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Drive-by business URLs: Does Your Domain Name Meet the "Billboard Test"?

Local search, geo-targeting, snap memorability of market targeted domain names



3:03 am on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I've taken a few auto trips recently, and was surprised to encounter billboards whose sole purpose was to promote websites. I.e., these weren't product promotions that include a URL, but rather were geared only to drive traffic to a website.

Surprisingly, these weren't fantastic, single-word domains. But they were easy to remember. To the best of my recollection, the names I saw included "WeBuyUglyHouses.com" and "OwnACondo.com". Note that these aren't sexy domains - there are probably plenty of similar domains available to be registered or purchased cheaply right now.

Here are my quick criteria for a "billboard test":

1) Easy to remember, because drivers won't be able to write them down.
2) No hyphens or non dot-com TLDs - drivers will forget hyphens, and probably type in the .com even if you advertised ".net".
3) No easy-to-confuse variations that you don't own. (E.g., plural/singular variants when applicable).
4) Relevant to the buyer's interest or need.

The neat thing about the billboard test is that it ensures a memorable domain name for just about any form of advertising. Billboards are the toughest medium for recall since exposure is brief, the viewer is concentrating on something else, and writing is often impossible. If your domain works for billboards, it will be fine for print, radio, web banners, etc.

My quick test: show a few people the domain name written on a sheet of paper for a few seconds. A day later, ask them what it was. If all or most get it right, you have a billboard-safe domain.


3:06 am on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member digitalghost is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

TwoMenAndATruck.com comes to mind. I've seen webuyuglyhouses all over the place as well.


2:40 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Billboards are the toughest medium for recall since exposure is brief, the viewer is concentrating on something else, and writing is often impossible.

What happens, come the day, when the lemmings latch on to this idea? When you pass 213 billboards emblazened with URLs on them?

My advice to the local webmaster, the webmaster or business that is geo-targeting for a service company, a service company being one that performs locally: Make the URL real simple for the masses, bordering on brainless, to remember. Apply the same thinking that went into building the domain-as-direct-WWW-navigation model.

IMHO, for local geo-targeting nothing - nothing - beats <City><Service>.com.


What I find a bit surprising is the sheer number of geo-targeted domain names, ones that I would consider low hanging fruit for such local service providers, that are still available.

I think a clever, modestly funded webmaster-entrepreneur could do themselves nicely by rounding up 300 such domain names (Cost:~$3,000 or less, a year), a colo server (Cost: $1500+/- a year) and start banging out geo-targeted mini-portals, ones that will a) likely have some type-in traffic; and, b) will be VERY easy to promote at the lowest possible cost at the local level. Think: Search engine love is a benefit, not a prerequisite to success. I'll venture that anyone who takes on this idea with a bit of zeal will, in about 1-2 years, be positioned to work out of their home for the next 10+ years. IF the value/costs of online advertising and marketing rises in the ensuing years then the enterprising domain-focused webmaster just might be able to retire in 10 years, or at least lead a comfortable self-employed life. All by virtue of enterprising geo-targeting local service providers, who are accustomed to spending tens of thousands of dollars each year for yellow page advertising.

There are myriad players in this game, at the parked page direct navigation level, that have rounded up all the first tier (Nation or State) and second tier )(Major city > 1 million pop.) domains that are doing rather nicely for themselves.

There are a plethora of available properties, not currently sufficiently attractive to the direct navigation gang, that are still out there - waiting for some clever webmaster to invest in their future.

What I find interesting is the failure of the masses to fully appreciate how the business advertising AND online advertising model is evolving. PPC for local search is, in my observation - at the local local (<1 million pop locale> - just beginning to take root. In other words, the process of making a move into PPC is slowly filtering down to more and more local levels. So there are "large niches" (ya, oxymoron) that are untapped reservoirs of marketing potential.

In 1999 I saw the potential of direct navigation if a very myopic (which I am) way: I only saw how it applied to my profession. With that in mind I registered some very nice domains, ones that were just hanging out there - low on the vine. IF I fully appreciated how the model that I believed would apply to me would, in time, apply to all others in my stead, I likely would be retired right now - living off the PPC revenue of all the other domain names that I could have registered at that time.

No sour grapes. I did well enough at the time to make things a bit more comfortable for my family. I still have to work, which is in my nature any way. Still . . .

So, big final point: Barring extraordinary circumstances, I foresee direct navigation taking root and the practice moving down to the local level: MyHometownWidgets.com. The model has already proven itself at the BIG city level. IMHO, that trend will prove to be very valuable source of sales leads. Therefore, today's low hanging fruit likely won't be there in another 3 years. Today's low hanging fruit will likely be at least middle-class real estate in about 3 years, assuming the entire WWW isn't retired. In about 3 years people - local business people - will be wondering or whining about how someone, other than themselves, managed to pick up ElboniaHVAC.com.

