The Ninja Guide to Buying a Domain When It’s Already Taken.

Note: GGRG might earn affiliate commissions for purchases made through links in this article.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling? The feeling of attempting to register on GoDaddy only to find that: “Sorry, is already taken”.


Or, maybe, you are one of the lucky few that was able to buy the domain you really needed even if it was already taken. If so, you know that the feeling is better than you expect. You feel relief when the domain name of your new company is finally transferred into your account. Your business is finally legit and you are ready to launch. No one can use that domain name except for you. You can build, blog, and have a [email protected] email address on your domain name. At least I know that’s how I felt.


Over the past few years, this has been my job – that is, helping people buy and sell domain names. After many hiccups, a decent amount of large deals and a few millions in brokered transactions later, I have a good grip on what is the best way to approach the acquisition of a domain name. It is both an art and a science, because every domain name and every domain owner is different. Whoever gives you generic negotiation advice is not telling the full story.


In this post, we are going to open the kimono and reveal our proven acquisition process and domain negotiation hacks, so you too can experience that feeling of being a proud owner of your dream domain, and know that you paid a fair price for it.


Sound good? Let’s get started.




“Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can.”





The first question you want to ask yourself is: how badly do you need it? If you are starting a project and you are still brainstorming ideas, you are at the stage where you can easily change the domain name – maybe even find a better (or cheaper) one without anyone noticing.


my domain?


Mind you, this is not an article about naming your startup – if you are still in the naming phase, I recommend this excellent article here. If you are too busy to read, I would just recommend you go for a .com whenever possible. The more B2B your company is, the less it needs to rely on a strong consumer brand to get new clients (for example, if you get most of your customers through referrals) and the less you need a short, memorable .com domain. Therefore, if you are a local shop, an art museum or an engineering company, you can afford to go with a long, dashed, non .com domain – especially when you need those few $ Ks in the startup phase. It is not going to benefit you that much but you can still make it work. Ramit Sethi for example, managed to build a very successful business on the 21 letter and the legendary Tim Ferriss hosts his uber-popular blog on the 16-letter, 4-words domain. However, if you are a well-funded B2C company, and you envision massive offline (and online) campaigns, you probably could benefit from the instant authority that a short, pronounceable and memorable .com domain can give you. Imagine a bank using – it would not appeal to you, right? Going for the short .com of your name will probably save you a lot of confusion, traffic loss, and marketing money. In other words, it’s probably one of the best investments you can make.


Let’s assume that you NEED to have that domain name. How do you get it?


The first step is to:





“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

Albert Einstein


Let’s work on some basic intelligence. Simply type your domain name in your browser . What do you see? Here are a few possible scenarios:


  1. A blank page (good).
  2. A website that looks like a legit business (not good).
  3. The domain redirects to another address (meh).
  4. “The domain name might be for sale” (great – especially if money is not an issue).
  5. “Sponsored links” (good).


Done? Great. What you need to do now is to find the owner’s contact details. Every domain is required by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – basically the guys who make sure that the Internet runs smoothly) to have some updated contact information, which can be found in the whois records. The whois records are public and easily accessible. There are tons of whois services out there. My favorite is because:


  • it’s free.
  • it is real time – unlike most whois, that only show you a cached copy, Moniker will give you the most updated version of the whois records. is another good, free option. If you do this on a regular basis, though, you might want to consider using subscription services like or Sometimes the domain you are looking for is a country code domain (.de, .us., etc.) and a public whois service will not display the record of the owner. Do not despair: you just need to find the country extension record for domain ownership. The simplest way to do this is to google “whois lookup (extension)”. For example try to type:


whois lookup


The first result brings you: – which means that, by searching on Nominet, you will be able to find all the info and contact details for the specific owner.


If that still does not work (since there are thousands of extensions out there), our awesome Friedrich recommends going down the official path.


First, use the following link: From there, click on the domain extension you are searching, scroll the page down and look at the link listed under “Registry Information”.


If you have performed the steps correctly, you should have the domain owner’s contact information. It will look something like this (e.g. for


Registrant Name: Dns Admin
Registrant Organization: Google Inc.
Registrant Street: Please contact [email protected], 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Registrant City: Mountain View
Registrant State/Province: CA
Registrant Postal Code: 94043
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: +1.6502530000
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax: +1.6506188571
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: [email protected]





“If you do not understand a man you cannot crush him. And if you do understand him, you probably will not.”


G.K. Chesterton


Domain owners are not made equal. Before negotiating with them, you must learn their ‘why’. Each might have your dream domain for different reasons:


  1. A) Domain Investors. A domain investor is someone who bought a domain name with the intent of reselling the domain name at a later stage for profit. Just as you would not hate someone that bought the Apple stock in the 1990s and held on to it, you should not hate a domain investor because they foresaw or bet on its future value. The bad thing about dealing with a domain investor, is that you will probably not pay below market value. The good thing about domain investors is that, if money is not your problem, all you need is to negotiate a fair price and you can get the domain shipped to your account fairly quickly.


