When the Internet first started to take off, no-one could have guessed how many domain names would be registered, or how fierce competition for the most popular domains would be. Today, short, simple and easy to remember domain names fetch huge prices at auction. Let’s take a look at some of the most expensive domain names in the world.
Bought for: $35 million in 2007
VacationRentals.com is one of the few valuable domain names that doesn’t relate to some form of adult industry. The current owner of this website purchased it for $35 million in 2007. Mr Brian Sharples, the founder of HomeAway, bought VacationRentals.com to prevent rival holiday company Expedia from acquiring the domain. Technically, VacationRentals.com is the most expensive domain name ever sold, however since the buyer purchased the entire website, rather than just the domain name, the transaction wasn’t counted for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Bought for: $16 million in 2009
Quin Street purchased Insure.com for $16 million back in 2009, and knocked Sex.com off the top spot, and out of the Guinness Book of World Records in the process. Single word domain names are the most valuable, and Mr Street had a creative plan for monetizing the domain, turning it into an insurance comparison site that is now ranked among the top financial sites by MSN Money.
Bought for: $14 million in October 2010
When assessing the value of a domain name, there are several metrics that buyers consider, but there are three particularly important metrics. Firstly, the top level domain (TLD) that the name falls under; secondly the length of the domain, and thirdly whether or not the domain name is made from a dictionary word. Sex.com has it all. The .com TLD is considered to be the most valuable, three letter domain names are highly desirable, and “sex” is perhaps the most marketable dictionary word in the English language. It should come as no surprise, then, that Escom LLC was willing to pay millions to acquire the domain.
The domain was first registered by Gary Kremen in 1994, but Kremen temporarily lost the domain in 1995 when Stephen M. Cohen used forged documents to get the domain registrar to transfer the domain to him. Kremen filled the domain with advertisements, and made a lot of money from them before the law finally caught up with him and Cohen was ordered to pay $40 million to Kremen. Cohen fled to Mexico, but not before Kremen got the domain back, and investigated the possibility of selling it again. Sex.com is the 894th most popular website on the Internet, according to Alexa.
Bought for: £9.99 million in 2008
The ill-fated fund.com started life as a company that sold tax services for casinos. When Eastern Services Group bought the domain for just under ten million, they must have had big plans for it. Unfortunately, it was soon revealed that the company was working with Westmore Capital, who were shut down by the SEC for their part in a Ponzi scheme worth $53 million. The association with Westmore Capital did not help Fund.com’s brand, and within just a few years the company lost most of its revenue. Today, the domain sits unused, holding nothing but a parking page.
Bought for: $9.5 million in 2007
Adult content is big business, and what better domain name for attracting type-in traffic than Porn.com? Domain name broker service Moniker.com sold Porn.com on the behalf of the domain’s original owners in 2007. The buyer, MXN Limited, paid $9.5 million, and turned the site into a free video service. Porn.com is the 1,069th most popular website on the Internet, according to Alexa.
Bought by Facebook for: $8.5 million in November 2010
The purchase of Fb.com is a great example of online reputation management. Companies are frequently advised to purchase domain names that sound a lot like their original domain – for example hyphenated or unhyphenated versions, or local top level domains. FB.com is an obvious contraction of FaceBook.com, so the rapidly growing social media giant was quite happy to pay $8.5 million to acquire it and redirect it to their main domain. Today, the domain is also used for Facebook employee email addresses.
Bought for: $7.5 million in December 1999
In the late 1990s, Jake Winebaum and Sky Dayton purchased Business.com for $7.5 million, intending to turn the domain into a B2B site. They made their purchase at the height of the dotcom boom, and when the dotcom bubble burst, many people laughed at them for wasting such a huge amount of money. Both Dayton and Winebaum had plenty of experience with online businesses. Dayton was the founder of Earthlink, and Winebaum once worked as a chairman for Walt Disney Internet Group, so they both knew that the Internet would enjoy a second, potentially even bigger, boom. They kept the domain for several years, before eventually selling it, and the associated company, for $345 million, more than 45 times what they paid for it. The buyer, R. H. Donnelly, aims to compete with SuperPages, YellowPages and others similar directories.
Bought for: $7.5 million in 2006
What better name for a jewellery store than Diamond.com? European jeweller Ice.com was unhappy with their domain name, and wanted something clearer and more traditional, so they paid $7.5 million to purchase diamond.com from Odimo Inc. The Odimo company was in serious difficulties at the time, and Ice went on to purchase all of their stock and inventory, as well as the domain.
Bought for: $7 million in 2004
Two entrepreneurs, Andrew Miller and Michael Zapolin, purchased the Beer.com domain name for $80,000 in 1998, intending to develop it into a place for people to rate and review their favourite beers. Just one year later, a company called Interbrew acquired Beer.com from the pair for $7 million in stocks. Unfortunately, by the time Miller and Zapolin sold those stocks, they were worth just two million dollars, which is still an admirable return on an $80,000 purchase. Today, beer.com has closed down and the domain hosts a parking page.
Bought for: $5.88 million in 2008
In 1994, Joel Noel Friedman purchased Israel.com. Friedman says that he did not intend to make a profit from the domain. He is a Jewish American, and he simply wanted to make sure that no-one misused the domain. In 2008, he sold the domain as a tribute to Israel’s 60th Anniversary. The eventual buyer of the domain remains anonymous.
