What’s in a Name?
August 7th, 2018
In the campground industry, there are instances where it makes sense to change the name of a business, particularly if the old business name is too closely associated with a previous owner or has garnered a questionable reputation. In other instances, a park will change its name when it joins a franchise system and adopts the name that is assigned to its local area. Sometimes new owners will want to make a fresh start, after purchasing a park that they love that comes with a name that strikes them as less than well-informed.
Name changes are neither simple nor inexpensive. When Nissan decided to change its brand name from Datsun to Nissan back in 1984, its direct costs were said to be $500 million. It cost the company $30 million just to change the signs of 1,100 dealerships, as well as another $200 million to replace the “Datsun, We Are Driven!” ad slogan with a new campaign designed to build its new identity. Name changes should not be taken lightly because they carry innumerable costs, including the following:
- Filing changes and paying the associated fees with your Secretary of State
- Updating business registrations and licensing
- Checking trademarks
- Designing a new logo
- Replacing signage
- Replacing all of your advertising materials, from business cards to your website
- Checking the availability of a new domain name (which may, in itself, determine or at least influence the new business name)
- Taking measures to ensure that traffic from your old website redirects to your new site, without the new site needlessly taking a hit in its search engine ranking
- Correcting listings on every website that references or links to your business
The website-related issues start with checking on the availability of a new domain name that will well-represent the new name of your business. To do this, you cannot simply enter a URL into a Web browser and presume that it is available because a website does not appear. You need to perform what is called a “whois lookup”, and a quick and easy way to do that is to go to https://whois.com/. If your first choices are already taken by similar businesses in other states, that might impact your choice of business name. Even without taking potential trademark issues into consideration, any businesses with the same name are going to confuse consumers looking for your site and will probably adversely impact your search ranking for years to come. Keep in mind that you do NOT want to settle for a non-dot.com variation of your desired domain name because too many people who see a .xyz, .dot, .fun, or .web URL will not recognize it and will type in the .com variation anyway.
In order to ensure that traffic from your old website will redirect to the equivalent pages on your new site, have your webmaster employ what are called “301 redirects”. These will seamlessly send visitors to your new site while signaling search engines to update their links. If you have a series of alternate domain names, either referencing the old or new business name, you will also want to set those up as domain aliases so they will direct visitors to your new online presence. Of course, you will probably want to reference the old business name on the new site, at least for a year or so. Something like “Welcome to New Campground, formerly Old Campground!” will assure people that they have arrived at the right place.
Updating the links on all of the sites that reference your business will be perhaps the most time-consuming and potentially frustrating, yet critical, process. It is important to maintain your continuing flow of incoming referral traffic. Some sites will require you to log in to your account, others will have an update form, and some others might require a phone call or email. In each instance, you will want to update your business name and Web address; however, while you are there, check to see if anything else should be updated in the listing. Start with the most obvious and important resources, then work your way down the list. For campgrounds, the list will include:
- Your state association website
- National ARVC and the Go Camping America website
- Your listings with Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, which will also affect their respective online mapping resources, Google Maps and Bing Maps
- Good Sam and the campground listings on GoodSam.com
- Your Facebook page, including an update of your Facebook URL to reflect the new business name, and an update of your profile photo and cover image
- Any other social media accounts that you are using
- Campground review sites such as RVParkReviews.com, GuestReviews.com, and Campendium.com
- Broader review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp
- Your regional tourism agencies and local chambers of commerce, if you are members
- Any other referring sites that show up as significant sources of traffic in your Google Analytics
Finally, there are literally dozens of local directory sites that you will want to at least try to update. Although few people actually use these sites as resources when looking for campgrounds, these sites are important because they can influence search engine rankings. You can attempt to update these listings yourself; however, some will charge a fee, and whatever you update might still be undone by one of the data aggregators that feed these sites their listing information. Alternately, you can go direct to the four major data integrators to search for and update your listings:
There are companies like Yext that will provide this latter service of updating your local directory listings for a fee. Another option is Insider Perks, a company that specializes in working with campgrounds, and probably a better choice. With everything involved on this checklist, maybe that old business name isn’t looking so bad after all. One thing is certain, and that is necessity to consider all of the costs in advance of making such an important decision.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Domain Name Registration Pitfalls
August 11th, 2015
Recent events have encouraged me to revisit a topic that I first brought to the public’s attention back in 2010. There is quite an online industry involved with domain name registrations, the buying and selling of domain names, and the consequences that involve expirations. Generally speaking, the people involved in these practices spend very little money while in search of tremendously large profits.
About a month ago, one of our clients – a campground in Connecticut – asked me to check into the availability of a more desirable domain name to replace the domain name that they had been using (but that was actually under the control of another individual, with the strong potential for a future dispute.) When I checked the new domain name, I found that it was listed as “for sale” at a price of $500.00. My client authorized me to intervene on their behalf, willing to pay as much as $400.00. Over the next few weeks of shrewd negotiations, I suddenly found that the domain was released, and I immediately registered it on behalf of our client for our standard fee of $35.00 – not the $400.00 that they were willing to pay or the $500.00 that the alleged seller wanted. What happened?
