In the last post of this series, you learned about picking the right brand name for your store. Now comes the second part — buying your brand’s domain name. This can be a surprisingly difficult process, depending on your store’s desired name and extension.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the entire domain buying process. You’ll learn everything from how to purchase expired domains to the tricks professional domain traders use to buy domains at bargain prices.
The Domain Buying Process
When you try to buy a domain name, you will run into one of the following three scenarios:
The domain name is available.
The domain name is already registered.
The domain name has expired.
We’ll walk you through each of these scenarios below.
Scenario I: The domain name is available
Sometimes, the stars align perfectly and your target domain name is actually available.
In such a situation, say a silent prayer of thanks and do the following:
Go to your favorite domain registrar such as GoDaddy.
Type in your domain into the search box and click Search Domain.
Select your target extension and click on Continue to Cart.
Don’t forget to congratulate yourself!
Complete the registration process and make the payment. Make sure to ignore all unnecessary features GoDaddy prompts you to buy.
The domain is now yours. All you need to do is change its nameservers to your host and start building your Ecwid store!
Scenario II: The domain name is already registered
This is the more likely scenario — the domain name you want has already been registered by someone else.
Depending on the domain and its owner, you may have a chance to buy it for cheap. The steps shown below are used by actual full-time domain traders to get bargains on domain names.
Step 1: Find out if the domain is currently being used
Your first step should be to type in the domain name into your browser and see the results.
One of the following four things will happen when you do this:
A. You see a blank page
In some cases, the domain simply resolves to a blank page, or throws up an error message.
This is usually a good sign. It means that the current owner is not utilizing the name. If you make him the right offer, you might be able to buy it.
We’ll show you how to contact the owner below.
B. You see an existing website
In many cases, the domain name will resolve to an existing website.
This may or may not be a good sign, depending on the site itself.
Case 1: The site is heavily updated and supports an actual business.
Case 2: The site hasn’t been updated in a while and houses a casual blog/info site.
In case #1, your chances of buying the name for cheap are virtually nil. Few businesses will let go of their domain name for cheap.
In case #2, you might be able to buy the domain name if the owner is willing. Jump to Step 2 below to figure this out.
C. You see a parked page
More often than not, you will land on a parked page. These are simple landing pages filled with ads and minimal content. Domain owners use them to make money off people directly typing the name into the browser.
It’s easy to spot a parked page. It will usually have nothing but ads, along with a link to inquire about the domain.
Here are a few examples:
A parked page is generally a good sign. It usually means that the domain owner wants to make money off the name, and will be motivated to sell — at the right price.
D. You see a brokerage page
Sometimes, typing the name into the browser will take you to a domain brokerage landing page, like this:
You can spot such pages thanks to the inquiry form on the page, and the brokerage company’s name. Some big domain brokerage companies are BuyDomains, DomainNameSales, Sedo, and Afternic.
Landing on a brokerage page is not a very encouraging sign. It typically means that you are dealing with very motivated sellers who know the domain market inside-out. This significantly reduces your chance of getting the name for cheap.
A couple of pointers for dealing with brokerage firms:
BuyDomains and DomainNameSales usually own the names they sell. They have massive portfolios and won’t usually let go of the name for cheap.
Sedo and Afternic names are owned by third-parties. Brokers at these firms are motivated to make a sale, regardless of price. You might be able to get the name for cheap by exercising your negotiation skills.
Once you know what domain’s use, it’s time to look-up the owner.
Step 2: Find out who owns the domain name
The next step is to find the domain’s owner. Not only should you know who owns the domain, but also how many domains he/she owns. This will impact the price you pay for the name.
To do this, we will use WHOIS.sc. This is one of the best WHOIS tools around that gives a complete overview of the domain’s registration history and owner records.
Start by entering your domain name in the WHOIS.sc website and hitting Search.
Take a look at the top of the page under Email:
This shows the number of domain names associated with the registrant’s email. It is a very important number in the domain buying process.
If the total number of names registered against an email is very high (say, over 300), it means that the registrant is a professional domain trader, developer or large business. This makes it harder to get a good bargain.
If the total registered names is low (under 50), it may indicate an amateur owner who may not be aware of market prices for domains. In this case, you may be able to get a good deal.
In many cases, you’ll find that the registrant has millions of emails associated with its name. This usually happens when the domain owner has opted for WHOIS privacy. This hides the owner’s contact details.
Common WHOIS privacy services are Domains By Proxy, WHOISGuard, etc. If the owner has opted for WHOIS privacy, it might be difficult to get in touch with him via email. Keep this in mind when you proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Make an offer for the domain
If the domain is not owned by a large company, doesn’t house an existing business, and isn’t blocked by WHOIS privacy, you have a good chance of buying the name.
Follow these steps:
1. Study domain prices before making an initial offer
Before you make an offer, it is a good idea to study recent domain sales so you get an idea of current market values.
Some sites to do this are:
Flippa Just Sold list
NameBio domain sales database
DNJournal domain sales reports
Generally speaking, domain prices follow these trends:
Dictionary word .coms go for thousands of dollars.
