left to do the things you really find meaning in 🙂

Mike:  You also registered your name, niklasgoeke.com, and have content there.  Tell me why that’s a good idea?

Nik:   Unless you’re very clear about a certain company, topic, niche or brand you want to build, I highly recommend when first starting to blog, do so in your name. And if you make it a brand domain, buy your name too and throw a one-page resumé on there.

I didn’t have THE thing I wanted to write about when I started blogging in September 2014. I just knew I had to start talking. My thinking was: ideas, niches, topics, these come and go, but I will always be me.

I’m glad I made that decision. It’s allowed me to stay open in terms of topics (with phases, for example in 2015 I talked a lot about productivity) and has turned the people who now follow the blog into loyal fans of myself, not just a certain topic or idea I shared.

I’ve pivoted multiple times and start new projects all the time. With a personal blog, I can take the audience with me, wherever I go.

It’s just not the same if you have a brand name and alienate it over time.

Mike:  How many monthly visitors do you get to your fourminutebooks.com domain per month?

Nik:  Right now, it’s just over 20,000 unique monthly visitors. The site exists since January 11th, 2016 (with 3 weeks prior preparation, initial content writing, etc.) and has attracted 100,000 visitors in its first year.

Mike:  Can you tell me how many subscribers you have and what are some good methods of attracting subscribers to a website?

Nik:   After combining my email lists from Four Minute Books and my personal blog in March 2017, I’m at about 11,000. Don’t let that confuse you. I’ve been building my email list for 2.5 years and have tried every tactic in the book.

The first 6 months? 100 subscribers.

After taking a course just about list building in 2015? 1,000 subscribers in 6 months.

With Four Minute Books? 1,000 subscribers in 3 months, cut the time in half.

When I started giving daily answers on Quora in 2017, it jumped after a while and now I’m at 1,000+ new subscribers per month.

What worked? Doing all of it. And not quitting. And figuring out which ones worked best for me. The only practical advice I can give is to go through all tactics, find the ones that are the most fun and feel right for you and keep doing those for however long it takes to see the results you want.

It compounds too, as it gets faster over time, because old efforts still expose new people to your work.

Mike:  What do you recommend for other online businesses to help get traffic to their sites?  Are there any secrets?

Nik:  The best secret I can reveal is, I think, that people are best off stopping to look for secrets and invest that time into creating the best content they can come up with and then release that into the right context, where it’ll hit its mark. Work is the differentiating factor here.

That said: if you can make SEO work for you, that’s a wonderfully sustainable source of traffic. With my blog it’s been hit and miss, but with Four Minute Books, it worked like a charm. That is, after publishing daily for 6 months without seeing results, it worked like a charm.

Two possible options to look at SEO:

1. Can you create a consistent keyword structure by following the same formula for every post?

For example, Four Minute Books is all about book summaries, so I stuck with [book title] + [summary] as the structure for all keyword optimization.

I realize that’s not possible for every blog or topic, so…

2. Can you create massive, one-stop-shop resources that solve problems for under-supplied keywords?

For example, if “how to make fudge” had a lot of searches, but almost no good tutorials in the top 10, that provides a great opportunity for you to try and create the best content out there by giving people one resource that covers it all.

Recipes, pictures, instructions, where to buy the ingredients, what it should look like, videos, fun variants, and on and on.

If you can make the best guide on how to make fudge, your reward will be all that traffic from people who search for a solution to this problem, but have so far been disappointed by what’s out there.

Don’t worry about link-building and optimization so much – it’s about creating great content that serves the people that are searching, not the engines.

Nik’s hub is his blog, where you can find links to all of his other work, content and current projects. This is what he’s up to right now.

If you like this post and want to sponsor it on Domaining.com, click HERE.


The first rule of Sock Club…

It’s overused, but I couldn’t resist the title.  Sock Club founders, Noah and Dane, began Sock Club because they wanted to share their love of socks with the world. They started small, curating awesome socks from other labels, and soon decided that they wanted to focus on American manufacturing. Now all of Sock Club’s socks are designed in Austin, and proudly made with cotton grown and knit in the Southeastern United States.

Mike:  I love the idea behind sockclub.com.  It looks like you can buy socks on demand or have them delivered on a subscription basis.  Do I have that correct?