Let me answer that question with another question. Have you ever received an e-mail from a company offering to sell you a “premium domain name” that is similar to your existing domain name? They contacted you because you were listed as a contact for your own domain name, and they were looking for a likely buyer who was willing to take the bait. I have had instances where I have received several consecutive offers from different companies, all offering to sell me the same domain name. The fact is that, in nearly every instance, none of these sellers actually owns the domain names that they are offering to sell. Sound confusing? Read on!
Protect your existing domain name.
First of all, protect your existing domain name from potential hijacking. Unless you are certain where your domain name is registered, know that it is locked to prevent transfer, and know its expiration/renewal date, do yourself a favor and perform a whois lookup. Go to http://whois.com/ and enter your domain name. Confirm that YOU are listed as the registrant and that the domain status includes the words “Transfer Prohibited”, “Update Prohibited” and “Delete Prohibited”. You might be surprised to find that your webmaster or hosting company is the actual registrant (owner) of your domain name – the scenario that our client faced and something that needs to be corrected immediately; that the e-mail address associated with your name is an old AOL e-mail address that you have not used in years; or that your domain is unlocked – which is roughly equivalent to the carelessness of leaving your parked car unlocked on the streets of a major city.
Whether you or your webmaster handle your domain name registration renewals, you will know if it has been allowed to expire because your website will suddenly become inaccessible. That in itself is not a reason to panic; however, you do not want to ever allow your domain name to go beyond the Redemption Grace Period (RGP) status as outlined in guidelines set forth by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). The guidelines (not rules) allow for a 30-day RGP term, after which your domain goes into “Pending Delete” status for an additional 5 days. At the end of those 5 days, it is purged from the registry database and becomes available for anybody to register. That could be anyone from a business with the same name in another state to one of your more vindictive competitors.
Unfortunately, some registrars add their own unique rules to the guidelines that have been put forth by ICANN. For example, GoDaddy will make you pay an $80.00 “redemption fee” on the 19th day. On the 26th day, they will enter your domain into a 10-day “Expired Domain Name Auction” and, if there are no bidders, will then enter it into an additional 5-day “Closeout Auction”, seeking every opportunity possible to profit from your oversight and increasing the likelihood that you will be unable to recover your domain name. Only if there are no bidders at this second auction will they release the domain.
Network Solutions has an even worse policy, stating that your domain name is subject to deletion at any time after it has been allowed to expire. They say that they “endeavor to provide a grace period that extends 35 days past the expiration date” but that the “grace period is not guaranteed and can change or be eliminated at any time without notice.” Network Solutions states that “a Redemption Grace Period (RGP) is not guaranteed and customers should renew their domain name registration services in advance of the domain name registration expiration date(s) to avoid deletion of domain name registration services.” Just when you thought that GoDaddy’s $80.00 redemption fee was outrageous, Network Solutions’ fee is far worse. Their policy continues, “If we decide to provide the redemption service to a customer, we charge a fee of $299.00 to redeem and renew a domain name registration during the RGP.”
The bottom line is that you should never allow your domain name to expire.
What happens when your domain is in this Redemption Grace Period? Basically, it enters a domain name limbo otherwise known as the domain name aftermarket, sort of like an enormous used car sales lot or automobile auction. What happens is that vultures appear out of nowhere. The practice is referred to by a number of names, with domain tasting and domain front running being the most common descriptions. Many registrars also encourage a process called “backordering” which allows interested buyers to move to the head of the line during the RGP. Some of these same registrars have also been known to provide information directly to these domain tasters, whenever somebody performs a whois lookup, checking on the availability of a domain name but then failing to register it immediately. Returning a few days later, you find that the domain name appears to have (not coincidentally) just been registered and is suddenly listed for sale at a very high price. The seller is hoping that you will still want the domain name and will be willing to submit to what is essentially highway robbery.
Typically, domain tasters work with a registrar that will even allow them a 5-day grace period to cancel out of the registration if you, the potential buyer, do not agree to pay their fee. However it is handled, these are people who are trying to sell you domain names that they usually do not even own, in many instances running auctions of their own, driving up the price if they find more than one interested potential buyer.
Knowledge is your best defense against fraud.
Understand that there are three basic components when you own a website: The site construction fee (usually the most expensive component, unless you have built a do-it-yourself site), the annual or monthly hosting fee, and the domain name registration fee. The domain name registration fee is by far the least expensive of those three components – unless and until you lose your domain name, when its recovery can be very, very costly. Our client was lucky in this instance, and I have successfully intervened in many similar circumstances, but nobody in business wants to rely simply upon luck. Follow the steps that I have outlined, and do everything necessary to prevent the loss of your domain name from ever occurring.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Truth in Packaging
June 10th, 2015
When it comes to processed foods, probably the most deceptive phrases are:
- Serving suggestion.
- Enlarged to show detail.
- All natural.
The serving suggestion lets you know that the strawberries and blueberries in that bowl of cereal are not included in the box, the image that is enlarged to show detail helps you to really see what that cracker or potato chip looks like, and the words “all natural” have no definition whatsoever and can include just about every chemical compound found on the planet. The first two phrases are usually shown in very fine print, whereas the last phrase is generally promoted in large text with an eye-catching graphic.
