domain you want is takenOne of the first things that anyone signing up for a web hosting or website building service has to do is enter in a domain name – the very words that will serve as their website or blog’s name. Even if you opt for a free account with either service, you’re required to pick some form of domain name (usually a subdomain) to identify your website. Coming up with a good domain name can be a frustrating process, especially in this day and age, where everyone has a website and many of the catchy or popular names are already taken. So, what happens when you stumble upon the perfect name for your company or blog and the domain name is already in use? Surprisingly, you have options — just because a domain name has been purchased, doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Read more below to learn about domain names and a few of the options you may want to consider if your dream domain has already been purchased.

How do domain names work?

Before we explain your options, you should have a general understanding of how domains and domain registration works. In previous posts, we noted something called the Domain Name System, which takes IP addresses – the identifier assigned to a computer that’s part of a network – and essentially turns them into domain names or web addresses. These registered domains include two aspects: the actual name of the domain (e.g., NextAdvisor, Google, etc.), and the Top Level Domain (TLD) — both of which you pick when you purchase a domain name. Simply put, TLDs are the “endings” of a website. Common TLDs are .com, .org and .net. In the last few years, there has been an expansion with the number of TLDs in existence. Some are strange and funny, while others are more practical.

It’s important to note that TLDs don’t impact your website. For example, your TLD will not boost your site’s search engine rank. Although .com remains the most popular TLD, as the number of .com websites reaches critical mass, the stigma around other TLDs is decreasing. Ultimately, picking a TLD is simply just another factor you’ll have to keep in mind when purchasing a domain name, and being reasonably open-minded about which TLDs you consider could expand your choice of domains.

What options do you have when the perfect domain name is taken?

If your preferred domain name and TLD combination are unavailable, you should consider doing the following:

Use a different TLD or domain name

While it’s not ideal, coming up with variations of your preferred domain name might be a good way to bypass the headache that other options involve. Alternatively, if you have a domain name that doesn’t lend itself to meaningful alterations, you may want to consider registering your domain name with a distinct TLD. Since there are thousands of TLDs, it’s likely that even if someone has registered your domain name with a .com or .net, they haven’t done so with a .guru or .xyz domain. Although you may wonder how legitimate a non-traditional TLD will make your website look, you should know that even companies like Google have embraced using some of the newer TLDs. That said, if you’re not comfortable with having such a TLD at the end of your domain name, you may want to just tweak your original idea a bit.

Identify the current owner and make an offer for the domain

If you are 100% married to registering your domain name with a specific TLD, you can use the Internet website lookup system called WHOIS, which functions like the Internet’s phone book, to find the existing owner of the domain. Want to learn more? Our guide to avoiding fake websites explains what WHOIS does and how to use it. It should be noted that WHOIS won’t tell you who owns a website in every case — as more people opt into domain privacy, it’s getting harder to identify and approach domain owners. Still, in the instance that someone’s WHOIS information is publicly displayed, you’ll have an option that you didn’t have before.

If you opt to ask someone to purchase their domain, there are some things to keep in mind. When you first approach the current domain owner, you may want to hold off on making an offer until you hear where the seller values the domain. Then once you hear their asking price, you can negotiate. While it’s very likely that the domain will be sold at standard rates on an open market, your demand for it may overstate the value, which means you may be seen as open to paying any rate. A lot of people know this and, as such, there exist less-than-honest individuals and organizations who deliberately buy up domains to resell them at exorbitant prices. This means you can easily find yourself being taken advantage of or paying an outrageous amount for a basic domain name. Keep in mind that an outlandish asking amount for the domain may also be a sign that you’re dealing with a scammer. If negotiation isn’t a strength of yours, there are domain brokerage and escrow services that can make things a bit easier.

Invest in domain expiration alert service

If you don’t already know, when you purchase a domain, you’re actually acquiring it for a designated period of time (e.g., one year, five years). At the end of your domain’s term, if you don’t renew, then your domain will go on the open market again. It’s for this reason that even if a domain is registered, it’s not necessarily gone forever. If you can’t reach the domain owner to negotiate or they aren’t willing to sell the domain, you can settle for a domain now and look for services that will alert you when the domain you want is available. These services are usually, but not always, subscription-based services that cost money. Alternatively, some web hosting companies and domain registrars, like GoDaddy, allow you to both monitor and back-order domains that might be expiring. All of these options can be expensive, depending on how valuable the domain you want is, but sometimes investing in such services can pay off if you end up getting the domain name you desire.

Starting up your own website can be an intimidating and daunting process. If you’re looking for more information on domains and managing websites in general, take a look at our web hosting blog, where we’ve complied the best practices for web hosting and Internet newbies.