Have you heard that you don't have to have a website to earn money online? It's true. Domaining is a relatively new niche where speculators buy and sell domain names, flipping properties like real estate investors. Like many opportunities online, domaining is easy to get into but harder to actually turn a profit, though those who succeed, like Kevin Ham, have gone laughing to the bank with 9-figure deals. But he had to start somewhere, and so can you.
Here are some of the common methods that domainers tend to apply to accumulate web properties and turn a profit:
- Volume. Buy hundreds or thousands of domains cheaply and flip quickly for a small profit on each. Repeat the process regularly.
- Speculation. Buy a domain name that you think has potential, either at auction or by private sale. How long you hold it depends on multiple factors:
- How soon you can sell for a profit. That is, are there buyers who'll pay more?
- How much profit you really want for it. Maybe it'll take a year to realize this margin.
- Whether you plan to build out the domain: whether you want to sell it as a domain only or monetize it with content.
- If you just want to park the domain and profit from type-in traffic on keyword searches and PPC (pay per click) ads.
Success with speculation requires a keen ability to spot trends before the become – riding the crest of popularity before it becomes a crest. Talking to industry insiders, in those markets that interest you, is time well-spent.
- Trial and error. This sort of muddling is the typical approach of the newbie domainer. One domain or other sounds good, so they buy it without much trend research. Occasionally, some people pick up good names with potential, in non-sexy niches – such as the trucking industry. (Truckingaccident.org and semitruckaccident.org, for example, were picked up free by someone, as part of some other transaction. Check with your friends, who might want to get rid of "useless" domains.).
Be forewarned that domainers are despised in some circles and revered or at least grudingly admired in others – and that there are occasional slumps. If you're thinking about getting into domaining, be aware that you can bootstrap your domain empire by starting small and reinvesting profits. Just don't fall in love with your domain names. And be aware of laws relevant to domaining before diving in. Like a gold rush, not everyone will succeed. Here are a few ways to boostrap your way to becoming a domain mogul.
- Register new names. Despite popular opinion, there really are loads of domain name combos of 2-4 words that are not registered.
- Consider the non-sexy niches and sub-niches that represent actual industries but have not been over-saturated. Use as inspiration any niche where you know that you personally know are making a living but which aren't already well monetized on the web. Examples from my lawyer friends are trucking accident and maritime law attorney. Using those phrases, then come up with some alternative keywords, such as semi truck accident, Texas Truck Accident Lawyer, or jones act lawyer and buy up all the freebie domains you can. Take advantage of the fact that many TV stations have ads for these and other industries on late night TV. TV does drive some online search traffic.
- Try multiple combinations of words that make sense together. E.g. "college degrees", "college programs", etc. For some niches, you have to get very creative or accept TLDs other than the common .com, .org, .net, etc., and pick country codes: .cc, .us, and so on.
- Use tools like Bust a Name and AjaxWhois to help you.
Repeat the process on a regular basis. One shrewd domainer (DNFolio) has hit a creative goldmine and manages to find great unregistered domain names at $9 or less each, then resells them for $35, often within the same day. He sends out 5-10 new names 2-3 times per week. While there's a saturation point amongst a small clientele, you can also advertise on auction sites such as SitePoint and Digital Point. Do the math and you'll see that this could result in at least a nice side income. The process pays for you to speculate with names; keep what you like and sell the rest.
- Bulk up. Get a bulk domain reseller plan. If you follow the last tip and intend to buy a lot of domains, save yourself some money by getting a bulk domain reseller plan. GoDaddy is at least one company who offers this, though they do charge a yearly fee. You can defray this cost by actually reselling a few domains each year to others, or find a registrar that doesn't charge. GoDaddy, along with many other registrars, also has a "smart" feature that gives you name alternatives when you search for the availability of a given domain. So you can easily pick up a bunch of variations on a theme, possibly for sniffing purposes.
- Sniffing and tasting. Some registrars allow you five days to decide on a newly registered domain name. You get refunded if you change your mind. So what some domainers do is generate big lists of names, register them all, park them on a free-park site like Sedo, cash in for 4-5 days from the volume, and return any names that don't perform. And it doesn't cost them a cent. This questionable practice is called "sniffing" or "tasting", and some registrars are cracking down. Except when you're buying thousands of domains in a short period of time through automated processes, it's potentially fast money.
- Automate. If you're going to "taste" thousands of registrations, or even if you're going to buy and hold lots of domains, you probably want to automate your portfolio management. That includes finding and registering domains and trolling for domains about to expire. Most "pro" domainers have custom code written for them.
- Troll for drops. Numerous sites offer the ability to check for domains that are about to expire. Your favorite registrar probably does, too. And you can probably automate the process, else get in the bid queue manually. Good names, sometimes with Google PageRank, can be had sometmes at a bargain.
- Buy small, flip, reinvest. There's still room for new domainers. As mentioned above, DNFolio, Sitepoint and Digital are only three of a dozen or more sites where you can buy domains at affordable prices, possibly at auction. Most simply aren't the kind you could resell for four or more figures, but it could happen. You could, however, reasonably memorable yet affordable domain name and flip it for a small profit. Or build it out, then sell it for a profit.
- Build it out. If you have what you think is a good domain name but no buyers, consider actually building it out with some great content, showing monetization potential, then selling. It means more of an investment, since you either have to write content or buy it, but it might also bring you a higher profit margin for non-killer domain names. Building out domains is becoming increasingly important in hot niches like business credit card offers, airline credit card offers, real estate, virtual hosting, porn, college degrees and insurance. Options for building out domains include voting sites or community forums, as a way to build traffic and "eyeballs". Other possibilities are through subdomaining.
There is of course more to domaining than what's here, and some good articles have been linked to above, in case you'd like to expand your knowledge. In general, explore niches that haven't exploded yet but will do so, get creative with names, but rule of thumb suggests that anything with more than three words won't have as much value. In the hot niches, expect to already pay more for names, and to deal with heavy bidding competition. Apply all your relevant skills to domaining and you might find domaining a lucrative online business.