Having an appealing and easy-to-remember domain name is very important for the success of your website. The domain should also match the site content and/or your brand name. What happens if the desired domain is not available, though? Rebranding is not really an option. You can simply choose a different name, but you can also try to acquire the domain you originally wanted from its current owner. In this article, we will look at the different options you have to do that.

Check what content the domain opens

This is the first step we recommend that you take as it is the easiest way to see if a registered domain is really in use. If you see an active website, check if there were any recent updates on it. If this is the case, it will be less likely that the current owner will sell the domain, or if they are willing to do that, they will probably ask for a higher price. If there aren’t recent updates, there is a better chance that the owner may sell the domain, but there is no guarantee for that. In any case, the best option will be to contact them and find out if they will sell the name.

If the domain opens a parking page, it was probably registered by a person or a company that buys and sells domains. If this is the case, the name you want is probably listed on a domain marketplace. Sometimes you will see the price the person/company asks for right on the parking page, as well as a direct link to the marketplace.

There is a possibility that the domain does not open anything. This does not mean it is not registered or it is not in use – it may simply not have an A record (IP address) that points it to a server, or it may be used only for emails. You can still try to reach its owner and see if you can buy it.

Contact the domain owner directly

The best way to find out who owns a domain name is to check its WHOIS information. WHOIS is a protocol to request and to receive the registration details of a domain name. The information includes the creation and expiration dates of the name, the registrar company that provides the service, the name servers the domain points to, as well as the names, street address and email address of the owner.

GDPR

The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which protects the personal data of natural persons that are EU citizens, came into force in May 2018. It effectively hid the contact information of all European registrants by default. Some registrars decided to hide the personal details of all their clients, not only the European ones, leaving the option for domain owners to opt out and make their registration information public. If you are lucky, you will see the information you need when you do a WHOIS lookup.

If that information is not visible, or if the domain owner uses a WHOIS protection service and their details are replaced by the ones of the service provider, you can still send them an email. All registrar companies that comply with GDPR must provide a way for a third-party to contact the domain owner without revealing their personal data. Usually, the WHOIS information of such domains includes a direct link to a contact form managed by the registrar that you can use. If the domain uses privacy protection, you can send a message to the protection email address listed in the WHOIS details. Your message will be relayed to the registrant’s real email address, or at least most privacy protection providers will do that.

You can also try to find some alternative way to contact the owner. If the domain opens an active website, check for any email address or phone number listed there. You can also search for the domain in a search engine and see if there is some contact listed on a site where the domain or the business is mentioned.

WHOIS information with GDPR contact form
Standard WHOIS information

Where to look up a domain:
http://whois.domaintools.com/
https://tickets.suresupport.com/whois/
https://whois.net/
https://who.is/

Domain inquiry template

If you are not sure what to write when you contact the domain owner, we have prepared a simple template that you can modify and use:

“Dear Domain Owner (Type the seller’s name if you were able to find it out),

I am interested in buying the domain name example.com, and I am contacting you as you are listed as its owner. I am offering (quote a low, yet realistic price, you will find out more about that down the page). If you are willing to sell the name at that price, or if you would like to negotiate, you can send me an email at (your email address) or call (your phone number).

Best regards,
(Your name and contact information)”

Use a domain broker

If you prefer not to contact the domain owner yourself, you can hire a domain broker. With this service, a personal broker will search for and contact the domain owner on your behalf. You may pay a flat fee in advance or a percentage from the sale price if the deal is successful, depending on the policy of the brokerage company. You should tell them how much you are willing to offer the owner, and they will negotiate the sale for you.

Although you will have to pay a bit more, using a domain brokerage service has its advantages. You will not have to deal with any research who owns the domain that you want. You will remain fully anonymous if you do not want the buyer to know who you are. It is more likely that the domain owner will be willing to negotiate if the offer comes from a company, not from an individual. If the broker is successful in acquiring the name, you will not have to worry about the payment process as the company will handle the deal for you. Last, but not least, you will get assistance with the transfer process.

Popular domain brokerage services:
https://sedo.com/uk/services/brokerage-service/
https://uniregistry.com/domain-brokerage
https://www.guta.com/en/brokerage/
https://www.domainholdings.com/
https://www.snapnames.com/domain-brokerage/about-domain-brokerage.action

Backorder a domain

If the domain name is about to expire, or has already expired, there is a chance that the owner may not renew it. Your best chance of taking over the domain is to backorder it. This is the process of ordering a domain name that has not been deleted yet, and is still not available for new registration. The actual term is “drop-catching” – once a domain is deleted from the public space (dropped), a company that offers backorder services will attempt to register (catch) it.

You probably wonder whether you can just keep an eye on the domain and try to register it on your own once it is deleted. This won’t really work out as you will be competing against automated registrar systems that will try to register the domain the moment it is available. Comparing the odds, you can get an expired domain by yourself only if it is unpopular and nobody else wants it.

