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5 With… Elliot Silver

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For the inaugural edition of “5 With…” I thought it would be appropriate to conduct an interview with myself.    Look for new interviews in the “5 With…” category, as I already received commitments from some of the best-known people in the business.    Here goes…

1.) EJS: How did you get started in the domain investment business?

EJS: When I was in graduate school, I saw people buying and selling domain names on Ebay.    I thought that if people could do this, I could do it, too.    I focused on buying domain names I thought could be developed into businesses, forums, or other profitable ventures.    I stuck with generic domain names that had obvious meanings.    At the time, I didn’t realize that there were online communities dedicated to the domain investment business.    Once I joined a couple of the forums, I was able to learn alot from others, and I made contacts with other people active in the business.    I owe alot to the people I met on Ebay as well as some of the active members in the various forums.    

2.) EJS: When did domain investing become more than simply a way to earn some extra cash in graduate school?

EJS: After I joined DNForum in early 2006, I saw a listing for the .net, .org, .info and .biz of a one word domain name for sale for a few hundred dollars.    I bought those and contacted the owner of the .com.    To my surprise, the owner sold the .com for only a few hundred dollars.    I was able to resell the entire set for low $xx,xxx.    Several months later, I bought a well-priced name, and I sold it at a TRAFFIC auction for $xx,xxx.    I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to reinvest the profits into better domain names, helping me build a stronger portfolio.

3.) EJS: What was more exciting for you: Red Sox winning 2004 World Series or buying Customs.com?

That’s a tough call.    I think buying Customs.com was more exciting because it was a personal achievement.    The Red Sox winning the World Series was a great feeling – especially since I was in New York City when they won.    Hopefully 2007 will be a repeat!

4.) EJS: What’s the best piece of advice you would give people just starting out in the business?

EJS: Study the market as much as you can before you dive in and buy a bunch of names that are best left unregistered.    Since there are many different areas of domain investment, focus on one aspect – maybe a particular extension or genre of domain name and learn as much as you can.    Just as you would want to buy low and sell high with stocks, the idea is the same in the domain investment business.     Do your research and continue to buy better names each time you buy.    

Also, may I give a second piece of advice?

EJS: Sure, it’s your show, go ahead.

Thanks!    I would also recommend that people read my blog post here which gives 10 Domain Investment Tips.

5.) EJS: Do you regret ever selling a domain name?

EJS: The only domain name I really regret selling was Arrangements.com.    I still think that name is perfect for a florist.    I think I sold it for a great price, but I was able to reinvest and buyer more great names.    Maybe some day I will try to buy it back and develop it!

Bank Launches .mobi Website

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In one of the first examples of a large company utilizing (and actually marketing) the .mobi extension, Bank of America launched bofa.mobi. The Bank is heavily promoting this with a retail merchandising campaign, including bofa.mobi window decals in their large branches in Manhattan.

I think this is a positive development for the .mobi extension, as the Bank could have simply used their standard domain name and detected the type of browser the visitor was using. They could have also gone to market with the domain name and only used it for protective purposes, so consumers or other companies couldn’t use the name. A heavy endorsement of this website is a positive sign for the staying power of .mobi.

I have one security concern with this, and I hope the Bank is mindful of it. What if someone set up a malicious website on a similar domain name that only had two lines asking for an account number and password? Since we are talking about mobile devices with small screens, unknowing consumers could accidentally submit their banking information, unaware that this wasn’t the Bank’s website. It’s one thing if someone did this with typos of the full Bank of America name and/or used the Bank’s logos, as that would be a federal offense. My concern is if they weren’t this sophisticated.

Bank of America needs to do a very good job of training their customers about what to look for on the bofa.mobi site so they know if they accidentally navigate to another website in error. They should also buy as many .mobi typos similar to their bofa.mobi domain name, so nobody has the opportunity to set up a malicious website.

I don’t have much of a stake in the .mobi extension with only two .mobi names in my portfolio, but I believe this is a good endorsement from a major corporation.

Valuing a Domain Name

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There is much more that goes into determining the value of a domain name than a simple revenue multiple or traffic report. The value of a domain name lies in the name itself. The reason we have domain names is because the IP address system would be too complicated for consumers to remember. It’s much easier to remember ElliotsBlog.com than a string of ten random numbers. Because we use domain names as memory recall devices, the most descriptive, and easiest to remember domain names are best.

When I look to buy a domain name, the most important thing I evaluate is whether I believe a business can be built on that particular name. It doesn;t matter if it is a service or product based company, when a person hears a domain name, they should know what they will find when they navigate there. Nearly all of the domain names I purchase have this attribute, and I think it is important for domain investors to consider this when they are buying their next domain name.