How do you know if you are dealing with a domain investor? There are recurring signs that you can spot:


  1. The page displays a “for sale” lander.
  2. The page contains ppc ads or “sponsored links” (you can check some examples here).
  3. If you research the owner’s email address on, you see that they are associated with 100+ domain names.


  1. B) Corporate Sellers. Oh boy. You might be in for a few headaches. The bad thing about buying a domain name from a corporation is that it is extremely challenging to find the right decision maker. And even if you manage to find them, money is usually NOT a motivator. Assuming that the company is not actively using the domain name (if it is, I do not like your chances), the process involves establishing rapport with the decision maker and getting this person to like you. Try to answer their questions and concerns – is the domain going to a competitor? Will it be used for adult purposes? The less concerned they are, and the more you are able to enter their graces, the more likely they are to fight for your cause and get you the domain.


Are they not responding? Do like Braden Pollock and send flowers. Call them on the phone. Visit them at the office. More importantly, CC more than one contact within their company – it has been proven to get a much higher response rate, since it forces busy executives to have a discussion about your email, rather than hit the delete button and forget about your existence.


  1. C) Private Individual. This might be someone just like you, who registered your coveted domain just because they liked it, or because, maybe, someday, they want to build their own business on it. Or maybe they are just using the domain name as their email. A private individual usually:


  • Owns less than 100 domains
  • He/she does not “park” his/her domain names.
  • Does not display “this domain might be for sale” landers


*THE PRIVACY – sometimes the whois record will show some gibberish like [email protected]

. Once again, do not despair. It might only mean that the domain owner does not want to be bothered, or they are simply concerned about their data being collected by unscrupulous spammers or whois experts like yourself. A domain under privacy might conceal a domain investor, a corporation or a private individual. For the moment, just take note (CTRL + C) of the gibberish email address and paste it (CTRL + V) into a safe place. When you send an email to the gibberish address, your inquiry will be forwarded to the real owner.


Congrats! You have just accomplished step 2.





To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.


Sun Tzu – The Art of War.


Once you have identified the owner’s contact information, the next step is to figure out what kind of domain you are trying to buy. This is because not all domains are made equal and different domains call for different negotiation approaches. You can’t offer $5,000 for, a domain that is clearly worth over $500,000, and expect to be taken seriously – submitting such offer will actually hurt your chances of obtaining the domain.


While it’s mostly true that You Can Negotiate Everything and that domain names are (still) a largely inefficient market, some types of domains yield little room for negotiation as their value follows very specific guidelines. And yet one negotiation principle holds true: the more knowledgeable you are about the domain that you are negotiating, the more likely you are to have the upper hand.


Here are 3 general categories of domains:


Premium Domains. A premium domain is a domain that a lot of people would like to own. Domains like, or are popular keywords with a high number of monthly searches and give instant advantage to anyone who wants to build a business on them. Therefore, do not expect the owner to give them away for peanuts – there are likely many individuals and companies that, just like you, have contacted the owner in the past. On the high end of the spectrum, we have domains like,, etc; on the low end, we have premium domains like You can watch a negotiation case study here.


Liquid Domains. Skip this section if the domain you want to buy is longer than 5 characters.


Since Chinese domain investors have started buying all the best and, often, shortest domains in early 2014, certain classes of domains became tradable commodities with (quite high) sales prices. Did you know, for instance, that ANY three letter .com domain – at the time of writing this guide –  can be sold for at least for $20,000 USD? This minimum price is what we call “floor price” – and, if you buy below floor price, let’s say at $15,000 USD, you would instantly be able to resell the domain for $20,000 and realize a cool $5,000 profit. If your brain is spinning and you are thinking – mmm, what about if I contact all 17,656 three letter .com owners and offer them $10,000 USD? Can I make money that way? Well it might have worked a few years ago, but nowadays hundreds if not thousands of domain investors have done that. Three letter .com owners are used to receiving daily unsolicited offers and they are aware of their value. The same is true for the more valuable categories of 2 letter .com (676 combinations) and 3 number .com (1,000 combinations). At the time of this writing, it is practically impossible to find ANY two letter .com domain name for less than $500,000 (yes, half a million USD). The evaluation rules for each category of domain require a full article on the subject, but suffice it to say that the following categories of domains hold liquid value and almost all the owners are aware of this:


  • 2 letter .com (e.g.
  • 3 letter .com (e.g.
  • 4 letter .com (e.g.
  • 2 number (e.g.
  • 3 number .com (e.g.
  • 4 (e.g.
  • 5 number .com (lately also 6 numbers .com)
  • All the hybrid combinations of 2 and 3 characters .com (,,, etc.)