Bought for: $5.5 million in 2003
Back in 2003, Casino.com was an online casino, and today it is still an online casino. The current owners, Mansion Limited of Gibraltar (Gibraltar hosts many online gaming companies because of its friendly tax and gambling legislation), paid $5.5 million for the domain back in 2003, and have developed it into a successful casino.
Bought for: $5.5 million in 2010
Online gambling is big business, but when Calvin Ayre purchased Slots.com for $5.5 million in 2010, many analysts thought that he was wasting his money. Multi-national gambling legislations are a minefield, and with Australia clamping down on “pokies” (slot-machine like games that use poker hands instead of traditional reels), and online gambling law in the USA being in a state of flux, it’s easy to understand why many felt his purchase was poorly timed.
However, Ayre believes that Slots.com is a memorable brand name and a great domain name. He became an overnight celebrity thanks to the expense of the purchase and its comparison to Sex.com. He has developed the domain into a platform for promoting online slot machine games. It’s unknown whether he has managed to turn a profit from his investment. Considering that Slots.com is not ranked in the top 250,000 most popular websites on Alexa, it seems Ayre may be waiting a long time to recoup his investment.
13. Toys.com: Toys ‘R’ Us by auction
Bought for: $5.1 million in 2009
Who better to purchase the Toys.com domain name than toy giant ToysRUs? The ToysRUS company already owned eToys.com, but the simpler, clearer Toys.com was a must-have for the brand. The company worked with National A1 Advertising to ensure they won the Toys.com auction, and paid $5.1 million to acquire the domain. Today, they use it as a hub for their three brands – ToysRUs, eToys and FAO Schwarz. Considering the domain’s place on a list of the world’s most expensive domain names, it’s a shame that ToysRUs have gone the corporate route with their web design. A toy store would have been a much better use for the domain.
Bought for: $5.1 million in 2000
While this domain name is a long way from being the most expensive domain name ever purchased, it is perhaps the most expensive multi-word domain name. It is rare that a long, multi-word domain name fetches a high asking price, but LA Group Inc saw some value in AsSeenOnTV as a marketable domain. They acquired the domain and turned it into a shopping hub to promote products with the AsSeenOnTV brand.
15. iCloud.com by Apple
Bought for: $4.5 million in April 2011
Apple is quite aggressive about protecting their iBrands, and they’re also incredibly forward thinking. Recognizing the potential of the cloud, Apple purchased iCloud for $4.5 million from a Swedish cloud platform provider called Xcerion in 2011. Xcerion had a legitimate claim to their cloud domain, but there are dozens of companies that have purchased iStuff related domains in the hopes of being the next domain name owner to strike it rich.
16. GiftCard.com by CardLab
Bought for: $4 million in October 2012
The practice of giving gift cards is something that translates well to the web, so it should come as no surprise that the gift card industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. David Jones, the CEO of Card Lab, the current owners of GiftCard.com said “The GiftCard.com domain and brand is the crown jewel of the $100 Billion gift card market.” The company bought the entire website, not just the domain, and revamped it to turn it into a one-stop shop for giftcards of all kinds.
17. Yp.com by YellowPages.com
Bought for: $3.8 million in November 2008
The Yellow Pages is a national institution, but the company behind it understands that it cannot sit still. AT&T and Yellow Pages have been working hard to stay current in a world where people simply don’t use paper resources, and buying YP.com was a natural step forward. AT&T bought the domain from LiveDeal and used it to rebrand Yellow Pages to YP. Today, the listing site is a sophisticated, rich media experience.
Bought for: $3.3 million in August 1998
When Compaq decided to purchase Digital Equipment Corporate, the operators of Alta Vista, they decided that they would turn AltaVista (formerly a search engine) into a fully fledged online portal. There was just one catch with this plan. The purchase of Digtal Equipment Corporate did not include the Alta Vista domain name. Compaq ended up paying more than $3 million extra to iron out that little issue.
Bought for: $3.0 million in June 2009
The original owner of candy.com was Rick Schwartz, who is now known as the Domain Name King. Schwartz purchased a huge number of domains in the 1990s, and has made massive profits selling them on. He doesn’t always sell the domains outright, however. When he sold Candy.com to G&J Holdings, so that they could turn it into an online candy store, he didn’t just take the $3 million and hand over the domain. He has kept a 10% holding in the business, and still earns royalties. That’s a pretty sweet deal!
Bought for: $3.0 million in February 2000
Online banking, payday loans and financial comparison services are incredibly popular internet activities. When the Bank of America acquired Loans.com from Marcelo Siero via the GreatDomains.com auction site, they got a bargain. Siero originally acquired Loans.com for free, and it’s unclear whether he was entitled to all or just part of that three million sale, but even if he gets just a small percentage of it, that’s a nice return on a zero investment. Back in the 90s, Loans.com was an ugly and unprofessional looking site. Today, it’s a promotional platform for the Bank of America’s financial products. Loans.com is squarely targeted at American customers, and gets surprisingly little traffic, not even making the top 25 million websites in the world, based on Alexa rank.