It is unfortunate that parts of the business world have adopted language that essentially applies this same sort of lipstick to their pigs. A used car becomes “previously owned”, previously frozen fish in the supermarket becomes “thawed for your convenience”, products made in China might be “assembled and packaged in the USA”, and most people know that a “processed cheese product” is anything but real cheese. In particular, some of this deception has become commonplace in the Internet industry.
If you have ever registered a domain name with a company like GoDaddy, you will encounter their version of the “serving suggestion”. I just went to GoDaddy to try to register a domain name for $9.99, the sale pricing for new domain name registrations. Before checking out, I am presented with an offer the “Get 3 and Save 67%” by registering the .net, .org, and .info versions of the domain name, as well as an opportunity to “target local shoppers” by adding the .nyc version of the domain name for an additional $39.99.
As I pass on those options and proceed to the checkout, I am encouraged to “Protect My Personal Information” by adding so-called “Privacy Protection or Privacy & Business Protection” for between $7.99 and $14.99 per domain per year. (The $14.99 price is made to appear particularly attractive, since it is discounted from a “regular” price of $32.97.) The next options are “Website Builder Hosting” for anywhere from $1.00 to $10.99 per month, and E-mail hosting for anywhere from $3.99 to $7.89 per month. Then, of course, I will be encouraged to register my domain for the maximum period of 10 years, rather than only paying for a single year.
Under this exercise, I only wanted to register a single .com domain name for $9.99 (plus a mandatory $0.18 ICANN fee). Most people are confused by all of the options – after all, doesn’t “privacy protection” sound important? – and will pay for at least some of the unnecessary add-ons. If I purchased everything that GoDaddy suggested, but still only registered my domain name for a single year, I would be paying $375.51 per year for that $9.99 domain name. Yes, those are “serving suggestions”.
Enlarged to Show Detail
Many website builders have a way of exaggerating their skill levels. Often, these are the local jack-of-all-trades computer shops in town, where the owner fancies himself a webmaster in between attempting computer repairs and selling home theater systems. In other instances, this might be your son or daughter or that smart kid down the street, generally telling you that “anybody can build a website.” In yet other instances, you might be misled by TV commercials from companies like Wix, Weebly, SiteBuilder.com, VistaPrint, or those wonderful folks at GoDaddy again … all suggesting that it only takes a few mouse clicks to build a website for your business for next to nothing or even free (before, of course, leading you back into the “serving suggestions”).
Needless to say, there is not a single website for any seriously legitimate business that was built under any of those scenarios. Even among companies that are engaged full-time in website development, there is a propensity toward exaggeration and a “sure, we can do that” attitude. Your best protection will be a careful review of their portfolio and references. It has been said that “the proof is in the pudding”, and you may want to confirm that the dessert being served matches the dessert being described on the menu. If you are being promised a world-class website, that is unlikely to result if there are no signs of the necessary skills visible in previously completed projects.
The trickiest to detect is the claim that a product is made with all natural ingredients. From processed foods to pet food, from cosmetics to candy, there are no clear standards or definitions for the term “all natural”. As a result, consumers need to rely upon their own instincts, underfunded consumer watchdog organizations, or the slowly moving wheels of governmental regulatory agencies for protection. Snake oil was all natural, but it never cured a single disease other than psychosomatic disorder.
The snake oil of the Internet age is search engine optimization, commonly known by its acronym: SEO. How many phone calls have you received recently from somebody offering to get your website “listed at the top of the Google search results”, offering to help get your business listed on Google Places, or asking you to “update your Google front page listing?” In most instances, you have probably gotten dozens of such calls. Not a single one of them has actually come from Google or a company that is legitimately sanctioned to call on Google’s behalf.
In a recent phone call with the former president of one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies, I was struck (but not surprised) by his advice to “never hire an SEO agency”. Wasting time trying to find a legitimate SEO company is like trying to find a “good” fortune teller, used car salesman, or payday loan company. They are all truly good at taking your money. SEO is nonetheless big business. Be suspicious of companies that offer SEO reports as a means of getting their foot in the door, offer to “fix” your website so that it will “start ranking higher on the search engines”, or show you Google Analytics charts and graphs with misleading annotations that allegedly document their expertise.
We are living in challenging times. In order to survive and prosper, you need to cut through the chatter and filter out the noise. Should you really expect one business to provide the same services for significantly less than most others, should you really expect companies to provide free services with no strings attached, and should you really believe that there are companies with magic wands that will make your website suddenly appear more highly ranked than any other relevant search results? Sometimes business decisions come down to who you can trust, and trusting your own instincts is almost always the soundest business decision.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Domain Name Registration Essentials
May 16th, 2014
In recent weeks, I have been in a position where it was necessary to transfer several domain names from one registrar to another. In another instance, I successfully negotiated and rescued a domain name that had been lost four years ago by a previous webmaster who had since dropped off the face of the earth. Time and again, I am reminded of the importance of choosing a reputable registrar AND being aware of your domain name registration details.
