Obtaining the perfect domain name


I am currently finding myself in a situation where my startup is just getting off the ground and we have the perfect company name.

Unfortunately, the domain we want is taken.

Furthermore, while this specific name is only an ad-serving page at the moment, it seems to be owned by a domain shark who owns more than 10,000 other domain names.

To top this off the WHOIS info for this specific domain has very little information and, of what is there, most of it could be completely fictional. The WHOIS information contains only one email address, but which I doubt is being used.

We have considered going with a domain broker such as Sedo or Afternic, but we are unsure as to what the success rate of such a route is.

My question is, how many of you have been in a similar situation and how did you deal with it?

What do you suggest I do in this particular situation?


asked Oct 16 '09 at 15:39
Jb Lesage
70 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • If the expiration date (from WHOIS) is approaching, you might get lucky that he doesn't renew! – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago

16 Answers


I'm a fan of trying before walking away from something you want and keeping assumptions about the Domain Owner to a minimum.

You need information i.e., what is the Seller willing to sell the domain for? Don't walk away until you know the answer to that question.

With that in mind...

(1) Email the contact in the whois entry.

(2) Keep your email professional and short and do not make an offer.

Dear XXXX,

Would you please contact me if you are interested in
selling your domain thisdomain.com?

Thank you.


My Real Name
My Real Telephone Number
My Real Email Address

(3)(a) If you receive a reply with an offer and accept the offer, proceed through Escrow.com. I have used their service three times over the past 8 years and will utilize them again in future. If the Seller does not make the offer to pay Escrow.com's fee, pay for it yourself otherwise this can become a point of contention and not a point of negotiation.

(3)(b) If you receive a reply with an offer you will not accept, make a counter-offer. Do not say anything like, "I can't go any less than $X.XX" unless you are willing to end the negotiation at that point. If the Seller makes a similar statement, thank him or her and walk away if you cannot accept the offer.

(3)(c) If you receive a reply and the Seller did not make an offer but is interested, email an offer.

(3)(d) If you do not receive a reply within some reasonable time frame, visit the domain, find the link that says something like, "this domain might be for sale," and click it. You can probably get to your Seller that way.

(3)(e) If you never receive a reply, go find another name. There are several examples of websites with funky names unrelated to the product offering that are successful. Yours can be one also. Don't get hung up on the name.

A few pointers, I would not get into a discussion about what you're going to use the domain name for, why you want it, etc.

You really don't know what is in someone's head until you can establish a dialogue. Get that dialogue started and you may find yourself the proud owner of a domain you wanted.

Hope this helps.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 22:50
Val Lynn
483 points


The trend is to say, forget the name, focus on the product. But I've seen multiple companies suffer because of a stupid name.

I worked in a startup that had a certain noun in their name that implied we offered a completely different service. It completely wasted the time of our sales and support staff and nobody "got" it. This company ended up failing hard.

I have also seen companies lose business because they were the .net instead of the .com, and people simply couldn't find them. Now with Google being what it is, this is less of a problem as people type names in there instead of the address bar.

I also have a web service of my own that uses way to general of terms in the name. People use the wrong words constantly when talking about it. It relates to the real estate industry, and with so much competition, literally goofing up on just one of the terms takes you to a competitor's site. Personally, I didn't think the service would grow as much as it did and that it wouldn't matter, but now I know, no matter what, get a good name.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 16:42
Ben Mc
421 points


You could:

(1) try e-mailing the contact details in the whois entry. The domain shark has to make money somehow, so maybe you'd succeed. Make sure you pay through an escrow service (eg escrow.com, never used them myself)

(2) if that fails, try Sedo, or afternic or make a certified offer through networksolutions

(3) try a variation of the domain name, hyphenated or with a different .tld. Of course, if you do this before you approach the domain shark then his price will go up

(4) choose a different domain name. You say you've got a 'perfect' domain name, which indicates that it reflects what you do. It might not be a good idea to name your company after your product. You'll probably end up doing something else and will end up with an ill-suiting domain name. Many companies' names don't reflect what they do (Apple, Microsoft, Google)