Dane:  That’s correct.  We started as a gift service that signed up loved ones to receive socks once a month.  We’ve become so good at making socks that we’re building a brand.

Mike:  To be honest, I can’t think of a better name for your business.  I mean, sockclub.com defines it.  Can you tell me how you acquired the name and was it a difficult process?  Can you share the price you paid?

Dane:  Thanks.  We started with the domain sotmclub.com which I bought for the base rate of available domains about $10/month.  Once the business started to get traction my brother convinced me over Christmas that I needed to buy the domain sockclub.com.  I bought the domain for $500.

Mike:  How do you think sockclub.com compares to a name like NoahAndDanesSocks.com?  In other words, how important is the domain name to your business success?

Dane:  Our domain name is not only important in the minds of our customers to establish trust it’s also important for search engine results.  We come up first if you search “Sock of the Month Club” largely because of our domain name.

Mike:  These socks are American made.  Aside from that awesome fact, what makes these the greatest socks ever?

Dane:  Socks like creating anything great is more of an art than science.  We work closely with a super old american industry that has been doing this for generations.  They really do know everything about making socks and have a real mastery of it.  We control every aspect of our production.  We source cotton from southeastern United States with a high thread count.  A high thread count means that strands of cotton in the yarn are longer which makes the cotton stronger but also softer to the touch.  We dye our cotton to get the 40 colors we chose to keep in inventory.

But most importantly we have an incredible design team that makes beautiful socks.  I would say we work through at least hundred designs which are all amazing to decide on one design to make the sock of the month.


Mike:  It says on your website that you and your cofounder started the company because you “wanted to share their love of socks with the world.”  Love?  Is that a strong word?

Dane:  Nope.

Mike:  It’s not easy staring a company and selling a product online.  What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs out there looking to launch a similar business?

Dane:  I think if you’re going to compete with Amazon and the other big guys you have to offer something they can’t or at least is so niche they don’t want to.  For us that’s a very unique gift experience and a great product that you can’t get anywhere else.

Mike:  With the newer TLDs available, did you consider a name like sock.club for the business?  Why or why not?

Dane:  I didn’t.  I think once there are more successful companies who use those unique domains it will be a more viable option.  Right now when I think about buying domains I focus on .com.

Mike:  What have you found to be one of the best ways to spread the word about your business?  Is social media a big factor?  Pay per click?  Organic search?

Dane:  For us organic search and paid search are the most successful.  We are working on doing more business through social.

Sock Club is based in Austin, TX and sells Sock Subscriptions and Custom Socks.


The Right Domain Will Get The Job Done!

If you’ve ever read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, you probably have read the chapter about virtual assistants.  It describes how you can improve your business and personal life at an affordable price.  Just be sure to provide detailed direction and learn from your mistakes.

Belinda Stringer owns the domain name VirtualAssistants.com as well as the business behind it.  She founded the company back in 1999, well before Tim’s book made the job popular with the masses.  Belinda spent some time discussing the domain name and the story behind it with me.

Mike:  VirtualAssistants.com is a job board for virtual assistants.  What exactly can a virtual assistant do for me and can I afford it?

Belinda:  A Virtual Assistant is someone who can help you with various business tasks that you would like to take off your plate. This can be administrative tasks such as letters, calendar management, travel arrangements, email management, spreadsheets,  or other tasks such as research, writing, transcription, or customer service. Anything you can think of that someone could do online for you and not have to be physically present, a Virtual Assistant can do for you.

Virtual Assistants can work for an hourly rate or a per project rate, and since you are not paying taxes, medical benefits, paid vacations and such, it is more economical for a business owner to hire a Virtual Assistant.

Mike:  I have read that you started the business in response to the high number of virtual job scams that exist.  Tell me more about your experience.

Belinda:  Well, back in 1998, working virtually was just getting started. I worked as an Operations Manager of an employment agency and started to look into working from home.  Since I was new to this, I applied for what I thought was a good job but it turned out to be a total scam.  This was an eye opening experience for me and I learned there are many crooks who try to take advantage of innocent people looking for work from home employment. So at the beginning of 1999, I decided to create a private virtual job board where we prescreened the jobs to verify that they were legitimate so people could feel safe applying to the jobs that are listed on our job board.

