Meet the man who'very wisely'acquired the 'Architect.com' Web site, which helps drive substantial business to his residential design practice.

Thomas Bollay

Thomas Bollay, AIA

Santa Barbara, Calif.—In today’s brutal business climate for architects, even a small edge that can help a firm stand out and secure new business becomes extremely valuable.

With a prescient purchase 16 years ago, architect Thomas Bollay, AIA, acquired for a few dollars a big marketing advantage that could be worth tens—or, in his view, even hundreds of thousands of dollars: the architect.com domain name. 

As those with even a rudimentary understanding of the workings of search engines know, a site’s URL is a key factor in how high it appears in any list of returns. And thanks to his ownership of the “architect.com” name, Bollay’s solo practice, ranks near the top—and among the profession’s giants—in any search for “architect”: His firm is often the second or third architectural practice listed and on the same page as Rafael Viñoly, Richard Meier and Robert A.M. Stern (*see note below).

We speak with Bollay, whose practice focuses on Mediterranean-style residential homes, about how he came into possession of this domain name; what it has meant for the promotion of his practice; and what he thinks it might be worth.

A home in Montecito, Calif. designed by Thomas Bollay.

Thomas, tell us the backstory of how—and when—you came to secure the architect.com Web address for your firm.

John MacFarlane is a friend and client and founder of software.com, an early Internet company. I was working with him in June of 1994 at his offices on sketches for a project at the time a new Web browser came out—an early version, a pre-release actually, of Mosaic [which has been credited with popularizing the Web and which, critically, was the first browser to display images inline with text instead of in a separate window].

My wife had been doing Web-related research, and I had been following the Internet—but because until then it all had been text-based, I couldn’t get excited about it. It really wasn’t that interesting to me. But I knew the instant I saw this new browser including images and photos that it would change the world.

So I asked John, “How does one register [for an Internet site], and what sort of name should I use?” And he said, “How about architect.com?” He applied for me on the spot, and 24 hours later, it was approved. It was very fortunate timing.

How would you quantify the impact having this URL has had on your business, in terms of gaining extra clients and increased exposure?

It has definitely led to leads and commissions and certainly to a much greater awareness of my work. Half of my work comes off the Internet.

My practice is a bit quirky—I specialize in recreating the romantic revival period of 1920s and '30s—and that’s not normally the type of work that gets published in architectural magazines. So the Web is a real opportunity to put my work in a medium where people can find it and where it can get seen beyond Santa Barbara.  

And I did get a magazine cover as a result—the editor of Sunset magazine [the “essential how-to guide to all the best things about living in the (American) West”] was browsing online for Spanish-style architecture and came across my site. And that cover led to my work being included in several books.  

You know, a lot of the value of architect.com comes from that it’s just very easy to remember—like when I meet someone in an airport!

The architect.com domain has obviously been very beneficial to your business—what do you think it’s worth to others? Have you had offers for it?

I get a lot of inquiries. I simply say it’s not for sale—it’s unique, special, a lot of fun to have, it’s driving business.

And when it’s time to retire—what do you estimate you could get for it?

I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

* While Google search results are dependent on individual settings and other factors, Bollay’s site consistently came back as one of the first firms in any search for “architect” on a number of different computers.   

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