I'm just a little bit wiser in 2006 than in 1999.

I'm also about 600 domains deeper in my holdings since running the Domain Forum's Domain Challenge a few months ago.


P.S. I left QUITE a few of those goe-targeted local search domain names for you all to play with. There's only so many I can . . . wait . . wait . . What am I saying?

Get 'em whilst you can.

[edited by: Webwork at 2:45 pm (utc) on July 24, 2006]


3:17 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Sometimes, briefly and for good cause, I face the issue of breaking my own rules, to drive home a point and bring things into sharp focus. So, one time only (until the rules are rewritten) - for those who aren't quite getting the idea about what I see as a substantial untapped local search market, here's some examples of what I consider to be valuable, low hanging fruit (very recently harvested) that can be readily developed. I consider these to be generic enough to withstand any attack or claim. I also foresee that they are likely to benefit from type-in traffic now and increasingly so in the future. Lastly, I see the value of sales leads that can be generated to be sufficient to justify the investment of time and money in acquiring and developing the URLs:

<Big City>Remodeling.com
<Very Big City>OfficeEquipment.com
<Big City>HVAC.com
<Populus State>Eldercare.com

Very Big City = Population > 1 million
Big City = Polulation > 100,000+, 300,000+ (in some cases more, some less)
Think Dallas, Cleveland, Boston, etc.

Have I made my point any clearer? These weren't registered a year or more ago. These were available in the past 90 days.

See any "billboard domain names" in the list? Do they get their message across in the time of an eye scan? Are they memorable? Will they be hard to recall from memory at a later date?

Anyone see a business model that might take shape around a collection of 300 or so similar domain names?

What I find revealing is the slow uptake on local search. The business world is still slow on the uptake of the changes taking place in the world of business promotion. The cities embedded in the above domains are small only by comparision. Most are 100,000 +/- population centers, ones that support a local or regional yellow pages - a yellow pages that encompasses not only the city but the surrounding suburbs. Why wouldn't a service business in such a city want to add a generic domain <City+Service> to it's marketing efforts? The reason I say is simply that local businesses still don't quite get it. The see the future but don't quite grasp how to take hold of the reigns of their own business advertising and marketing destiny. There are simply not enough webmasters and SEM/SEO folk educating the SMB world.

IF I was a local webmaster I'd be snapping up all the local city+service variations, launching websites and starting to lay the groundwork for being the next big local thing in advertising and marketing. At the very least you will be building another income stream and diversifying. OTOH, you must might be building an enterprise that could become a takeover target by the local YP or other advertising driven media.

Anyone thinking about this?

Remember: The object of geo-targeting the domain names is to diminish the reliance on search engine love. Don't overthink the SEO. If the SEs are going to play fair then, in time, your enterprise would be a natural candidate for search engine ranking. If, for whatever reason, no love is given you still get to work with URLs that naturally and easily market themselves. Think "billboard" simple. You don't even need a billboard. Just a pick-up truck or two with the URL, parked in strategic locations. :)

It is a happy thing, the fact that the slow uptake still presents some high value "possibilities" for those who are ahead of the slow moving pack.

It takes some time to find domains such as the above, but it's not really hard work. :) You have to turn over a number of rocks, but they are there for the taking, if you approach the work systematically. There are many many many that I chose to bypass - for the moment.

IF you have a question about geo-targeted domain hunting and picking, geo-target business strategy, market analysis and the like that's where this thread has value. Techniques and strategy has value for everyone.

Also, please do not engage - now or ever - in the foolish practice of putting up a domain name that you haven't registered but that you think you might want to register. Open discussion of candidate domains are destined to end badly for the one considering unregistered domain names.

This thread isn't a domain name review thread. Therefore, posts in this thread listing domain names, with or without comments or questions, will be subject to removal or may have the domain name deleted from the post.

[edited by: Webwork at 2:30 pm (utc) on July 31, 2006]


4:11 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Any chance you can get a memorable URI in front of an audience, take it!

We're fortunate here in California when it comes to the length of time seen while driving. Since most of our freeways move at a crawl during prime time, billboard ads are an excellent opportunity to promote URI Brand.

Since I work with quite a few local clients, we do URI Brand advertising in all forms. The best bang for the buck so far? Full wrap vehicle graphics with URI Brand on front, both sides and back. Are the vehicles out at night? Add a little reflective vinyl and viola, it's like a flashing billboard. ;)


4:42 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member essex_boy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

webuyuglyhouses - What about sisterinlaws?