Mike:  The domain name you have could not be better for your niche.  Tell me how you acquired the name?  Are you willing to share what you paid for the name?

Belinda: I was on a forum and it mentioned Virtual Assistants – which I had not heard that term before. So I thought I would go to a domain name provider and see if the name was available. It was, and so I purchased the name from Network Solutions for I think it was 39.99 in February of 1999.

Mike:  How much do you reply on other forms of traffic such as paid advertising as opposed to simple type-in traffic?  Do you know what percentage of your visitors come from just typing in the domain name?

Belinda:  It is about 25% advertising and the rest is type in traffic and social media posts. We do advertise with Google and Bing adwords but it is a small amount. We also do a lot of social media through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. The majority of people visiting the site come from just searching via Google or Bing and social media posts.

Mike:  As an online business owner, what is your opinion of all the new TLDs available today (ie .club, .xyz, .store)?

Belinda:  For the right company it might work, but otherwise I just don’t see those working as well as a .com domain name. People are just really used to typing in .com at the end of a domain name.

Mike:  Even with a great name, running an online business can be difficult.  What have you found to be the largest challenge you have had to overcome and how did you do it?

Belinda:  Gaining people’s trust.  With all the scams out there, it is a challenge for most people who are new to this to tell who is really honest and not a scam.  I think this is always a challenge, but we make every effort to always do the best for the people who register on our site.  We kind of take this personally and we really do go the extra mile in making sure the jobs are legitimate, updated daily and we respond to our customers or any inquiries immediately.


GraduationParty.com could use your SEO tips

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Ginger Venable started her business career in the wild world of Direct Mail in the mid 1980s. Fast forward to the dawn of the internet in the late 90’s where she  quickly jumped into online marketing, corporate communications and specialized in event planning. She loves to host parties. In 1998 she co-wrote a book on graduation party planning with a friend. Her 3 children and many of their friends have enjoyed very well planned and well attended parties. In addition to running the website, she is an event planner. She is usually juggling 3-6 projects at the same time. Ginger live in Minnesota and has attended over 100 graduation parties! When planning a celebration her main goal is to make the guests feel welcome. That is what they try to do with their website as well.

Ginger Venable, co-owns and maintains GraduationParty.com, with Susan Kielly, another mom with graduation party and web design experience.

Mike: Explain what the site, GraduationParty.com is.

Ginger:  GraduationParty.com is the go-to site for people planning a graduation party. We provide advice on everything from start to finish: selecting a date, time, location, what to serve, how to decorate and who to invite are addressed along with helpful tips to make the celebration special and low stress. With over 3.3 million students graduating from high school every year parents are looking for insider advice, creative ideas & fun products. Our website is filled with tons of graduation party needs, from graduation invitations to graduation decorations to catering ideas and so much more! Most of our content comes from moms who share their party details and our party product affiliates.

Mike: GraduationParty.com is a dream name, how did you come across it? Were you the first to register the name or did you buy it from someone? If the latter, can you share the price?

Ginger: I registered the name and developed this site back in 1998. At that time the name was available, so our timing was perfect. I had just co-wrote the book, Graduation Parties: Everything You Need to Know from Start to Finish. Our original intention was to sell the books, but over time we realized that content was king and moved most of the book content onto the website.

Mike: The book is available on the site. What will the book teach us that the site won’t?

Ginger: The benefits of having a web page (full color images, the ability to update as trends change and to generate income) made the book somewhat obsolete. Some people appreciate the structure and checklists that come in the book. There are more details in the book than online as web pages need to be short to keep people’s attention.

Mike: Do you use social media to promote the site? If so, what are some examples.

Ginger: We have a blog gradpartyblog.com and Facebook page . We have also conducted a few contests for graduating seniors and have published the results of surveys we’ve conducted with our customers.

Mike: How much traffic does the site receive month to month?

Ginger: Graduation Party planning is a very seasonal business. Our visits peak in May with over over 87,000 visitors this year. Back in 2010, in our peak year, we had 210,000 visitors in May. Getting higher ranking in search engines is so darn tricky. We were number one or two on all the major search engines for many years, but then the logic changed and we’ve slipped. Maybe you could ask your readers for suggestions!

