S: Your domain name is your most important digital asset. Well, at least one of the most important. Knowing how to acquire, develop, and sell high-value domains might be a pretty valuable skill, no? You’re about to learn all about this from an expert in this very area and has been the foundation of his business. In this episode number 116, today’s guest is Peter Askew. He’s a domainer who’s online businesses include duderanch.com, an online directory of Dude Ranches, vidalioonions.com, a full-scale ecommerce website, and calltracking.com which is a Software As A Service or SaaS. All of these businesses are booming. Peter, it’s great to have you on the show.
P: Thank you for having me, Stephan.
S: Let’s talk about domaining and how you go about your approach of picking up domains but before we do, let’s share your story about how you got into this. You started with duderanch.com. Let’s start with a little bit of background.
P: Sure. I’m based in Atlanta. Got exposed basically to the online world back in late 90s during the Dotcom boom. Started working for a few startups here in the Atlanta area, kinda got a full exposure of really the web. I had a background in History. I didn’t have much exposure to Computer Science so I had to start almost educating myself in all of these crazy moving parts of the internet. Over the years, I was sort of cobbling together a little bit of experience here, a little bit of experience there, and start moving into SEO and paid search. I started kind of recognizing the impact both of those channels were having on some businesses that I was working for. Started digging pretty deep within SEO and paid search. When I started digging within paid search and SEO and analytics as well, I started realizing the importance or kind of the neat aspect in the domain, its relationship to the website as a whole. I read, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, I read an old article, Jim Boykin wrote a great article back in the day when he was still writing on the We Build Pages website. He wrote a great article that said… It was back in the day when Google had the Sandbox, if you release a new site, they throw it in their Sandbox, and let it sit there until they trust it enough. He wrote this great article saying, “Screw the Sandbox, just buy an old website.” That one article shifted my entire thinking from rather than me just coming up with an idea and trying to launch a website and buying one of these pesky domain names, why don’t I just start looking at domain names and treating them as assets and see if they might potentially be a baked in business. That started shooting me down this rabbit hole of domain names, looking at them as assets, and looking at good keyword. Descriptive, generic, no trademark infringing domains but generic type of terms, table.com, glasses.com. Trying to identify ways to acquire these types of names but also other types of names. If I acquired one, trying to determine what is the best course of action for me to build a business. Is it buying a domain and trying to flip it six months or a year later? Or is my best strategy buying and monetizing some of the existing traffic if it had existing traffic through parking? Or finding one and truly building a business? I tried every single angle. I wasn’t very good at sales at least from the resale, trying buying and flipping. I bought and buy a few for $5000 or $10,000 and then I’d have a hard time selling for $5000 and $10,000 a couple years later. The parking route is difficult. It’s difficult to make parking these days, at least. When I started buying domains, I started developing them, investing a lot of money in one single domain that might have an interesting business baked into it. I started seeing almost instant traction. On top of that, I had a whole heck of a lot more fun developing, and using all this knowledge that I cobbled together through the years from paid search analytics, then I got into a little bit of graphic design, and started growing heavy into analytics. I started really kind of hard coring the domaining route in 2006 and then started really paying attention to if any good keyword descriptive domain that might come up for auction or somebody abandons a domain name or somebody abandons it, it’ll go back to registrar, the registrar will place the domain name up for auction prior to releasing it back into the ecosystem if you wanna call it that. They publish this list that you can scrub through and in ‘09, that’s when DudeRanch expired. It was duderanch.com that was owned by a dude rancher up in New York state that went out of business. They didn’t renew the domain and they placed it off for auction. When I saw it, I was like, “Holy cow.” I’m very familiar with the industry. I had a few friends that worked at dude ranches from high school so I was familiar with the industry, it’s a great high-ticket item. A typical dude ranch vacation for a family of four could be around $10,000. I just have a rough estimate that they’re making 20% or 30% profit margins off the $10,000. They’re making a fair amount from one vacation booking. I looked around in the advertising world and recognized that a lot of dude ranches were actively advertising. When it came up I was like, “Ahh, maybe I could build a really helpful dude ranch directory, just a yellow page.” Just a very simple business model and start digging myself into this industry to figure out if there are any other pain points they may have that I can help to encourage other folks from maybe the East Coast or from the West Coast or out West to consider dude ranch vacation as an alternative to a beach vacation or cruise or Disneyland especially. Holler if I keep going down the rabbit hole because I tend to.
S: No, it’s kind of a funny parallel that back in the day, I had started a bed and breakfast directory just for fun. I registered the domain Inn Site, innsite.com, built a bed and breakfast directory and made it user generated content so you can go in and update it as an innkeeper. Create your entry, update it as much as you wanted and would update it real time.
S: That was back in the day, in 1995 I launched that thing.
P: Oh, wow.
S: I kept it running for 15 years before selling it in 2010 for six figures. Made out okay with it.
S: Yeah, it was kind of a cool parallel to what you were doing with duderanch.com.
P: Yeah, very similar. A lot of folks refer to dude ranches – they’re very, very similar with bed and breakfast. A lot of people call them ‘adventure travel’ or ‘the original all-inclusive vacation’ but they are like a bed and breakfast but with horses and a lot of activities.
S: Yeah, I’ve been to dude ranches like Colorado. It’s really cool, really, really fun. You monetized it by charging fees for the dude ranch owners like advertising or premium listings. That sort of thing?
