It’s a heartbreaker every time—with a flash of inspiration, or perhaps after weeks of deliberation—a business owner decides on the perfect domain name, only to discover that it’s not available! But what can you do when your dream domain name is already taken?
In this article, we’ll go over three options:
- Using a similar name.
- Using a completely different name.
- Doing whatever it takes to get your first choice.
One of the first two options will probably be your best bet, but it all depends on the answer to one key question:
What happens when you navigate to the domain?
So let’s start with that and then we’ll get into the three options a site owner has when the domain they want is not available.
How is the Domain Being Used?
You may have been on a domain registrar’s name search page when you found out the name you want is not available. The first thing many people do in that situation is to enter the domain name in their browser to see what comes up.
If the domain you want takes visitors directly to a business’s website, that domain is fully in use, so you’re probably not going to be able to buy it.
But what if the domain is parked? A parked domain is one that’s been purchased but is not the primary domain associated with a business’s website. Registrars and hosting companies offer parking services that let domain owners determine how the domain will be used. Users who navigate to a parked domain may see an “Under Construction” page or a web page that presents ads. In some cases, they’ll be redirected to a website that’s associated with the domain owner’s primary domain.
If you see a placeholder page or ads when you enter your dream domain name, you’re in luck: there’s a good chance you could purchase the domain.
What about Options 1 and 2? The decision to zig or zag—to use a similar name or one that’s different—can be a complicated one.
If multiple companies are vying for the same keyword-laced domain name, almost anything goes when creating variations on that name. All the players know there will be multiple similar domain names. Let the best website win!
On the other hand, an in-use domain name already has brand power that can be hard to compete with. Depending on the market your business operates in, you may need to come up with a very different, possibly better domain name: one that can be a differentiator for your business.
As we get into the three paths that are available when the domain you want is taken, your decision should be based partly on what you see when you navigate to the domain.
Option 1. Be Flexible—Use a Variation of the Domain Name
If your business competes with multiple companies that all want an SEO-perfect domain name for the niche you all share, you can play that game as well as they can!
In this section, we’ll give you some tips on selecting a domain name that, even though wasn’t your first choice, is so close to it that the difference will be negligible.
Same Name, Different Extension
How important is the extension part of your web address?
Unless you choose something spammy like .buzz or. top, no one will be put off if your domain doesn’t end in one of the common extensions.
So, if yourdomain.com isn’t available, you can simply go for yourdomain.net, for example.
There are popular extensions that have been around for a while, like .biz and .info, plus newer extensions like .club and .shop. You can view changing the extension as a good thing, selecting one that’s memorable and describes what your business does.
Make a Small Change and Move On
There’s another option for site owners whose ideal domain name is taken. You can modify the name in some small way that barely lowers its impact.
If yourdomain.com isn’t available, try variations that make sense. Especially in cases where you’re still establishing your brand, you have the chance to play with the domain name a little.
If you wanted newyorkdental.com, wouldn’t NYdental.com be just as good?
Perhaps using a variation of your business name with an SEO-friendly keyword could solve the problem. Building on our example above, if newyorkdental.com and NYdental.com are taken, there’s a good chance you can lock down a domain name like NYpainlessdental.com.
The key to this approach is letting your first choice go and realizing that you might come up with a domain name that’s better than what you originally had in mind.
A Look-alike Domain Name is a No-go
This may go without saying, but, don’t commit copyright or trademark infringement.
Even if you didn’t do it intentionally, selecting a domain name that fools users into thinking they’re visiting the website of a different company could get you in big trouble.
Amazon.org and Amazoon.com both redirect to the website of the online retail giant. Amazon made this possible by purchasing variations of their domain name and setting up redirects from those pages to their homepage. Trying to use a domain name like that is definitely not recommended. Using a domain name that’s too much like an existing one can constitute trademark infringement, in which case, a court can make you stop using the name and pay damages to the owner.
Keep the law in mind when choosing your second-choice domain name!
Option 2: Go Back to the Drawing Board
When the domain name you want is not available, another option you have is to decide on a name that’s very different from the one you can’t get.
It’s important to realize that a domain name that’s being used by an established company carries some weight; the business that owns it has brand traction that might be hard to match. One tactic is to roll with it and come up with a better, very different domain name.
In some cases, a simple shift away from the business-name-as-domain-name model can be the key.
