Developing Domains Isn’t The Hard Part – Traffic And Monetization Is

Domain Development is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in Domaining. Of course by domain development I mean website development, the process of putting a website onto your domain. Back in 2007 I was developing my domains by hand using good old notepad and Photoshop, I was also my own content writer, marketing manager, etc. A bit like a one man development band I was pumping out websites for many of the domains that I was buying. In the end I built out over 350 websites of which over 200 are still operational today.

What I learned through this experience was that development wasn’t the hard part, getting traffic to the name and then converting that traffic to money, that was the hard part. Now it’s easier than ever to put a website on your domain name thanks to platforms like WordPress that take all the complexity out of building a site. The problem is, most domain and website investors expect the traffic to come pouring in just because they have a good website with good content. Sorry, but that’s just not enough, I know and believe me I tried!

The biggest lesson that I learned building all these websites was that every niche is different, and every set of keywords has a different set of competitors. Trying to use one strategy to build up traffic and generate revenue across a group of sites won’t cut it. With every single brand that you build you need to look at who owns the above-the-fold space in Google and figure out what they did to get there. If the front page is filled with brands that have multi-million dollar advertising and SEO budgets, and your budget is $2,500 set your expectations low.

This was lesson number two for me. If you want to build a site that makes $1,000/month don’t expect to build it for $1,000 or $2,000, or even $3,000. If anyone could pay $1,000 and make $12,000/year nobody would work. The payment you’ll need to make is either time or money. When I started my business I spent about twenty hours each weekend working on some of my top sites. I was giving up my time rather than my money and while I had no free time, I was making good money!

Building a great website, whether you are using WordPress or not, will take time. You have to decide whether you want this to be your time, or if you’d like to exchange someone else’s time for money so your time can be spent doing something else. Of course this lead to lesson #3, I didn’t want to spend my time building websites, I wanted to be more strategic and the money was coming in, so I used part of the profits to pay someone else to run the site. This immediately changed my life as I went from a self employed model to a business.

Okay so now you (or your new web guy) put a great website on your domain. You have some nice fresh content, a great-looking logo, and the exact match domain to match, life is good right? Well only if you already have type-in traffic coming to your domain. If you were already making $1,000 or more a month parking you could start generating revenue right away, but for everyone without type-in traffic (which is most people reading this), now comes the really hard part.

Ranking well for competitive, high CPC terms in Google is not easy. Yes, building a website has become easier than ever but ranking well for competitive terms is harder than ever. So you have a great insurance name, or an amazing debt-related name, the term has high search volume and a great CPC. What might look like a gold mine could turn into a money pit as it can get very expensive paying an SEO firm to build up your ranking over time.

But can’t you just do the SEO yourself? In short, no.

Sorry I don’t mean to be blunt here but this leads me to lesson #4, don’t do your own SEO unless you have a track record getting sites ranked on the first page of Google for competitive terms. If you want to learn SEO, awesome, that’s a great thing, pick a test site and go nuts, but don’t expect great results. SEO professionals spend an incredible amount of time doing nothing but SEO, they’re the best at it and any good SEO will tell you, it’s not something you can pick up and master in 3-6 months.

This is where I see most Domainers fail when it comes to development. I get a few emails a week from Domainers that say something along the lines of

 

“I read your blog and found out about WordPress development. I have built five sites on my domains but none are making money, what am I doing wrong?” 

 

I respond to each of these the same way, “How much traffic is the site getting?”

Usually the answer is “I don’t know” which usually means a big whopping zero visitors/month. Monetization is tied directly to traffic, the more traffic you have, the more money you can make. You need to generate at least a few thousand visitors a month to really generate any kind of meaningful revenue for a site.

So what does this mean for Domainers that want to put websites on their domains? It means you need to be realistic with yourself. Solutions like WordPress do mean that you can now put a great website on your domains without having to hire a developer. If your domain is already getting nice consistent traffic this might be all you need, but if you don’t have any meaningful traffic coming to your site the hard part is still ahead. Take the time to learn your niche, understand who your competitors are and what it might take to rank well in the space.

