Buying Domain Names

Buying Domain Names Privately

I was just asked about how I buy domain names privately, and instead of replying to a comment/email, I thought I would make a post out of it, since the question has been asked before.   The question I received was: just curious if you could provide some detail on your process of buying a name privately. I am not seeking specifics like prices you paid, etc. But more general stuff like, do you use an attorney to write up a sales contract and liability release, do you use escrow, etc.
When I purchase in private, I only use an attorney if the deal is more complicated than normal, if I am working with a seller who is unfamiliar with domain sales, or if the seller requests it. I had an attorney draft a sales agreement template several months ago, and I generally use that – making changes as necessary. Since most of my purchases are unsolicited offers by me, I am more comfortable moving forward with a deal than if someone contacted me out of the blue to sell me a domain name.
I am vigilant about doing a domain history search (using Domaintools) to make sure everything lines up. I want to make sure the seller has the right to sell the domain name. I also trust my gut – if something doesn’t seem right, I don’t do the deal. If I see a great name that is too cheap, I will typically stay away unless I am confident that things are legit. A few things that I look out for in the history check are that the email address didn’t recently change, the contact email isn’t that of the developer who might be managing the name but doesn’t have the right to sell it, the name wasn’t involved in a dispute, and anything that looks suspicious.
50% of the time I will use an escrow service like escrow.com or Moniker. Escrow.com is more widely known outside of the domain industry, so I will use them if I am dealing with someone who isn’t a domain investor. I don’t want someone to get confused about using a domain service they might not trust. That almost happened once, so after I close a deal, I do my best to make things as simple as possible.
The other 50% of my deals are done using wire transfers or payment via Paypal. These are done exclusively with people/companies I know and trust, or if the value is less than it’s worth to use an escrow service – going on gut instinct again. I also use my AmEx when I pay via Paypal, so if something does go wrong, I am fairly confident that I will be covered. It’s important to know the person who you are dealing with when sending a wire, as your options for financial recovery may be more limited.
The most important thing is going with your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, you are probably right. If you aren’t 100% comfortable going at it alone, you should invest in an attorney to assist you. I know a few who are familiar with the industry, and I’d be happy to make a recommendation if you’d like. There seem to be new scams popping up every day in the domain industry, so it’s important to learn what to look out for and avoid the pitfalls.

No Hurray for "Hoorray"

I understand the whole web 2.0ish theme of creating a cool sounding company name, but that becomes a problem when it confuses visitors who accidentally type-in the domain name phonetically. This type of thing seems to happen all the time when people opt to spend money on marketing efforts rather than ponying up to buy a good domain name. It’s almost like building a beautiful home high up in the mountains of New Hampshire. Sure, the house is beautiful, huge, and there is plenty of cheap land to build a sprawling estate, but when it comes time to invite your friends, you better hope it doesn’t snow, because they aren’t making it if there’s snow.
I was reading through my emails this morning, and I received a press release with the headline “Hoorray.com Acquires “Hooray” Domain Name.” Apparently, the company thought buying the correct spelling Hooray.com was press-release worthy. According to a representative of the company,

“This is a significant step as we prepare to relaunch the 2.0 version of Hoorray later this summer,” said Robin Zieme, Director of New Ventures for Hoorray. “While the spelling of Hoorray with two r’s was not a hindrance, it will ensure that all traffic intended for our site comes our way.”

Maybe I am not their target audience, but whether the name has one “r” or two, if someone suggests that I visit Hoorray, I am probably going to type in Hurray.com, another proper spelling of that word. Yes, having a cool and unique company name makes for a less expensive domain name, but losing a considerable amount of traffic to the proper/alternate spelling of the domain name can be an expensive mistake – especially since the correctly spelled domain name will increase in value once the incorrectly spelled domain name starts driving traffic to it.
I’m old school. If I am going to confidently build an online company that will rely on web traffic for revenue, I am going to bank on its success and buy a non-confusing domain name. At least if the company fails, the domain name will still have value!

How I Determine Whether to Develop or Flip

When I buy a domain name, the most significant quality I evaluate is the likelihood of it being used commercially. Using common sense, my marketing background and my consumer-savvy mind, I analyze whether a company would be willing to spend money building, marketing and branding a particular domain name as an online business. If I believe the answer is “yes,” and the price is right, I will usually buy the domain name. Since is not a tangible quality, I think this is where a huge disparity lies between people who have been financially successful and people who haven’t been as successful.
Once I purchase a domain name, I determine whether I will develop the domain name into a commercially viable business or sell it to someone else with that inclination. My first step after purchase is to try and determine the value of the domain name on the market – both to other domain investors and to an end user. If the value is worth considerably more than I paid and it’s not a project I’ve dreamed about working on, I will usually sell it. When I can quickly profit and/or upgrade easily by selling, it’s usually a no-brainer.
If the profit margin would be somewhat slim, I think about how I can develop the website on my own (with my developer) to increase the value and generate a passive revenue. Determining the type of site it would be best as is important, as there can be considerably more work depending whether it’s an informational website, offers a service or a commercial endeavor offering products for sale. I need to then figure out if I have the ability, capacity, and drive to operate and manage such a site. Additionally, I need to determine how long it would take to be profitable.
If I don’t particularly have an interest in the industry but I can build an easily manageable informational site, I might develop it with the intention of selling down the road. I have been doing this with some mini-sites, and I hope to share the results in a few weeks/months.. If I have little interest in the industry, and the site would take time and a considerable amount of money to develop, I will look to sell – even at a slim profit margin.
For me, development is equal parts enjoyment and equal parts profit. I am a history buff, and I like direct marketing (I was a History & Business major in college and have a Master’s Degree in Direct Marketing). This is just one reason why geodomains (such as Lowell.com and Burbank.com) are perfect for my business. My goal is to make a comfortable living – to enjoy life without many worries about money. I earn hotel and job revenue, and I am going to begin soliciting local businesses very soon. In fact, I received this nice submission on Lowell.com while in New Orleans:

subject : Lowell Form Submission
redirect : thanks.html
Name : xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Company : xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Email : xxxxxxxxxxxxxx@gmail.com
Phone : please email
Website : xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Comments : Could you please send me a rate package to advertise on your website, it would be a small 125/125 button preferably on your main page for a small business I own
submit1 : Submit