One thing I dont like to see and I see this a lot, xyz.com with and email address info@freeemailprovider Im surprised at the frequency I see this.


4:52 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I have a domain name that I think does pass the "billboard test". Does anyone have any suggestions for how to go about actually getting one put up....costs, online reputable vendors, etc.? I had thought about this a while ago, but reading this thread has made me want to try it.


5:24 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to go about actually getting one put up....costs, online reputable vendors, etc.

Most, if not all Billboards, have a contact name at the bottom and possibly even a URI. ;)


11:24 pm on Jul 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Recently I bought 2 domains. The first was in the form Placename + Keyword, and the first name I thought of was available immediately.

The second was for a site with no geographical specifics, and on a relatively general topic. It has taken me two whole weeks of racking my brain to come up with a suitable name! I scoured the dictionary, used suggestion tools, and even built myself a random name generator in php to help inspire me, all to no avail. All the original-seeming names I could think of were taken. In the end I found one, but it took a lot of effort and I'm not saying how I arrived at it.

The contrast between the local and general domain markets is shocking. I've heard a lot of domainers swear blind that .com is the best extension, and I suppose this is why good local domains are still so easy to find.


12:05 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

has anyone person out there (1-man operation) successfully done what webwork is proposing?

The only way I can see someone developing 300 domains is with directory type site where businesses would pay to get listed. And usually what I have seen is that comanies with the same theme related domains many times end up forwarding all their traffic from the domains to a single domain.

ofcourse one could outsource the content for the 300 domains....

Can anyone shed some insights on this model?


2:53 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Really interesting discussion with very good ideas. This is my first post on webmasterworld.com.
We have talked about geotargetting with easy to remember URLs. Much of the suggestions are about associating place and service.
There is another powerful fact that makes us remember things. Something that fits into our basic need pattern. It can be anything from employment and finance to marriage to personality development.Make quick money, get employed and earn money from home type of domain names also fit well into bill board test category.


3:58 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

My personal #1 rule is never to use anything that requires clarification when dictated. Before registering a domain, imagine yourself telling someone about your URL or your email address over the phone:

"Hi there matey, check out our new website for discussion all about Widgets. It's wijit-chattr.com - that's widget spelt w-i-j-i-t, hypen, chatter spelt "c-h-a-t-t-r", dot com."

- "You what?"

"Yeah, we're doing this cool Web 2.0 word compression thing where you drop letters and break all the lexical rules that you've been learning since you were born."

- "Oh cool! What's your new email address by the way?"


- "How does that go again?"

"Oh never mind, just use my Hotmail."


5:39 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member


brilliant assessment of an opportunity. while we've been accumulating domains relating to the impending demise of the real estate market over the last four years, we always look for domains in any area of business that fits with our geographical limits, the rocky mountains and the northeast. while some were a stretch from our core business, we regularly sell these domains for $1000 plus to business owners that feel that they must have them for their presence. it's a small sign that people are waking up to the importance of the local generics (plus it helps keep my wife off my back for owning so many domains).


8:20 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Great topic.

Would it make sense to apply the local extension to the domain?

In my case that would be .co.uk - with that comes a certain amount of credibility now - more so than a .biz .net etc... or so it feels to me:

And wouldn't a local domain extension also be:

a. better for G local search (easier to get ranked in google.co.uk with a local extension)
b. more in keeping with the localised theme
d. probably easier to find better un-registered domains
c. cheaper to register (for the most part).


9:09 am on Jul 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


It's worth having the .co.uk domain for type-in locals.
If, for example, I was typing for a plumber in Manchester then I would type manchesterplumbers.co.uk over manchesterplumbers.com as there tend to be a lot of cities/towns in the USA with the same name as the UK.

In other words, I would expect manchesterplumbers.com to return plumbers in Manchester, NH and manchesterplumbers.co.uk to return results more local to me!


1:08 am on Jul 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

As a related thought.

When we think of a domain for a service in a location we think [Town][Service]

Well that's the way domainers think but is it the way surfers are predisposed to type it in?
Maybe not as they are more likely to search for [Service][Town]. What evidence do I have? For a start Google advises in tips on searching local " pizza poughkeepsie " and on a site I have, which is very geographic specific, more traffic comes from [Service][Town] rather than [Town][Service]even when both phrases share the exact same position in their respective serps.


2:53 am on Jul 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The problem with billboards is they are very costly and require 12-mo contracts, at least the ones I once priced out did, i.e. 4k to 6k month and 12 mo non-refundable contract. That needs a lot of traffic and orders or income to the url to cover the cost!

They are mostly for larger players and corporations due to their cost, or perhaps for Realtors to use what with the commission being 30k on a 500k house they sell at 6%.


