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What Do I Do If My Domain Name Is Already Taken?

Michael Gargiulo - CEO, VPN.com

By: Michael Gargiulo, CEO at VPN.com

Updated: 6:50 AM ET Tue, January 26th 2021

Finger pressing button for .com domain name.

The right domain name is one of the keys to running a successful website. It can boost SEO by containing important keywords and help drive traffic by being concise and memorable. Overall, a good domain is an asset that may be worth millions of dollars and which a business can build its branding around. What if you see your ideal domain name taken when you go to start leasing it?

Domain Name Taken? Your Next Steps

It can be difficult to come up with an excellent idea and find that it’s not available. Nonetheless, when you check a registrar and see your preferred domain name taken, you shouldn’t despair. Buying the domain is ideal, but if this isn’t possible, you can also make some careful changes to get a close-enough name. In the niche case of malicious cybersquatting, you can even pursue legal action and gain the domain that way. In short, there are several viable solutions and you’re sure to find one that fits.

Buy The Domain From Its Current Owner

If you explore the domains available at a registrar, you might have noticed that short, memorable domains are often taken, even when there’s no corresponding website, for that matter. The reason is that over the past decades, a thriving aftermarket has grown where investors, brokers, and others buy and sell domains. Here, they preemptively purchase domains they think will have one or many prospective buyers in the future and aim to resell at a profit.

While this adds an extra step to getting your ideal domain, it also means that there’s a clear path before you. It’s generally not difficult to find a domain when the owner wants to sell it, although the cost may be steep. However, the process gets more complex when the domain name is already in use. If that’s the case, then you have to work around their own attachment to it. In the end, someone may be entirely unwilling to part with a domain name that they already use. In this case, though, there are still options available to you.

Change Your Domain Name

When you see your preferred domain name already taken, changing the domain slightly may seem appealing. However, the easiest ways to change your domain name can backfire quite badly. Swapping out a top-level domain(TLD) and keeping the second-level domain(SLD) the same is one example. For instance, a registrar might recommend replacing perfect-domain-name-taken.com with .biz. Not only will the second-level domain be exactly what you wanted, but the price will be lower than a .com name as well. Does that sound too good to be true? Broadly speaking, it is.

There are several problems involved with swapping out a TLD. For one, when people misremember a website’s name, they typically assume it ends in .com. This means that visitors who intend to go to your website might go to the competitor instead. If your businesses are sufficiently similar, you might even end up on the receiving end of an IP lawsuit.

Another shortcut is altering the spelling slightly, for instance, replacing the word “love” with “luv” or “you” with “u.” These changes make the name of your website less intuitive and easy to remember correctly, which can result in lost traffic. At the end of the day, a domain name has one purpose — helping people find your website. It can’t do that if no one can remember what your name is.

The right approach is going back to the drawing board and changing your domain name on a conceptual level. While this will require some effort and might take time, it offers the best payoff. If you wanted the domain “travelblog.com,” then you could consider “travelingblog.com” or “mytravelblog.com.” Another perk of this sort of approach is that it even works for established brands that can’t change their marketing. Mr. Chewy started in 2011, but when they built their website they used “Chewy.com” instead. The brand was so successful as an online pet retailer that brick and mortar giant PetSmart bought them out.

As long as the messaging is sufficiently similar, then this sort of small change won’t harm your business at all.

Is The Taken Domain Breaching Your IP Rights?

Does your company already own a trademark on the domain name in question? If your brand already existed when someone started using the domain you have in mind, you may have a legal case. Pursuing action via ICAAN, the international body that governs domain names, can result in them awarding you with the domain name.

In the United States, it’s possible to take action in line with federal anti-cybersquatting legislation. While this may not result in you receiving the domain name, you could procure compensation for reputation damages. Additionally, many other nations have similar legislation to protect IP owners.

The party with your preferred domain name most likely isn’t guilty of cybersquatting. However, remaining aware of this avenue and your rights is important in case they are violating your IP.

How To Check If A Domain Name Is Taken

Is your domain name taken? Here’s how to find out. If a domain name is taken then it will show up as unavailable once you search for it with a registrar. However, that leaves you with an array of questions such as whether or not the name is in use. Your next step should simply be to input the domain in your search engine of choice. From here, there are three likely results.

First, you might see a placeholder page indicating that someone owns the domain. After all, investors, brokerages, etc. want to make it as easy as possible for prospective clients to find them. In some cases, this page might even include direct links to the websites where the owner prefers to sell their domains. This means that you have a clear, well-defined path forward to purchase your ideal domain name.

