What’s in an (exact-match) domain name?

If you’re depending on your website to promote your golf business, your domain name is your shop window and your business card rolled into one. If the name looks trustworthy, authoritative, and relevant to what searchers are looking for, you’ll get clicks and visitors. But if it looks cheap and nasty, you’ve already lost the sale. After all, if someone were looking for, say, a custom clubmaker and had to choose between visiting CustomClubmaker.com or KustomKlubz4u.biz, which link do you think they’d click on? The first one, obviously…

And what if you’re still using traditional forms of advertising? Well, let me ask you this: when you advertise your business on radio or TV, in golf magazines, in the local paper, or on the side of your vehicle, how do you know your potential customers can even remember your name and how to find it? Or that they’ll remember how they got there if they want to go back and visit it a second time? In other words, does it pass the “radio test”? If someone heard it on the radio, could they remember it?

In today’s world your competitors are only a click or a phone call away, and that visitor you just lost might have spent a thousand dollars on golf equipment. Indeed, they could be worth many times more than that – hundreds of thousands or even millions – if your business is golf course architecture or golf real estate. You simply can’t afford to miss out on targeted visitors like these, people who are looking for the exact services you’ve got to offer.

So what can you do about it? Well, one of the smartest things you can do is to invest in an exact-match domain name for your website; that is, a name made up of the precise keywords that define what your business does. That way, you’re already telling potential visitors exactly what to expect if they click into your site. In essence, you’re pre-selling to them. And those visitors who do click into your site are, therefore, extremely targeted and ready to do business with you.

This happens all the time in the real world. We don’t walk into a golf store unless we’re interested in buying golf stuff. So we’re pre-sold. And we can judge the quality of the store from the outside just from its appearance. On the web, however, the only way we can judge whether it’s worth visiting a site or not is the clues we pick up from the name of the site, the title of the page, and a couple of lines of description, including seeing the keywords we are looking for. You can learn to write more attractive titles and better descriptions for your pages, but one thing you’ll always be stuck with is your domain name. So you’d better get it right, because in the end that could be the difference between getting those visitors or losing them to a competitor with a more trustworthy-looking domain name. You see, on the internet, domain names are like real estate; the best ones are like oceanfront property, and the bad ones are like back-street operations. A good domain name exudes credibility and a bad one sows seeds of doubt. Prejudice is alive and well on the internet, and whether we realize it or not we all judge online businesses every day based on the quality of their domain name.

One of the ways companies can gain that trust is by investing heavily in branding. In essence, they take a word that means nothing and by way of constant repetition and engaging advertising make it mean something that hopefully links to good feelings and trust in people. All of the major golf companies we know today – Callaway, Titleist, Ping, TaylorMade, etc. – spend vast amounts of money constantly in TV, print and online advertising, player endorsements and so on to gain that familiarity that leads to trust. Unless you have that kind of money to spend, you need to find other ways of bringing customers to your business. That’s where exact-match domain names can help.

You see, sometimes, instead of going through search engines, and being exposed to a mishmash of distracting ads, irrelevant sites and social media nonsense, people who are focused on finding something very specific will type that term into their browser and put .com after it, assuming that some key company in that line of business owns the name. Think of two-word names like GolfBalls.com, GolfClubs.com, GolfBreaks.com, etc. These visitors arrive straight at that website, cost the site owner nothing to acquire, and are likely to remember the domain name and how they got there if they ever want to return to it again. And regardless of what changes search engines make in their algorithms, these visitors always arrive because they are bypassing the search engines entirely.

For years now, many of the world’s major brands have recognised this valuable source of targeted (“direct navigation”) traffic and have been busy buying up generic, exact-match domain names that relate to their core business. So much so, in fact, that all of the top-level generic golf domain names were registered many years ago and are either in the hands of the major industry players – perhaps even some of your competitors – or are being held by domain name investors who are not all that inclined to sell unless the price is right. They all realize that generic names focusing on specific areas are valuable and can give a company instant credibility and authority, and a steady flow of highly targeted traffic.

So how exactly can a generic, exact-match domain name be used? Well, you could use it for lead generation, in advertising, and on your business cards and email communications instead of your company name to make it easier for people to remember. In that case, all you would have to do is simply point the name at your existing website. This can be set up by your webmaster in a couple of minutes. That’s what the publishers of Golf Magazine do. They own the domain name Golf.com, so when you type that name into your browser or click on it in the search engines you’re automatically forwarded to the Golf Magazine website.

