“I hadn’t dealt with Frank before and didn’t know who I was dealing with. The prices were high – but they are good domain names and I should get good returns by using them. I think the fascinating thing at the moment is that there still isn’t really a fixed way of valuing a domain yet.”
The best medical domain names have long been gone.
Dr. Mark Whiteley of Guildford, England, can claim responsibility for their disappearance - at least in part. Since 1998, he's acquired some 8000 domain names, including about 6000 that are medically related. I met Mark after reporting on two Domain Name Sales-brokered (DNS)- sales that stood out — VaricoseVeinSurgery.com and PelvicCongestionSyndrome.com. He read my article, challenged the reporting about the price paid, and agreed to sit down for an interview that provides more than just clarification about the transaction. What follows is a window through which to behold the power of the web.
Despite his large domain name portfolio, Mark Whiteley is only about a tenth of one percent domainer. The remainder of his professional time and effort is phlebology - the branch of medicine that deals with veins - and his rapidly growing Whiteley Vein Clinic, specializing in minimally invasive procedures for varicose veins and venous reflux, and the largest and most renowned vein clinic in the United Kingdom.
Ahead of the Curve in 1998? Not.
In 1998, after three years at Oxford University as a lecturer in surgery, he was appointed Consultant Vascular Surgeon, and launched his practice with an office, one secretary, and no web presence. "I realized then the Internet was getting quite big. In the UK it wasn't very well known at all; in fact, almost nobody knew what a website was, but I saw it as a great opportunity for my business. So I went online and tried to buy varicoseveins.co.uk."
Incredibly, the name was already taken – by a company that was starting an agency arrangement for varicose vein referrals. "There were only about three other medical websites in the UK at that time, and I thought I was ahead of the curve, but I was already behind it." So he bought varicose-veins.co.uk (with the hyphen), followed closely by veins.co.uk, which was admittedly "very expensive." "I suddenly realized that the whole of the Internet - certainly for the next decade - was going to be dominated by whoever owned the domain names."
Buying in Bunches - And Not Selling
Of his 6000 medically related domain names - with both .com and .co.uk extensions - about 100 of them are active sites connecting to his practice. “I buy domain names - I rarely sell them, I'm not a trader. I need them to keep building my practice, to get my business and profile out where it needs to go." Key to his domain buying strategy is grabbing up names that are closely related - like veinclinic.co.uk and its hyphenated twin, vein-clinic.co.uk. "The more you do this," he says, "the less likely people - your potential patients - will go elsewhere." The numbers suggest they're not going elsewhere - they're coming to him in droves. "We have 56,000 unique visitors a month, and that translates into a little more work than we can handle for 5 doctors and 3 aesthetic practitioners," he told us. "We have a waiting list of several months for veins and hyperhidrosis - our specialties - and only a week or two for aesthetics.”
Many Shillings for Schilling
The names I originally blogged on, VaricoseVeinSurgery.com and PelvicCongestionSyndrome.com, were acquired by Mark from iconic domain investor Frank Schilling. For the last twelve years, Frank’s team has slowly and methodically built one of the largest and most valuable privately owned collections of domain names on the Internet. 200,000 of them! I was impressed that Frank had the foresight to recognize every nook and cranny of the future web early on — even the extremely targeted medical names like VaricoseVeinSurgery.com and PelvicCongestionSyndrome.com. And now I'm even more impressed that a practicing physician had the foresight to do exactly as Frank did — building an irreplaceable life’s work collection of the very best medical domain names in his field.
But Mark didn’t know he was buying from Frank Schilling, nor did Frank Schilling know who his buyer was. “I spent several thousands of dollars on PelvicCongestionSyndrome.com and VaricoseVeinSurgery.com. I needed them for a new project and already owned the .co.uk variations,” Mark told us. “I hadn’t dealt with Frank before and didn’t know who I was dealing with. The prices were high – but they are good domain names and I should get good returns by using them. I think the fascinating thing at the moment is that there still isn’t really a fixed way of valuing a domain yet.”
Notes one industry insider who specializes in brokering medical domain names, "Not all domains are of equal value. Dr. Whiteley should be extremely proud of the collection he's managed to build. Generic clinical domains like these with strong, organic traffic will pay everlasting dividends."
Mark starts with a business idea, works out a plan, and approaches the owners of the domains he needs after looking them up on Whois. His three recent prized purchases:
Managing the Portfolio "A Continual Trial"
How does he manage all this and still run a demanding medical practice? In short, he doesn't. "I just don't have the time. It's been a continual trial for the last decade, so I've been trying to hire people who can help me on the IT side. Soon we'll have three people who do nothing at all but look after my websites." In all, he has 32 full-time employees in two clinics, with a third clinic in the offing. He has a popular blog, is the go-to professional in the UK for journalists covering stories on veins, and is highly regarded internationally as a research pioneer in advanced, minimally invasive techniques in vascular surgery. In 1999, he had consulted with medical device maker VNUS Closure in San Jose, California on their latest technology – and now works with several other companies developing vein technologies.
So, success comes partly from being one of the best around. "But even if you have a great product - that's not enough. I also need the public to know who I am and what my techniques are. There's no cheaper way of marketing than the Internet. If you take adverts out in the media and other people's websites, you end up spending huge amounts. But if you own domain names, those websites stay there through thick and thin, and generate more and more traffic, especially so if you keep the information interesting. No question, my domain names are essential to my practice."
Okay, so most domainers know how it’s possible to manage 8000 names, but how does Mark decide which names to keep or cut loose at renewal time? “My business is strong and so the renewals are costed into the business plan. The money I earn - because of the working websites and the fact that I have other similar domain names 'blocking' anyone getting too close and taking work by confusion of domain names - ensures that the income more than covers the cost.”
Based on current projections, Mark anticipates doubling of his business in the next two years. We wonder if the people who owned varicoseveins.co.uk in 1998 are doing as well.
Many thanks to Mark Whiteley for finding the time to talk with us, and congratulations to him on his great work and rapidly expanding business.
PhotoComposition: OttipR For The Frager Creative Group. All rights reserved.