P: Exactly. Inclusion and then we can upsell based on additional exposure through banners across the site.
S: Did you also monetize through Google AdSense, because that was my primary monetization strategy. I kinda let it run on autopilot so it was minimal amount of upkeep because the innkeepers went it and did their own thing.
S: They maintain their own listings. Maybe my team spent five hours a month maintaining the site and responding to customer service inquiries and then we made thousands of dollars a month like $5000 – $10,000 a month in AdSense revenue which was fine for a site in auction.
P: That’s beautiful. I put a small amount of AdSense. I’m testing one of the link units right now just to see if it’s helpful for the users, if the users don’t find it too intrusive. But the core 95% – 98% of our revenues are all from listings. General listing on their state page and then additional banners across the page, across the entire site if say a ranch in Idaho that folks typically think of Idaho’s a dude ranch territory. They have some amazing ranches in Idaho. Our banners that run across the entire site are a great way for Idaho ranch to tap folks on the shoulder and say, “Hey, if you happen to live in eastern Washington, you can drive to a dude ranch versus flying down to Colorado and you can save all that expense and you may simply not be aware that you have some within driving distance.”
S: Very cool. duderanch.com came about because you found the domain name was available, it was expired and you could snap it off at auction. You had a personal interest in that topic area so you went ahead and developed a whole online business around that. You have all these other sites, these other domains that you built out into websites too.
P: Yeah, correct. Let me just touch on something that you just mentioned on Dude Ranch. I had an exposure to the dude ranch industry. I didn’t necessarily have any type of deep-seated passion. I developed a passion for it after I really got into the industry and began meeting all the ranchers and learning more about the industry. I had a level of curiosity about the industry and that almost does waterfall over into some of these projects. But yeah from Dude Ranch, gosh, about five years later, another domain popped up that I turned into an ecommerce kind of form to door and it revolves around a sweet onion that’s grown in South Georgia, exclusively in South Georgia. The domain is vidaliaonions.com. It was more of a lark. For Dude Ranch, I was dead set on buying that domain and I was gonna spend whatever it took. I bought Dude Ranch for about roughly $18,000 back in 2009. Vidalia I backordered just because I’m familiar with the onion, wasn’t crazy about the onion and I’m very familiar with the industry. I’m only three hours away being here in Atlanta. It‘s like, “Can we just watch this? This is an interesting domain to chew on.” I was like, “I don’t know what the business is. Is it another directory? Do I list a whole bunch of farmers and do the farmers pay me money?” I was like, “I seriously doubt these farmers are gonna pay me money to be listed on a Vidalia directory.” But then I kinda started looking at myself and started using myself as a guinea pig. Are you familiar with those pears that Harry and David ships out every year? They are really, really good pears. I order them every single year. They’re some of the best pears I eat every year. Vidalia is considered the caviar of sweet onion, I wonder if a farm-to-door delivery service is a possibility. It’s a total different model from Dude Ranch because I’m a shepherd of information for Dude Ranch. I’m just letting people look at information, I charge ranchers a listing fee. I don’t have any physical product businesses. These physical products businesses are an entirely different beast than an information-driven model. But I was like, “Let me just see where this goes. This is interesting.” I watched it in auction and prior to me going through that business case in my head, I was just watching off the side of my eye as the auction went on that the bidding went up to a little over $2000 and I dropped in a bid at I think it was $2200 and no one placed into the initial bid. I was like, “Well, looks like I’m buying Vidalia onions, a domain on the vegetables grown in South Georgia.” I bought it and kind of sat on it for a month or two because I didn’t know what to do with it. It almost kept talking to me. I was like, “This is a really neat domain.” It’s a quite large industry. The industry, they sell anywhere from $120-$150 million worth of Vidalias every year and chefs absolutely go crazy for these domains and home cooks. I started in ecommerce projects. I was like, “How do I get access to this industry? I’m not a Vidalia onion farmer. I understand how to run an ecommerce website. I know how to capture emails. I know how to do customer service on the phone, but I can’t grow Vidalias in Atlanta and I can’t run a farm in Atlanta.” Let me just go down to Vidalia and there’s actually a city in South Georgia called Vidalia, Georgia. They have a Vidalia onion business counsel. I called them and just mentioned that, “Hey, my name is Peter. I happen to own the domain Vidalia onions and I’d like to help grow your industry and just trying to see if there are any farmers that I can partner up with on a mail order type of business.” They were great, they were really, really helpful. I ended up just going down to meet with them to kind of understand what were some of the pain points, do they think this is a pain point that some of the farmers have or do they think this is a product that the general public even wants? I started to speak with them and they were helpful enough to introduce me to about three or four farms to see if any of those farmers might be a good match, and I found a great match in this farm called M&T Farms and their General Manager’s name is Aries Haygood, he has a background in Marketing but now is their General Manager around the farm. He saw the value of being associated with the name and I would build them a website for free and present my partnership with M&T and basically provide farm-to-door. They have an office, they already had a preexisting relationship with UPS, and they had some computers at the farm where we could print out shipping labels. The way we structured the business is I run the website, I capture all leads in the off season for a priority notification prior to the season beginning, which roughly begins in late April, early May. I run all the ecommerce, I take all of that off their plate, I capture orders, and then I communicate the orders down to the farm, and they print out the shipping labels and they put stickers on boxes. UPS backs up everyday and picks up our orders.
