Buying registered domains: purchasing your desired website address directly from the owner

‘First come, first served’, as the saying goes. Registering a domain is a simple process, but low prices are leading to an increasing shortage of concise website addresses. Website owners are still finding this a problem, despite the fact that new top-level domains are being created. This is partly due to the growing internet use across the world and the resulting boom in website domains. Ever more companies are becoming aware of the potential of online business and quickly snap up attractive domains. But there isn’t always a website under every address. Websites are in high demand and so the internet is full of domain traders who register promising word combinations under the most popular TLDs in the hope of selling them at a profit later. Is your desired domain already taken? Get in touch with the owner and make them an offer.

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Six steps to getting your desired domain

Have a concept for a promising online project but the corresponding domain is already in use? If this is the case, your only option is usually to purchase the desired domain. Our guide shows you how to do this in six steps.

1. Identifying the domain owner

In order to buy a registered domain, you first need to find out who the owner is. You have two options here. If a website is actually under the desired domain, there should be information on how to contact the owner. However, a domain isn’t always registered with the intention of being used; domain traders often secure sought-after website addresses so that they can resell them for a profit. Websites like these often have improvised landing pages to let the visitor know that the domain is for sale or to encourage them to click on parking sites, which are full of advertisements. Alternatively, you can use the WHOIS database from the Domain Name Registry to determine a domain’s owner. Each domain administrative agency is obliged to keep a central register where the contact information of the domain owner (or holder) and the administrative contact details are kept. The WHOIS databases are publicly available and can be accessed for free. On the ICANN website you can find out who certain domains belong to. 1&1 also provides a domain lookup service.

2. Calculating the budget

Taking over a domain is often a costly business. Before contacting the holder, you should work out what your budget is and how much the desired domain is worth. It’s also worth finding out which business model the domain owner is using with this website address and seeing how profitable it is. Purchasing the domain of a successful website that attracts lots of visitors under the website address will cost more than a parked domain that obtains its profit from advertising. Estimate the market potential and usability of the website and find out about its SEO status. Does the domain rank for relevant keywords in the search engine? Is there an existing backlink profile? And how high is the quality of inbounds links coming from other websites? Current SEO tools such as SISTRIX, Searchmetrics, or Ahrefs enable you to work out how important the domain is in the search engine’s eyes. Use this information to work out how much the domain is worth and the maximum price you want to invest.

3. Stating your purchasing intention

Now that you’ve done your research and decided to make the domain owner an offer, you need to make sure you directly contact the right person; e-mails sent to general addresses run the risk of being ignored or ending up in the spam folder. Find out who the manager or domain investor is and submit your offer directly to the person responsible for the decision making. It’s recommended to first contact them without mentioning any costs; express your interest in buying the domain and enquire about the possible price.

4. Starting price negotiations

Price negotiation is always a sensitive issue, and it is no different with domain trading. Give yourself room to negotiate by starting your first bid well below your limit. Make sure that you don’t lose sight of the domain’s value; if your bid is too low your negotiating partner might feel snubbed, but if you start too high you’ll lose more money than you need to. Be aware that you don’t just have to fork out the costs of the transfer; you also need to keep in mind how much it will cost to run the domain in the future. The purchasing price of an occupied domain isn’t restricted, therefore it’s not unusual to see popular combinations of domain names and top-level domains going for hundreds of thousands of pounds. The domain trade is a growing business and there's certainly a lot of money to be made.

5. Concluding the domain sale

If you managed to agree on a realistic transfer fee with your negotiating partner, it’s now time to get the agreement in writing. There are many contract templates available online for free, such as the ones from IPWatchdog. Both parties should have identical copies of this contract with the exact domain name and transfer price agreed upon. It’s advisable to note how and when the fee should be paid as well as when the transfer counts as complete (this is generally as soon as the new owner is listed in the WHOIS database of the responsible registry). The purchase can alternatively take place through a third party. You’ll find many of these services offered by various domain name marketplaces on the internet.

6. Transferring the domain

The final step of the transfer process is the official change of ownership on the relevant registry. Here, the current owner relinquishes their rights so that you can take their place. In other words, this means that the previous domain contract is cancelled and you can make a new one with the administrator. This is done either in the form of a change of ownership request via the previous domain holder’s provider or you can change to a provider of your choice. This is known as a domain transfer. Further information on changing a domain’s ownership can be found on ICANN’s website.

A short BBC documentary explains how domain traders, also referred to as “domainers”, can make hundreds, thousands, or even millions of pounds from buying and selling domains. In this video, find out how some domain traders got involved in this big moneymaking business.