Thursday, January 19, 2006
There isn't anyone who can seriously call themselves a webmaster who hasn't developed a relationship of sorts with Google. We agonize over things like "keyword density's" to try and get in Googles good favor, and we rely on Google for revenues from AdSense and AdWords. Yes there are other search engines and they can all bring us traffic, but Google is unique and we all know that.
There are those who have devoted far too much of their lives to achieving the "holy grail", a number one ranking for their prime keywords on Googles' organic (i.e. not paid for) search . Some are so devoted to achieving that first place position that it's possible they will never realize that there are many other treasures that can be mined from Google. And that's a shame, as the worlds number one search engine has so much more to offer.
Behind the Front Page
The Google success story is nothing short of amazing, rising from virtual obscurity at the turn of the century to becoming the gods of the search engine world in a few short years. We could all learn a valuable lesson from their success, one look at their home page and you'll immediately see that it is about as simple as it gets (the HTML for the page could have easily been composed with Notepad). The lesson here is that Google has made their mark on the world by providing a quality service, without all of the frills and flash that some previous efforts had used to entice people. Googles searches are fast and relevant - they built a better mousetrap and the world did indeed beat a path to their doorstep.
Log into Google (do I really need to give you the address?) and you'll notice that below the familiar logo and above the search box there are links to other Google services. Images, Groups, News, Froogle, Local and an enticing one labeled "More". Each one of these can be a valuable tool that webmasters can't afford not to get to know. Let's examine them:
Pretty simple, the Image search will find pictures for you. Glad we cleared that up! Obviously this is a great tool if you need graphics for a site you're building, but keep in mind that many images on the Internet are protected by copyrights and you can't just grab them without paying the proper compensation.
What is not as obvious is that Images can be a unique way to search for information, if you're researching fire hydrants it stands to reason that a site displaying pictures of them probably contains a lot of information about them as well (and it's true - visit www.firehydrant.org - really!).
Groups are another way to find relevant content, and they will sometimes steer you to resources that you may not have easily found with a standard search. Groups are created and edited by humans, and Google has added over a billion old Usenet postings to the pot. If using groups reminds you of using a newsreader then you have the right idea. Combine the Usenet format with Googles lightning-fast searches and you essentially have a newsreader on steroids. Check it out!
I've set this as my home page, it somewhat satisfies my cravings as I'm a confirmed news junkie. I like it because Google brings in news from thousands of news services around the world, so you can really get every side of the story.
The real power with the Google News is that you can customize it. Don't overlook the power of this feature, it can literally be the webmasters best friend as it leads to the thing that all sites need - fresh content.
No, I'm not suggesting for a second that you resort to plagiarism . But I am recommending that you personalize the Google news and use its capability to add ANY category you like. So if your site is about Australia then add this as a topic and you'll be greeted with all the latest news from Down Under. You can literally add any topic you like, obviously some will not produce as many news items as others (not much news about Pencil Shavings, way too much news about Paris Hilton). And you can get Google to send you e-mail alerts when your special topic is updated, the alerts can even be sent to your mobile phone. If you're putting together or maintaining a niche web site this tool is priceless.
If you sell or distribute a physical product on your site you simply cannot afford to ignore Froogle. This is Google's shopping site, and it's composed of products from vendors around the globe and is searchable (of course) by item, price and just about anything else you can think of. If you know you have the best price on left-handed gold-plated widgets then you'll do well on Froogle. If you're not sure if you have the best price you can quickly see all of your competitors prices, you may need to adjust your sales margin or at least throw in a free right-handed copper-plated widget to sweeten the deal.
So for market research or sales for your website or eBay store you simply have to register on Froogle (naturally it's free, like the rest of Google).
What a powerful word "local" is, although you might not realize it right away. The World Wide Web was meant to be, well, world-wide. A small-time operator in Nebraska could stand a chance against a mega-dollars corporation in New York, thanks to the global nature of the Internet. So why get excited about the word "local"?
It's exciting because it represents one of the latest trends on the Internet, the trend to provide local services. If you're the owner of a pizza parlor it doesn't make much sense to advertise to potential clients across the ocean (if you do then please don't offer free delivery - the first order you get from Ubekastan would wipe you out of business). But it makes lots of sense to try and be the first on the search engine listing for your home town. Google obtains a lot of these listings from local phone books and yellow pages, so if you want to be on this listing you should start by advertising there.
