Buying Domain Names

TreatmentCenters.com – $100k Domain to $1Million Website

TreatmentCenters.com is a great example of a company buying the domain name they needed and building it into a million dollar website. TreatmentCenters.com was sold for $100,000 by Afternic/BuyDomains as reported in DNJournal. This domain name informs visitors about exactly what they will find when they type it in to their browser, and it doesn’t disappoint upon arrival. For this business model, there probably aren’t any better domain names out there.
Using a directory model, TreatmentCenters.com provides paid and unpaid listings for various health and mental treatment centers and counselors throughout the country. Visitors can search by condition, by state or by provider name to find what they need. When a website like this is able to provide names, addresses, contact information, and data on the topic of interest to the searcher, it builds stickiness, and the searcher will probably return. This provides a positive experience for the visitor, and it also provides an ROI for the advertiser.
Kudos to the people behind TreatmentCenters.com! This is an aesthetically pleasing, well-functioning website, and it looks like a million bucks! I hope to emulate it with some of my entries down the road – including Lowell.com.

Keyword Search Tool to find Domain Names

I’ve been using a great keyword search tool to help me target domain acquisitions. Using KeywordDiscovery.com, a tool created by Trellian, I am able to find popular search terms related to specific keywords. I can then target specific domain names by putting the popular terms together. While I presume the main intent of this tool is to find keywords for developed website content, this tool helps me target potential domain acquisitions.
Oftentimes, the names that I find aren’t the obvious $100,000 domain names that many people target. These names are usually the strong second tier names that could sell for anywhere between $10,000 – $50,000 at auction or private sale. The advantage for me is that most of these names are less mined, meaning that the owners receive less solicitations. As a result, the owners are more inclined to discuss the sale of their domain names, and I am more likely to complete a sale.
As a rough example, using the keyword “cheap,” the most common searches are for “cheap tickets,” “cheap flights,” and “cheap airfare.” I would imagine the owners of CheapTickets.com, CheapFlights.com, and CheapAirfare.com receive hundreds of domain inquiries a week for these particular names, even though two of those are developed and one is parked.
Using the KeywordDiscovery.com search tool, I can see that “cheap bridesmaid dresses,” “cheap textbooks,” and “cheap lingerie” are all fairly popular search terms, indicating that the corresponding domain names would have some value. If I was looking for a name in this genre, I would probably hone in on these names.
Now that the Overture Search Tool isn’t work much (if at all), KeywordDiscovery.com is a great tool for domain investors to find potential domain names. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that corresponding domain names receive traffic, it is indicative of the search term being desirable.
Also, I am not being compensated to write this. I am using the free trial.

Jump the Domain Market

In the investment world, once a story hits the press, the price of the affected company’s stock is impacted almost immediately. In the domain industry, news travels less quickly, and because of that, you could possibly get a jump on news before price increases are made. Timing is everything.

One way to get a jump on the news is to review the list of domain names that are scheduled to be auctioned in an upcoming live auction. Do your best to determine the value for each live auction domain name based on the venue, comps, current market value…etc, and compare your calculations to the reserve prices. Should your valuation be significantly higher than the reserve price, there may be a strong chance the domain name will sell at auction.

When a domain name sells at auction for a significant price, the demand for similar names may increase as a result. In the week or so before the auction, if you are confident that a particular name is going to make a big splash in the auction, attempt to acquire similar domain names using Whois searches or via domain marketplace. If you don’t have the opportunity to do this quickly enough, you can do the same thing immediately after the auction. I recommend this strategy if you have a strong feel for the domain market and are willing to take a financial risk.

Of course, the caveat is that not all domain names are similar, even if they look the same. You need to know the market well enough to feel comfortable going out on these types of limbs. Also, the demand for similar names may be short lived, so this is a short term strategy.

Disconnect Between Buyers & Sellers

“This domain name can be developed into a great website!” This popular phrase amongst sellers is laughable to many buyers and developers who would argue that ANY domain name can be used for a great website. What some sellers don’t realize is the actual time and cost of building a profitable website. This can cause a disconnect between domain sellers and buyers.

For many buyers who plan to develop their domain purchases, the right domain name is essential, but contingent upon the price. When buying a domain name for a specific project, the buyer knows his overall budget (based on expected returns). In the budget, he allocates funds based on the approximate cost of the project, the cost of marketing, the cost of technical management, hosting, and other incremental costs. He also knows what he can afford to spend on the domain name. Most of the time, a buyer is willing to spend a bit more than he really wants on the right domain name, but there is a limit to the overage.

Developers typically think differently than domain investors. Developers believe that if they build a great website, visitors will find it no matter what the domain name is. Domain investors believe visitors will find the website more easily (and more quickly), and they will be able to recall the website much quicker if it has a memorable generic domain name. Both lines of thought are accurate, which can make bridging the gap more difficult.

