So you think you’ve found your dream domain name, but it’s owned by someone else. That’s okay, not all hope is lost.
But before jumping into the rabbit hole of domain acquisition, consider these two pieces of advice:
- Try one more time to find a suitable, alternative available domain.
- Don’t get your hopes up, and you won’t be disappointed.
Still can’t find anything? Expectations sufficiently lowered? Let’s proceed.
Domain name recon
Before you do anything, you need to scout your “target” (for lack of a better term). To do so, I’m a big fan of running WHOIS searches at Domain Tools.
Domain Tools will let you run a number of free searches, but will ask you to register for a free account to continue after a certain number within a certain timeframe. Eventually, even searches with a free account will get cut off.
You have the option of paying for an account for additional searches, but I usually take that as a sign that I’ve been searching for too many domains.
Is it a private registration?
If the listed owner is “Domains By Proxy, LLC” or “WhoisGuard Protected” then you’re dealing with a private registration.
This does not necessarily mean the domain is not for sale. It just means the owner is concerned about privacy and doesn’t want their contact information broadcast to the world.
It also does not mean you cannot get in touch with the domain owner. Sending an email to the address listed in WHOIS should forward to the domain owner.
You just need to make sure you write an email compelling enough to respond, and we’ll get to that later.
Is it pointed to a “parked” page?
A parked page is a useless page full of ads. There are two types of parked pages.
The “monetized” parked page
This is the type of page that will have a list of bizarre links like “Free Mobile App Software” and maybe a link to a page where you can make an offer for the domain.
A “monetized” parked page definitively indicates the owner is domain savvy, and will probably not give the domain up cheaply.
The “just registered” parked page
Unless you specify otherwise, newly registered domains will point to a parked page. This could either be a useless page full of ads, an ad for the domain registrar itself, or a combination of both.
A “just registered” parked page indicates the owner is either not domain savvy, or is, and doesn’t care about potentially making a few extra cents from the “monetized” parked page.
Is it for sale?
Domain Tools pulls data from multiple domain name marketplaces, such as GoDaddy Auctions, Afternic, and Sedo. If the domain is listed on one of them, Domain Tools will let you know.
Domains can either be set to “Make Offer” (occasionally, with a minimum offer) or set at a fixed price. While this may not need to be said, even minimum offers and fixed prices may be open for negotiation.
At this point, you know you’re dealing with a domainer and at the very least, they would be open to a discussion. But if the minimum offer or fixed price is astronomically high or otherwise outside your budget, it’s probably best to move on.
How many domains does the owner own?
If the count is in the 1000s, you’re dealing with a serious domainer. At this level, they’re spending at least five figures per year on renewals, and they need to make big sales to cover the rest.
The closer the count is to 0, the more likely it is you’re dealing with more of a hobbyist or casual domain owner, who will be more likely to sell the domain at a reasonable price.
Is it used for an active site?
If it is, prepare to pay the value of the entire site, domain included. If you’re not, it’s probably time to move on.
If the site hasn’t been updated in several years, the domain owner will be much more likely to sell “just the domain” as the site value has fizzled away throughout the prolonged inactivity.
How much is the domain worth?
Even though domain value can be somewhat subjective, look at NameBio to get an idea of what similar domains have sold for.
A premium, one-word domain like Platform.com is easily worth six figures. Possibly well into the millions to a motivated buyer.
A good, straight-to-the-point domain like OwnYourPlatform.com is probably worth a few hundred bucks on its own. Again, possibly more to a motivated buyer.
Owners of high-end domains tend to be aware of their domain value, because they get inquiries and offers about them all the time.
The ideal domain owner
After collecting all this information, this is what you should hope to find:
- Pointed to a “just registered” parking page, an inactive site (preferably with years of inactivity), or nothing at all.
- Not listed for sale on a domain marketplace.
- Not owned by someone with a ridiculous number of domains. They need cash to fund renewals.
- Owned by someone with a recently updated web presence. This means they check email.
If the above four characteristics are met, feel free to raise your expectations slightly. You might actually have a chance at acquiring this one.
Once you’ve collected your intel, you can move on to the contact stage. Before you do though, you should have a rough budget in mind and be prepared to divulge it early on.
I’m not going to write up an email template because people would use it verbatim, the email would be indexed in Google, and then domain owners would find this article and see all these secret techniques about acquiring their domains.
- Address it personally: Opening an email with “Dear owner of example.com” sounds incredibly spammy. You’re writing this email manually. Don’t sound like a robot.
- Money talks: Forget about passive “how much will you sell it for?” language. You’re initiating the contact. You come up with the first number. Including an offer in your email immediately sets you apart from the bottomfeeders.
- Don’t lowball: Offering $20 for a domain that’s been registered for three years means that you’re not even covering renewal fees. The bare minimum offer should be in the triple digits to get the owner’s attention.
- Divulge your plans: Domain owners will be more likely to sell their domain to an “end user” rather than a domain reseller. And be somewhat forthcoming about it. Honesty tends to be appreciated. And bullsh*t tends to be detected.
- Offer to forward email: It’s hard to tell if the domain owner is using their domain as an email address. Although unlikely, it’s a nice gesture to offer to forward their email for some period of time as a courtesy.
If you don’t hear from them in a few days or so, try Googling their name to see if they have a Twitter account. A tweet could be an effective followup.
Admittedly, I haven’t much luck on the phone with domain owners. The few times that I’ve tried, the number has either been disconnected or nobody picked up.
I personally tend not to answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number. And I also tend to dislike any sort of synchronous communication.
If you’re silver-tongued, you may wish to try to try it. I don’t want to outright recommend against it, because you might have better luck than me.
Admittedly, never tried this one. If you really want a domain name, and haven’t had luck with other forms of communication, it can’t hurt to try.
Again, make sure you use all the elements from the “Email” heading above. Be honest and forthcoming about your intentions with the domain, and communicate how much you’re willing to pay.
Just make sure you’re not sending a heartfelt, hand-written note to “WhoisGuard Protected” because it will likely end up in the circular file.
Be patient, but recognize there are “plenty of fish in the sea”
Most correspondence to domain owners goes without response. They could be busy. They could be uninterested. They could be dead.
While every domain will eventually expire, it may not be a good idea to wait years for that to happen. If you weren’t able to acquire the domain of your dreams, don’t fret.
Keep an eye on recently expired domains, and consider non-dot-com extensions. I’m sure another suitable domain will turn up in the meantime.