If you're doing research on a specific area or are expanding a bricks and mortar business the Local search could be worth its weight in gold. As Google has integrated this with their powerful Maps feature (more on that later) you'll be able to research everything about a business including it's physical location.
Web developers might also take note of the trend to provide local Internet services, as this gets more popular you may find that Google Local give you an excellent base of potential customers (I notice that your business is on Google Local but you don't have a website to link to - have I got a deal for you!).
There is more. Much, much more. But like all good things it will come to those who wait, and you'll have to wait for Part 2 tomorrow. See you then!
Friday, January 13, 2006
It never fails, whenever some new social trend or cultural phenomena makes waves there is a steady tide of con artists and shysters that quickly follow and set up shop. The Internet is a virtual breeding ground for these types, and the recently popularized field of Domain Name speculation is no exception. Whether you're new to this game or a seasoned veteran you always have to keep on your toes, as this posting will hopefully illustrate.
Con Game # 1 - The Domain Appraisal
Let me quickly point out that I'm not suggesting that every company offering Domain Name appraisals is dishonest, far from it. There are several reputable firms that will perform an honest assessment of your Domain Name and assign a perceived value to it, although the validity of that evaluation is still in question. The scam I'm referring to uses the appraisal as the final goal, and it goes like this:
At the beginning of the year I was looking through the e-mail account I use to make all my domain name and hosting purchases and registrations (I like keeping this segregated from my other e-mail). I was somewhat surprised to see an e-mail from a Robert Kayser (email@example.com) offering to buy one of the domains I had recently parked at SEDO. Here are the contents of Mr. Kayser's e-mail:
I'm interested in your domain name. Hope you have not sold it yet.
Did you get offers from other people?I need to know your desired price. Please don't ask to make an offer. Just email the desired price.
I run a software company. We develop client-server systems and databases in Oracle for a local company. Buying and selling domain names is not my main business. Just another way to invest money and make additional income.
I wish you and your family Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Robert Kayser Ph.D.
President Back Office Solutions
Although I have to admit that I was initially tickled to receive an offer on a name that I had just posted to SEDO a few days earlier I was also puzzled. For one thing, the price of the Domain Name in question was clearly stated on the SEDO page - this was a domain that I bought a year ago and have plans to develop a Web service with, so it is priced a bit steep as I really only have it parked for the possible PPC revenues.
I did a quick Google check on "Back Office Solutions", and it didn't take long to find out that Mr. Kaysers letter was the first event in a known scam (for one thing, this company has no web presence - odd for a firm whose president collects Domain Names) . After reading several forum posts and Blogs the pattern becomes pretty obvious. Here is how it would have unfolded if I had chosen to mail Robert back:
- I would reply to the letter with a price for my Domain Name, let say $2500.
- Robert would e-mail me back saying that he's happy with the price (should have asked for $4000!) but that he needs to have the name appraised. Robert would suggest an appraisal service that he trusts explicitly, and refers me to some forums where the conclusion is that these are the best appraisers on the planet and to use any other would be a sure sign of insanity. I'll have to ignore the fact that the appraisal service is run by the same company that hosts the forums!
- If I countered with the name of another Domain Name appraisal service Robert would insist upon the one he has chosen. He also will insist that I pay the full cost of the appraisal (about 70 dollars) myself, as even if I don't sell the domain name to him the resulting appraisal will be invaluable to me.
- Any attempts to argue the point will prove pointless. Also, Roberts English and grammar starts to suffer a bit when he responds to the letters now and he seems to be getting a bit upset with the negotiation process(he was so polite in the first e-mail, he even wished me a Happy New Year.).
- Things can now go two ways - (A) I take the bait and spend 70 dollars at Roberts favorite appraiser. Naturally the appraisal isn't favorable to me, and Robert backs off from the deal. OR (B) I tell Robert no sale, at which point I receive some very poorly worded and spelt profanity.
The consensus among the forum and blog posts I read was that this person (he goes by several names although the text of the letters are always identical) is based in Russia, making it difficult for the FTC to prosecute him. Sadly many of the posts were from those who had fell victim of this scam. Please don't let yourself become one of them.
Con Game # 2 - Domain Listings
For years I have been receiving notices in the mail (yes, snail mail) from a company that provides an "Internet Listing Service". What they are selling isn't illegal, but the way they sell it should be (unfortunately it's not).
The notice they send comes in the form of an Invoice, although it clearly states (in a 6-point font the same color as the page background) that it isn't. It REALLY looks official, and the word "Renewal" appears upon the list of invoiced items. In fact if you weren't looking carefully you might pay it thinking that it was your Domain Name renewal notice - which of course is the whole idea. As a convenience they have even provided an envelope to expidite delivery of your freshly signed check.