S: That’s a really cool model. Basically, you own the most important asset of all which is the domain name, the brand. If things fall apart between your two organizations, you still have that and they have to go off and create like vidaliaonionsnumbertwo.com or something like that.
P: Correct. Well, the neat thing with M&T, they didn’t even have a website prior to me partnering with them. I was like, “Hey, worst case scenario, if we get zero orders, I’m gonna build your website, and number two you’ll be able to leverage the vidaliaonions.com domain.” In the early days, I try to manage their expectations because like I mentioned, these physical product businesses are an entirely different beast, I wanted to make sure that we had all the processes in place. I was trying to make sure with them like, “Hey, let’s not be surprised if we only get 5 to 10 orders. I’d be pretty stoked with 5 or 10 orders. That’s pretty good. Somebody’s put their faith in us to ship up some Vidalias and send them to their front door.” In our first season, we had 600 orders.
S: That’s not bad.
P: Yeah, yeah. It’s not bad. It allows M&T to kind of associate themselves with the domain name. Their core business is selling trailer loads of Vidalias to some of the big box grocery stores. It allows them to move their raw price per pound for a Vidalia from say, ¢.50 a pound to ¢.51 a pound simply because they’re associated with the domain. That kind of made a big impact on their bottom line. We’re kind of leveraging in both ways by associating M&T with the domain name, but also, running a farm-to-door delivery service, but their core business is still the main grocery store where they sell 5 million pounds of Vidalias roughly every year to their big grocery store contacts.
S: Wow. This all started because you bought a domain for $2200.
P: Exactly. That’s what I almost find fascinating on these domains. These odd adventures they take me on. A year prior, I would have never guessed in my wildest dreams that I would had then associated with a Vidalia onion industry. Now that I’m associated with it, and I started eating more Vidalias, I have fallen in love with the onion. They are the best. I don’t know if you had them before but they are the mildest, sweetest onions you can get. You can cook them with pretty much anything outside or by themselves on a grill. They have a really good high sugar content, not sweet but they have a high sugar content in the onion so they caramelize really well on the grill. On the flip side, you can have them raw. I eat them on a like a turkey chili quite often and they’re excellent raw. There’s like a great kind of mild sweet taste and a greta crunch and they don’t make you tear. If you prefer not using onions the red or the yellow tend to make you tear, Vidalias are so mild they don’t have much of a fragrance and they do not make you tear.
S: Wow. You’re really selling me well on these.
P: They’re really good. We’ve had a ton of fun from the farm-to-door aspects of it, the majority, our number one delivery state is California. Number two, I believe is Arizona, then Florida, and Texas, and it’s so much fun to talk to the customers. They enjoy calling up, I have a 1800 for folks who just wanna place orders on the phone. A lot of times they do like what we’re doing right now. I end up talking to them for 30 minutes or an hour and they just tell me about their relationship with this onion and typically most folks that got a exposure to Vidalia, if they are northerners, they would typically drive down to the Florida beaches for vacations. They pass through the Vidalia territory down in South Georgia when they’re driving down to the beaches so when they grow up, typically their parents will stop by Vidalia, get some Vidalias, and they take down to their summer vacation. They have this memory of eating these wonderful onions with their parents or their grandparents. Now they’ve grown up and they wanna share the same experience with their kids but they happen to live in Reno, Nevada. You can’t get a very good, fresh Vidalia in Reno, Nevada. When they discover us online, either from organic or paid search, they’re just overjoyed that they can have this direct relationship with us. I try to treat our farm-to-door as Amazon-like as I can. If they’re in the southeast and they placed an order on a Sunday, we package that box up on Monday and they can have it as quick as Tuesday. UPS does a pretty darn good job on their ground shipping. In California we can get it there usually within five days.
S: Very cool. You mentioned that there is a five years time difference between duderanch.com when you got that in 2009 and the vidaliaonions.com domain, something like that, five years?
P: Yeah, roughly.
S: But you didn’t just buy one domain and then wait five years and buy another domain. You have a whole system and you own quite a number of domains. It’s just you pick and choose exactly which ones you develop. You have a whole portfolio and you have a whole system so that you can, everyday, go through the opportunities of expired domains, and different kinds of auctions, and things that are available. You pick up the ones that are of interest to you and many of them you just sit on, you don’t do anything with.
P: I look at domains on a daily basis to see if there are any other potential opportunities that I can acquire and either develop right now or just put on my back burner. One example is a domain called charteryachts.com which I envision as being sort of an Airbnb for the charter yacht vacation industry. Almost sort as, not an extension of Dude Ranch, but a very similar business model. There are a lot of charter yachts out there, it’s a fragmented industry in regards to inventory that’s available to rent. It’s a high-ticket item. A medium range charter yacht rental can range from anywhere from $100,000 – $300,000 a week. When you get up into really fancy charter yachts, they can be upwards of millions of dollars for just a rental. That one was very, very attractive. I acquired it but another project ended up consuming more of my time which we’ll talk about in a second. I had to put it on the back burner. There’s a potential I might try to develop it down the road or if somebody else expresses some interest in it, I could potentially sell it down the road.
S: Right. How many domains would you estimate you have on your portfolio right now?
