What to do if the domain name you want is taken

You’ve started your own business, club, or blog, and you can’t wait to share it with the world. There’s still work to be done, but the primary focus is now on branding. You do some critical thinking about your product and your industry, come up with a list of potential brand names, and pick one that fits perfectly—it’s clever, descriptive, and extremely easy to remember. Now to register the domain.

Or not. It’s taken.

Trying to get “the perfect domain” can be really frustrating, or, at the very least, really expensive. Well over 100 million .COM domains are currently registered,, and the estimated total of registered domains topped a quarter of a billion last year. More likely than not, “the good ones” are already taken.

What’s a person to do? Well, there are a few options, which we’ll break down for you in this series on getting the right domain for your brand, even if the name you really want is already registered.

  1. I think the domain I want is taken. Help!
  2. What is domain squatting/cybersquatting?
  3. Someone has registered a domain with my trademark. What do I do?
  4. How do I find out if the domain I want becomes available?
  5. If I can’t get the domain I want, how do I pick a memorable alternative?

I think the domain I want is taken. Help!

Your first step is to enter the domain name you’re interested in here. The list provided will show you which domain extensions (like .COM and .CO) are available with your desired name, and also which have already been registered. (And keep in mind that not every registered domain has an active website. You can have as many domains as you want as long as you keep paying for them.)

If a domain name is not showing as available, some reasons might be that the owner:

  • is using it for a website
  • is planning to use it on a site that’s not launched yet
  • is only using the domain for email addresses (e.g. hello@theperfectdomain.com)
  • is keeping it because the name is similar to a domain he/she is actively using and the domain is being redirected to their site
  • has an idea for the future and registered the domain in advance
  • is just fond of the name
  • wants to prevent other entities from using his/her name or brand

Can I just register the same name with a different domain extension?

Sure, if “theperfectdomain.com” is already registered, you could always just register the same domain name with a different extension, e.g. “theperfectdomain.info”. The biggest potential problem with using alternative extensions is that people could forget your domain, and by default go to the .COM domain instead.

Slowly but surely though, people are embracing top-level domains (TLDs) other than .COM. (In case you’re wondering, the TLD is the part of the domain after the dot, e.g. the “COM” in theperfectdomain.com) And with hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) hitting the market, ranging from city names (e.g. .LONDON and .BERLIN) to hobbies and professions (e.g. .PHOTOGRAPHY and .ACCOUNTANTS) to surnames (e.g. .KIM or .WANG), it’s becoming more normal by the day.

However, it will take time for people to get used to this new world where anything is .POSSIBLE. (Note: .POSSIBLE is not actually one of the new gTLDs, though it should be.) Just be aware of the hopefully short-term drawbacks to using a TLD other than .COM.

Couldn’t I just get a username on a big web platform?

Having your own domain name, even if it’s not perfect, is a far better option than building your online presence on top of another service’s URL, e.g. yourshop.shopify.com or facebook.com/yourcompany. This practice of building your brand, service, or web presence on another organization’s platform is an example of “sharecropping”, and can be problematic for a number of reasons.

With this sharecropping setup, the platform you’re hosted on:

  • controls how your presence can look or function (e.g. templates and tiered feature offerings depending on how much you pay).
  • can change services or raise rates, leaving you little recourse, since not accepting/paying could mean losing your site.
  • can control how much exposure you get. There’ve been lots of articles about issues with brands on Facebook getting ever-lessening exposure of their content to their fans if they don’t pay for advertising.
  • can limit your access to analytics, making it hard to know how large your audience is, what they’re doing on your site, or where they’re engaging when they’re there.
  • can simply take your site offline without much notice, explanation or recourse if you are deemed to have violated terms of service or other issues. It can take a lot of time and frustration to get these issues sorted out, and all the while your site is unavailable to anyone.

You can always switch domains later, but it’s a good idea to start with a web address you control while you build up your search engine visibility.

If someone isn’t using the domain I want, is there a way I can just have it?

No. Well, not without the owner agreeing to transfer it to you.

If a domain is registered to someone else, they have paid for it and own it. Having an active website isn’t required to own a domain, and as long as the person pays to renew ownership, no one else can have the domain, even if they don’t appear to be using it—unless that person agrees to transfer or sell the domain, or lets it expire. (Or, in some cases, if their ownership or usage of the domain violates someone else’s trademark.)