As most people know, nobody actually owns a domain name. Think of it as a long-term lease (from 1 to 10 years) that you enter into with a domain name registrar (the equivalent of a rental agent, in this instance.) If you were leasing an apartment or an automobile, you would probably try to avoid getting burned by somebody working out of a back alley or who prefaced the conversation with the words, “Have I got a deal for you!” The same gut feelings apply to domain name registrars. My general recommendations are to never choose a registrar based solely upon price, avoid registrars that are based outside of the United States, and to resist the lemming-like tendency to choose a registrar based upon name recognition. Just because a registrar advertises on the Super Bowl does not mean that it should be your first choice.
When the time comes to transfer a registration, I have had transfers complete within 24 hours, and I have also had transfers that have dragged on for a month. I have generally found that the worst nightmares involve working with registrars based in foreign countries. In one instance, I had a client willing to pay $500.00 for an unused domain name, the widow of the registrant eager to facilitate the sale, but a registrar in Norway that refused to cooperate and eventually prevented the sale from taking place.
The first step in preventing that you ever find yourself in this type of nightmare scenario is to check the status of your existing domain name registration(s), particularly if they were registered by a webmaster or somebody else acting on your behalf. The quickest and most accurate way to check the registration of any domain name (and also to explore the availability of new domain names) is to perform a whois lookup. Go to www.whois.com, and enter the domain name in the “Whois Lookup” search box in the upper right of the page. If checking an existing domain name, the first thing that you want to check is the “Registrant” information. This should list YOUR name and YOUR business name and address, along with YOUR e-mail address. If the information is outdated or incorrect, update that information without delay. If the information is not recognizable, you may be paying for a so-called private registration. More on that later.
Another important piece of contact information associated with a domain name registration is the Administrative Contact. This will often be the contact information for your webmaster. The important things are for this to be updated if you change webmaster and for the associated e-mail address to be current and correct. Nothing will hold up a domain name registration transfer like an old e-mail address that has not been used in years. Finally, check the expiration date on your domain name, just so you can be aware of that timeframe.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you register or renew a domain name:
- Avoid Add-Ons: I mentioned private registrations earlier in this article. That is probably the most commonly purchased domain name registration add-on, usually incurring an annual fee of $5.00 or $10.00. In almost all instances, a private registration is a total waste of money, and it will prevent you from confirming your domain name registration details without logging into your account.
- Don’t Take the Bait: Domain name registrations can be registered for terms from one to ten years. Unless there is a significant long-term discount, I would suggest registering domains and renewing those registrations on a year-to-year basis. Of course, any registrant would like to have your business locked up for the maximum 10 years. In fact, one registrar (GoDaddy) actually spread the misinformation several years ago that a 10-year registration would enhance a domain’s search engine placement.
- Be Aware of Scams: The reason that registrars would like you to register for 10-year periods is because of the domain slamming that contributes to the already high rate of “churn” within the industry. Be particularly wary of any mailed solicitations that you WILL receive in the mail from a company using the names “Domain Registry of America”, “Liberty Names of America”, or “Domain Registry Services”. The letters always show an icon of the American flag or the Statue of Liberty next to the return address, which will also show an address in either Buffalo or Niagara Falls, even though the company is conveniently located over the border in Canada – beyond the reach of prosecution by a number of otherwise eager state attorneys general. The letters imply that you are at risk of losing your domain name and must renew it now. Your domain name expiration date is probably months away – remember, the actual renewal date will appear in the whois lookup – and the fine print at the bottom of the letter will explain that by signing and returning the form with the required fee, you will actually be initiating the transfer of your domain name to the new registrar.
- Beware of Country Code Solicitations: You will probably also receive e-mail solicitations (spam) from companies (usually in China), alleging that another company has “expressed interest” in registering the .cn version of your domain name. They further imply that they are paying you the “courtesy” of offering you a right of first refusal to “protect your trademark”. They will then offer you the dubious opportunity to register the .cn (the country code for China) and various other versions of your .com domain name. Doing so is a total waste of money.
- Avoid Working with Drop Catchers:Drop catchers are people who make a living offering expired (dropped) domain names to businesses with similar domain names. When a domain name is not renewed by its registrant, it goes into a 30-day grace period, then another 5 day lock period. It is during this time period that drop catchers, without even having to actually register the expired domain in most instances, will offer it to you for purchase.Usually, they will imply that the domain name has a high value and will be going to auction. In fact, if it is of interest to you, it is highly unlikely that it will be of interest to any other business, unless there are many businesses with names similar to yours. Sometimes the drop catcher will insist that the name will go to auction. Either way, if you really want the domain name, I typically offer only $100.00, and the drop catcher will generally jump on the opportunity, since they rarely have other prospects and will have just earned about a $90.00 profit.
The domain name registration that I recently rescued after it had been lost four years ago by an old webmaster was registered with a drop catcher. Although I was able to persuade him to do the right thing and release the domain name to my client at no charge, this is a highly unlikely scenario and a stroke of extremely good luck. The most common registrars that tailor their services to working with drop catchers are SnapNames, Enom, Pool, and GoDaddy.
When you transfer a domain name from one registrar to another, it will renew the registration and extend the expiration date by one year. This is a reciprocal arrangement that applies to all registrars. Also, once a domain is transferred to another registrar, it will be locked from further transfer for 60 days.
