Dear Lifehaker, In light of the new budget incentives for innovative startups, I've finally decided to take the plunge and start up my own online business. Unfortunately, the website domain name I want is already taken by a US blogger. The site appears to be dormant with no updates since early 2013. I've tried contacting the owner, even offering to purchase, but he won't respond. What can I do? Thanks, DC
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Acquiring a domain name is a bit like playing musical chairs -- except everyone sat down on the best seats years ago and refuse to get up. This has given rise to so-called "cybersquatting" where people purchase attractive sounding domain names with the express purpose of turning a profit from desperate buyers.
In your case, it seems that the original owner was using the URL for legitimate purposes, but later abandoned it for whatever reason. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do in this situation. Much like with physical real estate, you can't take over digital property simply because the owner isn't currently using it. Likewise, the owner has every right to ignore prospective buyers if they have no wish to sell.
With that said, there are a few options open to you. One solution is to go with a different suffix, such as .net, .org or .biz. These days, hardly anyone types an entire URL into their browser's address bar -- instead, most traffic comes via Google searches and social media links. While it would be nice to have a URL that ends in .com.au, it's unlikely to make much difference to the success of your business.
In addition to the aforementioned usual suspects, there's a massive range of more colourful top level domain (TLD) suffixes to choose from. For example, if your business idea is cloud related, you could purchase "www.sitename.cloud" for around $30. Not too shabby.
Another option is to slightly tweak your website's name to make it unique. Try chucking a "the" at the start, an "AU" at the end or a hyphen in the middle. There should be plenty of variations available that won't dilute your brand or affect search engine optimisation (SEO.) While this can potentially lead to accusations of trademark infringement, it's unlikely to be an issue for a dead blog.
Alternatively, you could bide your time and wait for the domain name to expire. If it isn't being used, the owner is unlikely to renew it. To find out how long this is going to take, head to DomainTools.com, type the web address into the search bar and scroll down to expiry information. If you're lucky, you might be able to pounce on the name before anyone else does. Good luck!
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