Second, you might see a developed website. This means that the domain name is in active use and that it’s not simply a financial asset that an investor is holding. That could be good for you, or it might not be. For instance, the current owner could have an unshakeable attachment to the name that no amount of money will budge them from. Alternatively, they may be a novice who will sell the domain to you for less than it’s worth. The only way to find out is to contact the website and ask if they’re interested in selling.

The final and most ambiguous possibility is that no website is attached to the domain. In this case, the owner may be a seller or they might intend to use it at the later date. Overall, there’s more cause for optimism than when you see an existing website, but you have more work to do as well. Before you know whether or not you’ll be able to buy the domain, you’ll have to hunt down the owner.

How To Buy A Domain Name That Is Taken But Not Used

Overall, the process of buying a domain name is fairly similar regardless of whether it’s in use or not. When there’s no web page at the domain, you have to perform the extra step of finding the owner first. You’ll want to go to Whois.com and input the domain name there, which should give you the relevant information of the owner. With their name and contact information, it’ll be easy for you to reach out to them about buying the domain name.

However, most registrars offer extensions so that domain owners can hide this information. If you find it hidden after your Whois search, you’ll need to resort to searching domain sale websites manually. When the domain isn’t on any of these websites, then you’ve well and truly hit a dead-end. You could wait for the domain to expire or see if it turns up, but you should start considering alternatives.

Assuming you found the domain name, you’ll start the buying process. Before contacting the domain owner, you should take several steps to prepare for negotiations. The most important way you can prepare is to assess the value of the domain and set a maximum price beforehand.

How To Assess Domain Name Value

Domain name evaluation is a tricky process because there’s no objective method to it. The factors that go into making a domain valuable are quite intricate. Furthermore, each of these individual factors interacts with the others in a complex way that means there’s no formula for accurate evaluation. Overall, you can use the concept of brandability to understand the value of a domain name. This refers to how easily a brand could build its marketing around a given name and how memorable it is. The components of brandability include:

  • Brevity: domains that consist of three to four characters or one to three words are typically quite valuable
  • High ranking keywords: a domain that includes good keywords will boost SEO and organic reach for the website
  • Generic appeal: domains with generic names such as “social media marketing” or “shoes” are suitable for many businesses

Other key elements of domain values include the age of the domain and the presence of a good top-level domain. The older a domain name is, the more valuable it is, as a rule. As for TLDs, .com and .co are the most trusted and valuable suffixes, but .net and .org are also respectable.

Once you’ve evaluated a domain on these features, you can seek out recent sales of similar domains. If the domains you deemed similar have wildly varying prices, then your evaluation may be off. If they fall in a relatively close range, then you can use that working estimate to value the domain. With this in mind, you’ll be able to come up with a realistic maximum price that will prevent you from overspending. Now that you’ve prepared yourself for the buying process, you can move forward with buying.

The owner might accept your first offer, but otherwise, you’ll need to be prepared for negotiations. If negotiation isn’t your strongest suit, then hiring a domain broker may be the right choice.

How A Domain Broker Can Help

When you find your ideal domain name taken already, a domain broker can help. A premium domain brokerage offers you value along every step of the buying process. First, they’ll make it much easier to find your domain thanks to their connections across the industry. During the evaluation process, they’ll also be able to apply their industry-specific experience and knowledge to estimate the value of your ideal domain accurately.

Going into negotiations with an inaccurate estimation can backfire and undo the work you put into preparing. Overvaluing the domain will mean that you end up overpaying, and undervaluing it will require you to toss out your initial maximum estimate. Either way, you’re unlikely to get the best price without a solid evaluation.

A domain brokerage can also handle the negotiations themselves on your behalf. This has a few advantages, such as the fact they’re experienced at domain name negotiation. Even if you’re a strong negotiator, you could still do well to consider a domain brokerage. This is because sellers tend to research prospective buyers to gauge how important the domain is to you. The layer of anonymity that a broker represents protects you from these practices and strengthens your negotiating position.

VPN.com Premium Domain Brokers

At VPN.com we’re experts on all things pertaining to domain names. If you want to find out more about buying expired domains, we can help. Our range of industry connections gives us access to thousands of valuable domains on the aftermarket. It’s a simple matter for us to find your perfect domain name on your behalf, so turn to VPN.com when you need a new domain name.

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