The service that the company is offering is to include your name in an Internet directory, kind of like a phone book. Kind of like a paper phone book, to be exact. Apparently your name will be seen by millions of people, who will naturally flock to your website with wallets open, eager to buy your entire line of simulated Elvis collectible shoehorns.
Before you write the 40 dollar check for this fabulous deal consider a few things. First one to consider is this - have you ever actually seen one of these directories? Do you know anyone else who has? Remember, "millions" of people are reading these things - so why aren't they that common? The answer is that even if they did print a million who would use them? What use is a paper listing for web addresses when we have Google, Yahoo and all the rest?
Do yourself a favor and keep the 40 dollars!
Con Game # 3 - False Renewal Notices
This is a bad one, and its been around for years. At about the time that your domain is up for renewal a con artist sends you an official looking e-mail that links to a site where you can renew your domain name. Everything seems in order, and you dig out your Visa card to complete the deal. This is really terrible, as not only have you given your credit card information out to a con-artist, you are also in jeopardy of losing your domain (the one you thought you renewed).
As with the above scam the crook got your Domain renewal and e-mail information from the WHOIS database. One way to thwart this scam might be to consider registering your Domain Name with privacy, many registrars offer this service for free or for a nominal cost. This way your personal information stays out of the WHOIS database. Another way to keep from being burned by this one is to simply keep track of your Domain Names, who you registered them with and when they are due for renewal.
The Domain Name Game can be a fun and profitable endeavor, but you have to keep your eyes out and be aware of those who don't play fair. Remember to check out any and every offer you get, use Google, forums and blogs to perform your research. Also, don't forget to check with the Better Business Bureau, on their site you can search their database and see if the company that has just offered to buy frumpweasle.com from you for 10,000 dollars is legitimate or not.
If you've experienced any of the above cons or know about any others please feel free to post, I know everyone would be interested in hearing about them.
With the explosion of the Internet and the current fascination with Domain Name speculation it is common to think of Domain Names as being the Real Estate of the 21st century. That common analogy isn't far from the truth, as Domain Names share several of the same characteristics as their material counterparts. With that in mind let's set out to evaluate a Domain Name using some of the same criteria we'd use when purchasing a home.
Buy or Build?
In the physical world we're more likely to buy a home that is already developed on a property than we are to buy land and build a house, but when it comes to Domain Names the reverse is likely true. Most people in the market for a Domain Name have intentions of building a site from scratch, as opposed to taking over an existing site - even those buying an established name usually have the intention of tearing down the old site and putting up a new one.
A "recycled" Domain name (one that has previously been registered but has either been sold to you or has expired) can be a goldmine if you're putting up a site with the same audience as the original one had. This assumes that there ever was an original site, and that the site actually drew visitors that were not related to or living with the sites creator. If there are still previous visitors who haven't realized that the original site has been abandoned you'll have a chance to market your widgets or canine footwear to them, at least once.
Buying an existing web site is akin to buying an existing house, and you should use the same level of scrutiny when negotiating a fair price. As a web site is often a business you'll want to do all of the conventional assessments that you'd make on any business you're considering purchasing. In addition you should find out all you can about the history of the site, the Wayback Machine website is a really good resource as they may have previous versions of the site stored in their vast database of Internet history.
Know Your Neighborhood
When you select a home it's standard practice to avoid properties located next door to a brothel or crack-house, and it's a real faux-pas to locate in between them. The same can be true on the Internet.
In the virtual world of Domains the name is everything. It has to convey the image your site or company is trying to project and it needs to be easy to remember. A substantial number of visitors will try and find your site by typing what they think is the "logical" name in their browsers address bar. This behavior makes the selection of an appropriate moniker even more important.
If your name sounds like, or is spelled like another name you'll want to check that other site out first. If people misspell your URL by one letter and end up on a site selling Male Enhancement products they may take offense and shut down the browser before they attempt to correct the mistake. This is very critical when you buy a hyphenated name, if someone else has already registered the non-hyphenated version then it's a sure bet that they'll be receiving the benefit of some of your traffic. If they are a competitor (which is more than likely if you have virtually identical names) then you could end up losing sales or visitors. If you do choose a hyphenated name try and buy the non-hyphenated version yourself if possible. Similarly, if your name lends itself to hyphenation you'd be wise to purchase this additional domain, to prevent someone from squatting on your property.
