Buying the right domain at the wrong time can cost you. And domain brokers are there to help — and take a cut. Sort of like the web version of a real estate agent, Jen Sale, who runs the company Evergreen, helps people acquire sought-after domain names. But just how important is that coveted dot-com domain name in 2018 when there are so many alternatives?
The idea for this story came from Jon Harkness, of Minnesota. He bought window panes from a company that had the URL truth.com, and wondered: What happens if a domain itself is worth more than the actual business?
Sale told us she's run into that situation a number of times. She said the owner must consider the impact of rebranding, but if the domain alone is worth more than the current business, the owner is typically open to selling it.
Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with Sale about her work and the domain business. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Molly Wood: Tell me simply, how does your job work?
Jen Sale: I'm kind of like a real estate agent in the digital world. We really focus on short, popular, one-word English dictionary dot-com domain names that have a positive connotation or two-letter or three-letter dot-coms.
Wood: It seems to me that all of these new top-level domains came into existence and that was supposed to sort of ease the crunch and make squatting go away. But it feels like dot-com is still ... if you don't get that, you know, you kind of fail.
Sale: Yeah, I think that dot-com is still king. And I think that comes back to the general public, that they don't really understand domain names. So they understand brands, and dot-com in itself is a really strong brand.
Wood: And how has the sort of purchase and sale of domain names changed? How new are domain brokers and are most of these transactions now through a broker and anonymous as opposed to just sort of emailing somebody and saying, "Hey, can I buy that from you?"
Sale: Well, I've been brokering domain names for about 16 years now. So I don't think it's really a new practice. I think there are people who are always going to want to work with a broker to protect their identity. But, you know, back in the day there was a lot of trust involved.
Wood: And do you think that dot-com is going to be king forever? I mean, what's it going to take to get that squatter off that domain I want?
Sale: Well, first of all I should probably address the term "squatter." Because domain investors are not a huge fan of being called that because basically a squatter is someone who is sitting on a domain name that may infringe upon an already existing brand or trademark. So then you also have domain investors. So think of them like they might buy a piece of land in an area that's not so popular, and, you know, a lot of these domain investors did this years ago. We're talking 15, 20 years ago. You know, they had the foresight to go and register one-word dot-com domain names. If we could all, you know, travel back in time, I'm sure we'd all be doing the same thing right now.
Wood: And you give naming advice too at your company, right? Are you the reason we have all those startup names with no vowels?
Sale: No. You know, I mean it's difficult for startups, but, you know, one of the biggest things is does your domain name pass the radio test? And the radio test is, if I tell someone my name, are they going to be able to spell it? Are they going to be able to find me online? You know, instead of your name being tumbler dot-com, your name becomes Tumblr without the "e." And that actually becomes your brand name. You know, early days I'm sure that would have definitely been a part of that pitch.
Wood: And how else do you help people get creative, like, you know, when you're trying to buy a domain? There's always these suggestions like, "you could get your domain-me," you know, or "your domain-also." Do you recommend that people add a word to their chosen company name if that means they get the dot-com?
Sale: Yeah, I definitely like seeing a lot of people play with prefix, suffix or words as well. So "get-keyword-dot-com" is a popular one. Or "hello-keyword-dot-com." But definitely keep in mind that as you grow that brand, your increasing value in that domain name is going to increase the value of that domain name. So you will likely pay more down the track as opposed to if you acquired it upfront.
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