If you are wondering why any of this is important, just keep in mind that your domain name is essentially your second business name. Losing your domain name can be just as damaging as a wildfire or flood that devastates your business. Whether you handle your domain name registration(s) yourself or have a trusted webmaster who handles that responsibility on your behalf, take a minute to check the details of your registration and be aware of the scams and pitfalls that proliferate in the online industries.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Advantages of Multiple Websites & Multiple Domain Names
April 15th, 2014
These days, the domain name of a business is nearly as important as the business’s name itself. In a process referred to as a “type-in”, customers expect to be able to enter a business name followed by the .com extension into their browser’s address bar to be brought to the proper website. Stories abound about businesses (and even the White House!) that were asleep at the switch and found what should have been their domain names grabbed up by competitive forces. Of course, as time has progressed, many first choices have long ago been registered by businesses with similar names. For example, there appear to be more than a dozen parks name Shady Oaks Campground throughout the United States alone. The campground by that name in Maine registered the first-choice ShadyOaksCampground.com back in 1998, and the even more desirable ShadyOaks.com was registered by a nursery by that name in Minnesota two years earlier, back in 1996. Everyone else since then has faced the need for creativity in choosing an alternate domain name that might make sense.
When looking for the best available domain name, the rules of thumb are to keep it intuitive (in other words, having an obvious relation to your business), as short as possible, easy to spell, and ending in the .com extension. Some people persist in believing the myth that a long domain name that contains multiple keywords (even including words that do not relate to their business) will somehow enhance a website’s search engine ranking. In fact, I recently came across a campground in Georgia with a domain name that is made up of a combination of 9 words, for a total of 43 characters ahead of the .com – absolutely absurd! While it is true that an Exact Match Domain (EMD) name – such as the aforementioned ShadyOaksCampground.com – might offer a slight edge over less intuitive domain names in a list of search results, the general rule is to find the best available domain name that will make sense to your customers, particularly new customers who are not already familiar with your business.
Up until now, I have been referring to the best choice for a primary domain name for your business, but what about multiple domain names? Do they make sense?
Multiple Domain Names
Domain name registration fees are relatively minor in the overall scope of things, and many businesses like to explore the advantages of multiple domain names. These secondary domain names are typically setup as domain aliases that seamlessly redirect traffic to the primary domain. They are often based upon appropriate keyword phrases and are considered Phrase Match Domain (PMD) names. Whether or not these influence search results is open to debate; however, they may have value simply from the “type-in” perspective. My own research, based upon Google search results for keyword phrases that represent actual domains registered on behalf of our clients, suggests that domain aliases have very little influence upon search results.
Even in instances where these domain aliases are quite intuitive and directly relate to a business name or location, a search for the keyword phrase contained within that PMD typically produces surprisingly dismal results. My conclusion is that registering multiple domain names strictly for their search engine value is probably a futile effort that cannot even justify the relatively minimal expense. The exceptions are:
- If an alternate domain name protects your name or trademark from potential infringement (or even confusion in the eyes of consumers). For example, if your business name was Willow Shores Campground and your domain name was WillowShores.com, you might want to register WillowShoresCampground.com as a domain alias.
- If the alternate domain name points to unique content, rather than simply redirecting to another URL.
This last point is important. Although you do NOT want to have multiple websites for the same business competing for search engine ranking and confusing your customers, if you can justify building a secondary website that showcases unique content that represents a facet of your business, that website will appear in appropriate search queries and it will enhance the SEO of sites (including, of course, your primary website) that are linked to that secondary site. Note my emphasis on the word “unique” – search engines will typically penalize all of the sites involved when one or more sites simply mirror the content of another.
Examples Where Secondary Websites Make Sense
When justified by content, secondary websites make a great deal of sense. They can also help to generate search engine rankings and, subsequently, business. As an example, one of our clients is a large tea company with a long list of alternate domain names. Some are domain aliases that represent variations of their business name and protect their trademark from infringement. More importantly, there are separate, small websites for several of their flagship products. These sites appear at the top of search results for those products, while also directing significant traffic to the company’s main online commerce website.
Another example is the website for our client, James Kitchen, a prominent New England sculptor. His primary website provides all the information anyone might need – from finding the locations of installations, viewing a schedule of upcoming exhibitions, or watching a short documentary film on the artist. A new, smaller website showcases the artist’s contribution to a major Steampunk exhibition that is being hosted by the city of Springfield, Massachusetts from late March through late September 2014. This site will generate SEO and traffic within its own right, while also enhancing the SEO of the main James Kitchen site.
What works for a tea company and an artist can also work for a campground. Many campgrounds benefit (or could benefit) from a secondary website that showcases their canoe rental operation, adjoining restaurant or lodging, or miniature golf course that is open to the public. Others could benefit from a secondary website capitalizing upon their proximity to nearby attractions such as rail trails, fishing, or hiking. If your business has more than one profit center, there is no reason to limit your reach to a single website.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
The Internet May Be the King of the Hill … but Print Is Far from Dead
August 23rd, 2013
I often advise people that their Web address should be treated like their second business name. I also tell them that their URL should be short, memorable, and easy to spell. Ideally, it is the shortest possible variation of your actual business name. This advice is based upon the fact that there are many ways to drive traffic to your website.
