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How To Buy Expiring Domain Names: Lessons Learned

Posted on | September 29, 2010 | 15 Comments

Lessons learned buying domain names

I’ve been in the market for some new domain names lately. It isn’t 1997, and it’s not so easy to score a good domain name anymore. A vast number of domains are taken by people who are using them, planning to use them, auctioning them, or plastering algorithmically generated spam links on them. A good domain name is hard to find, yet critical to SEO and branding efforts.

I had my eye on several expiring domains, which had the advantage that they contained less than 12 characters and even related to what I wanted to host on them later. I tried a few different domain acquisition strategies. This article describes my lessons learned getting hold of some (but not all) of the target domains.

First, let’s start with a quick overview of the domain expiration process:

The domain name expiration process

  1. Expiration: The domain name expires as scheduled. On this day, it stops resolving to wherever the site was hosted. You can check the date when a domain expires using ‘whois <domain name>’ on a linux or OSX machine; you’re looking for something like “Record expires on 01-Nov-2014.” At this stage, the domain is just starting the expiration process and it’s possible for the domain owner to reclaim it.
  2. On Hold: The domain has expired, but it has not yet been released for resale and it still held by your registrar. Depending on the policy of your registrar, you might be able to make a quick payment to renew the domain name at this point. This period can last a couple of days.
  3. Redemption Period: Most (all?) registrars will hold onto your domain and let you buy it back for up to 30 days following expiration, for a fee. This fee is something like $80 for GoDaddy, plus the normal domain renewal fee. It’s scary to see an active domain name stop resolving and then discover you’ve let it lapse, but don’t fret because you can reactivate it at this point.
  4. Pending Delete. At this stage, the domain is being reverted back into the pool to be resold. If this was your domain, you’ve lost it. Deletion status lasts 5 days (almost exactly 5 days). You can see when a domain is being deleted by using the following unix command: ‘whois <domain>’ which will tell you the status is “Pending Delete”
  5. Deleted. At this stage, the domain has been deleted and anyone can buy it. First come, first serve.

When you buy expired domain names, you’re trying to “catch” them as soon as the Pending Delete period has completed.

If the domain is particularly silly, it’s possible that nobody will try to buy that domain and you can pick it up at your convenience. If it’s something really valuable like “lawyers.com,” you can bet people will be furiously trying to grab that domain the millisecond it is deleted. The tools you use to snag an expiring domain must vary with the type of domain you are acquiring.

Choose Your Domain Catching Strategy Carefully

There is a whole industry focused on grabbing expiring domains as soon as they are deleted. Sites like snapnames or namejet will let you “backorder” a name and then aim a bunch of servers at the registrar to catch the domain the split second it becomes available. They are very good at this. But there’s a catch: once they get hold of an expired domain, they launch an auction to try to sell it to the highest bidder. They create a market for that domain if they get it.

Isn’t That A Conflict Of Interest?

Yup. The more cynical of you might be thinking that the domain catching services have a big incentive to hold you hostage for that domain once they get it. You tell them what domain you want, they have a system to grab it once it’s available, then they run around marketing that domain to as many bidders as possible. Just by using such a service to backorder a domain alerts them that it’s worth buying it. You might even be worse off using such a service because you suddenly are bidding against a bunch of people who otherwise would have no idea the domain existed or was for sale.

There is a large population of domain buyers who bid on just about every ok-looking domain which ends up at auction on the domain catching sites. They don’t know, or care, what the domain might be good for: they want it because you are willing to bid on it. They are prepared to pay a few hundred (or thousand) dollars to outbid you. And if you happen to bail out on the auction leaving them with the domain, it’s no big deal. They’ll simply auction it on the same site in a couple of weeks and you’ll get an email asking you to bid.

If you’re an econ or strategy student, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the economics of this ecosystem. Does the bidder hurt themselves by using domain catching services which auction domains to the highest bidder?

Reserve Domain Buying Services Only For Particular Situations

Because of the conflict of interest inherent in domain catching services, you should only use in a few situations:

  1. it’s critical you get that specific domain name
  2. you have a bunch of money to spend on buying it
  3. it isn’t something of obvious value to a career domain buyer (e.g. lawyers.com)

Using a domain catching service might decrease the risk that someone who really wants that specific domain will get it. But it practically guarantees that you’ll be bidding against someone for that domain. And if it’s the kind of domains lots of people will view as valuable, you might find yourself in a bidding war you can’t win.

