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Here's the The Lowdown from DN Journal,
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The Lowdown is compiled by DN Journal Editor & Publisher Ron Jackson.

A New Approach to Domain Monetization: My Experience With SmartName's eCommerce Platform

Over the past four months I have been giving the new ecommerce platform at SmartName.com a thorough test to see if their quick development system could breath some life into domains that weren't producing anything parked. Over that time span I have moved 

about 500 domains into SmartName, virtually all of which have been names with keywords that are exact matches for the kinds of commercial products featured by the company's feed provider - Shopping.com

The vast majority of domains I have been testing are non .com domains (mostly .us) with minimal type-in traffic. The whole point of the exercise has been to see if a mass development system could  make those domains more attractive to search engines and random visitors who, finding something more interesting than a standard parked page, might be persuaded to stick around and click on some of the product offerings that catch their eye.  

Some examples of domains I moved into the SmartName system are IceMachines.us, Fins.us, SwimmingPools.us, PictureFrames.us, Barrels.us, LicensePlates.us, Canes.us, FoosballTables.us, MotorScooters.us and BirdCages.us. I have seen dramatically improved revenue from those domains since turning them into SmartName stores. In their system you have at least two ways to earn income - from PPC rates paid by Shopping.com (you get a share of that revenue) and from AdSense ads that you can plug into your SmartName pages (you keep 100% of the AdSense revenue and in my case those earnings have boosted my total revenue from SmartName pages considerably ( under Google's TOS, the exact Adsense numbers cannot be released and Adsense revenue is not included in the SmartName earnings in the chart below).  

For the names I noted above (which are my top 10 earners thus far at SmartName) here is the amount earned from SmartName (in 4 months or less) vs. the amount earned over an entire year with a parking company (If you want to do the simple math, I think it would be fair to multiply the 4-month SmartName earnings by three to get a more accurate view of how they are likely to compare versus the year they spent on parking pages : 

Domain

Parking earnings (for previous 12 months)

SmartName store earnings (there 4 mos. or less)

IceMachines.us

.01

$40.91

Fins.us

.00

$30.97

SwimmingPools.us

.04

$26.55

PictureFrames.us

.00

$18.37

Barrels.us

.00

$13.15

LicensePlates.us

.09

$12.79

Canes.us

.09

$11.06

FoosballTables.us

.00

$10.72

MotorScooters.us

.09

8.76

BirdCages.us

.15

$8.44

Totals

.47

$181.72

The difference for the top ten domains has been dramatic - $181.72 total for 4 months or less at SmartName (not even counting the additional revenue from AdSense) vs. 47 cents total parked for an entire year. If SN earnings holds up for 12 months that would make their total $545.16 vs. 47 cents parked.

Certainly there are many names that I moved to SmartName that made nothing - or next to it (just as they had parked) but for the entire group of about 500 domains moved to the SN eCommerce platform I've seen about a 5X increase in total revenue. Depending on the domains you have your results could be considerably better or worse. 

A lot of that increase came from the fact that Yahoo was giving these domains a lot of love. Many of them ranked on page 1 (with many others on page 2 or 3) in their search results for the exact term the domain represented. Unfortunately, as is 

always the case with search engines - we did hit a major bump around the July 4th weekend when Yahoo changed their search algorithm. The high ranking for most (but not all) of those domains was lost and earnings have come down accordingly (though still easily outpacing what they were parked). Yahoo is in for another big change as they are now turning to Bing to provide their search results, so there is plenty of search engine uncertainty ahead.

I would imagine the primary reason for my SN sites falling from their initial high rankings  is that no content was added to or changed on the sites (other than Shopping.com changing some products shown). The SmartName system has many search engine optimization features - I just never took the time to use them - preferring to see how a mostly hands off approach would compare to parking (with SmartName you do need to enter some keywords relevant to your domain to generate pages that feature related products - but it is no more time consuming than optimizing a parking page). SmartName execs said they have seen similar disruptions from past algorithm changes that they have largely been able to overcome by tweaking titles and content. I will likely spend some time doing that since it looks like it could be worth the effort. If you have stronger domains than I do that are bigger earners I'm sure their staffers would do some of that work for you. 

Like houses, domains can 
benefit from curb appeal

While it has been nice to have an alternate feed (Shopping.com) to turn to now that revenue from Google and Yahoo parking feeds has almost completely evaporated, the search engines are still important for helping drive traffic to SmartName stores. So far, it looks like they will treat them like any other developed site if you put a little extra work into them. I think the stores also have considerably more "curb appeal" as they show visitors actual products they are likely to be interested in (that more polished look can also make them more appealing to potential buyers). 

I should add that the eCommerce platform is just one of three options SmartNames has for domains. They also have an auto-generated content platform for domains that are suitable for information rich sites, as well as a parking platform. 

As people continue to search for parking alternatives it looks as though companies that specialize in specific sectors may benefit. SmartName has their eCommerce and content platforms, companies like Octane360 help you build directory sites, DomainAdvertising.com has a new graphics rich approach that produces fabulous looking sites, etc. You also have WhyPark, Epik, DevHub and others that allow you to easily customize a large volume of sites to your own taste with various plug ins. These are all encouraging developments that are offering viable alternatives to people looking to reverse the disappearing revenue trend. The only way to see how well they will work with your specific domains is to give some of them a test run for a few months to see how they perform over time. I plan to try more of these platforms myself. 

I still believe that the best chance for a home run is to take a step beyond pure domaining and fully develop at least one site on a subject that you are really passionate about and make that your prime focus (if it doesn't take off, try another one and put your heart and soul into it

 - rinse and repeat as necessary until you come up with a hit). In the meantime, look for the best possible solution for monetizing the hundreds or thousands of domains you may have that you will never have time to develop. My personal goal is just to have those domains pay for themselves so I have no carrying costs for my sales inventory.

For many (including me) who do not have a lot of killer type-in domains, end user sales to small to medium sized businesses is by far the biggest revenue producer from domains they 

don't expect to develop.  However, since only 1-2% of the average portfolio will sell in any given year, that still leaves you with a lot of domains you need to get some production from. These days it looks more and more like that requires picking the platforms that give you the best match between your keywords and the strengths of their particular systems.

(Posted August 3, 2010) 


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