Let’s say your company is Jones Lawn Care and joneslawnecare.com is taken. You’ve got a competitor with the same last name! Rather than confuse everyone with something like jones-lawnecare.com, you could drop the idea of including your business name, instead, selecting a domain name that uses keywords related to your niche. It can be location-based (yourtownlawncare.com) or tied to what your business does, like tidylawns.com, for example.
Being forced to completely rethink your domain name doesn’t have to be bad. It can be an opportunity to reexamine the market and your target audience to come up with a unique name that will help your business stand out.
Option 3: Dig In, But Be Ready to Pay or Wait
The third option we’ll cover is not last because it’s a last resort. There are cases where it’s appropriate to go out of your way to get the exact domain name you desire. Whether you should go down this route partly depends on how the domain you want is currently being used, as we discussed above.
If the domain name you’re after navigates users to a business’s website, you can skip this section because it’s very unlikely that you’ll get the domain. However, if visitors to the domain see a placeholder page or ads, the domain name is definitely worth pursuing. With some money and patience, that domain name could be yours!
Buy the Domain from the Owner
If it seems like you may be able to buy the desired domain name, your first step will be to contact the owner and, if they’re willing to sell, make an offer. The WHOIS database will be your best resource. If you can’t get the owner’s contact information that way, you might have to go through a domain brokerage like Snapnames or Sedo. Such companies may be able to reach out to the owner and make an offer for the domain.
If you’re going to try to buy your first-choice domain name, you should carefully consider how much it’s worth to your business. Some domain owners will set the price very high simply because they can.
If you come to an agreement with the domain owner, all that’s left to do is transfer ownership of the domain, which the registrar will take care of, for a fee.
Wait for the Registration to Expire
If the domain you want is actively being used by the owner, its registry expiration date won’t matter—the owner will almost definitely renew the registration. However, if it’s a parked domain, you might be able to swoop in and buy it right after the current registration expires.
The WHOIS database is where you can find out the expiration date. If it’s not long from now, you could shelve your domain name decision until you find out if the one that’s about to expire is getable.
You can time the domain purchase attempt yourself, or you can pay a domain backordering service to handle it. Companies like NameJet have processes in place that let them automate an attempt to acquire the domain, so it occurs as close to the expiration date as possible.
You can never know the owner’s plans for the domain. The reasons for parking a domain can change over time; a formerly important domain name might lose its value to the owner, compelling them to release it as soon as the current registration expires.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when you’re waiting out a domain expiration. As with most of the approaches that involve doggedly pursuing your first-choice domain name, your mantra should be, “Hey, it’s worth a shot!”
Take Legal Action
Pursuing legal action to get the domain name you want is only appropriate in cases of copyright or trademark infringement or, to a lesser extent domain squatting.
If a business offering products or services like yours has a domain name that’s similar to your business name or the domain name you want, that could be trademark infringement, and you should contact a lawyer.
Another pitfall in domain name acquisition is the existence of domain squatters. Perpetrators of bad faith squatting buy up commonly sought-after domains, wait until someone needs them, then demand a high price to release the domain. Some domain squatting is illegal, but it’s still expensive to resolve through legal action; essentially, you would have to prove trademark infringement.
Squatting is a grey area partly because business owners commonly buy and park variations of their primary domain as a means of brand protection.
Also, the practice of buying domain names with potential value is legal. It’s known as domain speculation, and it entails registering domains that might be valuable while limiting purchases to domains that don’t infringe on existing trademarks or brands.
All in all, it will be hard to justify going to court to fight for the domain name you want. Unless you’re the victim of copyright or trademark infringement, it’s best to go with one of the other options discussed in this article.
Domain Name Drama—Don’t Let It Get to You!
It starts when we’re young—not getting what we want is incredibly frustrating.
If you can’t get the domain name you want, don’t throw a tantrum. There are plenty of options that will let you move forward.
You can stay close to your original vision, making a small change to come up with a suitably different, but available domain name.
You can go back to square one and pivot to a domain name that’s so different from your competitors’ that your business will stand out in the crowd.
Or, you can dig your heels in and try to buy the domain from the owner, wait for it to expire, or sue (if it’s the case).
As mentioned in the beginning, accepting the situation and coming up with a new domain name is usually the best approach, but depending on how the wanted domain name is being used, it might be worth trying to acquire it.
We hope this article has given you some insight into the steps you can take if the domain name of your dreams is out of reach!