Many people think that they build a website, then just sit back and wait for a flood of new business to be magically generated by Google. Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. If you look at the Google Analytics for the average website, you will quickly learn that there are three basic sources of incoming traffic. One is search engines (where Google and Bing are, for all practical purposes, the only games in town), another is referring sites (like Go Camping America, your state campground association, and your local tourism office or chamber of commerce), and the last is what is referred to as “direct traffic”. In many instances, those three broad sources of traffic break down into equal thirds. In this installment, I would like to concentrate on that last segment: Direct traffic.
You can have one of the world’s best websites but, without traffic, it is nothing more than a business with its lights out. People need to find your business, and whatever it might be, every single potential customer counts. If direct traffic represents a third of your potential with respect to new business, you cannot afford to turn a blind eye to that traffic. To start, it helps to know direct traffic’s sources of origin.
Some direct traffic is what is referred to as “type-in” traffic. These are people who, although they already know your business, are probably not familiar with your website. They simply presume that entering your business name, followed by .com will take them to your website. (Hopefully for you, that is the case!) This is the argument in favor of choosing a short, memorable, and intuitive domain name.
Other sources of direct traffic include advertising and listings in printed directories and publications that reach your clientele. If you are a campground owner, you simply cannot afford NOT to be found in your state association directory. These are professionally designed publications that are printed in large quantities, are organized in a manner that makes it easy for people to zero in on specific regions, and are distributed in markets that reach out to both active and potential campers.
In most instances today, the primary purpose of any print advertising is to send prospects to your website, where they can find more information and immediately respond to your “call to action” … which is almost always going to be either a reservation inquiry or a real-time reservation. For this reason, your Web address should be one of the three primary elements of your message, along with your business name and telephone number. With a little imagination, there are so many ways of reaching out to people with your URL. Do you have signage on your vehicles? If so, does it include your Web address? Vinyl signage is very inexpensive these days, and a message on the rear window, tailgate, or rear bumpers on your vehicles will be absorbed by far more people than a message that is seen fleetingly on a side door.
Everything else aside, the single most important way to promote your website is through the use of printed literature. Like your directory advertising, your brochures, rack cards, or other printed literature need to get to the point of sending people to your website. As somebody who started in the advertising industry producing four-color brochures for the outdoor industry, I can tell you that people are printing smaller brochures (or more often rack cards) in lower quantities and with less frequency. The key is to insure that the quality of your literature stands out from the crowd and that it gets distributed. Just like a terrific website that is relatively unseen, the best brochures that sit in a box are failing to generate a penny in new revenues for your business.
Many state campground associations have very inexpensive distribution programs that allow your brochure to “piggyback” with directories that are mailed in fulfillment of consumer requests. Saving the postage will easily cut your costs of reaching those new customers in half. Your state association can also help you to reach campers at major RV shows. You cannot possibly afford the time or the expense to exhibit at every major camping show, typically held during the winter months, when Northern campers are itching for the snow to melt and when Sunbirds are anxious to migrate back to the Northern woods; however, “piggybacking” once again with your state association can be the next best thing.
Although you should certainly consider exhibiting directly at the major shows within your key markets, because there is no substitute for the one-on-one ability of being able to speak directly with your key prospects, rely on the experts to cost-effectively get your literature into the hands of the people who you cannot afford to meet yourself. In addition to the state campground associations, there are at least two companies that provide a similar service that is tailored to the family camping and RV markets. Those two companies are:
I apologize if there are others that I may have unintentionally omitted. If they exist, they are probably not doing an efficient job of promoting their own businesses. Other companies maintain literature racks that display campground brochures at RV dealerships from state to state. One of these, serving the state of California, is RV Travlin.
Incorporate these ideas and services, then watch the direct traffic to your website increase substantially by people who are campers, are interested in your state or region, and who would otherwise not know that your business exists.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Do You Really Own Your Domain Name?
May 8th, 2013
In short, the answer is “no”. Nobody actually owns their domain name. Think of your domain name as a lease that may be renewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up with your payments. An international organization called ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – is responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), the registry of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and the management of both generic and country code Top-Level Domains (TLDs). To register a domain name under a generic top-level domain, you use one of several hundred ICANN-accredited registrars located throughout the world. The most commonly used generic top-level domains are the original .COM (commercial), .NET (network), and .ORG (organization). Once again, there are hundreds of accredited registrars, not simply GoDaddy and Network Solutions.
A few Internet acronyms to confuse people.
The idea behind all of this bureaucracy is to ensure that anybody using any computer anywhere in the world (other than in countries that try to keep a lid on democracy by restricting Internet access) can connect to any individual or legal entity that is represented by any particular domain name. When somebody in either Cincinnati or Sierra Leone types in your domain name, you want to ensure that they reach your website and nobody else’s. In most instances, your involvement in this process will be limited to selecting a registrar, checking on the availability of the domain name (or the best available option, if your first or second choice is not available), paying to register the domain name (for a period of time ranging from 1 to 10 years), and pointing the domain name (using the aforementioned DNS) to the name servers where your site resides.