On the other hand, you might decide to re-brand your entire business around the name itself. By doing this you can go overnight from being just another website with an unfathomable name among hundreds in your niche (e.g. greenbrowneandwhytegolfdesigninc.com) to being the most recognizable and credible name in the field (e.g. golfarchitects.com). In effect, for a once-off outlay you can go from the back of the line to the front of the line and actually ‘own the category’ – and you’ll continue to own it for as long as that niche exists. You can even pass it down to the next generation and beyond.

However you choose to use it, to your potential customers an exact-match domain name will always appear relevant, authoritative, trustworthy and legitimate. It suggests you’ve been in business for a very long time and that you’re a leader in the field. And because of its simplicity and relevance, people will remember it and know how to come back to it, either by typing it directly in their browser or by recognizing it in the search engines. In the long run this greatly reduces the cost of acquiring your customers because you do not have to spend money on branding; the service or product you offer, and the domain name itself, is the brand.

Of all the ways you could give your business an unfair advantage over your competitors, owning a highly targeted, exact-match domain name is a no-brainer. These are the kind of domain names that search engines will always love and tend to rank higher because they are relevant to the search query, which is a search engine’s raison d’etre. But even more importantly, they are names that encourage potential customers to click on because they promise the visitor ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. If you could calculate the value of a single click from a really targeted visitor who arrives at your site, in dollar terms, what’s that click worth to you? Now think about having lifetime ownership of that domain name and all the highly targeted visitors it can attract, and then do the maths.

To be at the top of the pile in your golf niche, you need to control the keywords that precisely describe your business – before your competitors do. Owning an exact-match domain name will help you do that, and will pay for itself again and again over the lifetime of your business. Think of it as competition insurance. Last but not least, don’t forget that you can always sell it to someone else if you should choose to sell your business or decide to retire . All in all, I’d say that’s win-win!



One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: the story of Golfballs.com

Imagine sitting down at a computer in 1998 and clicking into a domain name registration site. There weren’t many of them back then, and this was at least a year before anyone had even heard of GoDaddy.com.  You type in “golfballs.com” and up pops the message “this domain name is available”. Bingo. You just struck a million-dollar jackpot.

Why? Because today, even as an undeveloped domain name, you could not possibly buy this name for anything less than mid-6 figures in my estimation. But put an e-commerce site on top of it and you immediately own the gateway to the entire golf ball industry. And what’s that worth? About $1.2 billion per year. And that’s every year, for as long as people continue to play golf.

This is what happened to one visionary Louisiana man, who saw before him something about the potential of the internet, and generic domain names in particular, as a sales platform that none of the major golf ball manufacturers at the time – Titleist, TopFlite, Pinnacle, Maxfli, etc. – seemed to have had any concept of.

When I first started building simple little websites as a hobby in the late 1990s, one of the companies I clearly remember from that time was GolfBalls.com. Like Amazon, they had an affiliate programme so many of the golf websites I used to visit had a GolfBalls.com banner. They sold cheap golf balls, including lake golf balls.

Fast-forward 20 years, and GolfBalls.com is still in business. So let’s ask the question, who is (or are) GolfBalls.com?

The domain name itself was registered in May 1998, but the story begins a few years earlier, in 1995 to be exact, when Tom Cox, a golf club manager at Le Triomphe Golf Club, Lafayette, LA, was looking for ways to promote the club’s membership and wedding reception business. One week he was interviewing a group of hardware and software developers to get a website built for the club, and the same week he met a scuba diving company that was proposing to recover golf balls from the lakes on the golf course. A light bulb lit up in his head and he had the idea of building a small website to sell lake golf balls online. That simple idea, and the perfect, exact-match domain name he was able to register 3 years later, gave rise to a business that started as a hobby, yielding $17,000 in revenues in 1996, before quickly growing to $200,000 in 1998, and $1,000,000 in 1999.

Over the years, due to competition from outside of the US, the business shifted from selling used golf balls to selling new golf balls, clubs, shoes, clothing and so on, becoming more of a mainstream online golf store in the process. They also started selling logo golf balls and by 2008 counted most of the Fortune 50 companies among their 8,000 corporate customers.  By then they were generating $10.4 million in revenues and getting 7000 visitors/d to their site. What proportion of that number was direct navigation visitors (i.e. people who just typed the domain name in their browser) is not clear, but by having such a relevant domain name and business, it’s no surprise that they also ranked very high in the search engines (and still do)  for ‘golf balls’ and many related search terms.

