How to Deal if Your Dream Domain is Taken
At first, helping my friend come up with name ideas for her graphic design business was fun. She'd shoot me a few ideas, I'd give her feedback, she'd tweak her ideas accordingly—rinse and repeat.
But after a few months, we were both ready for her to pick a name and stick with it. The only problem? For every single name she fell in love with the URL had already been claimed.
Luckily, an unavailable domain name isn't an automatic non-starter. Here are a few options we explored while trying to snag her dream domain name—and methods you can use to get yours (or at least something very close).
Option #1: Tweak Your Idea
If you're willing to be flexible, you can register a nearly identical version of your “dream" domain. This is often the easiest approach.
First, consider adding a relevant word or adjective to your URL. To give you an idea, when Mike Burnstein founded his running apparel company Janji, he discovered “janji.com" was already taken—so he registered “runjanji.com" instead. It's still on brand, and allows him to keep his company name in tact.
Caviar, a food delivery service, can be found at “trycaviar.com" for similar reasons. Because “maven.com" currently belongs to a car sharing app, Maven (a digital health clinic for women) registered “mavenclinic.com."
However, if your dream name is already a few words and you don't want to make it longer—or you've simply got your heart set on that exact one—you have another option for tweaking the domain: using a different TLD.
A TLD (or top-level domain) refers to the part of the URL after the website name. Most people are familiar with gTLDs (generic top-level domains) like .COM and .ORG, but there are now more than 1,000. You can register your website under .INFO, .PRO, .GREEN, and more. There are also ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) like .us or .eu that you could use to indicate that you serve a specific market.
Run a few searches to see if your business's name is still available with any of these unique TLDs. Not only will you be able to snag your ideal name, but a less popular TLD can make your URL far more memorable and give your visitors some context around your brand or product.
Option #2: Acquire It From the Current Owner
There's another way to get the domain you want: Reach out to the current owner and see if they're willing to sell it.
This can be an easy, inexpensive process—or it can be incredibly time-consuming and costly. It all depends on the domain's worth and the person or business who's claimed it.
Let's start with the former. There are several factors that influence a domain's value, including:
- How long it's been around: The older a domain, the more valuable it tends to be, partially because the age can help improve its SEO ranking. Domain Age Tool is a free website that'll show you approximate domain ages.
- How actively it's used: If it looks like no one's touched the website in a few months (or years), the owner might not be that invested in keeping it. Look up your target domain using The Wayback Machine, which archives copies of web pages so you can see how they've evolved over time.
- How recognizable it is: Being catchy or memorable increases a domain's value. “pizza.com" would be worth far more than “pepperonipizzaextracheese.com" for obvious reasons.
Appraisal tools, like WebsiteOutlook and Free Valuator, will also give you an idea of a domain's value. However, take these as references rather than exact figures. You can also look up how much this domain sold for in the past (if applicable) with NameBio, DNJournal.com, and Flippa. This domain has never been listed before? Search for comparable domain names so you have a benchmark.
Once you have a number—and if it's in your budget—it's time to track down the domain owner. If you're lucky, his or her name and contact information will be listed online. If it's not, look up the domain on WHOIS, a directory for all registered domains.
Some domain owners pay extra to hide their email address and identifying details. For example, this is what you'd see if you looked up my domain:
If you run into this, head to contactprivacy.com and enter the URL to try and send a message to the owner of the site.
Want to go a step further? DomainTools (which costs $99/user for monthly membership and $995 for the year) lets you see how many domains are registered in person's name. That'll come in handy during the next step.
Now that you know whom you're dealing with, do a little research. Domain owners fall in three main categories:
- People who acquired the domain for personal use: They have one to five domains registered (under their name, not their organization's).
- Investors who want to sell the domain at some point: Their goal is making money. They tend to have hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of domains registered.
- Companies who acquired the domain for future use: They may be holding the domain for a future product, campaign, or expansion.
Does it seems like the domain owner falls in either of the first two categories? Contacting them yourself is worth a try. Send them a short email asking if they'd be willing to part with it and what price they'd be looking for (depending on your negotiation philosophy, you could also name your ideal price first based on your research). Be prepared not to hear back—or to have to negotiate if you do—but it's definitely worth a shot if you're really excited about that domain and have the cash.
Unfortunately, dealing with companies is harder—for that, you'll probably need a domain broker. A broker will negotiate a deal on your behalf; however, they usually take 10-20% of the deal, so picking a different domain name might be a better bet.
Option #3: Go For a Different Name
That brings us to the last option: Instead of tweaking your name or contacting the current owner, sometimes it's wise to find a different name.
If the current owner has a well-established digital presence, choosing another business name is usually the smartest decision. After all, you don't want to be competing with them all the time on Google, social media, and name recognition.
If you do the math and the domain name is wildly out of your budget, you may want to pivot. While your business's name is incredibly important, bankrupting your startup or plundering your savings account could backfire.
And if you're simply not that attached to your current idea, don't invest valuable time and energy into chasing a taken domain name. You'll have more than enough challenges you can't avoid in the future of growing your business.
The name of your business is almost always someone's first impression of it. You want one you love—and a domain name to match. With these three techniques up your sleeve, the right domain name can be yours.