If you're struggling for ideas then try combining words. For me, a good company name is:

  • generic
  • memorable
  • easy to spell
answered Oct 16 '09 at 16:51
Neil Davidson
1,839 points


We recently went through this. We found it crazy how the domain dictates the name you finally go with. We also couldn't believe how some of the domains we thought we really wanted ended up costing well in the 5 digits. In the end we just kept trying to find a name whose domain we could get for cheap through godaddy. We consulted the dictionary and thesaurus daily. Talked about words and their variations (crazy or not!) aloud with others. For us, persistence paid off and we ended up with what we believe is a great company name and product name, both with the exact .com or an acceptable hyphened version available for the regular price of ~$10 annually. Bottom line: there are so many words, word combinations, and variations that even though it seems all the matching domains are gone they really are not. Keep trying, and keep an open mind. Don't get stuck on any one name until you've exhausted all options.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 00:15
176 points


Think of the URL for SEO only.

Remember, most people nowadays don't come to your site because someone reads it to them over the phone. It's because they click a link. And links can be anything.

Indeed, most links I see start with "bit.ly" or "tinyurl." Right?

So instead, put keywords in your domain name, and who cares what it looks like.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 11:21
16,231 points


I originally wrote this on my blog 000fff.org

What’s in a name – Tips for naming your startup Finding the right name for your company can be a long an laborious if not even costly task. There are however a couple principles that can help you along.

Back in the days, when I was a young and hopeful rock-star, we always struggled with finding a perfect name for the band. It always created the odd discussion that was more kindergarten than university. Well, we were young and restless, what can I say.

The main problem was that we always tried to come up with a name that would be as great as the bands we idolized, Faith No More, Metallica, Megadeth, Winger, WhiteSnake, Prodigy, Kinky Boot Beast all great names right? Well no. In retrospect we were wasting our time, valuable time, that could have been used to make music.

As I later learned, what made these names great were not the names themselves, but the music behind the names. The names were merely identifiers of great music, not the other way around.

To witness, Metallica is a pretty ugly name, when you look at it from an intellectual point of view – “we play metal so lets call ourselves Metallica”. An agency would probably never have come up with a name like that, unless it was meant as a joke. But Metallica is a great band, and we still accept their overdone chrome logo and overdone name, in fact we do more than that, we love it (well those of us who like their music at least) because it represents something we appreciate.

This might sound obvious when you think about it, but I am still puzzled by the naming game to this day. Many people still have the same idea about naming their start-up or product as we did back then.

Conventional wisdom says that you need a great name to let the greatness of your product really shine, but in my experience, great names are the byproduct of great products not the other way round.

Zyb.com was named Zyb because that was the only 3 letter .com domain name they could get at the time. Zyb was later sold to Vodafone. Definitely not because of their great name, but because of their great service. Moving forward Zyb will be called Vodafone People (see pressrelease).

Flickr.com is also one of those names that came into being by accident. The owner of Flicker.com didn’t want to sell so they went with something that phonetically sounded like the real deal. The success of Flickr spawned a whole new breed of companies, who along with gradients, drop shadow, round corners and other web 2.0 bling-bling, registered names for their phonetic character rather than their grammatical correctness.

In short, great names emerge from the great products they are associated with not the other way round. Be prepared to kill your darlings. There are no perfect names only great products.

So here are a couple of observations that might help keep your cool when deciding on a name:

It’s harder to make a decision about what name to choose than to come up with one. Therefore, find a name that says something about your company or product or something about you. That way it’s easier to make that decision. It’s nearly impossible to decide between StarFish and StarFlash if your company does music application. There is no inherent quality in either of them. Its easier to figure out whether you should choose StarTune, StarFish, FlashTune or StarFlash.