To know your Internet neighborhood do some research on names that are similar to yours. The easiest form of research is to simply try them on your web browser and examine the sites. You can also do further research with a WHOIS database, especially if the name leads to a dead site - you may want to purchase the name from it's current owner and the WHOIS database will have contact information, as well as the expiry date of the current registration.
Your Internet Domain Name is a key element of your online business strategy, so it pays to exercise the same care in choosing it that you would apply to any major decision. This is especially true when the name is being purchased at a premium price from its current owner. The time you spend researching the name will pay for itself by providing your site with a solid foundation to build upon.
Welcome to the neighborhood!
The proliferation of high-priced domain names in the news these days brings up a logical question; what makes one name more valuable than another? Ask this question to a dozen people and you'll likely get a dozen diverse responses, as everyone has their own opinion on what creates value in a Domain Name. But within those responses you'll also find some core elements that observers, for the most part anyway, seem to concede make up a choice Domain Name.
This posting is an attempt to summarize those characteristics that are most desirable in a Domain Name. Use it along with your own common sense and good instincts, and please feel free to comment on it.
The Top Level Domain, or TLD, is still seen as the most important factor in a Domain Names value. The dotcom (.com) domain is still the all-time favorite, specifically due to its familiarity among all Internet users worldwide. Country-specific TLD's are getting to be more popular, especially in Canada (.ca), Germany (.de) and Australia (.au) - as well the British public are very used to using their commercial domain (.co.uk) . Here in the US we don't use the .us domain that frequently as we're still pretty well ingrained with .com, but that could change soon. One TLD to look out for would be the new European (.eu) domain that is about to be released.
While they don't yet command the same prices as the dotcoms the relatively new .biz and .info domains could one day be the next hot properties. We're simply running out of good dotcom names, so as popular websites start appearing with other TLD's the public will gradually accept them. DotInfo and DotBiz lend themselves to some very catchy and descriptive names that will undoubtedly become more valuable as the Internet extends even further into our lives.
The number of characters permissible in a domain name was recently expanded, making names such as "myverylongdomainnamethatilike.com" feasible. This of course is both a blessing and a curse, as a number of very descriptive and VERY long names are now springing into existence.
For resale value shorter is better, the Wall Street Journal uses wsj.com and not their full name as they realize their audience isn't going to want to type that into their browser bar. Most people seem to agree that the shorter names are the most valuable. In addition, names consisting of one word are the Internet equivalent of Oceanside property - and for this reason they are just about impossible to find in any TLD. Two-word domains are still available, although finding two words that make some sort of sense when used together is a bit tricky.
While long domain names are generally undesirable there can be exceptions, often due to current events, celebrities or news items. During the start of the war a popular site was "welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com", a site devoted to the quotes and antics of that lovable Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (the fellow who was still reporting glorious Iraqi army victories as US troops were storming Baghdad in the background). Yours truly is still kicking himself for not grabbing "runawaybride.com" when the world was rivited to the crazy story of Jennifer Wilbanks and her spur-of-the-moment cross-country trip. If you're fast to spot a breaking news item you could score a victory with a catchy related name, no matter how long it is.
The Name Itself
It shouldn't require a degree in Rocket Science to see how names like business.com and news.com could be perceived to be more valuable than ornithorhynchus.com ("ornithorhynchus" is the Greek word for Platypus, in case you'd forgotten). A name that describes the sites function or the business's product is good news for everyone.
But sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious. Back in the early days of the Net (anyone remember Gopher, Jughead and Veronica?) who would have picked "amazon.com" to be the name that everyone would associate with online book orders? Why not "books.com" or "library.com"? And how about eBay, would anyone have picked that name out of the hat back in the early days?
Social trends and cute catchy names can influence name values tremendously. Although it's been a word for a long time (it refers to a mathematical expression for one hundred to the power of one hundred) "Google" only entered into the common vernacular recently, those who aren't math professors (or trivia addicts) hadn't heard the phrase until Google started taking over the world at the dawn of the new millennium.
To Hyphen or Not To Hyphen
Yes, that is the question. As for the answer, well this is probably the most debated topic among those who claim to be experts.
The argument for using hyphenated words (like hawaii-beach-vacations.com) is for their clarity to both humans and search engine spiders above non-hyphenated names (like hawaiibeachvacations.com). The argument against them is that they are harder to remember or to spell to someone over the phone.
