By Matt DeAngelis
Your domain name is the .com, .net, .org or some other dot something that people use to get to your web site. Affiliateblog.com is mine.
A group of investors headed by Jake Weinbaum (the guy behind Disney’s go.com) paid $7.5 million for the name Business.com back in 1999, aiming to make it a showcase B2B site. According to their own press they have succeeded. Yes, it’s a terrific name – short, sort of descriptive and easy to remember. There’s some cachet there, but is it $7.5 million worth? That cÃ¤sh could have bought a lot of promotion or branding for whatever name they could have had for ten bucks, or a hundred, or two hundred grand.
Each year for 15 years The first $500K in profÃ¯t goes toward amortizing the cost of that domain name. That could also pay for a terrific affÃ¯liate program, a truckload of banner and PPC advertising, and a nice BMW lease for Mr. Weinbaum (who probably doesn’t need a BMW).
But the Business.com thing has set off a wave of domain name speculation that staggers the mind. People are snapping up domain names and ransoming them off to wide-eyed entrepreneurs with business plans and dreams of riches. Being a hardcÃ¶re capitalist I am torn about domain name speculation – I am tempted to applaud the person making a buck by getting there first and grabbing up the good names, but I am annoyed at the restraint of commerce that takes place while someone negotiates with one of these guys to get the right name.
So if I look at the top 50 websites on Alexa, most of them should be easy to remember names, right? Wrong. I would argue that only one, match.com, is an easy-to-remember name that describes what the site is about.
I keep hearing that the reason these so-called generic or descriptive domain names are so valuable is that some people just type domain names into the address bar of their browser rather than using a search engine. This fact seems to be intuitively false. I find it hard to believe that someone looking for information on a particular business would type in www.business.com. Furthermore, if I look at the top 50 websites on Alexa only one, match.com, is an easy-to-remember name that describes what the site is about.
I wondered how many people actually type in their address bar (address bar?) instead of using a search engine anyway. I didn’t find the answer, but Jupiter Media tells me that 64% of people looking for something use a search engine
That means that 36% of people use something other than a search engine. What makes me believe that people typing stuff into their address bar doesn’t happen much is this simple fact…of the people using search engines last November, 43% searched for common websites like Ebay. In other words, instead of typing in http://www.ebay.com, people Googled Ebay and clicked on one of the results. That is absolutely hysterical. And totally believable.
What do all these facts mean? They mean that as far as getting the person there the first time, everyone starts off on the same square. If your domain name can get the minority of people who just type into their address bar to your website without a search engine, it’s worth more than someone who can’t.
HÃ«re are some of the legendary domain name salÃ«s in the past several years, according to Zetetic:
Amount Year Domain
12,000,000 – 2006 – sex.com
7,500,000 – 1999 – business.com
5,500,000 – 2003 – casino.com
5,000,000 – 2002 – asseenontv.com
5,000,000 – 1999 – korea.com
3,500,000 – 1996 – worldwideweb.com
3,350,000 – 1999 – altavista.com
3,300,000 – 1999 – wine.com
3,000,000 – 1999 – eshow.com
3,000,000 – 1999 – loans.com
2,750,000 – 2004 – creditcards.com
All of these with the exception of eshow.com (computer networking) should get address bar traffÃ¯c, because people who type will type in the descriptive names – if I’m looking for sex-related stuff, I’ll type in sex.com. Where my mind gets boggled is in ROI. If you’re selling something on asseenontv.com that nets you $25, you’ll need to sell 200,000 of those George Foreman grills just to pay for your domain name.
It also dawned on me that if you pay $12,000,000 for sex.com, the frÃ«e publicity generated is probably also worth millÃ¯ons.
So nÃ¶w everyone gets dollar signs in their eyes and thinks they can make a million with their domain name. HÃ«re are some examples of asking prices from Ebay:
6usiness.com – 7,000,000
(yes, that’s a 6)
ajobformom.com – 3,500,000
Exbay.com – 1,000,000
What does this mean for you? Well, there’s some good news and some bad news. Remember back a few paragraphs when I said that everyone starts on the same square? That’s really the good news. You can choose a pretty good domain name, put together some terrific content, employ some simple Search Engine Optimization and buy some keywords or exchange some links and you have a pretty good chance of getting people to your site the first time. Since most of them are coming via a search engine they’re not going to notice your domain name until they get there anyway, so your domain name means the same thing (nothing) to the majority of people using the search engine.
