How to Buy a Domain Name That’s Already Registered
In 2015, Verisign revealed that the total number of registered top-level domains had hit 299 million. When you consider the scale of the internet, that almost doesn’t seem like much. At least, until you try to register a domain name of your own.
In a flash of inspiration, the perfect domain name finally comes to mind for a new business venture. You rush to your laptop, head for a domain registrar and tap in the name with feverish excitement. An error response kicks back that the domain name has already been registered, “but your domain is available with a new .zoobeldoo extension!”
It’s frustrating when the domain you thought was perfect isn’t available, and the alternatives that pop into your head just don’t quite fit what you’re trying to launch – even if they are available to register as a .com. It’s even more frustrating when the domain you want has been parked and it’s not even being used by the owner.
Sadly, a lot of your first-choice domain names have been purchased. The availability of common names and phrases continues to dwindle. Despite an avalanche of new TLDs, demand for .com names remains high, making them extremely difficult to acquire.
Just because a domain is registered, though, doesn’t mean you don’t still have some options. Here are 8 things you can try to get the domain you want.
1. Start with a WHOIS
If the domain you want is already taken, start with a little basic research. If you run a WHOIS on the domain name you can get the status and possibly the background information on who registered it. A WHOIS query usually includes:
Which service was used to register a domain (registrar)
When it was registered
The name of the person or company who registered the domain
The contact information for the person or company who registered the domain
When the registration will expire
When anyone registers a new domain, they’ll typically have the option to purchase privacy protection. If this option is selected, then their personal information and contact information will not be revealed in a WHOIS, or listed publicly in any database.
To run a WHOIS:
Type the desired domain name into the search field and click the search icon
Record the information (copy and paste)
Once you know if the domain is in use, and you have an idea of its status, you’ve got a few options.
2. Make Contact
If privacy protection wasn’t purchased on the domain and you have the contact information for the owner – and the domain isn’t currently being used (or is parked) – the most direct approach is to make contact.
Domains are sometimes purchased for the sole purpose of parking them for ad revenue and negotiating their sale at a later time, similar to flipping real estate. Other times, a domain may have been purchased with the intent to use it, but the owner never got around to building the site.
Reach out and ask the owner if the domain is available, and if they would be willing to part with it. You might get lucky and only have to pay a bit more than the normal registration costs if the owner only wants to recoup what they’ve put into it.
You should expect to pay a bit more, though, so be ready to negotiate if you really want that specific domain. It’s not uncommon for people to overestimate the value of a domain, but if the domain you want is a common name, word, or phrase, then they could be justified in asking for a higher price.
3. Use a Broker
Another option is to hire a broker who will negotiate with the owner of the domain on your behalf. Brokers work for both buyers and sellers in the process of domain trades. Also, many domain name hosts offer brokering services alongside regular registrations: check your registrar’s prices, but expect to pay additional costs. Some brokers charge a flat rate while others ask a percentage or commission.
While there are those extra costs involved, the benefit of a broker is that they will spend the time making contact with the owner and negotiating on your behalf. They have experience with this process and can often negotiate better deals. Even with the added costs, you’re more likely to get a better deal taking this route.
Likewise, since they’re brokering the deal, it’s a safer exchange than handling it privately on your own.
4. Buy at Auction and Marketplaces
If you haven’t had any luck contacting the individual owner of a domain, you can always try to find the site on a domain marketplace or auction site. When domains are parked, they usually feature advertisements or a generic page. Sometimes people put up these pages when their domain is listed at auction.
You’ll need to visit some of the top auction sites and search to see if the desired name is listed. The most common auction sites are:
Even if your desired name isn’t found, you may stumble upon a good alternative. Just keep in mind that the cost of domains on auction sites and domain marketplaces can run you anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
5. Backorder the Domain
If you don’t have any luck finding your desired domain listed on any of the common auction sites, another option is to put a backorder on the domain.
Regardless of whether the site is active, every domain name eventually expires. There’s a small chance that domain won’t be renewed, leaving it open for you to register it. Backordering can be done through many registration services, but you can also do it on many of the marketplaces listed in the previous section.