In general the hyphenated names seem to trade for less value, so if you're purchasing domain names solely for investment purposes you might want to avoid or limit the number of hyphenated names in your portfolio. If you're buying a domain name for your business you might want to consider a hyphenated name, if possible you'd probably be best to splurge and buy both versions - you can point them to the same website and capture the traffic sent by both names.
While domain names are being purchased at a phenomenal rate there are also names that are expiring every day, and this market has become a lucrative one for domain name speculators. They will literally sit on a good domain name until the moment it expires, then they'll try and grab it.
A "used" domain name can be more valuable than one that is just freshly registered for two reasons. First, the name was probably registered back when there were more choices available, so it could likely be a very good name to start with. Secondly, if there was once a site associated with the name it may have a reputation - if the reputation is a good one that the name could be valuable in that it already has an existing customer traffic base.
Of course this last point is only really useful if you're planning to continue with a site that is along the same theme as the original. If you buy "cowfarmer.com" and then change it from an agricultural site to a site selling skins for iPods you'll likely lose the majority of the established traffic (and if you have any business partners you'll probably loose them too!).
Assigning a Monetary Value
This is the difficult part, putting a dollars value on a domain name. Would you have evaluated "business.com" for 7.5 million dollars? How would you evaluate a name like "newcarsales.com"?
Sadly there is no standard for assigning a pricetag to a name. If you have a great name but no one seems to be interested you may well sell it for very little. However if you have a buyer who ses your name as being just perfect for his/her latest business venture then you may be able to command a ridiculously high price for it.
Several Domain Name appraisal services have come into existence recently. Some buyers use them as a deciding factor in making a purchase, which is scary as there are no guidelines that these appraisers have to follow - you're literally paying them for an opinion. As a seller I can see little value in them, especially as the appraisal result vary greatly between services.
The best guidelines for a domain names value are to keep your eye on recent Domain Name sales. Find names similar to yours and see how much they fetched, this will start to give you a ballpark figure that you can use in evaluating your name.
The value of a name is mostly that of individual perception, but some key elements still factor in. Keep these in mind and you should be able to build up a portfolio with considerable value.
I'm a newbie to the Game, but not to Domain names - I've purchased several over the years and had several names in my "portfolio" long before I decided to see if they had any resale value. I've always bought Domain Names with the intention of building a website (or even better, a Web Service) behind them. I'm a technophile who spends a large fraction of his life developing software, and these days I've mostly gravitated towards building web-based applications using PHP and mySQL. While I have no real talent for layout, thanks to the fine people at the Open Source Design Group I have used a selection of open-source templates that I modify to use within my designs. Most of my previous work has been for corporate Intranet and Extranets, but I'd like to apply it now to the Web in general. I have a database-driven website and content management system that I've been perfecting for about a year now, and I want to offer it out as open-source soon - it's specifically geared to the management of a network of web sites. And that "network of web sites" is precisely what inspired me to start collecting a portfolio of Domain Names in the first place!
Recently I started parking some of my Domains at SEDO and offering them up at a fair profit. The thought here is that I probably won't get any serious offers (which is OK, as I fully intend to develop these sites anyway) and I'll just perhaps earn some PPC revenue. My fiancee has also been bitten by the Domain Game bug and she's started a small portfolio of more saleable names that I am going to manage for her - this in turn has inspired me to amass more saleable names of my own. So now I'm in the Game!
With any endeavor that has the potential to deplete my already strained financial and time resources I'm always very careful to research all the facts before I dive in head first. So I've spent a few months researching Domain Name Sales from every angle I could think of, and every day I'm looking into new sources and reading new postings on Blogs and forums to keep up to date with this fast paced Game. And now I'm starting this Blog in an effort to try and inspire more communication about this Game. Further, I'm also developing some of my properties into domain name web sites. One of them will be a niche site specifically focused on gathering all of the information that one would need to play the game. Another will be a Web Service that, when developed, will allow subscribers to manage and research their portfolio and speculations. I intend to make this the best of the best, I'm currently evaluating every domain-related piece of software that I can get my hands on in an effort to design the ultimate" domain research tool. The intention is to offer a free (advertiser-supported) and a pay subscription to the service, which I hope to make too invaluable for any serious player to refuse. Note that I haven't released the URL's for either site yet, as they are both in their infancy right now.
I'd love to hear from any and all who have been playing the game, or who are also just getting started with it. In turn I plan to pass on information that I've digested from all of my ongoing research.
Let the Games Begin.....