The fact that none of the major golf ball manufacturers in the mid- to late 90s was sharp enough to see the value of owning the domain name GolfBalls.com is no surprise. The same thing happened in many industries. If one of those companies had had the foresight to register the name when it was available it would have cost them less than $100 – the price of a few boxes of Titleists – to, in effect, ‘own the industry’. But the focus of most companies back then, as now, seemed to be on branding their own names, an expensive, multi-million dollar process that has to be repeated year after year. How ironic then that every time anyone says the phrase ‘golf balls’, whether on the TV golf coverage or in casual conversation, they are reinforcing the ‘brand’ of GolfBalls.com. The domain name is the product is the brand. Natural branding, they call it. Natural visitors, highly targeted and acquired without advertising, arriving at the website every day, and a name that appreciates in value at the same time…

So what would it cost a golf ball manufacturer in 2017 to acquire the domain name GolfBalls.com if it ever came up for sale again? By my reckoning, several weeks of Justin Thomas’s earnings…which is a whole lot more than $100 the last time I checked!

So there you have it; scuba divers, tech geeks and a man with the vision to connect the dots: sometimes one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure.

Sources: BusinessReport.com, JeffersonHennessy.Blogspot.com

GolfClubs.com – Just what the doctor ordered!

If you’ve ever typed domain names directly into your browser bar instead of looking for them through search engines you’ll be aware that even today, more or less twenty years after the commercial internet really began to take off in earnest, plenty of high quality dot com domain names are still being pointed at parked or “For Sale” pages or are not resolving to any website at all. In a sense, this is the equivalent of waiting for the “Main Street” of all our major cities to take shape. The cranes are out but many of the sites are still derelict and waiting to be developed. The retail golf business is no different, being dominated still by brand names such as Golfsmith, The Golf Warehouse and Golf Galaxy. But there are signs that some entrepreneurs are thinking along different lines and starting to build on the most valuable “land” of all, the major direct navigation domain names.

In a previous post I mentioned that the domain name GolfBags.com is now a fully functioning e-commerce site owned by an entrepreneur named Lou Doctor. It turns out that this gentleman also operates e-commerce sites on several other high-profile domain names, including Darts.com, Billiards.com, PoolCues.com, PoolTables.com, CycloCross.com and BicycleTires.com.

The icing on the cake as far as I am concerned is his website GolfClubs.com. As I understand it, the owner of the domain name originally valued it at seven figures even though he didn’t have a website built on it. Lou Doctor came to an agreement to lease the name for five years with an option to buy it at the end of the fifth year for the owner’s original asking price. He has now built an e-commerce site on it so in effect he is making payments to the owner as though he was renting a store from him and has the opportunity to earn enough money through the site to be able to afford to buy the name later on.

How Lou Doctor got involved in acquiring premium domain names and building e-commerce sites on them is a remarkable story. It literally started as a garage operation and he can thank his two sons for launching him on his way. The story begins about 10 years ago when Lou and his friends, all avid cyclists, started ordering bike tyres from the UK because they were cheaper than in the US. One particular order of tyres that they had paid $300 for came in the wrong colour, so rather than pay to ship them back to the UK and have them replaced, Lou told his 12-year old son Nate to try to sell them on eBay and that anything he got over $300 would be his to keep. Nate got $350 for them and so, seeing there was money to be made, asked his dad to order more tyres for him next time so he could continue to sell them on eBay. After about a month, Lou realised his two kids were operating a budding small business from the parking space in the garage, and that’s when he began to realise the potential of online retailing. Long story short, by the end of the first year, they had shipped a million dollars’ worth of tyres!

Today, Lou Doctor‘s e-commerce businesses have 30 employees and they operate out of a series of warehouses and bricks-and-mortar stores in Portland, Oregon. The bike business employs 20 people and the billiards, darts and golf businesses employ about 10 people. Overall, they expect to do about $15 million in combined sales next year and $20-$25 million the following year. Traffic to the websites comes from pay-per-click advertising, repeat customers, and direct navigation (people typing the domain names in their browsers). The beauty of the domain names is that they are the logical names to type and very simple to remember.

Golf club retailing is a multibillion dollar business, and now the doors of the main keyword dot com domain name, GolfClubs.com, are open for business. Whether they will eventually be bought out by one of their competitors or become the biggest player of all in the golf club retailing industry remains to be seen, but it all started with a 12-year old boy and a $50 profit on a set of bicycle tyres. Strange but true!

What’s long and straight and worth $400 million?

Your starter for 10: What’s long and straight and worth $400 million?

No, not Greg Norman.

Nor Tiger Woods’ driving (not now anyway).

The answer is…drum roll please…the golf shaft industry.
$400 million a year, in fact.

Now if you got that one right, your bonus question is easy: What’s the most prestigious domain name in the golf shaft industry?