To verb or not to verb. Yes we would all love that our company or product became so popular that it would change into a verb. When everybody walks around and say “just google it” or “I will skype you” isn’t that indicators of success? Yes, but don’t bet on it to happen for your own company and don’t waste to much time trying to find a name that can be turned into a verb. If your product is a success of that magnitude people will find a way to “verbify” your name. After all we don’t twitter each other, we tweet each other. Concentrate on finding a name that you like, your success will take care of the rest.

Don’t get to caught in the quest for the holy .com extension. If your product is great, people will find it. Besides most non-techy people use the actual search field in google when they want to look you up. Even more will get to your page by clicking on a link from somewhere else. Last.fm is a good example of a company with a domain extension that are not obvious. Also DropBox only recently acquired dropbox.com before that the domain name was actually getdropbox.com. Be creative and don’t worry too much about breaking the conventions. As long as your company does well, people will find you and put the effort into remembering or bookmarking your name.

If you are not in the business of domains no domain name is worth more than $50.000. Business.com was sold for $7.5 Million in 1999 then $350 Million in 2007. Needless to say these are the exceptions and you will be hard pressed to argue for any price above $50.000 unless you are also buying access to users. If you are a start-up there is no need to spend much more than $5000. Remember what has value is your product not your name.

Your name is not your brand, interface is brand. To conclude. Your brand cannot make your product better, only you can make your name better. By making sure that your customers and users get good experiences when they interact with you, your name will gain value. Therefore concentrate on your customer service, optimizing the service, providing superior experiences and maximum utility and your name is well on it’s way to be the perfect name you wanted it to be.

Hope this was useful.

answered Jan 13 '10 at 09:35
Thom Pete
1,296 points


Is it a perfect company name or a perfect product name?

If it's a downloadable app you're shipping, there's a growing convention of offering the app at www.{product}app.com (i.e. tack an 'app' to the end). People are familiar and comfortable with that. Then change the company name to whatever matches what you do beyond that single product.

If it's a web-service then you could hyphenate or add "web" to the end, then have faith that eventually Google will bring up your domain ahead of the parked one.

Also, if you have a different company name, another option is to do the "cool-product.company.com" subdomain.

In either case I wouldn't bother with paying these guys. As soon as they think there's demand, they jack up prices and they'll keep re-upping the annual fee forever. I went through Sedo once and didn't get anywhere.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 15:57
401 points


For searching available domains by key words and alternative names, try Domize. It helped me a few times.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 21:38
221 points


I read about a company which seemed to have a compelling service, but I cannot find their web site at the moment. :(

You write them a short description of your service. And they will give you five or so available domain name suggestions. You only pay if you register one of the domains. The cost was about $50.

I looked at the examples on their web site and the suggestions were really good. Would pay for that.

If anybody knows the website for this company, please post. Thanks!

answered Oct 17 '09 at 01:03
81 points
  • Tiago below answered my question. It is indeed pickydomains.com. Thanks!! Somebody give him some points! :) – User391 14 years ago


Altavista.com was bought for $5M, because someone else grabbed their name after they launched (since they started before domain names were available). While the website is still online, it is not worth the money spent just for the domain name.

Google is a spelling mistake (should have been Googol), that just stuck, and you don't see them missing any value due to that.

It is true that in some businesses it is good to have your products name or type be your domain name. It helps with SEO, and can get you people who are guessing names into your site. One would expect that books.com would be more popular then amazon, but it leads to BarnesAndNoble.com, which is less successful.

If you can track the domain shark, and the price is right, go for it. If you don't, then do not worry, since it is not that important. You can also track that domain name and other relevant names over time and see if they become available again. Once they do, your business will be up and running, and you will be able to figure out if the investment is worth the price (if they are available to register then almost always yes, if another shark buys them, then only in the price is right)

answered Oct 16 '09 at 18:01
Ron Ga
2,181 points
  • Another similar one: One of the founders of Twitter started a new company selling a credit-card processing product called "Square", but the website is http://SquareUp.comJorgem 14 years ago


There are three types of domain names: primary, their .net (.org?) equivalents and 'other'

Primary domain names are names that very clearly communicate what the website is about.
examples are (Expect all those domains to be taken):

  • Books.com
  • Toys.com
  • Hostels.com
  • CarHire.com
and their cousins

  • Books.net
  • Toys.net
  • Hostels.net
  • CarHire.net
These domains are worth your money, they will help people find you, get a better ranking in search engine results etc. etc.

