Mastering Your Domain Strategy

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george_smallADOTAS – Forrester Research recently revealed that the U.S. is now spending as much time online as it is watching TV. This shift of attention towards the web isn’t lost on most brands, as we’ve seen a steady increase in the average sale price of domain names, having grown for the third straight quarter in 2010.

Businesses now recognize the importance of a strong web presence, but many don’t realize that purchasing a domain name without having a strategy behind it is like leaping before you look. There are a number of factors to consider – both before and after making a domain purchase – in developing an ideal domain strategy to maximize a company’s online presence and provide significant ROI.

Before You Buy

As we saw with Sex.com and other high-profile domain sales last year, companies will pay millions for so-called “category killer” names. The reason? Discoverability. Premium names capture direct navigation traffic – people navigating using the address bar – and are inherently search engine optimized (SEO). For instance, if you type “wine” into Google, Wine.com is one of the first results.

Premium domains are expensive, but people like Warren Royal, who acquired Bobbleheads.com for $30,000 in 2008, can vouch for their investment value. Royal’s bobbleheads dominate the market today, and he recently received an equity investment from Digimedia, the new media powerhouse behind websites like Recipes.com, Chairs.com and Decorations.com.

Most businesses don’t have room for a premium domain in their marketing budgets. Fortunately, including a descriptor in your domain name can also bring you to the top of search queries. Searching for “wine” again, also yields winespectator.com, winelibrary.com and winehq.org. The key is acquiring a memorable domain, making it easy for visitors to find you.

Generic top-level domains (gTLD) are also making big strides in the domain market. While the most popular continues to be .com with 74% of all sales last quarter, .net was also on the rise, representing 11% of all sales. .org (8%), .info (5%) and .biz (2%) are also gaining popularity worldwide.

Similarly, country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are constantly being approved and released. For example .me, the code for Montenegro, was approved in 2007 and remains relatively untapped. These alternative domain endings can save businesses thousands on premium names.

Ready to Buy — Now What?

Thousands of people a day settle for less desirable domains just because they are currently available. One thing to consider is that the average domain is sold at around $2000; even currently owned can be acquired, often at a very reasonable price.

Domain brokerage firms and secondary domain marketplaces are making it easy for buyers to see available domains at a range of prices. Like a real estate agent, these companies speed up digital real estate purchasing and help to eliminate unnecessary risks.

Dynamic Network Services tried unsuccessfully to acquire DYN.com, a previously owned domain, on its own for six months. Finally, turning to a domain brokerage firm for help, the company was able to purchase DYN.com in a matter of weeks.

“We used a lot of man hours to research the seller’s contact information, send multiple emails and make a bunch of phone calls, and basically got nowhere,” said Kyle York, vice president of sales and marketing for Dynamic Network Solutions. “Working with a domain broker, we were able to acquire the name and finalize the deal in three to four weeks. The process was quick and painless, so we were glad we finally decided to turn to the experts, as this domain was of strategic importance to us.”

Expanding Your Reach

Even after acquiring the ideal domain, there are steps that can help businesses reach a wider audience. A portfolio of domains is no longer just for career investors; businesses can also obtain multiple domains and park them for ad revenues or redirect them to other pages, increasing traffic.

Redirecting traffic is a common practice. Domains that are misspellings or misinterpretations of a company’s name can be redirected to the main page. Google, for instance, redirects traffic from Gogle.com to Google.com.  Traffic can also be directed from other websites to a main page, as Calvin Klein does with Bras.com and Underwear.com. Aggregating traffic not only boosts traffic to the landing page, but also enables companies to target consumers based on their specific interests.

Domain strategies are highly dependent on the individual company, but fundamentally provide similar benefits: increased traffic and attention, transparent ROI and performance marketing insights. Still an underutilized tool, domain names are taking off in this Internet era. In Q3 2010 alone, 10,085 domains changed hands for more than $20 million, and that number will increase in 2011.

Companies are now in the middle of their 2011 planning, and those that choose to include a comprehensive domain strategy in their marketing plans will have a major advantage.

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