Asking a registrar to take a domain for you won’t work, either. Registrars have no more legal right to remove it from the owner than you do, and this applies globally, not just in a specific country. Think of it in reverse: if someone else decided they wanted your domain, would you be okay with us just taking it from you and giving it to them, regardless of what you were doing with it?

What is domain squatting/cybersquatting?

In short, domain squatting (occasionally still called cybersquatting) is where people register domains that are closely related to a trademark or brand, with the intention of selling them off for (sometimes very large) profit. By doing this, squatters are gambling that the company or person targeted will just pay what the squatter wants to avoid expensive legal proceedings and the risk of being denied the rights to that domain name.

For example, a registrant might register “thisismycompany.ca” in hopes that the company, which is based in New Zealand, for example, would start doing a lot of business in Canada and want to buy that domain. Or if a company was launching a new product called SuperNamer, and a registrant who didn’t represent the company registered “supernamer.com” to try and make the company pay for that domain so they could launch their new product with the most recognizable domain name.

Domain squatting can also be done accidentally by someone with good intentions, e.g. a big fan of a particular celebrity, character or sports team. That person could register the domain, e.g. “batman.com” and set up a fan site dedicated to all things Batman, even though the site isn’t owned by DC Comics, who own the rights to the Batman character.

As noted, the person who set up the site might just be a huge Batman fan, but the person could also be hoping that DC will offer them a lot of money for the domain to avoid legal wrangling (though, in this case, the squatter wouldn’t have much of a case).

Legally, resolving domain squatting requires determining several things. Is the domain name part of someone’s trademark? Is the domain name part of a well-known brand, even if not trademarked? (Like a celebrity’s identity, e.g. it’s unlikely anyone’s going to assume “georgeclooney.com” is about anyone other than the actor.) Was the person who bought the domain acting in “good faith” (e.g. big fan) or “bad faith” (i.e. hoping to profit from identity assumptions or sale)?

Bad faith domain squatting is illegal, but can still be expensive to resolve through legal channels.

What is the difference between domain speculation and squatting?

There’s no single, definitive (i.e. legally binding) definition, but generally squatting implies “bad faith” intent on the part of the person or company that has registered the domain.

That means they have no interest in or intentions of creating a website for the domain or otherwise using it (like it becoming the main web presence for their business). That person just bought it to sell it for more than they paid for it (ideally much more).

Domain speculation, on the other hand, involves registering domains that might be useful or of interest, but which don’t block an existing trademark or brand. For example, instead of registering a variant of an existing company’s domain, a domain speculator would register something more general, like “weselldomains.com”, in hopes that some domain registrar might want it.

Speculators are often more open about the fact that the domains in their portfolio are for sale, as well. Whereas squatters might set up a basic page to make it marginally look like the domain is in use, or create a parking page (a temporary page, usually used to as a placeholder until a real site is ready) full of ads to try to get click traffic for extra revenue until they can sell the domain.

Some squatters own many domains, though some will only target a few, since the more domains you own that haven’t sold yet, the more money you’ve invested without return. Speculators often own a large portfolio of domains, targeting various industries with a selection of relevant terms.

Domain squatting, if a person’s or company’s actions are deemed to be that, is illegal. Some countries have specific laws against squatting that are more specific than standard trademark law. However, since the internet is a global entity, issues of jurisdiction can arise.

What do I do if has registered a domain with my trademark?

You will need to follow the instructions outlined in ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP). Consulting a lawyer may also be useful in ensuring your case is as strong as possible.

Note, however, that even though you own the trademark, a domain squatter will still likely fight to keep the domain, since it was purchased in the first place to make money. Getting the domain name may be expensive, but if you own the trademark (or are a celebrity), you have a good chance of getting the domain from the squatter. Really, it comes down to whether it’s worth the trouble.

Can I buy the domain I want from the owner?

Possibly. Certainly you can contact the person or company and see if they’re interested in selling it. Be aware though that the person who owns the domain is under no obligation to sell it, may want a lot more money for it than you’re willing or able to pay, and may not be very interested in negotiating the price. Best to start off by casually (and politely) asking if the owner would be interested in selling without sharing too much about who you are and why you want the domain.

As an interested buyer, your only leverage is how much you’re willing or able to spend, and your ability to walk away if you can’t come to agreeable terms. It’s always a good idea to have other options available to you.