P: At the height, I probably have maybe 300. I haven’t had a ton. I’m slowly dropping or get rid of domains over the years. I’m probably around maybe 150 right now. I’m starting to move more into quality versus quantity. Because I see the most impact on domains that I truly develop. Developing just takes time, and resources, and focus. It’s slowly dwindling down for me just to have I would say probably under 100 within the near future.
S: Okay. You’re dropping these by not renewing them or by selling them. How do you dwindle down your portfolio?
P: Good question. I would say a lot of the domains I’m dropping right now were some that I acquired way back in the day when I first started domaining back in ‘06 that may have had a trickle of traffic that I could monetize for parking. If I acquired a domain that had 5000 inbound links for the gardening niche and I park that domain, if it covered it’s registration fee, I could just continue to park it. If it generates $50 a month a year for me, I would just park it, rinse and repeat and find more domains like that. That’s a really tough business model these days. Honestly, I didn’t find any kind of level of interest in doing it. It was kind of boring to be honest. Most of the domains I’m abandoning now are domains in that niche. I am just letting expire. I would say maybe 5% or 10% of the domains that I have right now, I’m actually selling, that I have some sort of for sale page, most I’m just letting expire.
S: Are most or all of your domains .coms?
S: Why not other TLDs? There’s these newer TLDs like .ninja, .guru and stuff. What do you think of those?
P: I don’t buy them. I buy .com because it provides main, especially good keyword descriptors .coms, because it instantly gives me a tailwind when I’m developing these projects. When I start off with a new TLD, if I do try to build or develop, I immediately encounter with this tremendous headwind because number one I have to educate every single potential sale or customer because they’re always gonna revert to .com even if I told them my site is duderanch.info, if I told them to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, they gonna go into their email client and type email@example.com and it’s just how we’ve all been educated and our exposure to domain names. Since I’ve ran small operations, I have one or two people operations, I need as many unfair advantages as I can get. I don’t have time or resources to educate the general public on the new TLDs. Man, I tell you, the general public still doesn’t understand. There’s so many new ones coming out, it’s exceptionally difficult to build a business on a new TLD. Folks can buy and flip them potentially, and that’s where most of the new TLDs are going, they’re just investors or they’re just trying to hold onto them for a few years to see if they can flip. But I’ve never bought. I’ve bought a few .us. I bought mylastname.us.
S: I actually bought stuff in .ninja.
P: Did you really?
P: They’re all actually fun to buy. I haven’t found an interesting use case to buy one yet. There is .horse so I could technically buy duderanch.horse assuming it’s available. I have not dipped my toe in that industry yet because mainly it’s .com is king. .com is gold compared to everything, the silvers, all the other types of metals out there.
S: I agree wholeheartedly. The way I think of it is you can have an 800 number or you can have a 855 or an 844 number which many people don’t even realize is toll free.
P: Yep. It’s almost identical. A lot of of these domains in the investment field within domain names came directly out of the 1-800 number industry. They use to buy and sell phone numbers. They realized how important phone numbers were. When they realized domain names were gonna come out to represent websites, they immediately understood that these are gonna be assets that people bought and sold and that’s when you get some of the Rich Schwartz’s or Michael Birkins or even in the early 2000s, the Frank Schillings who went in and bought a lot of domains off of expiration. They truly saw the value in some of these domains and bet big on them and they’re reaping the benefits.
S: Out of these hundred and some domains that are in your portfolio, how many of them have you developed into websites?
P: Not many. Because, for me, they require a fair amount of time and focus. I would say less than 10%, 5% or 10%.
S: Yup. Your process for developing this 5%-10% of your domain portfolio into proper websites, is what? What’s your development process, and timeline, and investment strategy for this?
P: I typically do somewhat similar to what you did with your directory. If I do have domains, I usually try to do like a directory. I’ll give an example of a domain that I run that sort of just runs itself. It’s a national recreational area, right near Tennessee and Kentucky, called landbetweenthelakes.com. I acquired it from a gentleman, actually it didn’t even go through exploration. I found him directly and bought the domain directly from him. I simply build a site on WordPress and build an informational resource, very simple, nothing fancy. I monetize it through AdSense and that’s it. It gets a fair amount of traffic in it. It simply does the simple things. Where you gonna stay, where you gonna eat, and what you gonna do?
S: When you build your site, let’s say an ecommerce site, like Vidalia Onions, that was a very involved website, right?
S: What’s your initial process? Let’s say starting a blog first as you’re building out the whole ecommerce side of things, the shopping carts, and doing the partnership deals, and all that sort of stuff or does it just sit there as a parking page or completely offline until you’re ready to launch it properly?
