The Joy of Domain Parking: Part 1
If you've been involved in web work for a while, you've probably accumulated at least a few domain names. These could be for sites you planned to build, but never got around to. Or ones you launched but then dropped when the concept didn't pan out. Or even wacky ones you registered on a whim, just for fun. After all, for just a few bucks it won't set you back much more than a MacLunch to be the proud owner of a shiny new domain name. But as these start to pile up, the renewal costs can become significant. Get those emails often enough from your registrar reminding you that your account has been dinged again and a little voice starts saying, "Just why the heck have you spent the last ten years paying for HarryPotterSucks.com?"
Actually, that's a bad example, since that was a little mini-site I launched back in 2000 when the Potter frenzy had just hit and I felt some gesture to rectify this assault on literature was required. It was fun but I gave it up and let the registration expire after one too many puzzled email from a visitor unable to parse my sarcasm.
No, what I'm talking about are domains like CompetitiveUpgrade.com. Back in 1997 I thought it would be brilliant to build a site that aggregated all current competitive upgrades for competing software applications. That way someone could enter a list of their apps and see all the products providing competitive upgrades. Inspired, right? Well, maybe not. In any case, that one has been on the back burner now for 12 years. Later I thought it might be a great idea to some day build a stock photo site dedicated to French imagery, given that I live here, so I picked up FrenchPhotos.com on the domain resale market. But niche photo sites don't seem to be doing too well, so don't hold your breath to see that one online. Then there is Graemlins.com. You know, graemlins, another word for smileys. You didn't know that? Don't feel bad, turns out no one but me knows that either.
I think you get the idea. Doing something with all these dusty old domains has been on my to-do list for some time, along with getting the USB drive and CD player on my creaky XP box to come back to life (no chance, with Window 7 on the way). So I was galvanized into action, as they say, by a recent blog post by Ivan Raszl on the Graphics.com Network Creative Bits site. He posed the question: if you've got unused domains on your hands, why not park them with your domain registrar and generate some ad revenue? Hmm, why not indeed? Ivan mentioned Go Daddy, which was also my registrar. What could be easier than letting them place ads on my unused domains and splitting whatever they generated. Better than nothing, right? Thus began my initiation into the shadowy realm of domain parking.
I say shadowy, because I quickly realized this was a billion-dollar business, with everyone from little fish to huge players involved, from average folks with one lonely little domain to wily veterans wielding portfolios containing thousands of domains. Just enter "domain parking" into your favorite search engine and the fun will begin, as you discover a whole new world. Clearly, for many this practice is a full-time business. In my case, I didn't want a second career, just a quick way to possibly earn enough to pay for the renewals of my dozen or so domains. Small change. But I've had some fun poking around in the murky domain waters and will share a few of my, admittedly amateur, experiences in this and future posts. I will say this: if you need a hobby, domain parking can easily soak up all your spare time.
First off, I checked out GoDaddy's domain parking plan. I was immediately put off by the necessity to pay for the privilege of having them place ads and other marketing material on my domains, from which they would take a chunk of the revenue. All without providing me with any control over the content. The nail in the coffin was speculation by some that search engines didn't look too kindly on pages parked with registrars, thereby possibly lowering the value of the domain should you choose to sell it in the future.
Further snooping around revealed that Google had extended its AdSense program to include domains late last year. The first advantage here is that there is no fee but more importantly you're working directly with Google. Participating is extremely easy. Just sign up for an AdSense account, list all your domains and you're basically in business. The only potentially tricky part for some will be supplying DNS information, so that Google can "host" your one-page site, but this is made painless by providing specific instructions for major registrars, including Go Daddy. You can supply up to four keywords to help target the ads and also make a few changes to the color scheme, but that's it. Take a look at my Auberges-Bistros.com page (don't ask) to see an example. Ugly, isn't it? But the targeting of the ads for those interested in auberges and bistros isn't too bad at this point, and it should get better in time, given Google's savvy. Add in the availability of detailed stats and it's hard to see using another parking service.
So if you have unused domains on your hands, and want to devote zero time to them, I'd say the AdSense for Domains service is worth a try. I'm testing it with some of my domains but for a few others I've decided to go one step further and see what automatic site generating tools can add. I'll share my experiences about that in a future post.