Mike: It looks like you link to some affiliate sites. What is the main way you generate revenue on the site?

Ginger: We sell advertising on our site and generate revenue through affiliate sales. The internet sales tax issue here in Minnesota has dramatically reduced our income as many of our largest affiliates have stopped offering affiliate programs in our state. We are hoping to sell the business to someone outside of Minnesota so they can partner with these affiliates again.

Mike: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of running an online business?

Ginger: Being at the top of the search engines for many years was very exciting. As search engines changed we’ve slipped a bit recently and are trying to figure out how to get back on top. Working with various advertisers and affiliates on new products every year is also an exciting challenge. Helping other parents plan their celebrations is rewarding as well. Many parents appreciate our prompt responses to their many questions.

If you have any SEO suggestions for Ginger, please post them in the comments.  I’ll be sure to follow up in the future and see how your tips have impacted rankings.


Launching a Business on a Generic, Exact-Match Domain Name

A mutual friend recently introduced me to Jon Yau.  Jon purchased StockPhoto.com in January, 2013.  Today, StockPhoto.com is an online stock photo business operating on a well polished website.  Jon was kind enough to answer some questions about the domain and the business.

Mike:  What led to your purchase of StockPhoto.com?  Your history as a CPA with a Management Information Systems background isn’t necessarily an obvious path to the acquisition of a stellar generic domain name.

Jon: I’ve dabbled a little with domains before and used to listen to Monte Cahn’s podcast a lot when he was with Moniker. I was always inspired by the interviews he did with Marc Ostrovsky, Rick Schwartz and Brian Null (amongst others) – I knew deep down that eventually I would try my hand at developing a generic, exact-match domain name.

You’re absolutely right. I have a very nice career away from the web space (as a consultant) that I enjoy very much. However, I’m 43 years old and felt that there was one startup in me that needed to get done. I wanted to build something cool from the ground-up, or at least look cool going down in a fiery ball of flames 🙂 and so had been refining my requirements for a few years before the Stockphoto.com domain name came up for sale.

I wanted:

– Something in the B2B segment

– A digital product so I would not have to worry about physical logistics and fulfillment

– To be in a growth market

A number of products such as themes, software, music, ebooks etc. would have fitted the bill, however, Stockphoto.com was by far the most attractive proposition that arose and was hard to walk away from.

I agree with your sentiment that my professional background isn’t necessarily what you would expect but it’s certainly come in handy. Formulating the financials, working with attorneys, project managing the software development effort and then defining the processes required to support the business is made a little bit easier given my prior experience. This leaves me time to focus on the business building functions such as sourcing quality inventory and making sales.

Mike:  Do you own any other domain names?

Jon: Apart from Stockphoto.com, I’m most proud of ManagedFund.com (the equivalent of mutual fund in the UK, Australia and parts of Asia) and BroadwayNewYork.com. Neither are developed at the moment. Perhaps one day 🙂 I also own 3248.comwhich has significance in the Chinese (Cantonese)-speaking part of the world.

Mike:  You’ve been pretty transparent about the fact that you purchased the domain on Flippa.com and paid $250,000.  In fact, I really enjoyed your post on the Flippa blog.  What made you decide that the $250,000 “buy it now” price was a fair value?

Jon: There’s no exact science or formula but I estimated (via Compete) the traffic that I could get from direct navigation as well as Search, then I applied a conversion factor plus a rough operating margin. For a given level of inventory and sales, I figured I could make a reasonable return on the initial outlay. However, the value of the business I could build could exceed $250,000.

The truth is, however, is that this is my mid-life crisis 🙂 As long as it was within the budget (and there’s not a whole lot of offline businesses you can setup successfully for less than $250,000) then the question was whether this was something that could ‘scratch my itch’. I could’ve bought an expensive car that I would only get to drive on weekends, or blown it on travelling only to find myself back at the point in my life where I was looking to dig in and make a creative stand. Sometimes it’s a bit more than how the numbers stack up. As long as it’s roughly profitable and growing steadily, I’ll be more than happy.

