Do You Have A Domain Name Strategy?

Businesses large and small, bloggers, YouTubers, etc. all put a lot of time and resources into developing their branding and marketing strategies, but even now, decades after the Internet has proved to be a profitable marketplace for all manner of industries, very few business owners and marketing departments are taking the time to flush out and take advantage of the top tool available to them online, domain names.

Let me share a real-world example from a client I’ve worked with fairly recently (names changed to protect the innocent of course), and even though this example involves a small Mom-and-Pop pizza shop it’s still perfect in that it illustrates what I consider to be the two most crucial points to a solid domain name strategy.

A client wanted to expand their online ordering when they came to me. They had a great website for their pizza shop, it was well put together, their name branding was good and their online menu and ordering system easy to use. Yet, for over a year their online sales had been a flatline. They received online orders daily but the monthly numbers stayed stagnant month after month despite their best efforts to expand their reach.

The owner told me he wanted to see at least a 10% increase in online orders and was hoping for closer to 20% to be possible. We spoke for about a half-hour and I realized pretty quickly there was an affordable and fast solution for him. I asked, what neighborhoods do you deliver to? The owner replied with five surrounding neighborhoods, plus the one the shop was actually located in.

I said great, do you own the domain names for those neighborhoods? He didn’t understand what I meant, so I explained: “Do you own Neighborhood1Pizza.com, Neighborhood2Pizza.com, Neighborhood3Pizza.com” and so on.

He didn’t, and thirty seconds to check showed all five of the domains for the communities around his shop where he delivered to with the word Pizza added to the neighborhood name were available.

I explained he didn’t necessarily need the domain for the neighborhood his shop was in since everyone there knew his shop by name or passed it often, though I said that it wouldn’t hurt to buy it as well. But for the surrounding communities where his shop wasn’t as highly known and people didn’t tend to drive past it on a daily basis, he absolutely wanted to own those NeighborhoodPizza.com domains.

I said “you’ve got to buy all of these, now”.

He balked at that, not the cost, we were talking under $75 in registration fees, though to be honest if someone owned those names already I’d have pushed him to reach out and negotiate purchases at much higher prices if necessary.

His opposition wasn’t money, but rather effort. He’d spent thousands of dollars and more importantly lots of hours with someone to set up his shop’s website and didn’t want to invest all of that in setting up websites for each of those names.

Fair enough, but I had no intentions on telling him to do that so explained that what he needed was a one-page lander on each domain that branded to his shop, it would be almost a duplicate of his existing homepage but with some minor tweaking to connect them to the individual neighborhoods, and that all of the links from the lander pages would click-through to his primary business site. The work and investment involved was minimal.

We talked a little more on how the existing homepage of his shop site could be tweaked for each individual neighborhood, and as we did he registered all of the domain names I’d told him to, including the one for the community his shop was in. After that, I spent a couple days gathering pictures from the neighborhoods involved and setting up the lander pages on each for him.

Once those were setup we created paper fliers for each neighborhood based on the lander pages design that he added a coupon onto then had a ton printed up. I told him to hire some kids to go to the busy retail spots in each neighborhood on a Saturday and hand out those fliers, just ask people “Do you like pizza? Here’s a great local place with a coupon included.” Instead, he used his nieces and nephews, but they got the job done.

The Results

In the fifth week after the new landing pages went live and the fliers were handed out his online ordering was double what it had been his best week ever since going online.

In the eighth week it was 50% over that fifth week’s ordering.

After that it stabelized. It has continued to grow but at a much slower rate. He’s done the flier handouts a few more times since that I know of and says they still bring a little bump for him each time.

So, when he came to me he was hoping to increase his online ordering by 20%. That was what he saw as the “hopeful” goal.

With minimal investment and effort, we tripled his online sales over his best week ever. That’s the reality of a good domain name strategy that’s used as a complement to a traditional marketing campaign (like printed fliers with coupons).

These are the 2 crucial points I mentioned above.

First, you can’t view domain names or the Internet as the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they won’t come. That’s not how it works. Domain names and websites complement and enhance traditional marketing and sales efforts, they don’t replace them.

And second, a good domain name strategy has to connect with your customers in a meaningful way, not generically. By this I mean the pizza shop owner could have spent millions to buy a generic “killer” name such as Pizza.com for example, and he’d have lost everything most likely. Don’t get me wrong, Pizza.com is a great name, but unless you’re operating a national chain of pizza shops it’s useless to you. The people who live in the neighborhoods he delivers to may not all know his shop name, or it may not be top on their minds, but when they want pizza they’re going to want it from a shop that’s close and delivers to their door, so NeighborhoodPizza.com is sticky. Between the fliers being handed out and word of mouth from there, it connects with the shop’s full potential customer base.

This example may be of a small Mom-and-Pop pizza shop, but the strategy employed and illustrated is every bit as valid for any industry or personality of any size. If you remember that domain names and websites enhance and complement traditional marketing, not replace it, and you ensure that the domains you purchase and sites you build connect with your customers in a meaningful way for them, then you’ve got a winning domain name strategy.

Edited to add:

After posting this I had a few questions come to mind myself on the example I provided, so I reached out to my friend, the pizza shop owner, and asked him. Here I’ll share the information for clarity sake.

Q. Did the rise in online ordering coincide with a decline in phone orders? This seems important as it indicates whether there was actually an expansion in reach for his shop or just a transition in the medium used by his existing customer base.

He told me there was a low single-digit percentage drop in phone orders overall. He didn’t give an exact figure but said it was “close to about 5%”. I followed up asking since obviously the number of phone orders each week was different from online orders, how did it compare? Without actual numbers on-hand he put it at “roughly 20 or so new online orders to each phone order lost”.

In other words, the work we did for him didn’t just result in moving customers from phone orders to online ordering, though some may have switched the overall gains were truly growth of his customer base.

He expanded that to say they were still doing their normal print advertising, weekly menu mailers to their delivery area, ads within community papers, that kind of thing. And despite always including their main shop website with these, in general, most of this print reach has always resulted in phone orders.

Whatever customers may have transitioned from phone orders to online he’s perfectly happy with. As he explained a phone order ties up either himself or one of his employees for 3 to 5 minutes. An online order prints out right at the counter and is being prepared in seconds.

Q. My other question was regarding online customer acquisition. Had he done anything online to try and promote these new domains we purchased for the campaign or his main shop website since we set this all up?

The answer was no.

Those were my own two follow-up questions and I’m happy I was able to reach out to him, and that he was willing to answer them for me for this little blog posting.

That said, to add my own two-cents on the second question, I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 rule, and just having the NeighborhoodPizza.com domains and literally putting them into potential customer’s hands with the print fliers is the 80 here. Paying someone (or trying to do it yourself) to work on SEO and online marketing for this would likely have minimal impact, at best, and could quickly become far more costly than the initial campaign itself was to create and employ.

That isn’t going to be true in all cases, everything is unique, and again it comes down to connecting with your customers in a meaningful way as I said much earlier here. Part of that is knowing where your customers are. If you can reach 80% of them with a cost-effective flier handout then hiring an SEO or Marketing agency to get some fraction of that other 20% may not be the best use of your resources.

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