P: It depends on the domain. Typically, if it’s a domain that I’m invested in, I plan to build on it, I would build something really quick. For Vidalia, I acquired it in December of 2014 and we were shipping onions by April of 2015. From December to April, I met the Vidalia counsel, met the farmer, got the relationship established, we figured out our split on the revenue, and started accepting orders. That was four, five months. Typically, if it’s domains that I’m developing, I’ll build out the site… For Vidalia, I put up basically an email capture form through MailChimp, submit your email, we’ll shoot you an email, a priority notification email when we are ready to accept orders. I’ll tell you the first day I put the site live, and this shows you the power of just a good exactmatch.com domain, I put the site live on a WordPress site, put up the MailChimp email capture form, and the next day I was getting email submissions for the priority notification. There was no blog post. I provided information about M&T. Our General Manager’s done a great job from a PR aspect. He already has been interviewed by multiple TV stations and newspapers. I’ve mentioned and even embedded several of the videos where he’s been interviewed. He’s a Director on some of the kind of the Vegetables and Fruit Associations throughout the United States, in the state of Georgia, and made sure to mention those kind of recognitions on the site. Dude Ranch took me six months. I think I just had a landing page saying ‘coming soon page’ and then I developed it on the backend on WordPress, I can’t remember which theme I bought but I just built a theme and started building out the directory so it’ll be easy to crawl. With the hopes of potentially ranking for some of those longtail terms whether the State Dude Ranch or Dude Ranch for kids or Dude Ranch in a specific city. Does that answer your question?
S: Is there a ranch near me?
P: Does that answer your question?
S: Yeah, yeah. The reason why I asked about it is because this is a very important process. Because if you don’t have a system for how you do this, you can’t scale it up. You’d only do it one time, with one domain, and probably never repeat it because it’s so hard to do. For example, Cat5 Commerce, I don’t know if you know those guys, out of Saint Louis, great folks. They go and buy domain names, sometimes it’s six, yeah usually it’s like six figures, that they are spending to buy a domain like hikingboots.com, runningshoes.com, tacticalgear.com, and what they’ll do is as soon as they possibly can, they will post a WordPress blog on that domain and start posting link-bait type content, viral content to try and get great links while they’re in the process of getting inventory and building out the online catalogues, setting up the ecommerce, all the underpinnings of the websites, shopping cart, all that.
S: Ten months might go by before they’re able to launch. But say, runninghoes.com is a proper ecommerce website but in the meantime, they’ve been acquiring links, they’ve been putting out link-bait, it started the clock running with Google. In the site, you’re really on the back foot because Google doesn’t trust new sites, most new sites are spam.
P: Correct. Correct. You have to start that relationship all brand new. Yeah, I’ve never heard of Cat5 Commerce. There’s so many different angles of this industry. Hotdog, they got some amazing domains and they did not mess around on Running Shoes. They spent, I’m on Namebuy, I don’t know if you use Namebuy, you can search previous domain name sales. But man, they aren’t messing around.
S: Yeah, they’re a serious company.
P: It’s $700,000 on runningshoes.com.
S: They’re in the Internet Retailer 500. They’re a big deal now. One of the fun, just off the top of my head, examples of a campaign of theirs to get links and viral buzz happening was on runningshoes.com. They did this spoof kind of parody thing of a Groupon listing. But for the Groupon IPO back in the day when Groupon was going public. It’s just a really cute, fun page. I’ll post the link to it in the show notes for this episode. Listeners, you wanna go to marketingspeak.com and check out the show notes. That’s a really fun page. It’s a complete spoof of a Groupon listing and it’s for the IPO. They’re really poking fun on Groupon. It’s really cute. You gotta think outside the box to get these great links, to be remarkable. Because if you just post good content, everybody’s got good content, a lot of sites have good content. If I’m looking for information on Vidalia Onions or on dude ranches, there’s so much information out there already but if I can create something that is purple cow, as Seth Godin refers to it, it’s remarkable. It’s worth remarking about. It will rise above the noise and get the links that we so desperately need for SEO because without great links, you’re just not gonna rank.
P: Yeah. Ours with Vidalia, to speak about Vidalia specifically, I guess, outside of our unfair advantage with the domain name, we were focusing on an aspect of the industry that a lot of other farmers were typically neglecting. They tend to, and wisely so, they pay attention to their big contracts where they can sell these trailer loads because they can make a whole lot more money. It takes a lot more time and resources to close one Z and two Z orders of five and ten pounds of Vidalia onions. Then shepherd that customer through the purchase process and make sure they receive the box on time. A good example, like one of our competitors, when I was researching the industry to see who my potential competitors might be, their purchase process was you go to their order page, it was a PDF on their website and they instructed folks to download the PDF, to fill out the piece of paper with a pen, put it in an envelope, and include your credit card number on the piece of paper and mail it to them. When they got a moment they would send you some Vidalias. I was like, “Oh gosh, I like that a lot. I’m pretty sure I can make a little bit easier process for these customers than printing out a piece of paper and mailing it to them.” Just by simply trying to take care of some of these folks out there, and I could see that there are folks within the Google keyword or the volume tool, that they were looking for not just Vidalias, but order Vidalias or Vidalia Onions online or delivery. I can see there was enough volume there to at least dip my toe in and see what happens. I love that phrase that Richard Branson says. He always says, “Screw it, let’s do it. Let’s just try this. If we fall on our face that’s fine at least we gave it a shot,” I have enough information to give me a thumbs up that this potentially might be a profitable business, it doesn’t have to make millions. A profitable business that might be really fun, and most importantly be helpful to this customers that are looking for this specific item.
S: Yeah, yeah.
P: That in itself will build inbound links. We’re giving these customers a really good customer experiences. They’re either gonna post links or write a post about it or include it in their website or associations that we might have with other providers can include inbound links or other authority or trust and all that kind of stuff.
S: Yeah. Having a niche like Vidalia Onions is great because where else are you gonna go to buy Vidalia Onions online or can you even buy them on Amazon?
