Ask LH: What Do I Do When Someone Has A Domain Name I Want?

Ask LH: What Do I Do When Someone Has A Domain Name I Want?

Dear Lifehacker, I’d really like to register the domain name for my last name, but it’s already taken. The frustrating part is that the person who owns the domain name doesn’t seem to be doing anything with it. Is there anything I can do? Thanks, That’s My Name!

Photos by Alexander Supertramp (Shutterstock) and Erin Nekervis

Dear TMN,

It is frustrating when you think of the perfect domain name and then find out it’s already taken, especially if the owner doesn’t seem to be using it. Sometimes, they may even be “squatting” on these domain names hoping to make a quick buck from you, the person that wants to buy it. Unless there’s a trademark issue involved, though, you can’t really force someone to give up a domain name they own. But there are some things you can do.

Decide Whether A Different Domain Name Will Work

This may not be the suggestion you want to hear, but your first step should be figuring out whether you really need that particular domain name. Your first option here would be to see whether other domain suffixes are available, like .org, .net or .me.

But in all honesty, .com is kind of where it’s at, especially if you want people to remember the name. So you may be better off changing what comes before the dot than what comes after. Though they may sound a bit silly at first blush, you could incorporate the name you want into a slightly different name. For example, instead of, you could go with something like:


You want to make it something easy to remember and easy to spell, so avoid inserting hyphens or using clever misspellings that no one will think of typing.

Find Out Who Owns The Name You Want

Ask LH: What Do I Do When Someone Has A Domain Name I Want?

If you’re really set on that one domain name, the first step in trying to get it is to find out who owns it. Fortunately, that’s usually fairly easy to come by using a service called Whois. Many registrars offer the service, so if you’re already looking up the name at the registrar of your choice the information might just be a click away.

Other sites also offer Whois lookup and you can find them with a quick search. Network Solutions is pretty reliable. Type in the full domain name, and get that domain’s public information. When a domain name is registered, the purchaser has to enter email addresses for the registrant, admin and tech contacts. Often, they’re all the same address and you may find that the address is for a domain holding company, but at least you have a place to start.

Make An Offer To Buy The Name

Ask LH: What Do I Do When Someone Has A Domain Name I Want?

After you’ve found the owner of the domain name (or at least an email address), the next step is making contact. How you go about this is up to you, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Even if there’s no actual web site at the address, the registrant might be using it for other purposes, such as for email addresses. In your initial contact, you might want to avoid telling them they should sell it to you because they’re not using it.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable making an offer right off the bat, just ask them if they’d consider selling it. Let them know it’s a name you’d like to have, but keep your interest fairly casual.
  • Expect ridiculous prices. People often overestimate the value of domain names they hold. Make a counter offer. Haggle if you want to. But just be ready for them not to come down on the price much. Also, keep in mind that if it’s a common name, they may be justified in expecting a higher price and they may have had offers already.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to really gauge what a domain name is worth. It’s all about the demand.

Monitor The Name In Case It Expires

Ask LH: What Do I Do When Someone Has A Domain Name I Want?

If you’re unable to contact the registrant or they set too high a price, your last option is just to wait for the domain to expire (if the registrant lets it expire) and try to register it yourself. That can get a bit tricky, though.

When a domain name expires, the registrant is usually sent a bunch of emails warning them about it first. If they let it expire, most registrars allow them 30-45 days after registration to renew it. Even then, some registrars will make the name available for general registration and some will put it up for auction. It depends on the registrar.

Many registrars offer a monitoring service that you can use to keep an eye on domains and be alerted when they expire. Some, like sedo, even offer brokerage services that will attempt to purchase domain names on your behalf. The fee will vary depending on the price at which they acquire the name, if they can.

Overall, monitoring a domain for expiry can certainly work, but it isn’t something you can count on. And it isn’t something that’s likely to happen quickly, so if you need to get your web site out there, our best advice is to bite the bullet and see if you can’t come up with a different name.


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