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For a domain investor, buying a domain name is second nature. Investors hand register domain names, purchase domain names via expiry and private auctions, and acquire domain names owned by others via private acquisitions. For people who aren’t in the domain name business, acquiring a domain name can be confusing, frustrating, and challenging.
When I want to buy a domain name owned by someone else when the landing page or website doesn’t provide information, the first thing I look at is the Whois record. Among other information, public Whois data provides the domain registrant’s name, location, email address, and phone number. Domain registrars like GoDaddy have Whois lookup tools, as do third party services like DomainTools. Oftentimes, the registrar where the domain name is registered offers the most detailed information.
With Whois privacy becoming the norm due to privacy laws and registrar changes, it has become more difficult to purchase domain names using Whois contact information. There are two ways that may enable a prospective buyer to get in touch with the registrant via Whois. Registrars like Network Solutions and GoDaddy have pre-filled Whois contact forms to enable a third party to connect with a domain registrant if the domain name is registered at the registrar where the search is done. This is hit or miss since many registrants ignore these emails (in my experience).
When I want to get directly in touch with a domain registrant, I prefer to use a paid service like DomainTools or DomainIQ to find an older, pre-privacy Whois address. DomainTools has its Whois History tool, and this will allow me to look back over the years and months from before a domain name’s Whois record went private. Phone numbers may also be listed for a person who would prefer to make a phone call. If a domain name changed hands since that last public Whois record – or if the email no longer works – the Whois History tool won’t be helpful.
If Whois records aren’t yielding much – or if a paid service is not desired, I often use to try and find the registrant’s information. I can either find contact information on the archived website or find personal/corporate information I can use to search Google for current contact information.
When I email a domain owner directly, I am always straight and to the point. I let them know I want to buy the domain name and make an offer I believe is reasonable. This should at least open the door to a discussion if there is any interest in selling. I generally make an offer I believe is reasonable but I leave room to improve it a bit if necessary.
I use my real name when I inquire, but many prefer to use a fictitious email or an email address of someone else. Personally, I prefer to be open and transparent so I don’t need to remember fictional information or get someone else involved. I do understand the desire to remain anonymous though, so that is a decision the buyer needs to make at the outset. I strongly recommend not leading an email with “I am a student on a budget” or “I want to use this for a non-profit” or some other BS that will likely be ignored.
If you are able to find the contact information for a registrant but it doesn’t yield a reply, there may be a couple reasons. The registrant may not want to sell the domain name under any circumstance. There’s no sense in replying to someone when the domain name is not for sale. Another reason is the purchase offer is too low. Domain names can have substantial value, and an uneducated offer will often be ignored. Think of it this way – if you received a $10,000 offer to buy your home when you paid $750,000 and Zillow says it’s worth $1,100,000, would you even bother to reply to that non-serious prospective buyer?
If you aren’t having luck contacting the buyer, you may want to use a brokerage service, of which there are many. For lower value names, you might use Domain Agents or GoDaddy’s Domain Brokerage Service. These two anonymous buying services charge a relatively small upfront fee and a % of a successful acquisition fee. They will contact the domain registrant on your behalf (or try) and negotiate on your behalf. For higher value domain names, you might consult with a domain broker who does the same but may be able to offer a more white glove type of service.
Notably, it may be more challenging to buy a domain name that is owned by a company rather than an individual. Not only do you need to make contact with the registrant, but you need to contact the right person at the company who can make a decision about selling a domain name. Sometimes – maybe even oftentimes, the Whois contact won’t make the effort to forward on acquisition emails. In the case of corporate domain registrants, I like to contact the corporate counsel for larger companies and the President / CEO for smaller companies.
While it will cost more to use a domain broker or domain brokerage service, the benefit is that you will be able to work with an experienced broker who not only might have better luck getting in touch with the domain owner but can also guide you on domain name values. If your budget is $500 but the domain name is worth $25,000, the broker can help you understand that an acquisition is unlikely. That said, sometimes it is worth inquiring because domain name values are dynamic and you may catch a registrant on a day they are looking for liquidity.
One key takeway is that it is important to do some general domain name valuation research before making an offer. NameBio is a great resource with millions of domain name sales archived. Look up some similar keywords to see how much those names sold for in the past. Under$tand that you’re making an un$olicited offer and need to convince the owner to $ell hi$ domain name.
Buying a domain name from someone else can be difficult, but it can be done on your own or with the help of a domain broker.
Thanks, Elliot, for yet another amazing guide. The WHOIS history trick is particularly useful.
thanks for info
Learn all about investing in domain names in this comprehensive free domain investing guide.
Thanks for continuing to blog and make announcements Elliot. I’m very happy the ICA is having its annual meeting in…
Thanks for correcting. Hoping to get there next time.
Actually the third year Elliot. First year at the Green Valley Ranch, and last year at the Hilton Resorts World.…
thanks for info
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