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July 26, 2013

Forget the Cool Domain Name

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

It was 1994 and I was at the popular COMDEX show. Nerds of all kinds had gathered, not drinking or gambling at all. One guy asked me, “Are you buying domain names?”

I replied, “What? Those Internet things?”

“Yep! I own . . .” and he rattled off the names of major US corporations he registered, as well as some delicious words. “You’ve got to start registering domain names,” he urged.

“Why?”

“Because you can sell them! I just sold [major department store] their own Domain name. It cost me $125 to register the name and they bought it for $10,000!”

I thought the guy was a scumbag, so I never followed-through. I did buy gookin.com and dangookin.com, which I thought was prudent. But that guy? He made a ton of money squatting on stuff that he didn’t really own. It turns out, nearly two decades later, that you didn’t actually need to own some of those cool domain names.

Consider the popular web sites.

Everyone knows that google.com is where you go to search. Even “Google” has become a common word for searching. And the number two? That’s bing.com. No one ever considers going to search.com, do they? Yet I bet the guy who bought search.com back in the early 1990s thought he was being so clever. Too bad.

Sites like eBay, Flikr, Zillow, Netflix, GoDaddy, and so on, are pretty well-known despite the fact that their name has little relationship to their function.

Okay, some names are close, such as Netflix, but what about movies.com? I’m sure someone bought that domain and figured they’d make a bundle. Did they?

When I chose wambooli.com as my primary domain, people told me it would never work. My readers would look for dangookin.com or gookin.com or something more obvious. I didn’t listen and went with Wambooli, because I liked the word. In a way, my theory worked because Internet users don’t necessarily associate a destination’s name with the destination’s purpose. (Then again, traffic here on Wambooli isn’t actually bringing the servers to their knees.)

Squatting on web sites paid off for mcdonalds.com and sears.com and other businesses, where it makes sense for the names to match. But for new online ventures, it didn’t make any difference. It still doesn’t: The dating site zoosk.com is based on a nonsense word. It could have been any other of a number of real words or clever phrases, but obviously such a thing isn’t necessary to the online business model.

The only exception I can think of is the sordid story of sex.com.

You would have figured that sex.com would be the number one porn site on the Internet. Yet for years, the ownership of that domain name was in legal dispute and is the topic of a book, sex.com, published a few years back.

You can read the sordid sex.com story on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex.com. Don’t bother going to sex.com unless you want to be visually assaulted by images of nekked people.

2 Comments

  1. I’m reminded of someone who had a fairly successful business web site with a “boring” long domain name. He became convinced the boring domain was holding him back, and paid a bundle for a shorter “cool” domain. But instead of redirecting the cool domain to the boring one (or the other way around), he shut down the boring domain entirely and moved his content to the cool domain. With no redirection at all, he lost all the backlinks and history for his old domain, which was already ranked well by the search engines. His new domain now languishes near the bottom of search results. (It probably doesn’t help that the new domain had been used by spammers for years.) Unfortunately, buying a cool domain name didn’t pay off for him.

    Comment by Matthew Reed — July 26, 2013 @ 6:36 am

  2. That’s another good point, Matthew, which is that a lot of the cool domain names are sapped up by scammers — those placeholder sites that really don’t do anything. It would be interesting to check the bid prices on the cool domain names, to see whether or not they’re declining over time.

    Comment by admin — July 26, 2013 @ 7:37 am

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