In my opinion, the time to spend the money on a generic domain name is if you have a “category killer” product or service, and owning the domain name of that category will instantly make you the industry leader. If you are building a city directory for example, you want to spend the extra money and buy the city .com name rather than a “brandable” domain name. It gives you instant credibility when speaking with potential advertisers, and Google loves targeted domain names!

Generic Domains: Informational vs. Transactional Websites

In many instances, having a generic domain name as a standalone brand, or forwarding a generic domain name to an existing brand’s website can play a large role in the growth of that online business. This is especially true for informational websites, and may be less important for transactional websites.

When the sole purpose of a website is to give information, and there are a number of sites that provide the same information, the consumer may be more likely to simply navigate to the generic domain name. Why bother to remember a complicated domain name when you can find the exact same information on the generic domain name?

However, when a website is transactional, whereby a visitor makes (or considers) a purchase, a generic domain name is important, but less so than for an informational website. With a transactional site, there is much more to the customer experience than simply finding information. The visitor pays close attention to brands, pricing, fulfillment and customer service. Because of this, consumers are more likely to remember the site that gives the best all around service.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you are developing a business around the domain name and plan to generate revenue by selling products or services, the domain name may be less important than the other attributes in building a positive customer experience. If your website is informational in nature, and you plant to generate revenue  from advertising/ppc links, having the generic domain name may be critical.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Revenue Multiples

I think Michael Gilmour has one of the sharpest minds in the domain business, but I am going to play devil’s advocate to his post today about buying based on revenue multiples. In today’s post, Michael provides some guidelines about what someone might expect to pay based on the type of name they are buying:

“I’m really going to stick my neck out here and state some revenue multiple ranges for different types of domains. For the purposes of this example let’s imagine that roysfood.com has a trademark and is a small business in Utah.

Type of domain Example No. Months
Direct TM infringing from heavy TM defending company microsoftword.com 0-3
Direct TM infringing from non-defending company roysfood.com 6-12
TM typo of heavy defending company micorsaft.com 3-9
TM typo of non-defending company rosyfod.com 12-18
Typo of a generic multi-word domainperking.com 36-48
Typo of a generic single-word domain.com 48-60
Generic multi-word domainparking.com 60-72
Generic single-word domain.com 72+”

In my time in the domain business, I have never purchased a name nor have I sold a name based on any type of revenue multiple. Incidentally, I had a long conversation with a successful domain investor today about this, and I believe that buying or selling based on a revenue is very risky and shouldn’t be done by anyone but a domain expert and/or domain actuary.

Reasons why I think you shouldn’t buy (or sell) based on a revenue multiple:

  1. It’s very difficult to determine how much a name can earn based on different parking companies, different revenue shares, different landing pages…etc. Whose revenue do you use for the multiple? Do you count on someone else’s revenue share which might be considerably higher than yours? It would be in the buyer’s best interest to have revenue be as low as possible during a traffic test. Likewise, it’s in the seller’s best interest to earn as much money as possible while the domain name is being tested. If the buyer can’t replicate the exact conditions the seller had when he was selling, the buyer may never see anything close to the quoted revenues.
  2. If the name is dependent upon search engine placement, what happens if Google/Yahoo update their algorithm, causing traffic (and consequently revenue) to plunge? The buyer could be screwed in this situation. This is especially difficult if the new owner changes DNS or does something that could catch the attention of search engines. Even a change in the Whois or registrar could possibly impact it. The reality of the situation is that the search engines are powerful and mysterious. We don’t know exactly how they work, but we hope things we do can help boost rankings.
  3. How does a buyer know if the traffic is “real” or if the seller is asking his buddies to do a little clicking on the PPC ads. What happens if/when the traffic dies? Hypothetically, a domain name that earns an extra $1.00 per day is worth around $3,000 more on a ten year revenue multiple.

Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think there are many people out there willing to sell their revenue producing generic domain names simply based on a 72 month revenue multiple as suggested by Michael, or even a 120 month multiple. If there are, I would be suspicious, just because it sounds like it could be too good to be true.

As I said in my post about the Art of Pricing a Domain Name, the most important factors for me in determining a price to sell and to buy are the following:

1) Traffic the name receives
2) Revenue the name receives
3) Google listings for the “bracketed term”
4) Advertisers on Google
5) Comps of recent sales
6) Gut feel

Revenue is certainly important, but no way would I buy only based on a revenue multiple. It’s good to know what kind of revenue potential the domain name has based on what people are looking for when they navigate to the site, but it’s not close to being the main factor.

To me, buying or selling a domain name simply based on a revenue multiple is a losing proposition for both parties.

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