When domains show as unavailable, you’ll often see a note for backordering that domain with a fee next to it. This is the fee to put the domain on backorder. It’s important to note that just because you backorder a domain doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get it. This is because domains don’t just drop automatically. The expiration process looks something like this:
Domain owner receives a series of emails notifying them their domain will expire soon, prompting them to renew
Domain owner receives an email when the domain has expired
Domain owner receives a series of emails notifying them their domain is past its expiration, notifying them of a limited window in which they can still renew it.
All in all, the window from the date of expiration until the domain can actually be registered again is 75 days.
As you can see, a domain expiration isn’t going to sneak up on anyone unless they’re not monitoring the email tied to the account and miss the notifications.
Still, a backorder saves you from manually monitoring a domain you want in hopes of a drop. You can place the backorder, and the service will attempt to purchase that domain as soon as it’s available. Even if it does become available, it’s still not a guarantee.
There’s a slight chance that another provider could move in faster to register the dropped domain. This is more likely to happen with common names where multiple backorders could occur. The first one to register a backorder is the winner.
If you want to make sure you get the drop on others trying for the same domain, you can spend the extra money to backorder through multiple backorder services. This ensures that when the domain officially drops, you’ll have multiple backorders hitting the Verisign services all at once.
6. Buy the Domain Straight
It’s possible that the registration may be hidden on a WHOIS, but the domain is still available for sale. If you visit the domain, you might encounter a landing page or homepage with a statement saying the domain is for sale. There may be a price listed to purchase the domain, or a contact form instructing you to reach out if you’re interested in purchasing the domain name.
7. Reclaim a Held Domain
While it’s a stretch, there have been cases where companies were able to take control of domains when they held a trademark for a branded term. In those cases, the companies had to show that the registered domain was a trademark infringement, and registered in bad faith.
“Bad faith” is a legal term established in the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy established by ICANN in 1999. This was designed to help brands fight against domain squatters. Bad faith registrations are defined as:
Domain registration with the sole intention of selling to a competitor for a higher rate (like domain squatting as listed above).
Domain name registration in an attempt to block the trademark holder from registration if they show a history of registration practices.
Domain registration in an attempt to disrupt a trademark holder’s business dealings.
Domain registration in an attempt to confuse or attract customers from a competing business.
If you think you have a case for reclaiming a domain from a squatter, you can file a claim to dispute the ownership via ICANN.
8. Consider Alternatives
If you can’t grab “thatperfectdomain.com” by any of the means we’ve listed, you might want to consider a different top-level domain. While the .com is still viewed as the standard for websites, there are many new alternatives that are becoming widely accepted for personal sites as well as for businesses. It’s to the point now where many even expect certain TLDs for specific industries or business types.
A lot of startups have begun using the .io TLD, while others are using other two-letter TLDs like .tl, .ly, .me, and .co.
While many of the two-letter TLDs are actually geo-specific, they could be used to create a clever and fitting URL for your website.
Also, as trends are changing around the use of domains, Google has addressed how its algorithm treats these domains. For example, just because the .io domain refers to the Indian Ocean region, and .co is for Colombia, doesn’t mean your site is only visible in search to people in those regions.
Don’t feel like you need to be locked into a .net, .com, or .org domain. Play with alternatives and see if you can find one that fits well with your brand or idea.
Tips on Safely Purchasing Domain Names
While buying a domain from someone is generally safe, be aware of a few basic safety and security issues.
Don’t buy a domain penalized by Google. It can be a nightmare trying to shake a bad history, no matter how great that name might be. Conduct a basic check. Search for the domain name in Google. If you can’t easily find the exact match URL in the search results, the domain may be penalized.
Don’t send money via wire or bank transfer. Escrow services are safer. You’ll pay for a third party to oversee the sale, but it’s the only way to obtain true peace of mind, particularly for high-value domain purchases.
Value the name before making an offer. See how much similar domains (with similar TLDs) have sold for at NameBio.com. Just because you like the name, that doesn’t mean you have to offer a silly price to acquire it.
Hopefully these tips will help you get your hands on that perfect domain without spending too much through auction or via a direct purchase. If not, you should be able to find a close alternative. And if all else fails, you can put yourself in the best possible position to nab the domain the next time it becomes available.