Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Domain Names For Sale.

I get calls for the weirdest stuff. More than just advertising and marketing stuff. A lot of people read that we also find money for companies, which really brings out some, shall we say, interesting concepts. Lately, someone sent me the following proposition:

He had the rights to a really, really generic domain name. Let's say something like "" or "". This guy thought he was going to make millions with it by selling the name to some huge, internet entity, like AT&T or Microsoft.

This immediately generated three issues in my somewhat addled brain: First, is this an ethical way to do business? Second, can anyone really make money from cyber-blackmail? Third, how important is your domain name, anyway?

Nah, it's not unethical. It's free enterprise. What -- you gonna tell me next that because some knucklehead out in the boonies just happens to own a telephone number that spells out Coca-Cola, he should just give it up for free? Of course not. The truth is that while everyone thinks that they can get big bucks for a domain name, in reality, the average blackmail -- if it ever gets paid -- is usually under $3,000. The scenario goes something like this:

BIGWIG: Hi, do you realize that you have our domain name?

SMALL TIMER: Uh, gee, I guess I do. But I'm using it.

BIGWIG: Well, our lawyers tell us we can sue you for it and win.


BIGWIG: And we pay fifteen lawyers to do nothing else but this kind of stuff.


BIGWIG: But I'll tell you what. You seem like a nice guy. What say we pay for your change of domain name -- and throw in a few extra bucks. Say, $2500?

SMALL TIMER: Well, okay...

BIG WIG: Good boy. Get the biscuit! Get the biscuit!

Now you tell me -- who's really being unethical here -- the blackmailer or the blackmailee?

As you can see, the problem with blackmailing a domain name is that there isn't any money in it. And you can forget those stories about how a friend of your wife's husband's gardener sold his domain name to IBM for $4 million. Yeah? Let's see the bucks. I've been doing this long enough to know that you have a better chance of winning the lottery WHILE being struck by lightning than you do of pulling off those kinds of numbers.

Finally, just how important is a domain name, anyway? Well, it's important, but not in the way most people think. Domain names do serve a communications purpose. Situating your web site on your own domain (virtual or otherwise) tells people you're for real, not just dipping your toe in the waters of cyberspace. In business, that kind of commitment is important. But beyond that, the traffic you want -- real qualified visitors -- ain't gonna click their way to your site because of your domain name. After all, Ford Motor Company isn't called "Cars", yet plenty of people still buy their products.

So don't overestimate the value of domain names. Remember, the object of your web site is to get qualified traffic, not just big numbers. And qualified traffic comes to you through strategic links, listings and active marketing.

Build it and they will click.

Rob Frankel

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