The price-difference between .com and .net is somewhere between 2× and 4×

All other domains are exactly that: other domain names.
If your domain name does not exactly communicate your business, than it will take a lot of effort on your side to get people to know you. So they are not worth a lot of money.

There are offcourse differences in value for other domain names as well. marys-pet-shop.co.uk will only work if somebody knows the address and are willing to try again if they made a typo.

Now to answer your question:
I've been in your situation, and I did not have the money to buy any of the domain names I wanted.
So I started out with a non-registered 'other' domain name and worked hard to get traffic going.
I've recently bought one of the domain-names I did want trough afternic. It was still expensive, but so far it seems to be worth the investment. I'm now trying to get everybody to know the new name and change their links and stuff accordingly.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 19:16
161 points


A View from the Legal Side. It sounds like you intend to use the business name as a trademark as well. When selecting a name, you may want to consider whether you will be able to protect the name/mark with USPTO trademark registration. The more unique the name the better. In addition to other limitations, "merely discriptive" marks will not be registered in the USPTO Principal Register.

Also, registering domains for the purposes of holding the domains hostage for a ransome is, for the most part, illegal. You may have the option to file a claim in pursuit of having the domain transferred to you. The following link will bring you to a National Arbitration Forum Decision involving the registration of a domain in bad faith and may give you an idea as to the issues involved: http://www.adrforum.com/domains/decisions/96878.htm Disclaimer: This response is not intended to be and is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer directly with regard to the specific circumstances of your situation.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 11:12
  • You're right (+1 vote from me), but the legal option doesn't matter. I went through this with smartbear.com, and the problem is they charge you about what it costs for your legal fees ($2000), so although you can go through the motions it doesn't pay. Unless they want an outrageous amount of money, it's not worth lawyers. – Jason 14 years ago


I think that a good way to find alternatives are to search through recently dropped domain names. I occasionally look the the ones listed here.

answered Oct 9 '10 at 15:19
Javid Jamae
347 points
  • cool, is there any time period which you have to wait from the point when the domain is dropped to when you can acquire it? – Adam 13 years ago
  • Not that I know of. – Javid Jamae 13 years ago


Well, sure: all the domain names are taken! I mean, except for lcxlxhaflkdfhasdiucyhvewhr.com (no, forget it, I just ran out and grabbed that one, sorry).

Network Solutions has a couple of ways you can try to pick up domain names. You're actually better off that a domain name hoarder owns the site: their business model is to sell them off, so presumably there's a route to get to the name if you can afford it. Good luck.


answered Oct 16 '09 at 15:50
784 points


I'd suggest starting with a domain name which you can get. Once you're profitable, then you can afford to spend to get the domain name you want, or you'll get attached to the domain you have. For example, digg.com added the extra g because it was an available domain. They've become popular and haven't dropped the second g. delicious.com started out as del.icio.us, but when Yahoo! purchased them, they spent the million dollars for the .com domain.

You can try searching around for names, but often getting a number of people brainstorming helps find names you wouldn't have tried. There's a few sites which will do that for you. My site onlinewordmine.com is the cheapest ATM, but HotNameList.com and pickydomains.com have been around for longer. All three offer a money back guarantee, so you have little risk in trying them.

answered Jan 12 '10 at 22:52
111 points


First: try everything you can to get that domain name you really want. If you don't have luck with that then just pickup a cool name, something that sticks and use it as your domain name and if you are a tech start-up you can also use it as your product/service name.

There are many companies who are known by their domain name which is their product/service name as well but completely different from the company name, example:

Wordpress.com company name: Automattic

If you can't get the name you want, don't stress over it, just find something else and keep going.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 09:24
4,815 points

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