Shorter domains are more valuable than longer names.
All 3 letter names (such as ABC.com) go for upwards of $10,000.
.Net domains go for 1/10th to 1/20th of .com prices.
Once you have a ballpark figure, proceed to the step below.
2. Send a purchase offer via email
Use a template like this:
Hi [Registrant Name],
I’m a developer interested in acquiring your domain name [DomainName].
I can offer you $100/$500 for it.
This email does three things:
The subject line will likely miss the owner’s spam filter — and stand out in the inbox.
It’s short and to the point.
An initial offer shows that you are willing to pay for the name.
We suggest starting with a low offer (around $100 to $500, or more if it’s a high value name). If you don’t hear back, try to increase it by another couple of hundred dollars or commensurate with what your budget allows.
To quickly recap:
Buy: Unused or parked domains, owned by non-professional domain owners.
Avoid: Existing websites/businesses owned by domain brokerage firms, professional domain owners and large businesses.
Scenario III: The domain name has expired
In some cases, you will find the perfect domain name, only to realize that it has expired.
Every domain name is registered in one year increments (minimum: one year, maximum: ten years). If the owner doesn’t renew the subscription at the end of the registration period, the domain becomes expired.
Once the domain owner fails to renew the name, it goes through the following three stages:
Expired: Lasts between 0 and 45 days. Domain owner can renew the name during this period.
Redemption Period: WHOIS records deleted, but owner can renew for a steep price. Lasts 30 days.
Pending Delete: Domain goes back to registrar and cannot be renewed.
Once a domain exits the pending delete status, it doesn’t always become free to register. Instead, it is usually snapped up by an expired domain auction site, or grabbed by a domain backordering service.
Let’s learn more about this.
The expired domain drop catching process
Most registrars have agreements in place with auction sites for selling off their expiring names.
This means that once any registered name expires, it is handed off to the auction site. Here, others can bid for the name. Once the domain is actually deleted, it goes to the highest bidder.
The three major auction sites and their partner registrars are as follows:
SnapNames: Moniker, Melbourne IT, Tucows, Directi, Domain.com
NameJet: eNom, Network Solutions, Register.com, Name.com, Fabulous
GoDaddy: GoDaddy, Wild West Domains
Most high-value names will likely find plenty of bidders at any expired name auction. However, in case there are no bidders for the name, it is released to the general pool.
This is where things get interesting: once the domain is released by the registrar, there is a virtual free for all to register it. You can try registering it yourself, but will most likely fail.
One solution is to make use of a drop catching service.
A drop catching service is essentially a domain registrar that will catch a deleted name for you. You are usually charged a backorder fee that ranges from $18.95 to $89. In most cases, the fee is only payable if the registrar actually manages to register the name for you.
Some of the most prominent domain drop catching services today are:
NameCatch.org (for .in and .org domains)
Dynadot (best for domains registered at Dynadot)
Park.io (for .io and .ly names)
DomainMonster.com (best for .co.uk names)
How to catch an expired domain name
To backorder an expired domain name, follow the steps:
Step 1: Figure out the domain’s registrar
In your WHOIS tool, type in the domain and check its registrar name:
Take note of this name and proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Place a backorder on the registrar’s preferred auction partner
The best way to grab a domain is to place a backorder for it on the domain’s auction partner (as listed above).
To do this, simply search for the name on the auction site:
Once you find the name, click Backorder and complete the checkout process.
Step 3: Place a backorder on other platforms
To increase your chances of catching the name, place a backorder for the name on each of the drop catching services listed above.
Now once the domain expires, one of the following two things might happen:
Case #1: The domain name has multiple backorders. In this case, the name goes to auction and is registered to the highest bidder.
Case #2: The domain name is caught by the auction partner and has no bidders. If you have a backorder on the auction site, you’ll get it straight away. Otherwise, it is caught by a drop-catching service.
For best results, we recommend placing a backorder on as many services as possible. Since the fee is only payable if the name is successfully caught, you don’t stand to lose much anyway.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is a TLD?
TLD — Top Level Domain is another term for domain extension.
ccTLD — Country Code Top Level Domain is the term used for country specific extensions such as .us (USA), .co.uk (UK), .de (Germany), .ru (Russia), .in (India), .com.mx (Mexico), etc.
gTLDs — Generic Top Level Domains are recently launched extensions with descriptive words such as .club, .space, .cool, .rocks, etc.
The two terms — domain extension and TLD are often used interchangeably.
Q. What domain extension should I buy?
Follow these guidelines for selecting TLDs:
First priority: .com
Second priority: .co, .net and .org
If running a local store: ccTLDs such as .in, .de, .ru, .cn (only if .com is not available)
Avoid: gTLDs such as .club, .space, etc.
Q. What domain registrar should I use?
Any that you are comfortable with. Some of the most popular registrars are:
Finding the perfect domain name is not easy, but if you are willing to put in the effort, you can get just the right name for your business. Focus on picking the right extension and follow the paths outlined above to grab the name of your choice — even if it is already registered.
Have you ever bought a previously registered domain name? Let us know in the comments!