Also unless you have a huge SEO budget avoid niches like Insurance, Debt, Credit Cards, etc. They may all have great CPCs but the players in these markets have huge budgets and own the space, to compete you’ll need some serious funds and it’s definitely not something you could  tackle on your nights and weekends.

This leads me to lesson #5 and possibly my most important lesson. Decide where you want to spend your time being tactical and where you want to spend your time being strategic. For me since I was building a Domaining business, not a website development business, I needed to pay other people to be tactical and build the site. If you spend your time learning HTML and CSS, or your nights and weekends are spent setting up the perfect WordPress site, how much time is spent working on your Domaining business?

You can’t do it all, building a website on a domain and watching that site turn into a real revenue-generating brand is an incredible feeling. Just know that it takes a lot more than building a site, that’s the easy part. Be honest with yourself and you’ll find your goals will become much more realistic. Last but certainly not least, build something you would use yourself, build something you are proud of and passionate about, that’s where the best sites come from.

(Photo Credit | Photo Credit)

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Jeff August 28, 2012, 6:39 pm

    > I wanted to be more strategic and the money was coming in, so I used part of the profits to pay
    > someone else to run the site. This immediately changed my life as I went from a self employed
    > model to a business.

    What were the job responsibilities of the first person you hired? For how many hours per week did you hire him/her?

    Reply
    • Morgan August 28, 2012, 7:44 pm

      Great question @Jeff! The first person I hired knew HTML and CSS but had very little design experience. Initially they would customize templates I had already created adding graphics that I designed and sent to them. I think the first person I hired was working around 10 hours/week starting out.

      @Steve – thanks, see you in Florida!!

      @Nadia – really great question and I can’t say I know a book that does a good job covering this. That being said a lot of affiliate marketing bloggers have covered similar topics, let me see what I can find!

      Reply
  • Steve August 28, 2012, 6:47 pm

    Nice article Morgan.

    See you in Florida.

    Reply
  • Nadia August 28, 2012, 7:04 pm

    Great insights, as always, Morgan. Do you know of any resources or books that compare different business models & monetization ideas for websites – i.e., if you are approaching companies for direct advertising through banner ads, which is more effective, 3-month, 6-month, or year-long contracts?

    I’ve also wondered if anyone has done a study on subscription plans and what pricing levels/methods generate the best results for sites that are directories that offer free listings as well as premium upgraded listings.

    Reply
  • Louise August 28, 2012, 8:03 pm

    @ Nadia, search Elliotsblog for articles about Dogwalker.com – successful paid listings, I believe, for about $20.00/annually . . . Thanx for the informative article, @ Morgan! My site, HardtopConvertibles.net reached page 1 simply because it doesn’t violate any of the tactics Google prohibits, found here: Google Quality Guidelines

    Reply
  • Nadia August 28, 2012, 9:56 pm

    @ Louise, I’m familiar with DogWalker.com and Elliot’s ventures. My question was less about how to go about setting up a site like that where people can sign up for listings, and more about the business model behind it. That’s just one example. Elliot charges a single fee (I believe it’s $49/yr) for a listing, but most of the sites I’d be emulating in my industry have more complicated pricing structures. I suppose a lot of it is trial and error but it would be helpful to know what principles of psychology and consumer behavior come into play when potential clients are presented with an ARRAY of options (“free listing, silver plan, gold plan, etc.”).

    Reply
  • Viljami August 29, 2012, 12:51 am

    I started building a website selling brandable (domain) names a couple of months ago. I had very little knowledge about building sites, but after a while I learned a bit of WP and CSS (and copy/paste PHP), which is pretty much all it takes in the beginning imho. But getting traffic; a horrendous task.

    Anyway, here’s my (off)roadmap for getting more traffic with zero budget(which I hope will produce some results little by little):

    1. Redirecting all the domains I’m selling to my site (accumulates some traffic atm)

    2. Trying to find (expiring) domain names with traffic. Not necessarily the ones I’m about to sell, but also (and even more) domain names that have something to do with branding, domain names, web marketing etc. I read a thread at Namepros about guys doing this as they hunt domains with quality backlinks for parking. I figured out it could work with just getting related traffic too. Not much success with this one yet.