Also, don’t order business cards or marketing collateral with a specific domain name on them if you don’t absolutely positively own the domain already. That’s just setting yourself up for failure.

How do I find out who owns the domain I want?

To find out who owns a domain, try a WHOIS lookup. Typically the contact information of the person who owns the domain will appear on the search results page.

Even if they are using a privacy service, there should still be an email address you can use to contact the owner, or at least a domain holding company. If a domain is held by a company wanting to make money on selling domains, they’re probably going to make it easy to get a hold of them.

How much is the domain I want worth?

That depends on a lot of factors. There is no service you can check to see what a given domain should be worth. Any site that claims to tell you what your domain name or social media account is worth is just using some arbitrary calculation. They are just for fun and have no legal use or bearing on actual domain value or prices.

Any domain is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it (assuming the owner is interested in selling at all). Note that some domain owners have pretty grandiose ideas about what their domain is worth, or think they can get rich quick off some desperate buyer.

There are many things that can influence the cost of a domain name. Some examples:

  1. the word(s) in the name are simple, clear and common, including standard spellings
  2. the word(s) is a recognizable person, company, product, etc. (i.e. don’t expect to get “coke.com”)
  3. the domain is already in use (as noted, there’s a website, email addresses, etc.)
  4. the domain name is related to something that may become important in the future, e.g. an event, new product, etc.
  5. how badly the owner can tell that you want it
  6. how badly the owner needs or wants the money
  7. how much you appear to be willing or able to pay for it (e.g. there’s a good chance that the price may be higher if a company wants a domain than if just an individual person does)
  8. the legal status of the domain (e.g. is it a registered trademark)
  9. the state of the industry or economy (e.g. during a tech bubble, like many things, domain name prices may become inflated).

How do I find out if the domain I want becomes available?

If you’re not comfortable contacting the domain owner directly, or you tried and didn’t get a response, you can attempt to procure the domain when it expires.

This is anything but a guaranteed strategy, however. Most registrars remind their customers early and often prior to domains expiring. Many registrars also auto-renew domains by default as long as the customer’s payment details are accurate and up to date. (iwantmyname does both of these things for their customers.)

Even if a domain’s ownership does expire, many registrars give their customers a grace period after expiration so they can still renew it, sometimes at a considerably increased cost. (This pricing is set by the registries, not registrars like iwantmyname.)

You could also try a domain monitoring service, which alerts you to status changes and expirations for your domains, or others that are of interest to you. Be aware though that this offering can be an upsell attempt by some registrars. (iwantmyname does not offer this service.)

Backordering services are also popular, and if you want a maximum chance of getting the domain if/when it expires, we recommend using all of them. Most of these services will only charge you if they manage to procure the domain, but some charge in advance. Here are a few popular options:

Can you make an offer for a domain name for me?

This service is called brokerage, and iwantmyname does not offer any domain brokerage services. We recommend contacting Sedo or DomainAgents to assist.

What brokers will do is contact the domain owner (if they can), then make an offer for the domain for you, handle negotiations, and finalize the agreement to purchase and transfer the domain. You will pay the broker a fee in addition to whatever price you pay for the domain name itself.

If I can't get the domain I want, how do I pick a memorable alternative?

As mentioned before, you could look for a variant of “theperfectdomain”. But be aware of potential confusion if the domain extension (e.g. .NET / .GURU / .CA) is the only difference between your domain and someone else’s.

You could try small changes to the domain name you want, like adding or dropping an article. Instead of “companyname”, use “thecompanyname” or “getproductname”. Again, there is still a good chance people will get confused.

Instead of directly referring to your company, group, or topic name, you could focus on something relevant and important, like what the product or service enables you to do. A photographer could register a domain using “shoot” or “snap”, or referencing “memories”. A group of pilots could use “fly” or “wings,” or “soar”. Using slang or terminology common among your group could make for a memorable domain name as well.

Another consideration is where you or your organization is located geographically. Should you embrace the international nature of the Internet, or stay local? Should you use a gTLD or a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) that shows your roots, like .CA for Canada or .NZ for New Zealand?

You could also use a TLD to “hack” the domain and create an interesting and relevant phrase. For example, if you wanted to register “bobswaffles.com”, but it was taken, instead you could register “bobswaffl.es” (using .ES, Spain’s ccTLD). Be sure to read our guide to everything you need to know about domain hacks.

Photo credit: Emily Mills