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How to master the domain name game

Most online marketers are constantly evaluating and reevaluating SEO and SEM techniques to drive traffic and gain new customers. But there's another tried-and-true technique that's too often ignored: a proper domain name strategy. With very little time and energy, the right domains can be acquired to increase organic search rankings, capture natural type-in traffic, support product marketing, and provide vanity URLs for marketing campaigns. It's a strategy that can fit budgets of all sizes, and unlike search engine marketing -- which requires ongoing pay-per-click fees -- the one-time cost of buying a domain can quickly pay for itself.

At the high end of the market, premium domains that are short, descriptive, and memorable can instantly position a company as a market leader and lend credibility. High-profile brands have successfully employed this descriptive domain strategy, including Toys R Us with Toys.com, and Barnes & Noble with Books.com. Even though super-premium names like this are not available too often, companies with budgets to match should be on the lookout. For example, one of the web's most valuable properties -- Sex.com -- was recently put up for sale, and marketers thinking outside the box (perhaps in medical or pharmaceutical industries) might see the domain's potential beyond the web's red light district. Ownership of such a short, descriptive, and memorable domain opens the door to countless marketing activities, but acquiring a high-profile name is more complex than the average transaction.

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In the past, the process of obtaining a premium domain name would often result in companies haggling for a fair price and executing risky transactions between private parties in order to meet their marketing or branding goals. However, with the support of domain marketplaces and brokerages, organizations of all sizes can tap into the domain market to find and obtain the names they desire -- even if those names are already owned.

The web's most valuable properties can change hands for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars, and the traffic and visibility they generate can be well worth the price. But most domain strategies can be executed for far less money.

For example, a Georgia-based entrepreneur who bought Bobbleheads.com and Bobblehead.com is now able to run his business without any online advertising. The two names cost tens of thousands to acquire -- a hefty price for any small business getting off the ground -- but the domains paid for themselves in a few months, since descriptive domains like this allow owners to cut back advertising costs, such as sponsored Google ads. These names instantly position the company as a leader in producing and selling bobblehead figures, automatically ensuring that the site will be at the top of organic search results and drawing thousands of visitors each month through natural type-in traffic. 

More and more, people are bypassing search engines in favor of direct navigation by typing relevant search terms directly into a web browser. Descriptive domains generate tremendous traffic through this type of direct navigation. Along with the ability to influence organic search results, this type-in traffic is just more proof that marketers should be managing a domain portfolio that's germane to their business. A comprehensive portfolio should include relevant terms and product names, and should also consider common key-stroke errors or plural (bobbleheads) versus singular (bobblehead) terms.

Bice's Florist, a 30-year-old Fort Worth, Texas-based flower shop, leveraged a domain name acquisition strategy that enabled it to increase sales by $1.5 million and reduce operational expenses -- all while closing four brick and mortar locations. As part of the strategy, Bice's owner, Keith Riewe, purchased approximately 20 related domain names, including fortworthflowers.com, eflowersite.com, nationalfloraldelivery.com, and blossomlink.com. Riewe says that since he is able to track the hits from each domain, he can understand which are performing and which aren't. As a result of managing a domain portfolio, the company's online traffic increased by 47 percent.

A portfolio of names can also be used to redirect traffic to a company's primary website, or used to execute creative marketing campaigns. Office Max employed a campaign-specific strategy quite successfully over the past couple holiday seasons with its Elf Yourself effort. With the unique idea of building a site where people could put their own faces on a group of dancing elves, Elf Yourself became a household name with an easy-to-remember domain -- ElfYourself.com.  Even in the middle of summer, it still receives thousands of visitors every month.

As demonstrated by companies like Bobbleheads.com, Bice's Florist, and Office Max, purchasing descriptive or generic domain names presents an excellent opportunity to expand a company's reach and ultimately bring more customers to its doorstep. Owning the ideal descriptive domain name -- or a portfolio of these domains -- can help tap into a huge new pool of customers. Many people have the misconception that all the "good" domain names are inaccessible or too expensive. However, the domain market offers a variety of already registered domains for sale at different price points to suit large, mid-sized, and small business budgets. With the average price of domains on the second-hand market costing around $2,000, it's a price that most businesses can afford.

Jeremiah Johnston is COO at Sedo

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Jeremiah Johnston is general counsel at Sedo (www.sedo.com), the largest online marketplace for buying and selling domain names and websites. Jeremiah began his career with Sedo in 2004 as general counsel, helping the company keep a step ahead of...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Michal Wendrowski

2010, September 07

"More and more, people are bypassing search engines in favor of direct navigation by typing relevant search terms directly into a web browser".

According to my data, the direct opposite is the case. Even people working at the biggest domain name parking companies are telling me that they make the most money with typos, not with generic domain names, since "generics have no traffic" (quoting a parking company employee). Sure, good generics still get valuable traffic, but it's not such a pink world that you tried to describe.

If we want to teach people from the outside "how to master the domain name game", we have to stick to facts and facts only.

Commenter: jari rouas

2010, September 07

hi jeremiah thanks for the great post. i'm interested in knowing if you have any data on "people bypassing search engines in favor of direct navigation, typing relevant search terms directly into their web browser." potentially a point in favor of unbranded/condition names vs. a brand name only domain.