P: No, there’s like one provider doing it and it’s one of my customers actually tried ordering it through Amazon this year. When Amazon delivered it to his house, it was from California which don’t grow in it. It’s illegal to grow Vidalias in California. He threw some onions in the box, sent it to his house and he had holes in the side of the box and he said it looked like it was a pencil that had jabbed holes on the side of the box so his fake Vidalias could breathe. He was like, “I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not gonna order any kind of produce ever from Amazon again. I’m just gonna go direct to the farm so I know at least I have these genuine onions that I’m shipping from South Georgia.”
S: Cool. Let’s talk about your process for going through expired domains and also the auctions and other things that, you know like the domainers, you can go direct to them and buy from them like I’ve bought domains direct from domainers, direct from the owner. I’ve bought through buydomains.com, hugedomains.com.
P: Yeah. hugedomains.com is a big one, you can now buy domain through GoDaddy. They have their kind of listing platform, they call it GoDaddy Auctions, but you can list your inventory within GoDaddy as well.
S: Let’s walk through the process and if there’s something that’s secret sauce and you don’t wanna share it, by all means, don’t share it then. But, whatever you’re willing to share about your process of building these lists of domains that you go through kinda like your morning paper everyday.
P: Sure. I’m happy to share this because it’s not complex, it’s just understanding where to go and what to look for. One of the first sites I log into every day is called NameJet, namejet.com and they list several type of domains. They have NameJet Exclusives and NameJet has relationships with several registrars. They have exclusive access to their expiring domains within their portfolio. They’ll list of some of the exclusive domains that are going through the expiration process. They’ll also present domains that are on what they called The Drop which is from registrars that don’t have a relationship with any kind of auction platform. They’ll list both of those types of names. You’ll see a column when you hit the NameJet homepage. One of it will be The Drop and then one will be NameJet Exclusive or Hot Picks. Then there is a third type that’s listed with a NameJet Private, domain owners can list their inventory for sale. You’ll recognize those mixed with a listed as if you enter or click on a specific domain, you’ll see the domain type being listed as direct lister. If it is, it means somebody owns it. It’s not an expiring domain, somebody’s placed it up for auction. They have a rough reserve that they are looking to meet for that specific domain. But if you log into the domain, let’s see, here’s one that’s coming up on NameJet Exclusive that’s pre-release, it expired, M-I-W and the auction type is pre-release private back order. If you back order it, you’ll be placed in once the auction, the pre-bid auction time completes, you’ll be placed into a private auction for that domain. It’s all online, all through your browser. You’ll bid through your browser for the specific domain and if you win it, NameJet will push it right into your account. NameJet is a good spot to check. Another one called SnapName, snapname.com. GoDaddy, if you just go sort by expiring domains within GoDaddy Auctions, they will list all of their expiring domains. What’s neat about GoDaddy is they’ll actually show you traffic levels. It’ll give you another, not just another data point, it’s interesting data to look at. They’ll show you, “Here are domains that are headed to auction. Here’s their traffic levels, and here’s how many current bids there are for this specific domain.” GoDaddy is now the largest registrar. I bought charteryachts.com through the GoDaddy auctions. It was an expiring domain through that platform. Three great places are NameJet, SnapNames and GoDaddy auctions, and the DropCatch. DropCatch is a very good drop catch software platform for the true drop if there are registrars that are just releasing domains. They have these software systems that are attempting to grab them the second that they become available. Rather than you sitting on a computer trying to hit an enter button 5,000 times trying get a domain, trying to guesstimate when the domain is going to be released by the registrar, you can leverage a platform like DropCatch to see if their fancy software will grab it at the right time.
S: Doesn’t SnapNames do that too? I think it’s called SnapName right?
P: Correct. NameJet and SnapNames actually have a partnership for the dropping domain name aspect. They’ll sell their own private inventory but they also have a drop catching service. The two most popular that I use for dropping domain, I’ll mention three. NameJet, this is just for dropping inventory, and then DropCatch, and then a service called Pheenix, it’s an odd spelling. That’s another independent drop catching service. Typically if you leverage those three services, usually one of the three is going to acquire it and then if there are more than two backorders, it will go to auction. If you’re the only backorder, you’ll win the domain and usually their base price is anywhere from $59 to $79.
S; Alright, pretty cheap. You would recommend using all three services to snipe the expiring domain as soon as it gets expired. One of those three services would probably snap it up and then if you’re the only one in the winning system of the three, then you’ll just get it for like $50, $60, $70.
P: Correct. I’ll give you a tip, if you happen to stumble across a domain that you think has a high value to it and there are no current back orders against it, what some of the software platforms do if one or two, I believe it’s more than two, but if several people place back orders against the domain, they’ll start publishing which domains have back orders against them. If you’re trying to acquire a domain on the downlow and they have published that the domain is physically going to drop, say today or on the 13th, you can wait all the way up as close as you can until their cutoff time to place your back order in hopes that you’ll be the sole backorder and win it for $59 or $69.
S: Ah, cool.
P: Challenging to do but doable.
S: When you bought charteryachts.com, that was a GoDaddy auction, right?
S: Did you spend only like $70 to get that?