GolfShafts.com, of course.

But here’s a tricky one: Which one of these companies actually owns GolfShafts.com?
Aerotech, Aldila, Apollo, Enzo, FST, Fujikura, Gradura, Graphite Design, Harrison, Hireko, KBS, Matrix, Mitsubishi Rayon, Nippon Shaft, Oban, Paderson, Project X, Rifle, Talamonti, True Temper, or UST Mamiya?

The answer is…none of them. Which I find amazing.

So who does own this great domain name – a name that defines an entire industry? Well, it was created in December, 1998, but the owner’s name is private, so it’s not obvious who’s behind it. But if you visit the site at GolfShafts.com (I won’t link to it because you can’t back out of it), what you find is a company called Zig Zag Golf, selling a putter with a zig-zag shaft. It seems the inventor suffered from sore wrists and wanted to see if he could make a shaft that could be used by golfers with wrist pain due to arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or broken bones. The Zig Zag putter was the result, priced at $189 on the website.

So in reality, here’s a domain name – the gateway to the entire golf shaft industry – that’s being used to sell a putter! And one in such low demand that I could only find one for sale second-hand on eBay.

A sleeping giant? Absolutely.

So why isn’t GolfShafts.com already an industry portal? Say a paid directory of golf shaft manufacturers and related golf component retailers?

Or a specialised ecommerce store, perhaps one actually owned by a custom club-making company like Golfworks or Golfsmith? A self-explanatory domain name to draw in the first-time visitors and an easy-to-remember name for them to come back to…

Is there money in shafts? You would think so. Annual golf shaft production is 63 million shafts per year (240,000 shafts/day), and top-of-the-range shafts cost several hundred dollars each. The Aldila Rogue Limited Edition graphite wood shaft costs $600. The Graphite Design Tour AD MT graphite wood shaft costs $380. The Fujikura Motore Speeder 665 graphite wood shaft costs $275. And the champion of them all, the Matrix – Ozik TP6HDe graphite wood shaft – to give it its full name – costs $1000. Sell fifty or a hundred of those and the domain name is free for ever more.

And back to my original question: why doesn’t a shaft manufacturer like Aldila, Matrix, Fujikura, or Graphite Design actually own this domain? Some of these companies have annual marketing budgets in the millions of dollars, and as brands, they need to spend a fortune in advertising and by way of endorsement contracts to Tour players to promote the brand. By contrast, someone typing in “golfshafts.com” in their browser out of curiosity or clicking on a link that directly matches what they’re looking for is the cheapest customer of all to acquire. And while owning a generic domain name like this one would not stop a shaft company from wanting to build “perceived value” (i.e. $$$) into its products by using exotic names and page after page of technical gobbledegook, what could be better than at the end of every promotional piece to throw in the phrase “..or visit our website at GolfShafts.com”? That little sound-bite alone is worth quite a lot of money right there.

The shaft is the engine of the golf club. Millions of shafts are used each year by golf equipment manufacturers,  and tens of thousands of golfers love tinkering with clubs and changing shafts because the fascination with what might happen “if I just change this shaft for that” will never go away.

And one more thing; it doesn’t matter how the industry changes, from hickory to steel, aluminium, graphite, or whatever other exotic materials are in the pipeline, because this name covers them all.

GolfShafts.com is dormant right now but in the right hands it could be like a little oil well, pumping out cash day after day for very little effort.


GolfBags.com – Another one that got away!

Soon we’ll be approaching the time of year when men (some men anyway!) find themselves hunched over their computers late at night and frantically typing in words like “bags”, “Hermes”, “Dior”, “Gucci”, “Coach”. Then, upon seeing the eye-popping prices of some of these mysterious objects, they quickly add words like “cheap”, “discount”, “sale” and “vintage”. But if they’re golfers, it may not be too long before the keywords switch to “Callaway”, “TaylorMade”, “Ogio”, “Sun Mountain”. Or in my case, “Hogan”, “Ping”, “Dunlop”, “Slazenger”. That’s the trouble with being a golfer: to paraphrase the old Eurovision song by Dana, “All kinds of everything remind me of golf”.

Every month there are about 33,000 searches for the term “golf bags” on Google, and pay-per-click advertisers are paying roughly $1 per click to get these visitors through Google Adwords.  Although the average golf bag will probably cost between $100-$250, at these rates retailers have to be pretty sharp to convert those visitors into sales and make a profit. It helps that bags aren’t made to last anymore – I still have my old Dunlop golf bag from 1979, perfect apart from a couple of seized zips – but even so, margins must still be tight.

