The Domain Name Game
What’s in a name?
When it comes to getting potential customers to visit your website, the answer is -- a whole lot more than you may realize.
A good domain name could be the difference between crummy or phenomenal traffic to a company’s website -- and the new customer contacts or sales that result. That’s leading more small businesses to buy up descriptive domain names to use in addition to their company names for their Web presence.
Descriptive domain names are Web addresses that include popular keywords people are apt to type into a search engine like Google when they are looking for a specific type of product or service. For example, if you’re Joe’s Plumbing in Prescott, Ariz., you might have a website called JoesPlumbing.com. But based on the keywords your potential customers are most likely to use to find a plumber near them, you may also use domain names like PlumbingServicesInPrescott.com, ArizonaPlumbers.com or UnplugMyDrain.com -- and have all three redirect traffic to your website.
Domain names “are virtual real estate. They’re the front door to your business,” says Jeremiah Johnston, chief operating officer at Sedo, the online domain name marketplace.
Drawing traffic without buying ads
With the right domain name, you can get traffic to your website from people interested in what you have to offer without spending a lot on online advertising, Johnston says. For example, when Sedo customer Bice’s Florist wanted to expand, the Ft. Worth, Texas, company’s owner sold four stores and bought a variety of domains that matched floral terms. The result: sales increased by $1.5 million without a penny spent on Yahoo or Google ad networks, Johnston say.
The highest publicly disclosed price for a domain name Sedo ever brokered was $3 million for www.Vodka.com back in 2006 to a Russian company that’s using it to roll out its products in the United States. Sedo currently has 15 million domains for sale and 900,000 registered users, according to Johnston.
But many desirable domain names are available for $1,000 to $2,000, Johnston says. As with other real estate, the recession has created a buyer’s market due to a large number of speculators who previously bought up domain names and now are liquidating some of their portfolio, Johnston says. “We’re seeing some fantastic names selling for good prices,” he says.
Do’s and don’ts
According to Johnston and other SEO experts, here are some things to consider when using descriptive domain names for your business:
- Do your homework. Before spending a dime, figure out what the mostly commonly used keywords or phrases are that potential customers use to find your type of business. You can hire a SEO expert to do this, but be prepared to pay -- good ones charge into the hundreds of dollars an hour for their services. David Brown, an SEO expert and host of the SEO 101 Internet radio podcast series, suggests sitting down with a friend or family member who’s a casual Internet user and asking what words they’d use for a search. “I use my mom as an example and ask her what domain names should be,” Brown says.
- Don’t scrimp. Domain names are cheap -- unclaimed names are $10 a year to register -- so don’t just buy the specific name you want. Buy the words separated by dashes and any common misspellings. Then use redirect services such as Domain Redirect or DogBark.com to bring that traffic back to your main website. Buying up typos and misspellings also blocks cybersquatters who use monitoring services such as Compete.com to track Internet traffic and buy up misspellings and hold them for ransom, Brown says.
- Do consider giving something away. If you buy several descriptive domain names, consider setting up generic webpages to go with them and give something away -- a newsletter or list -- to people who leave their e-mail address. That way you can collect information your sales staff can follow up on. Just be up front telling people that they’ll be contacted, says Dave Conklin, president of ProspectMX, a Lancaster, Pa., Internet marketing company.
- Don’t stop at your domain name. Once they’ve clicked through, potential customers won’t hang around a website for long if it just sits there like an online brochure. If you don’t run an online store, at least have something people can sign up to receive so you can collect email addresses to potentially convert into a sale, Conklin says.