Traffic and currrent/expected revenue are important, but the actual name is the most important valuation factor for me.

Location, Location, Location

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One of the first lessons in a real estate course is that the most important factor in site selection is the location. As the famous saying goes, “location, location, location!” If location is the most important factor in where to purchase real estate, why wouldn’t the domain name be one of the most important factors in where to open an online business? Why is it that most business schools merely gloss over the domain business?

I don’t believe a bad domain name can break a company with a good business model. I think a bad name can be detrimental, but it’s nothing that good SEO, Keyword advertising and old fashion marketing can’t fix at a high cost of course. I do believe that a great generic domain name can position a company much better, and it can make it easier for customers to find the company. If two companies offer the same product, same customer service and fulfillment, and similar advertising, I believe the company with the better domain name will see better results both in terms of search engine placement and natural traffic.

10 Domain Investment Tips for Beginners

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Sahar’s post and a thread on Rick Schwartz’ Targeted Traffic Forum got me thinking about what advice I would give to someone looking to enter the domain investment business. Since I have a couple of friends who recently started out in this business as a hobby, I have a few pieces of advice that I shared with them and will publicly share.

1.) NEVER ever register domain names with famous or somewhat famous trademarks (or trademark typos). Either you will get burned or live in fear if you buy them. Not to mention that the money producing ones are registered (mostly by keyword scripts), so it would be a waste. Additionally, stay away from domain names of athletes, celebrities, politicians…etc.

2.) Read as much information about domain names and the industry as possible. It takes a gut feel to be able to do well in this business without spending a fortune on new registrations. You may end up wasting alot of time and money registering domain names that have no meaning or value to anyone but you. I have a list of valuable domain resources in my blogroll, and you can go from there.

3.) Get a feel of what’s selling in DNJournal’s weekly sales list. See previous sales prices on DNSalePrice.com. Check out what’s closing on Sedo and Afternic as it is more likely that a rookie will have access to names that don’t make DNJournal’s sales list. It might be wise to focus on a particular niche at first (like LLL.com names or financial names for example). Try to find unregistered domain names that are similar to ones that have sold.

4.) Sign up for one of the public domain forums and read as much as you can. I believe DNForum.com offers the widest variety of information, but DomainState.com and NamePros.com are also great.

5.) Always be honest in your business dealings. Although most business is done online in the cyber world, almost everything is traceable. No matter how many online personas you may create, you will be known for what you post and how you post it. If you are dishonest, it will probably haunt you, so don’t start off on the wrong foot. There is no such thing as “easy money.”

6.) Ask some of the more seasoned domain investors for advice. I’ve met many people who have been successful in this business, and most are very willing to give out advice. Alot of people spend hours in front of their computers focusing on various projects, and human interaction is greatly appreciated. Personally, I like speaking about domain names, and it’s great to see new people in this business finding success.

7.) Read the news, popular blogs, trade journals…etc to find and become knowledgeable about current events and new trends.    Buy non-trademarked names related to those trends you spot.    Never try to capitalize on a tragedy or other event no matter how much money you can make in a short period of time, unless you intend to build a “real” memorial site. Think of it this way, would you want a New York Times headline to read: “Cybersquatter John Doe Takes Advantage of Families of XXXXXXXXX Tragedy?”

8.) Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a single name until you have a plan that does not solely rely on ppc monetization.    It is likely that the seller isn’t selling a high earning ppc name for less than market value, so it will be difficult to find a deal.    Also, don’t buy an expensive name until you have the resources already aligned to implement your plan.    As Darren Cleveland mentioned in this post, development is difficult, can be expensive, and can be time consuming.    Unless you need to act immediately, hold off on buying high value names.

9.) Do your due diligence when buying a name in the aftermarket.    As I said in this post, you should do a Whois history check, call previous owners and search the forums/boards for any issues.    If you buy a stolen domain you may lose your money and the domain name.    Aftermarket sites like Sedo are not immune from domain thieves.    You should also use an escrow service like Moniker or Escrow.com for higher value transactions.

10.). Keep good records of your domain portfolio, sales, expenses and contacts.    Use the contacts as leads for other domain names or even for open discussion.    Track your domain names as you would track stocks in your investment portfolio.    Always be honest on your taxes because the penalties could be much more than what you would gain.

Domain investing is a great hobby or profession for many people. I believe it is still the “wild west,” and as such, special precautions need to be taken when going into this business. If something seems too good to be true, it really probably is. Trust your gut, and if you need help, feel free to ask.

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