With that in mind, what would it be worth for an online retailer to own the top-of-the-tree domain name “GolfBags.com”? Well, one man knows the answer to that question now because the domain name is live and quietly going about its business selling golf bags and benefiting from free or almost free traffic while other advertisers who depend heavily on branding their own names have to pay a dollar a click for visitors.

Amazingly for such a premium domain name, it appears that GolfBags.com was not registered until May 1st, 2000, by which time the internet had matured sufficiently that people were already saying that all the good names were gone. Well, not this one, apparently. The domain is now in the hands of an entrepreneur called Lou Doctor, whose remarkable story I will elaborate on in a later post. As for the site itself, it is clean, uncluttered and responsive, and has a different feel altogether than many of the cookie-cutter websites that have been built on top of other category-killer domain names. It feels and looks every bit as professional as Golfsmith.com or The Golf Warehouse. Maybe that’s because GolfBags.com also has a bricks-and-mortar business in Portland, Oregon, and is manned by staff who apparently eat, sleep and breathe golf.

You may never have heard of GolfBags.com (yet) and may not have been aware that it is a live e-commerce site, but by all appearances it is a million-dollar business selling golf bags to the entire world while just being operated by a handful of employees. One thing you can be sure of is that as long as golfers use golf bags this is a business name that will exude credibility and authority because the product being sold advertises the site. How about that for a novel concept! Even the mere mention of golf bags in conversation reinforces the company “brand”!

All in all, there appears to be very little down-side and a lot of up-side to launching a business on a great domain name such as this. The domain name itself is probably worth 7 figures now that there’s a fully functioning website behind it. The cost of acquiring visitors is either zero (if they type the domain name in their browser) or certainly less than most of their competitors’ costs if they do pay-per-click advertising because the keywords in the domain name improve click-through rates and visitors will remember the name next time. And even if their retail business should ever fail, it seems to me that there are more than enough golf bag manufacturers and competitors in the retail sector who would jump at the chance to own the category-defining domain name for their industry.

Now that’s what you call a very sweet domain name and a business with bags of potential.

How did these 4 industry giants let GolfGrips.com slip through their hands?

Golf Pride, Avon and Lamkin are among the world’s biggest golf grip manufacturers, and all have been in business for several decades. Golf Pride are the market leaders, with over 80% of tour professionals choosing to use their grips. Avon have been on the go for almost four decades while Lamkin started off in 1926. Winn Grips are – comparatively speaking – the new kids on the block. Yet none of these companies, new or old, had the foresight to register GolfGrips.com, the defining domain name for their industry.

So who are the real owners of GolfGrips.com? Well, the domain was registered on July 8th, 1998, and the current owner is Estee Marketing, Inc, 700 Tower Road, Troy, MI, USA. Click on the link or type the domain name in your browser and you will find a simple cookie-cutter website selling – you guessed it – golf grips. According to the information on the website, they have been in business since 2006 and are an internet-only business to avoid the high overhead of maintaining brick and mortar storefronts.

Isn’t this the beauty of the internet? A tiny company based in Middle-America selling products around the world with no need for stores or any of the other up-front expenses of doing business in the real world, and with the credibility of the industry’s strongest domain name to support them. Back in the late 90s, people like these with a bit of foresight, technical knowledge, and $100 in their pocket were able to buy up domains that defined entire industries or industry niches, while their big competitors were still focusing on branding themselves using endorsements and old media.

What would it have been worth to Winn Grips, for example, as a relative newcomer on the scene, to have registered this domain back then? What branding and credibility would that have given them, if when people typed in the domain name or clicked on a link they landed on Winn’s website? There are different kinds of branding; one is the type where you brand your name and have to keep on spending money or the name recognition dwindles away. The other is generic branding, where you own the name of the product you’re selling or the service you offer. Customers don’t forget what they are looking for, even if they often forget the names of the companies operating in the space.

And thinking of Golf Pride, why wouldn’t they want to own this domain name, to more or less prove for all eternity that they are the leaders in the golf grip industry?

Any golf grip company ought to be able to make a case for owning this domain name, but my guess now is that whoever eventually owns it – and I do believe it has not yet reached its final destination or fullest use – will have to pay 7 figures for it. Companies might think of it primarily as a defensive move, because the risk of having one of their existing competitors or a new entrant to the market buying it and relegating them to second place is too great to take. The free traffic, credibility and name recognition would be a bonus.

It’s ironic how companies that pride themselves in making slip-resistant grips should have let a prize like this one slip through their grasp. The game’s not over yet, but the stakes are much higher now.