Each registrar company has a fixed number of connections to a particular registry (the organization in charge of managing a specific top-level domain). Some backorder companies own hundreds of accredited registrars that they use to catch deleted domains. Any such company that receives a backorder will try to register the domain name. There may be hundreds of simultaneous requests and the name will be given on a first come, first serve basis. This is why, no company can guarantee that they will be able to register the domain name. This is still your best chance to get a good expired domain.

Usually you have to pay a small fee to backorder a domain. If the company cannot get the name for you, you can withdraw the money, or use it for another domain name. In some cases, if a company receives a number of orders for the same domain and they register it successfully, they may auction it between the different users. If the domain is valuable to you, you can place orders with different companies to increase your chances of getting it.

The life cycle of a gTLD, image from ICANN.org

Popular backorder websites:
https://www.snapnames.com/
https://www.dynadot.com/market/backorder/
https://www.dropcatch.com/
https://www.pool.com/
http://www.namejet.com/Pages/Services/Backorders.aspx
https://park.io/
https://www.catchtiger.com/

Check for the domain on popular marketplaces

Good domain names that become available are often registered by brokers, who sell them for profit on domain marketplaces. Sometimes the original owner may also decide that they no longer need their domain for some reason, and may list it for sale. This is why, you can check if the domain you want is listed on such a site. Very often, a domain that is being sold on a marketplace will open a parking page leading to the service where it is listed. Depending on how the domain owner wants to sell the domain, you may see a fixed price on that page, or you may be directed to the marketplace where you can take part in an auction. The payment and the ownership transfer will be handled by the marketplace, so this option is safer than negotiating a deal directly.

Popular marketplaces to buy or sell domains:
https://sedo.com/
https://namebio.com/
http://www.namejet.com/
https://www.afternic.com/
https://www.hugedomains.com/
https://www.flippa.com/

Some things to consider

Buy and sell securely with Escrow.com

If you buy an existing domain on a marketplace or through a domain broker, you will have nothing to worry about. They will act as the middle man in the deal and will give you more security If you negotiate with the domain owner directly, however, make sure that you pay them through an escrow service like Escrow.com. They will hold your money until you confirm that you have the domain. Do not sent any payments directly (bank wire, money order) as you will have no guarantee that you will get control over the domain afterwards.

You should consider in advance how much to offer as well as the maximum price you are willing to pay. Some domain owners may overestimate their domains, and may ask for unrealistic prices. Do not make any reckless deals. Check how much similar domains are worth by looking at marketplaces or at past sales. Branding, age, keywords and length are all factors that can increase the price.

Always bargain. Once you get an idea how much similar domains cost, try to negotiate a lower price. If the seller insists on the high price, they may end up not selling the domain at all. This is especially true for companies that buy and sell domains as they operate with thousands of domains on a daily basis, and they will be more interested in getting a low price that keeping the domain until it expires. If you are contacting an individual directly, make sure that you quote a low, but reasonable price. Leave yourself some room to negotiate a higher price that is acceptable to the seller without exceeding your budget. Do not insult them by offering a ridiculously low price as they will probably delete your email right away.

Do some research on the TLD, check how easy it is to change ownership. The owner’s name can be changed with ease for the generic TLDs like .com, .net, .org, but the country-code TLDs follow different rules. For some extensions like .co.uk or .dk you have to go through the respective Registry organization. For others like .fr, .ca, .it or .ru, you have to provide personal documents, fill some paperwork and meet eligibility criteria. In this light, buying your desired domain name may not be as simple as paying some amount to its current owner.

If you go for a different (available) domain

You may not be successful in buying the desired domain name and this will not be something uncommon. It may be impossible to find or contact the current owner, or they may simply not want to sell their domain. If this is the case, your only option will be to register a new domain name. Before you do that, however, there are a few pieces of advice you can follow to make sure that you will register the right name.

  • Choose the right extension. Registering a .com is the logical choice, but a different TLD may be more suitable – a country-code one if you want to target a specific country or region, or a new gTLD that may better fit your needs (your-name.lawyer, for.example). You can check our article on how to choose a good domain.
  • Do some research on the name for possible trademark infringements. If you simply register the same name as your competitors and only use a different extension, you may run into legal troubles in the future.
  • Make sure that the domain stands out and does not copy competitor domains. Even if it does not include any trademark, using the same name with a different extension may not be wise as visitors may end up on another site instead of your own.

Choosing the right domain name is never easy. If the name you want is already registered, things get even harder. You have different options to try to acquire the domain, and if you have luck, you can have the name within days. If not, you can register a brand-new domain for your website. Registering a new domain usually takes only a couple of minutes.

If you decide to get a new one, you can check the extensions we offer and take advantage of our fair pricing policy for domain registrations.

Ivailo Ivanov
Author

I started working in the web hosting business in 2004 - 15 years ago. My other interests are mountain biking, fine woodworking and raising my kids to be good persons.