Another Option: Run Silent, Run Deep

Another option is to just research the domain you’re interested and try to grab it yourself once it has been deleted without alerting anyone that you want that domain. While I’ve read about how hard it is to beat the domain catching services, I’ve been successful using this approach much more often than when I used those services. Here’s what you do:

  1. Do not backorder the domain anywhere! Do nothing to reveal your interest in the domain to registrars.
  2. Using whois <domain> find out what day the domain expires. For example: “Record expires:  2010-09-01 14:21:00″
  3. Set a calendar reminder to check the status of the domain 30 days after that date. For example, Oct 1, 2010 at 14:21:00. I think the time zone is UTC by default, but the registrar can specify their own time zone.
  4. You should see the domain change to “Pending Delete” status. Set your calendar reminder to 5 days after the time when the Pending Delete Status began.
  5. At that time, do a whois. Is there a domain record? No? It’s yours! Go buy it on your favorite registrar. If it’s still pending delete, keep checking. It could become available at any time. This is best accomplished using a shell script so you don’t have to keep checking by hand.

And what if one of the domain catching services grabs the domain before you? You can still bid on it at this point. (the auction will appear on their web site in a few days and you’ll see the domain record update)

Conclusions

It is possible to catch your own expiring domains. If you’re trying to grab something that isn’t broadly useful, and it isn’t mission critical, it’s worth a shot. Keep a low profile, and use a script to check for deletion. And if you don’t get it, you can probably bid for that domain on the domain catching sites.

I’ve had mixed success using name catching services to acquire expiring domain names, and the economics of those services is questionable for bidders. But they are very good at catching domains but also good at driving up the price to silly levels.

The proposed strategies of using all of the primary name catching services at once to try to catch a domain also needs validation. Again, it might just raise the cost of the domain by signaling demand.

Good luck!

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Comments

15 Responses to “How To Buy Expiring Domain Names: Lessons Learned”

  1. Info
    November 25th, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    Very good Post!
    I’m want backorder an italian domain. I know only this service https://www.wix.it/en/backorder.aspx for backorder cctld it domains. Do you want advise an other service?

  2. Cat
    August 13th, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    Thank you! Was thinking of back ordering a name expiring in a few weeks and now know not to! Hope this strategy works!

  3. Chirag
    October 21st, 2011 @ 7:56 am

    Thanks for your tips. So, if we are the only entity in the auction at the completion of grace period (generally 40 days from expiry-date), do we get the domain, or does it still go through 30-days redemption period.

    Regards,

  4. vibuz
    December 25th, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Your idea is good. But you told we can not check it manually and mentioned about a script. Where can I get one? Help needed. thanks in advance…

  5. India Broadband forum
    May 7th, 2012 @ 11:11 am

     Well your tutorial is detailed but any of the process is not full proof.
    do you know any kind of full proof solution for this?

  6. Etienne Dupuis
    August 17th, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    Killer post, thank you!

    The domain I look for is in “expires on ..” and was’nt sure what was going on since it was expired. Now I know exactly what to wait for.. 😉

  7. Newsmarkets
    October 1st, 2012 @ 7:25 am

    just brilliant. thanks! 

  8. Teresa
    February 5th, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    awesome..thanks for the time you took to post this.

  9. rhuppert
    April 25th, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

    I always suspected these “services” were playing both sides of the fence and the mere query alerted them to someone’s interest in acquiring that name. Kind of slimy I must say.

  10. andersramsay
    July 17th, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    If I’ve already added a bid for a domain I’m interested in using one of the buying services. Is there any point in deleting my bid or is it already too late and I’ve already made them aware that they domain may be of value?

  11. David Marks
    July 17th, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    This is a good question, but I don’t know if domain services drop names from their watch lists when the only bid is deleted. They might just add names as bids come in.

  12. Erik
    March 29th, 2015 @ 9:36 am

    I used a fiverr gig and got 10 decent quality expired domains with good metrics.

    The gig is https://www.fiverr.com/edgars74/give-you-10-expired-domains-with-tf10-cf10

  13. Patricia Moncrief
    July 13th, 2015 @ 10:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing this great information and I would like to buy a expiring domain name for my site. This best essay can help you to write your future writings.

  14. Nicolás Marín
    December 10th, 2015 @ 4:51 am

    I m using expired domains to rank blogs with good content in medium and high competitives niches. The key is to find dropped domains with very good metrics you can buy for 6$ and have fully control over them. I built an easy software to find these gems, expireddomainspy.com let me know what you think

  15. franklin456245
    April 13th, 2017 @ 5:50 am

    In many times we need to buy domain name.For that we search people to buy from them. So i think this is so well for us that now we got the service from here. i hope it increased the working speed of us.

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