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Taking risks in Geo domains

Just as a reminder - a Geo domain is a website that is either the name of a city/state/location or the name of a city/state/location + a service. So for example Miami.com is a Geo domain, and so is MiamiDentists.com. Okay, so now that we've cleared that up, I think one of the largest untapped reservoirs of domain names exists in the Geo space. Oh, it's incredibly difficult to find a good .com geo just laying around. I'm not saying you can just go out there and get great names for reg fees (okay, well, you can if my bank account statement for the last month for go daddy or name.com indicates anything) but rather the potential is in the development and monetization of geo domains.

Most domainers out there think that the best way to monetize Geo domains is through selling clicks to hoteliers. That's certainly the low hanging fruit. Business directories of lawyers and dentists and restaurants and such are also quite profitable if done properly. Everyone likes a nice weather gadget on their home page, but don't expect to make anything from it. If you happen to own a bigger city (or a town near a big city), you can sell tickets to shows or baseball games. And then there are the classifieds, job postings and the like which you can also net a small commission from. These are all very straightforward and don't require much except the proper domain name, some unique, keyword intensive articles, etc, and maybe some local advertising work (both in terms of getting advertisers and in advertising that your site exists). But I think there's a huge untapped potential outside of hotels and ticket sales. I think the .com's are largely wasting their branding opportunities.

You see, a brand is more than just a pretty logo - a brand is the connection you make with your customers. Yes, revenues for certain destinations like Myrtle Beach are largely driven by tourists and so catering to the just passing through or just providing a directory service to someone looking up the local pizza place's phone number is fine for the one offs. There's money in it as the guy who owns MyrtleBeach.com can attest. But these static, brochure sites and cold directory listings are entirely without emotional attachment with the customer. You haven't really established a significant relationship with anyone if all you do is provide a list of links. Yes, you get higher conversions (almost as good as parking, if not better if done properly) if you're just a directory of links, but people don't connect with links.

Why do people love using google? It's not because of the links, it's because google's brand is so powerful that people actually *LOVE* google. No one loves TampaDentists.com. It may be profitable but it's certainly not building relationships.

So here's the challenge - do I think I can do a better job at building a brand around Geo domains then anyone else? I don't know. But I've put my money where my mouth is and I've purchased hundreds of names, many hand-reg'd, some via auctions, some via forums and even some via cold calling/emailing. I don't want to reveal everything just yet, but I'm doing something that many of the .com guys can't do or at least haven't done very well - I'm building networks of sites.

When it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single prime Geo domain, it takes a lot of capital to build networks of sites. If you're lucky and got in early or bought up a new extension (or prefix like the I Am/We Are guy), then you may have gotten a nice portfolio, but does .me really work as a geo extension? How much of a brand can you build around sites like Denver.info? A lot of people say that buying VisitSeattle.com does nothing but drive traffic to Seattle.com. Many companies think they can register one domain and hope that search engines will give them love (I'm looking at you citysearch, local and topix). That doesn't work, either.

So how do you build networks of geos in a cost efficient way? First of all you have to be creative. You have to think about the brand first and then figure out how to get a great network of sites around that brand. Name acquisition is a huge part of the game. If company XYZ owned 50% of the top 100 US cities using the VisitXXXXX.com's brand, they could develop the platform once, build a single team and have a brand that people would recognize and search engines would rank well. But very few companies have done a good job of acquiring quality names like that - Boulevards and maybe a handful of others. It's expensive and time consuming. But it's what I've just done. So now that I have the brand and the names, it's down to development and marketing. It's not gonna be easy and it hasn't exactly been cheap (although it hasn't been as expensive as it could have been). But now it's time to put the nose to the grind stone and get 'er done. Hopefully the risks will pay off.

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