Why is it so hard to find a domain name that’s not already taken?
Part of the answer is that business owners, hobbyists, and investors snapped up the obvious ones (food.com, pets.com) years ago.
Another issue is that there are more than 1.9 billion websites now, which means getting your first-choice domain name is far from guaranteed.
If yours is taken, you can still end up with a great domain name. Here are three solutions to consider based on your goals, your budget, and your willingness to be creative.
1. Offer to Buy the Domain Name from its Current Owner
Pros: You get exactly what you want.
Cons: Your dream domain name might not be for sale, it might cost more than you can afford, and you’ll have to do some research.
This is the most time-consuming and costly way to solve your domain name problem. That said, if you’ve already invested heavily in branding that relates to the domain name you want—for example, if you own an established local business and want to add a website—the effort and expense might be worth it.
First, you’ll need to find out who owns the domain name you want. If there’s contact information on the site, that’s the easiest way to reach out. If not, you can check the WHOIS registry, although if the domain name owner has privacy enabled, you won’t get any useful information. Otherwise, the WHOIS record will include an email address and phone number you can use to contact the owner.
Sometimes the domain you want is both privacy-protected on WHOIS and lacks a contact form on the site. In those cases, or if you just want to save time looking up the site owner, you can use a domain name broker service like Sedo to make an offer for the domain name you want. Be prepared to negotiate if the owner is interested in selling. Once you complete the purchase, you’ll need to register the domain as your own and transfer it to your web hosting service.
2. Choose a (Slightly) Different Domain Name
Pros: You get almost what you want, and you’ll probably pay less than you would to purchase the taken domain from its owner. You can also use another top-level domain to highlight what you do.
Cons: Consumers trust .com the most, and alternative top-level domains can make it harder for people to find your site if they confuse it with the .com version that’s owned by someone else.
When a domain name is already taken, it’s usually the version with the .com top-level domain—but there are hundreds of other top level domains you can choose, like .net, .org, .club, and .tech. If you can’t buy your dream domain name, the easiest alternative is to go with a variation by tweaking the domain name itself, using a different top-level domain, or both. Whether that’s also the best choice depends on your specific goals and how the unavailable domain is used.
For example, let’s say you have your heart (and your branding) set on getting dogsweaters as your domain name. The .com version is taken, but you could register dogsweaters.net or dogsweaters.online instead. Problem solved? Maybe.
People buy online from sites they think are trustworthy, and it turns out that consumers trust .com more than other top-level domains. Another option is to go with a related .com that’s not taken yet, like dogsweatersonline.com.
If the original domain name you wanted is in use for a competing or related business, you may be setting yourself up for legal trouble and brand damage if your new domain name is too similar to your first choice. Even if your first choice is parked, there’s a chance that some of your would-be visitors will end up at that URL instead and miss out on what you’re offering.
3. Go With a Completely Different Domain Name
Pros: Prevents confusion between the other domain name and your blog or business, cheaper and easier than tracking down the owner of your first-choice domain to buy it, might help you with SEO.
Cons: May not align with your existing branding, can confuse customers.
If making a slight alteration to your first-choice domain name will leave you with something that’s too close to a competitor, or if you really want the .com top level domain, your best option is probably to come up with a whole new idea for your domain name. This is easier if you’re just starting out and don’t already have a brand, but it can work for an established brand, too. The key is to get creative and to research how customers search for sites like yours.
Just building a brand? Think about short, memorable domain names that are related to your business or blog topic.
A good example is Chewy.com, the pet supplies retailer. The company was originally called Mr. Chewy, so Chewy.com didn’t come out of nowhere as a domain name. But there are so many retailers with “pet” in the name already that one more might not stand out from the crowd. Chewy calls to mind chew toys and it’s easy to remember. More importantly, it’s hard to confuse with the domain names of other pet supply sellers.
Another approach that works for new sites and established brands is to use keywords instead of your business or blog name in your domain. Let’s say the owner of a hypothetical brisket truck in Houston can’t get the .com version of Snappys or SnappysBrisket for her website. Houstonbrisket.com would be a good option because it includes keywords brisket fans in Houston search for when they’re hungry. Alas, it’s taken, too. But choices like brisketmobile.com and eatmorebrisket.com are available, include the all-important brisket keyword, and can (and should) be used in marketing taglines for Snappy’s.
Find Your Domain Name
Ready to choose your new domain name now? You can see what’s taken and what’s available with HostGator’s Domain Name Search tool, and when you find what you want, you can snap it up before someone else does.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.