Personally, I would prefer a solid geodomain over almost any other type of domain name for several reasons.

  • The branding is already accomplished (assuming it’s the exact name of the city/town)
  • Many people type-in the domain name directly (57% for Lowell.com)
  • Can be informational or service oriented with ad sales depending on how much involvement owner wants to have
  • Huge opportunity to grow via search engine optimization
  • Almost all large US city .com names are currently developed (largest 250 cities in the US), so they don’t come on the market often I would still pay up to $100,000 for an east coast US city .com (I didn’t receive a single offer meeting my requirements.

It’s important to note that I am still generating most of my revenue by selling domain names. I am a “one man show” here and it wouldn’t make sense to overwhelm myself with development projects as there aren’t enough hours in the day.   I love my fiancee and my friends enough not to become a slave to this business, although they all know how much I love this business. I will slowly develop some of my domain names into revenue-producing websites while I continue to sell other domain names. As my websites continue to grow and generate more revenue, I will be able to scale down my selling to develop other websites.
This is the first business I have run entirely on my own, and it’s a learning process. Just like learning which domain names to buy is important, it’s equally important to learn which domain names to keep and develop and which names to sell.

Using Comps to Buy Domain Names

A while ago I discussed buying domain names to capitalize on industry trends and recent sales. For example, VideoShop.com sold for $30,900 last week, so very similar names like VideoStore.com or VideoShops.com would be great buys in a similar price range, as the sale of VideoShop.com could be used as a comparison point to make a profit (if you are buying for flipping purposes). Using relevant sales for comparison and valuation purposes is a great idea, and it’s a good way to pinpoint the value of a very similar domain name.
However, people should be cautious to not go out and make stupid registrations to try and capitalize on these trends and sales. Recently, Pizza.com sold for $2.6 million at auction. Since then, I can’t tell you how many pizza names have been listed for sale on various forums and sales venues at ridiculous prices. Just because Pizza.com sold for $2.6 million doesn’t mean GetYourHotPizza.com or NeighborhoodPizzaPlace.com are automatically worth anything, and in many cases, they aren’t worth any more than the registration fee.
Understanding why a domain name sold and buying similar names for the same reasons is good. For example, names like PizzaShop.com and PizzaDelivery.com are great because they make sense. Simply appending a word to the front or back of “Pizza” don’t automatically make it a good name. When you are trying to capitalize on a trend, do some keyword research to see why the name sold, and try to find similar names. Just because a name sounds like another name or looks close to another name, it doesn’t mean it has similar value.

Commercial Usage of a Domain Name

People often ask me what I look for when buying a domain name. While there are many factors that I consider, I think the single most important thing about a domain name is its potential commercial usage. When evaluating domain names to acquire, I ask myself, “how can this domain name be used, and would it make sense to build a website around this domain name?” If you are able to know exactly what will be on the website before even navigating to it because it’s a category killer name, you probably have a good name.
I hardly ever buy a domain name based on traffic or revenue numbers. There are too many non-controllable factors when buying based on these statistics, so my buying decision is not determined by these stats. Yes, I do ask about a domain name’s traffic, but that is to make sure the name “has a pulse” to get a feel for whether it is worth sinking money into a development project. The single most important thing to me is commercial usage.
Whether I am planning to build a website on the domain name or whether I plan to sell the domain name to someone who will build a website, I want to know whether the domain name makes sense to have a website. Sure, there are plenty of great “brandable” domain names out there, but why do I want to spend my time trying to convince someone about how great it sounds or why that particular domain name would be great for a particular site? I would rather be able to contact someone in the industry or someone in the domain industry and say, I have the category killer name for this particular niche, and the domain name is actually the name of a particular category or niche.
A person should never have to say, “this domain name would make a great xyz website.” A great, commercially viable, generic domain name shouldn’t need any explanation. For example, my newest acquisition is EstatePlanners.com. I believe this domain name needs no explanation, and that’s why I like it.

Tracking Domain Names for a Competitive Advantage

There are many companies that track domain names to get a competitive advantage over their competitors or to monitor another company’s strategic initiatives. Previously I discussed the use of IP address monitoring to track new domain purchases, but some companies simply track new domain registrations to essentially do the same thing.
I read a blog post in Boston Magazine where they speculated about where a Boston-based news outlet wanted to expand (prior to their demise). Because of domain privacy, they aren’t able to know for certain that the company bought those other names, but based on the date of registration and the registrar, they could get a pretty good idea about who registered the domain names.
There are many types of information a company can use to track a competitor. They are able to monitor trademark and patent filings, follow business license applications, watch city/state filings…etc. A company’s domain registrations are another tool to allow outsiders to look ahead and make predictions or assumptions about another company’s strategy.

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