    3. Going for the longtail exact matches. I, again, read about moderate success with this one. Very little competition, so at least I have a chance to rank. Just started this, and still learning onsite SEO, so (again) not that much success yet.

    4. I’m also considering contacting a few domain owners with quality, generic domains related to brand (domain) names (domains like, say, brandmart, brandsales, brandnames etc.), and ask them if they would consider selling their traffic for a period of time. Type-ins is the idea here.

    5. Link building. Still trying to come up with clever ways to do this. Haven’t really started yet. Probably should.

    Yes, I’m new to domaining. Yes, I’m new to building websites. And when it comes to SEO, I’m not even born yet. Anyway, I think 2 & 3 might work for someone else (and for other website types) too if done right.

    Reply
  • RJ August 29, 2012, 1:22 am

    Nadia, how about this: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/5-psychological-studies/

    This book (Brainfluence) by Roger Dooley might also be useful: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118113365

    Here is his blog: http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/

    Reply
  • Fatih August 29, 2012, 2:12 am

    Hi Morgan,

    This was one of the best posts for me as i am in the stage of turning my generic domains to revenue generating websites.

    Just wondered this, how much time did it take for you to generate visitor traffic and revenue for a name without direct traffic.I mean there comes a point in time one can ask himself,”Okay i did everything i can do,but i have to take one step back and accept the failure”

    Or should i insist for 1 year ,2 years ??

    Thanks in advance. Also i wish you a happy life with your wife.

    Reply
    • Morgan August 29, 2012, 6:48 pm

      Thanks @Fatih, I am really glad you enjoyed the post! One of the first names I started with ended-up in the #1 spot on Google for a very competitive term in the first few weeks.

      That being said, I learned that this time is completely variable, some names took 6+ months to rank well and get traffic. It all depends on how much SEO work is being done and how competitive the terms are.

      Reply
  • Lance August 29, 2012, 5:49 am

    Great article …… and a great reality check for many of us. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Ahmed August 29, 2012, 10:28 am

    Well, great thread but make it shorty in the other time 😉 .
    if you cannot use Google adsense , affiliate and cannot send items for other country what you will use to make money in your website ? maybe i can get affiliate pay to my country but if not what you will do ? (( I can get in page #1 easy in Google I really do it for other people )) the problem for me its my country 🙂

    Reply
  • Rob August 29, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Sound advice and a reality check for us newbies.

    Reply
  • Louise August 29, 2012, 6:21 pm

    @ Nadia, I ike eConsultancy’s offerings here – I am a member! But eConsultancy has alot to offer by way of member directory profile and the odd free report for the free membership. Paid members get event discounts and other benefits . . .

    Reply
  • Nadia August 29, 2012, 9:59 pm

    @ RJ and Louise

    Thank you for the links. I will definitely check them out!

    Reply
  • Yosif August 30, 2012, 10:36 am

    Great article 🙂 I just found your blog and I am very pleased and learned a lot 🙂

    Reply
    • Morgan August 31, 2012, 12:16 pm

      Thanks @Yosif – much appreciated and welcome!

      Reply
  • Louise August 31, 2012, 9:23 pm

    Appreciate the discussion!

    Reply
  • Carl July 7, 2014, 3:44 pm

    I am considering buying a domain but currently the site is not live and has no content up so there are no traffic analytics to look at. Is there a way to look at search trends or something of the like to try to quantify how much organic search power the domain has? W/o understanding the potential for traffic it has, its hard to figure out how much it is worth.

    Reply
    • Morgan July 7, 2014, 8:34 pm

      @Carl – great question and yes, you can use the Google Keyword Planner Tool to get a good estimate. Also Moz.org has some great resources as well to determine potential search volume. As for natural traffic coming to a domain, don’t count on that too much as those numbers are declining quite a bit over time.

      Reply

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