P: No, it was an active auction. There were several people on that auction and only spent a few grand on it, it wasn’t terribly expensive. But I found it by simply going in and looking at expiring domains, are there domains with existing traffic because that domain used to be owned by a charter yacht broker who helped folks book charter yacht vacations. He abandoned it and he had a lot of inbound links across the web that were still driving traffic to the domain, I noticed that it was still receiving traffic. I was like, “Oh, gosh. This is interesting. I’m familiar with the charter yacht industry.” It came on my radar, as simple as that. I saw that it had traffic and there was already backorders against it, so I jumped into the auction. I assumed that it was gonna sell for $10,000, $20,000 and it happened to only sell for just a couple.
S: It’s great when there’s existing traffic going to that domain and you can acquire the domain. Also, if there are links pointing to the domain, you wanna be able to leverage that as well. But Google is pretty smart about resetting page rank on domains that expired, domains that changed ownership because they know that this is a whole industry. It might be a church website one day and then the domain goes expired and it’s a porn site the next day.
P: Correct. The way that I approach is when I acquire them, it is a blank slate. I almost see it as me re-introducing myself to Google. It’s a long term process and project. These aren’t one or two year projects for me. Dude Ranch and Vidalia are long last. I don’t know if I’ll ever sell them because number one, they’re too much fun. I know they are a long term project for me where I know it’s gonna take a while to build trust and authority with all the search engines and I just try to be patient with it. If there is existing traffic from existing links, I mean, traffic is traffic. If there is an neat link on a publication that mentioned Vidalias and they happen to point to my website, traffic is traffic. If I can convert that user at all that’s wonderful.
S: Yeah. One tip that I give to clients and SEO presentations is if you acquire a domain and you want to not have the page rank reset to zero, change your WhoIs information for the domain very slowly. Don’t change it all at once, the name servers, the registrant name, the admin contact, technical contact, all that, don’t change all of it at once. Start changing it slowly one thing at a time. Wait a couple months and change the next thing. The most important thing that you need to change is let’s say the registrant name, just change that and keep everything else the same, the name servers, etc. Just go to the name servers and change the IP address if you need to change that, or better yet, continue hosting on the same IP address with the same web host and even keep the same content live. You can start introducing new content but don’t delete all the old content yet because when a site changes ownership, it’s pretty obvious because all the WhoIs information has changed, the website content has changed, the IP address has changed, name servers, it’s all different. That’s a way to not get your page rank reset to zero and start over from scratch. You can also, if the domain that you have acquired had content that you no longer have access to but it was archived on the wayback machine, archive.org, you can use a tool called Warrick which will siphon up that content, all the HTML, all the images from the wayback machine, and put all the HTML and the images into your document root directory on your web server.
P: Interesting. I don’t tend to go down those routes, some folks do. When I build and develop, it’s my own content, it’s my own business model, or relationship with a customer and in many ways, relationship with Google. It’s helpful to have an exposure to the SEO world where, at least an exposure of what to do and what not to do. But yeah, there are, I don’t wanna call them gray areas, but I’ll try my best just to almost reset it and reintroduce the site, and just follow the rules. A lot of these projects are long term, they aren’t short term strategies for me so I try to kinda lay the foundation for these long term, slowly duling out products and services that are helpful to customers and advantageous for my business that runs. I need these little babies running and allowing me to stay outside of the corporate world because I don’t wanna go back to the corporate world.
S: I don’t blame you. Just the caveat here with using a tool like Warrick is only do this if you have the legal right to use that content again because it is copyrighted, even if it wasn’t a registered copyright, just the fact that it is an intangible form, it is by default copyrighted so you would have to go back to the original copyright owner and get permission. When I bought a domain, I bought an entire website a few years ago, it was innstar.com. I paid $500 for that site. I had intentions to maintain it and build it up to, it had a not a bed and breakfast directory but a bed and breakfast kind of review service where it reviewed the bed and breakfast directories and had links to all these big bed and breakfast directories like bedandbreakfast.com and stuff. It had great links, I didn’t want the page rank reset to zero, so I was very careful about changing the WhoIs information on that. I want to maintain existing content, I kept using the same web host for a period of time, the same content and everything. Then I had the idea after a while like okay, maybe I shouldn’t just maintain and refresh this content, new look and everything, and still be a bed and breakfast reviews site, directories reviews site. But instead be another bed and breakfast directory because I did sell Innsight back in 2010. I could get back into that game and use Innstar as the brand for that. Then I thought, I got so many other fires, irons in the fire. It’s just sitting there with really old content. It does definitely need to be updated. That’s an example if let’s say, something happened in the transition and you weren’t able to capture the content but the website owner, domain owner, gives you permission to reuse that content if you can somehow extract it from somewhere. There’s the wayback machine to go grab it from and you don’t have to do a file save as, that sort of thing for every single page, you can just use this Warrick tool to siphon it all up.
S: In fact, another great use case for this tool is let’s say you have a catastrophic crash or whatever or a hacker deleted your website, somebody was in the audience during a presentation I gave at BlogHer and she came up to me afterwards and said that she had a hacker hack into her website and her blog and she lost four years of her writing. It was devastating and she’s never recovered from that. I taught her about the wayback machine, she was like, “What’s that?” She had no idea that there was an archive of her blog out there just sitting there available for her to recapture all of that content from that she thought she had lost. Pretty cool. Anyway, a couple of questions and thoughts before we wrap up. What about Sedo, where does that fit into your strategy or not at all?