9:58 am on Jul 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

webwork - good posts, I have been thinking about the exact same thing for a while.

Durham_e - good point, I think for certain words keyword+town could be better, especially for seo... but for the billboard ad, town+keyword seems better.

One thing I would like to add... town+keyword doesnt need to be official "town" name, many places use abbreviations or nicknames... especially those long city names. kc = kansas city for example, some are just as good, if not better for the "billboard ad"

too much information

1:47 pm on Jul 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Durham_e, I'm curious to know how [Service][Town] ranks in a search for [Town][Service] and vice versa. It would seem that both domains would be targeted for the same search, although the terms are swapped in the domain.

Also, as far as the 1-man operation is concerned, it would be fairly easy to create a dynamic page that pulls the URL apart and plugs in the [Town] into the correct places on the page and the [Service] as well. You would know what your domains are so it really wouldn't matter if your terms were forward or backward and it would only take one hosting package to create an entire series of sites for a huge geographical area.

This is a great tip, because in a regional area like mine it is hard to get the one combination that you would think could generate the most traffic, but switching the terms or going for more specific towns would offer up a huge market.


5:48 pm on Jul 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


sure that is easy to do, but I mean what is the source of revenue here?

1. directory listings
2. business leads
3. adsense
4. banners

If you target a specific industry I can see how you can specialize and sell leads, but if its lots of industries that would be a tough job wouldnt it?

1, 3 are easily done for a 1-man operation, but 2,4 seem harder when handling 300 domains spanning multiple industries.
anyhow, i was hoping someone who has actually done this would have some insights....


1:27 am on Jul 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


My observation re service town or town service was in the context of search only. Sorry if I gave the impression that I was happily testing a and b roll domains. Just to reiterate the point that my top search term for a very geographic specific site (small range of services many towns/ cities} is a [Service][Town] phrase even though the page in the serps is optimised more to [Town][Service]. This is usually true throughout the site. More traffic comes from [Service][Town] than [Town][Service] even though both order of phrases have the exact same position in their respective serps. The conclusion is that more surfers are searching more for [Service][Town]. Others I'm sure have similiar stats.
The question is therefore, should that pattern of search impact on the selection of domain for your billboard? and should Webwork get 300 matching domains just to be sure?

I liked your Idea for reducing the work load if the loads of domains approach was taken. However for me one local directory with lots of likely type in domains pointing to it would be the way to go.


1:04 am on Jul 31, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I always followed it. I call it a phone test, where you mention the name once and that too can be by chance.

I wanted to start a christian website about bible study and after much thought I choose <snip>. This wasn't small and sexy but during a speech the church pastor can mention it once and surprisingly I could see people remembering this almost forever.

Another one was for a youth organization ICPF (Inter collegiate prayer fellowship), here I decided to make it simpler and bought <snip>. It also was passed the phone test.

A simple and easy to remember domain name is very important for branding.

[edited by: Webwork at 2:28 pm (utc) on July 31, 2006]
[edit reason]
[1][edit reason] Per comments above limiting the posting of domain examples. [/edit]


2:21 pm on Aug 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have been soaking in Webwork's reply for the last week or so.

Back in 1997 I registered a domain that was <countyname>mall.com. My plan was to develop a vertical portal of all the local businesses in the county. I then started to go literally door to door asking businesses if they wanted a web site and to be listed in my directory.

I was pretty successful getting businesses to build sites but the local business directory faded away.

So here we are almost 10 years later and we're talking about local geo-targeting again.

I was hoping someone had an answer for "AffiliateDreamer" because I have the same questions.

I have no doubt that local search is going to be huge at some point but I don't quite see the source of revenue. It almost seems like you're counting on the speculative nature of the domain.

I can see <city><service> searches increasing but I can't say the same for type in traffic.


9:01 pm on Aug 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Nice post Webwork


1:28 am on Aug 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I bought a few thousand location specific domains for our company about 6 months ago.

I used a <location> + <commerial phrase> .com concatonation method. After I generated all the phrases I checked them for search counts in Wordtracker. Domains that have a search count on the "domain phrase" are validated to have user interest. If you want to take it another step further you can also qualify by ckecking to see if they have advertisers bidding on the phrases in Google or Yahoo.

If people search on your concatonated phrase or bid on it as an advertiser - they are pretty safe bets to buy for long term assets. Development - Type-In traffic - Resale

Using these methods the domains I bought in the first batch of several thousand paid for their registration costs immediatly.

The revenue on these domains has grown dramatically in the last 6 months since purchase and many of them that did not have advertisers then now do and are profitable.

My humble opinion - This is internet advertising's highest growth market.


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