In most instances, you want a domain name that is as short as possible, is memorable and easy to spell, relates to the name of your business (in three words or less), and is based upon the .COM top-level domain. In many instances, your first choice may not be available, often because there is another business somewhere else in the world with the same or a similar name as yours. In other instances, a domain name may be assigned to another company or individual hoping to profit from your current need. In the early days of the Internet, a modern version of the California Gold Rush took place, where speculators and cyber-squatters became abundant. I define a domain name speculator (also known as a domainer) as someone who had the foresight to register (and maintain the registrations) of domain names made up of a logical combination of words that are not currently associated with a known company or organization. I, for example, own several dozen speculative domain names – such as FamilyCampingUSA.com – many of which I have sold over the years at fair prices (typically $500.00 or so). A cyber-squatter, on the other hand, is somebody who intentionally registers the domain name of another company or organization or who intentionally grabs a domain name that was allowed to expire by a careless registrant, all in the hope of releasing what is essentially a hostage in exchange for a sizeable ransom (typically $10,000.00 or more). In some cases, a domain name that generates traffic will not even be available for sale, but simply maintained as part of a large portfolio of domain names that might be flipped for millions of dollars. There is money to be made in clicks!
There are also instances when a business is willing to pay to transfer a domain name from another registrant for a mutually agreed upon fee. For example, Good Sam recently announced the purchase of the RV.com domain name from Dometic Group. An established site with existing traffic, such as RV.com, will command a higher price. If you are curious, you can check out the continually updated “Year to Date Top 100 Domain Sales Chart” at the DN Journal website. Some are private sales, but most are handled by domain name brokers such as Sedo and Afternic. So far this year, the price leaders include Booker.com (which sold for $375,000.00) and Mojo.com (which sold for $300,000.00). Within the last decade (mostly before the burst of the so-called “Internet bubble”) some of the highest domain names sales prices have been commanded by Hotels.com ($11,000,000.00), Beer.com ($7,000,000.00), Loans.com (bought by Bank of America for $3,000,000.00), and YP.com ($3,850,000.00).
In most instances, you will want to register the best available domain name (not already registered by another company or individual), using an accredited registrar and paying an annual fee of no more than $35.00. You may perform these domain name searches and registrations yourself, or you may rely upon your webmaster to act on your behalf. How do you know what is available? You cannot simply type a domain name into a Web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) and presume that it is available just because a website does not appear. You need to perform what is called a “whois lookup”, using a tool that is provided by any registrar and many independent search websites. If a domain name is available, you may register it using the registrar of your choice; however, you should be prepared to register a domain name immediately or risk losing it. Some registrars provide reports of whois search queries for unregistered domain names to unscrupulous parties who will then put a lock (using a process called “domain tasting”) on a domain name, hoping to sell it to you at a quick profit a day or two later.
Back to the original question: Do you own your domain name?
Don’t only perform a whois lookup when you are looking for a new domain name. Do a whois lookup now to confirm that you are, in fact, the registrant of your existing domain name(s). Did you buy your business and never update the previous owner’s registration records? Did your webmaster or the company hosting your website (or a former webmaster or host) register the domain name on your behalf? You may be surprised to discover that you are not actually listed as the registrant for your domain name. I see this on an almost daily basis. Usually there is no ill intent involved; however, YOU want to be the owner of your domain name(s). Your webmaster may be listed as the administrative and technical contact, as well as the billing contact if he or she handles the registration renewals on your behalf, but you need to be listed as the registrant. If your webmaster is handling your renewals, be sure that you can rely on that individual or company to not drop the ball and risk jeopardizing your domain name.
If you are not, in fact, listed as the registrant for your domain, don’t panic … but also don’t ignore the situation. The whois lookup will tell you the name of the registrar. If you have the login credentials to the registrar account (not usually the same as the login credentials to your hosting account, unless the registrar is also hosting your domain), go to your account to modify the settings. If you do not have those login credentials (which will usually be the case, if the registration and renewals are handled by your webmaster or hosting company) and you recognize the name of the registrant, I would suggest contacting that individual or company. Explain that this “unintended error” has just come to your attention, and ask that the registration record be corrected. If you have trouble with any of this, feel free to contact me directly for personal assistance at no charge.
You will be glad that you have taken a minute to check your domain name registration records should you decide to make a change at some future date. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you need to fight for what should be your own or, worse yet, have to start with a new domain name because you have essentially lost what was never actually yours. While you are at it, check to be certain that the e-mail address that is associated with your contact information is valid and not an old e-mail address that you replaced 4 or 5 years ago and can no longer access. The administrative contact generally approves changes to a domain name registration via the e-mail address on record. Having a valid and current e-mail address associated with your account can save you from endless hassles on down the road, when you eventually need to make changes to your registration. Investing a few minutes today could save you from hours of headaches in the future. Knowledge is valuable!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?
April 17th, 2013
Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!
Check them out before signing a check.
If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!
Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)
Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!