P: Not much. I had, when I first got into the industry in ‘06, I did park a fair amount of my domain names to see how the whole parking industry operated. Sedo is a popular, it’s really two things, it’s a great domain name marketplace if you try to buy and sell domains, it’s a very popular place for folks to place domains up for sale. They also have a parking platform where you’ll receive a portion of the click that’s generated off of an existing traffic to your domain names. I don’t list many domains. A lot of times, I use a service called Efty where I point domains to a specific landing page and I have a new escrow service called Payoneer that will serve as the escrow in between me and the potential buyer. I don’t list many domains for sale on Sedo but they’re always releasing new templates, new ways, and easier ways to buy and sell. I only use Efty because it’s a sales platform that is kind of built for domainers. You pay a yearly fee, versus on Sedo I believe you pay 15% or 20% of the sales price. On Efty, you pay a yearly fee but no commission. The yearly fee is a nominal fee, I believe is $40 to list upwards of 50 domains I believe. If you have a good $5000 or $10,000 sale and you can save that commission, it easily pays for the yearly service charge for using Efty. I’ve been using it a fair amount. But if you’re looking to buy domains and you’re looking for specific term, Sedo and Afternic would be two great places to leverage to check and see if variations of your domain are potentially for sale.
S: You can put in a keyword and see if there are domains available in that topic space.
S: That’s what I do with huge domains.com and buydomains.com. I’ve had really good success using both of those sites and I should probably add Sedo and Afternic to the mix as well. I do this for my clients too. Let’s say that a client, I’ll give you a specific example, DIY Home Security System Business was working with me and their original name was ari2000.com, that was their domain name, it was American Response Inc., ari2000.com. I’m like, “No way. We’re not using that domain. That is horrible, horrible, horrible. We’re gonna come up with a new brand.” We just went to hugedomains.com and buydomains.com and started searching and poking around. I found for them skycover.com and they were like, “Wow, that’s cool. That would be a really good brand.” We acquired it for, I think, it was for $2000, $2500 maybe even less than $2000. We got skycover.com, we branded his business as Sky Cover, such a cool name and much more legitimate looking URL. There was another client who was in the insurance brokerage. You can set up infinite banking through their firm. I worked with them with coming up with a new brand. They’ve been in business for years and years, like decades, 30 years. We ended up with livingwealth.com, and before that, it was aofsusa.com, that’s horrible. It’s Alpha and Omega Financial Services. AOFS wasn’t available .com, they got added usa on it. aofsusa, I’m like, “We’re not using that. We can’t keep using that. That’s terrible.” I convinced them to rebrand after 30 years so that’s very cool and we ended up with livingwealth.com after a domain kind of brainstorming process and looking at what domains were available and which ones we thought we could buy. Livingwealth.com was owned by a couple and they had a site on it but it wasn’t a very extensive website. It was just a really small solo type of business, solo premier type of business. We had $20,000 and they had livingwealth.com. Rebranded everything. It can be as simple as just starting with say like vitamins.com and just doing keyword searches.
P: Exactly. I just happen to find my most successful expiration but by all means, if it is a quicker route, if you are trying to rebrand, yeah, by all means, buydomains.com, Sedo, Afternic, GoDaddy auctions or just the GoDaddy payment, the GoDaddy domain sales pages that are baked within the auction platform are great routes to consider.
S: Well, thank you so, so much, Peter. This was a lot of fun and it really was a blast from the past reminding me what it was like back in the ‘90s and 2000s looking for domain names. I acquired hundreds of domains back then. I ended up acquiring a bunch of domains for clients back then too. It’s funny that the domain liquidpaper.com was a domain that I registered for the owner of that trademark, forget the name of the company in Wisconsin, in Jamesville.
P: Yeah. I heard another random story back in the day. I noticed the domain neilpattel.com was expiring and I didn’t know Neil personally but I know Jim Boykin. I was like, “Hey Jim, can you reach out to Neil. I don’t know if he wants this, I assume he’d probably want it.” I helped Neil buy neilpatel.com. I didn’t even charge him. I just did it, and I think we got it for $300 or something. Neil forwarded me $300 and I gave him the domain.
S: That’s really kind of you. That’s awesome. I’ve actually had Neil on this podcast.
P: Yeah. He’s a super nice guy.
S: Awesome! Thank you so much, Peter. Thank you, listeners. Now, you can start digging into the amazing repositories out there looking for domains to snap up that are expiring or have expired or that are just in the after market and people are selling it. It’s a huge opportunity. Most of the good domains have already been taken, it’s much better to think outside the box, just not simply look only for domains that are available to register, that are not registered because those domains are probably pretty bad or taken.
P: Stephan, I’m happy to if they have specific questions, they’re more than welcome to reach out to me on Twitter @searchbound on Twitter if they wanna ask questions or DM me or however. They can take a peek at my latest project. It’s called Cold Tracking, it’s coldtracking.com. It revolves around the phone call analytics business. That’s kind of the lightest one I’m kinda digging into but happy to help. I love sharing this industry because it’s done me a world of good in taking me on this really neat adventures and it’s been a lot of fun along the way. I love helping expose this industry to folks who are trying to build side businesses maybe when they still have a full time job because it’s very easy to go on one of these as a side business and see where it goes or see how it evolves and see if it can be a good supplemental income for you.
S: Yep. Nice side hustle.
S: Alright, thank you, Peter. Thank you, listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak, this is your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.