The CPA in me could give you a million reasons why it’s worth less than the $250,000! However, the romantic/dreamer/domainer/punter in me just wants to know one thing:

How cool would it be, if you could hold your own in a straight-up, toe-to-toe against a NYSE-listed Goliath worth over 2 billion dollars with little more than a slingshot of a generic, exact-match domain?

Mike:  Having launched on September 9, You’ve got a few months post-live under your belt.  How are things going so far?  Are you seeing the level of sales you had hoped for?

Jon: The initial launch was nothing more than ‘Lean Startup’-inspired test of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Armed with one superstar photographer (Sergey Nivens) and 57,000 images from his amazing portfolio of stock photos – will they come? Will they buy?

We generated enough sales from the first month on to leave a little profit on the dinner table after Sergey’s commission, webhosting and other back office expenses. All without any paid advertising or PR. So from that point of view, it gives me confidence to grow the business.

My focus now is to recruit other superstar stock photographers with great portfolios to add to my inventory. If my theory is right, then we should see at least the same level of search-to-sale conversion, if not a better sale-to-inventory ratio. We might even improve our returning customer count.

2014 will be a year to consolidate on our initial learnings and then aim for growth in quality inventory.

Mike:  What is the volume of traffic you’re seeing on the site?  How much of that is type-in traffic?

Jon: I’ll just say that the volume of traffic was, thankfully, higher than the estimates I initially came up with using the Compete data. Over three-quarters of all unique visitors are via direct navigation and over 80% are those that have never been before. Traffic has been consistent since the domain name came out of escrow in January 2013. I installed Google Analytics along with a Mailchimp email sign-up form and up until I launched in September 2013, I was tracking traffic as well as building a list (segmented between photographers, image purchasers and those that were just tyre-kickers).

If I am able to increase my inventory for the same level of quality, then I expect that returning visitor component to increase. Recurring sales should also slowly increase as the website becomes more ‘sticky’ for image purchasers.

Mike:  As you pulled the trigger on StockPhoto.com, were there other domain names you had your eye on, or was this really a focused plan?

Jon: No, this was the first opportunity that arose which made me sit up. It fit all the criteria I had in mind (see above). The Buy-it-now price really forced me to ask myself if I was serious about this web startup idea. After much soul-searching and discussions with those in my life that mattered most, I decided that this would be the blank canvas upon which I was happy to put my name to. There weren’t any other domain names that fulfilled the prerequisites and had that ‘Wow’ factor.

If something like ebooks.com or themes.com came up for sale, I would also be just as interested. However, they didn’t and you can only make a decision based on what you know at the time and also what is available to you in the marketplace.

Like I said, I’d love to develop ManagedFund.com in the future but at this time, Stockphoto.com is my baby.

Mike:  What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with starting an online business?  What advice do you have for domainers looking to do the same?

Jon: I was asked an interesting question on Warrior Forum (http://www.warriorforum.com/main-internet-marketing-discussion-forum/869058-250-000-domain-name-guy-crazy.html) – “What if that domain didn’t appeared at Flippa? Do you think that you would do worse if you have purchased any new .com and spent 249.991K on branding and advertising?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either approach. I didn’t take the latter path because my skillset does not include any branding, SEO and advertising. I would be competing with guys on the Warrior Forum that do conversions and SEO-related stuff for a living. I would get lost in the crowd before even making it into the ring to fight Goliath. I’m a pragmatist. I don’t want to take a knife to a gunfight (as the line in the movie goes). If I had the same budget then I would want as much of an advantage as I could get – UPFRONT. Not in Round 12. And the most valuable commodity on the internet is web traffic.

Other than that, I’ve been really happy with the way things have panned out. The domainer community has been very supportive. I’ve been able to slowly add more photographers and sales have been consistent.

Other than the above, my tips are:

–        Writing detailed business requirements on how your business should work

–        Documenting functional specifications on what that means at a website/user interaction/use case level

–        Making sure you build enough fat into your test cycles

–        Keeping your eye on the bigger picture (What am I trying to achieve in this phase?)

–        Remembering to have fun and laugh when you pick yourself up off the floor

Mike:  Any parting advice on buying domain names, what to consider, what to look for?

Jon: Traffic, traffic, traffic J (And read Sullysblog!)


Read Jon’s guest post on buying the analysis used to buy a domain name on Flippa.