There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Domain Tasting: The Sour Follow-Up
June 9th, 2010
Just in case there were any doubts about the validity of my previous post, here is a current real-world example in evidence. One of our clients is a tea merchant who owns the trademark to Hu-Kwa tea. They have owned the hu-kwa.com domain name for quite some time now. Last week, I was contacted by two companies within an hour, each offering to sell me hukwa.com (without the hyphen), one using multiple e-mails. The first was a company called Flex Media / Flex Media Domains, which sent me an e-mail which included a “Priority Sales” hyperlink. This outfit is supposedly located in Hollywood, Florida. The second contact came in the form of three e-mails from InTrust Domains / Domain Names International / eTraffic Services, an outfit supposedly located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sending me what they called a “Priority Domain Availability Notice. According to their website, they “currently manage a portfolio of approximately 10,000 domains, with about 70 new domains added each day.” I did a whois lookup at the time, and it very suspiciously showed nothing. I replied to this second company via e-mail, asking them for a price and the registration history (no reply, of course), although their e-mail directed me to a form where I could “express my interest”. I didn’t use the form with either of these outfits. Yesterday, I was contacted again, with a follow-up offer to sell me the “now available” hukwa.com. This time I clicked on the form, out of curiosity. It said that the price would be $397.00 and had a payment form.
I just did another whois lookup. Guess what? The company that contacted me yesterday registered the domain name YESTERDAY. I am guessing that happened immediately upon my clicking on their link! Either they are also “tasting” for 5 days, or – once they’ve had somebody express interest – they actually will keep the domain for a year. The price is $397.00 for a domain that they bought yesterday for about $6.00 (and can probably get refunded under a grace period).
Here is the current whois lookup information for the domain:
Domain Name: HUKWA.COM
Created On: 08-JUN-2010
Last Updated On: 08-JUN-2010
Expiration Date: 08-JUN-2011
Sponsoring Registrar: THREADSHARE.COM, INC
Registrant Name: Domain Admin
Registrant Organization: InTrust Domain Names
Registrant Street1: 4845A Pearl East Circle
Registrant City: Boulder
Registrant State/Province: CO
Registrant Postal Code: 80301
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: (1)(866) 582-2599
Registrant Email: email@example.com
Tech Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Name Server: CALL.303-800-0310.COM
Name Server: FOR-SALE-AT.INTRUSTDOMAINS.COM
Check out the “website” of their registrar: http://threadshare.com/
Does this look like the site of a legitimate registrar? Not in my mind.
Here is the whois lookup for ThreadShare.com:
Registration Service Provided By: Thought Convergence
Domain name: threadshare.com
Thought Convergence, Inc.
Domain Administrator ()
11300 W. Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064
ThoughtConvergence.com is located at the same address in Los Angeles.
Totally legal. Totally unethical. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?
This post was written by Peter Pelland
“Domain Tasting” Is a Pretty Tasteless Practice
May 25th, 2010
For quite some time now, I have had a suspicious feeling that one of my increasingly frequent observations was far beyond a matter of coincidence. Have you ever performed a whois lookup to check on the availability of a domain name, confirmed that it was available, but delayed registration of the domain until a later time? Sometimes it seems reasonable to presume that a domain name might be so obscure and highly personalized that there would be no chance that anyone else might consider registering that same name for years, if ever. Well, it turns out that this would be a bad presumption because in far too many instances that domain name would be lost moments later. You will have been the victim of a practice known as Domain Tasting or Domain Front Running.
I had a small business owner call me on May 24, 2010. She said that her son was interested in having a website built for his construction business. She said that a friend had checked and that the domain was available on May 20, 2010. It was an obscure, three-word domain name. I double-checked by performing a new whois lookup, and I discovered that the domain had been registered on May 20, 2010 … apparantly moments after the original whois availability search. What is happening? More importantly, how and why is it happening?
It turns out that the practice is not new. A post by the Daily Domainer back in February of 2007 generated 191 responses, most of which pointed an accusatory finger at GoDaddy. Other blog posts have singled out Network Solutions for engaging in this practice. Together, these are two of the biggest names in the domain name registration industry.
Here is how it works: It seems that many unscrupulous registrars who provide whois lookup services (which are, in fact, provided by virtually every registrar) are selling the domain search data to domain tasting outfits which, in turn, register the domain name with the registrar. Over the next few days, they test (or “taste”) the domain to see if it generates any significant amount of traffic. If it does generate traffic, they will make money from clicks on their bogus landing page. If the new domain does not generate traffic, it might be turned in for a refund under the 5 day “grace” policy of some registrars. Everybody wins, except you lose.
In the old days, Cybersquatting was a common practice, where unsavory characters would register domain names based upon legitimate small business names or product names, with the intention of then selling the names at an enormous profit margin. Domain tasters, on the other hand, cannot be bothered with selling domain names because they are more interested in earning millions of dollars, a nickel or a dime at a time. The Washington Post published an exposé of this practice, titled “Entrepreneurs Profit From Free Web Names” back in 2007. If you are not familiar with the practice, old news is still news.
How to you protect yourself?
- Do not perform a whois query – anywhere – unless you are immediately prepared to register the domain name. This cannot be overemphasized.
- Do not ever “search” for domain availability using Address Bar Guessing. There are ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) who have been found to engage in the practice of selling Non-eXistent Domain (NXD) Data to domainers.
- If you have just “lost” a domain name that you failed to register, go back to look for it in 5 days.
This post was written by Peter Pelland