One last thing: if you’re hoping to be close to the top in the search results (the so-called organic SEO), having your keywords in the name of your website gives you a huge boost. For example, if you’re looking for affÃ¯liate blog, we will be in the top five search results. In this case, Google ignores TLD unless you tell it otherwise. Affiliateblog.info will come up before us because their pagerank is higher (that’s a discussion for another day). So if you think getting near the top of the organic search results is more important than having someone type your name directly into the address bar (and you very well could be right), then grab yourkeyword.cc or yourkeyword.to. I’ve done it, and I’ve suggested it to others.
Once the user comes to your site the name just needs to be memorable enough so they type it in to get there the next time. Or they may forget and Google you again. I do it every day. No matter how great your name is, if the content is lousy they won’t come back anyway.
So should you buy a domain name? I don’t know – I bought this one. And I made honorable mention in the Domain Name News for the price I paid ($2500). I bought the name because I liked it, I liked the number of incoming links to it, and I felt comfortable paying for it. I’ve nevÃ«r paid more than a couple hundred dollars for a domain otherwise, and I have more than 200 of them. My favorite by far is Blozzo.com, which I just bought for $25. I have a pretty terrific idea in mind for Blozzo too.
I would try to come up with my own name before I bought someone else’s. HÃ«re are some tips:
1. Try to go with a .com. It’s the name everyone associates with the Internet. Any other Top Level Domain (TLD) like .org or .net is just going to confuse people, unless it sounds better than the .com. For example, if you are about networking or a network, a .net is more natural. If your site is informational, you should use .info if it sounds okay. One of my favorite $10 domains is seosecrets.info. I think it sounds good. Hands down the most ingenious use of a TLD is del.icio.us, the social bookmarking site. The use of the .us TLD is absolutely brilliant.
2. Leave out the dashes and meaningless numbers. If it’s a choice between this-domain.com, thisdomain123.com and thisdomain.net, take the .net. No one remembers to put the dashes or the numbers in, unless they are an integral part of the name like studio54.com or e-books.com.
3. Use the fewest letters possible to describe what you do. I own Purple Monkey Media Group. Purplemonkey.com would have been perfect. It’s taken, of course. Purplemonkeymedia.com was not. I grabbed it. I could have taken purplemonkeymediagroup.com, but it would have been too long. Remember, every additional letter is a potential typing errÃ¶r.
4. If you have a domain name that needs to be reinforced, get a good logo and sprinkle it liberally on your web site, along with some slogan that will reinforce the name in people’s minds. You would be surprised at how inexpensive this can be.
5. If you can save a few bucks with your own domain name or by buying a cheaper domain name, do it, and use the monÃ«y to get yourself placed higher in the search results or Adsense placement.
6. If you can’t come up with a descriptive domain name, go the other way. Depending on your site’s focus, pick a memorable short name that will stick in people’s minds, get a great logo and include the name prominently in your advertising and marketing. It’s called branding, and it’s tried and true.
7. Ask your wÃ¯fe, friend, boyfriend, husband, dog, lawyer, associate, Mom, Dad, cousin, uncle, Police Chief, blog writer. They’re smarter than you anyway, and they are going to be the one looking for the site, not you. Some of my best ideas have come going to or from somewhere with my wÃ¯fe and just brainstorming.
Here’s the bad news: it may take you a while to come up with the right name. There’s more good news though – in the real world most domain names sell for $1,000 or less.
Can’t get started? – Go to a site that sells domain names, and put in a word that describes your business. See if the name is taken (it probably will be). Open your word processor or go to thesaurus.com and put the word in. Get a few more words. ChÃ«ck those. If there’s a .com available and it looks good, grab it. If not, add the word site or blog or online to your word, and see if that works. Don’t wait. If you think it might be useable, spend the $9.00. I came up with blogduck.com. I liked it. I decided to think about it some more. Someone grabbed it that afternoon. Just chisel loose the nine bucks (or less) and buy the domain.
If you draw a blank, go over to Sedo or Afternic and see what’s for sale. Search for a word that describes what you think people will associate the name of your site with, and see what pops up. That may give you some ideas.
These sites and more can be found in Tools section of http://affiliateblog.com.
Domain Name Journal tracks domain name salÃ«s. Going there is always fun.
About The Author
Matt DeAngelis runs AffiliateBlog.com. Matt is the former Chief Technology Officer of Modem Media, a pioneer in the Internet ad space. As a foot soldier in the Internet revolution, Matt devised the technology behind ad campaigns and online presence for a good portion of the Fortune 100.