Other extensions like .net, .cn and a few others, like .cc and .org, also hold liquid value (a percentage of .com) and are, therefore,  valuable. For example, any .net domain is worth between 5% to 10% of the value of the .com. Some letters and numbers are worth less than others, for example any domain containing A, E, I, O, U, V, 0 and 4 is on average 50-70% less expensive, because these letters and numbers are not popular in China, as opposed to “Chips” domains (a term coined by Tim Schoon) which stand for “Chinese Premiums”. If you are interested in learning more about how to appraise a numeric domain, you can also read my Numeric Domains 2.0 – The Definitive Guide.


So, what does this liquid domain thing mean for you?


It means that, if your acquisition target is a liquid domain name, be prepared to offer at least the floor price for it.


How do you know the floor prices of a liquid domain? For instance, how do we know the market value of a random 4 letter .com domain, like You are in luck: over the past year (2015), quite a few resources have appeared to provide free market data on the trading ranges:


  • & These are Chinese websites that detail the last transactions and average value for each category. Too lazy to translate Chinese? You can use a nice shortcut by checking
  • If you are looking to buy specifically a four letter .com domain, look no further than – it is the most comprehensive resource regarding the value of domains with charts updated weekly. Beware: certain four letter .com domains, like CVCV (consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel – e.g., are worth considerably more, so talk to an expert before assuming that you know the exact floor price. If you want to dig deeper on the subject of LLLL domains, you also can check my Starter Guide to invest in domains.
  • At, we provide a weekly newsletter with the floor price of each category, especially the most valuable ones (LL, NN and NNN). We also provide weekly investing tips to navigate the domain world – you can subscribe for free here.


The nice thing about liquid domains is that, provided that you buy them for a fair price, you are now holding an asset, and, even if your project ends up not working, you should still be able to cash out on your purchase in the future. I have worked with two CEOs of very successful startups who happened to own 2 character .com domains. Both became so fascinated with the market that they started investing themselves in other liquid domains.


Brandable Domains. Brandable domains, as their name suggests , are domains that might be used as a brand, such as, and They have in common that, before the respective companies became successful, their domain was not worth almost anything. Regardless, many brandable domains have already been taken, mostly because they sound cool and someone bought them for a later use or to resell for profit. The leverage intrinsic to brandable domains is that you are likely one of the few people (if not the only person) interested in buying the domain, and their commercial value is very, ehm, “flexible”. Brandable domains present the widest spectrum for appraisal, and the same domain might be sold for $500 or $500,000 USD purely based on your (and the seller’s) negotiation skills.


There are also other types of domains like Traffic Domains, Pinyin Domains and others that we are not going to cover, but (hopefully and likely) they are not your acquisition target.


GGRG TIP ⇒ How can you tell the difference between a brandable domain and a premium domain? One quick shortcut is to check for the appraised value. If the domain is in the $x,xxx range upwards, you are probably looking at a premium domain. Another method is to check how many exact searches the keyword gets on the Google Adword planner – if the value is not significant, you are probably looking at a non-premium or brandable domain.





A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.


Henrik Ibsen


Chad Folkening, my first mentor, always repeated the following sentence: “domaining rule #1  = establish communication”. Now imagine Chad (who is a big guy with a Tony Robbins-like voice) repeating this sentence over and over with a cryptic expression. I never fully grasped this concept until I started actively working on acquisitions. The goal of your first email is not to submit an offer, but just to make sure you are engaging with the right person. There is a practical reason for that: if you send a random “I can offer you $200 for x” email and the owner does not reply, you will never know if the seller is not interested in your offer, had your email blocked by spam filters or simply did not open your email. Also, inserting a $ (dollar) sign in your email might makes your email way more likely to be blocked by the spam filters.


GGRG TIP ⇒  Whenever you are buying a domain, make sure the owner responds to your first email before submitting any offer. Here are two simple first email templates you can use:




Hi (Name, if possible),


I am interested in purchasing the domain Can you confirm you are the owner of this domain?


Thank you, (Your Name)




Hi (Name, if possible),


I am interested in purchasing the domain and would like to submit an offer. Can you please forward my email to the best person within (company name) to discuss the acquisition?


Thank you, (Your Name)


GGRG TIP ⇒ When the domain is liquid or super premium, the owner might be accustomed to receiving dozens of emails per month, and might not have the time or willingness to respond to your inquiry. In those cases a direct offer with a fair price is much more likely to get you a response. You might also consider using the amount offered directly in the subject line (credit: Braden Pollock) to attract the attention of a non responsive seller:


Hi (Name, if possible),


I am interested in purchasing the domain and would like to submit a $xx,xxx offer. I look forward receiving your feedback.


Thank you, (Your Name)


But, before sending your first email, do not forget to disguise in…





Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.


Sun Tzu

ninja mode

Have you ever heard about the book The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone? Well, there is another unspoken 10x rule in the domain world – if you contact a domain owner and your name appears in the Fortune 500 list or any other business database, the asking price will instantly go 10x.


GGRG TIP ⇒  Protect your email identity. If you are a celebrity or you work for a large company, you might want to create a new Gmail or Outlook account solely for acquisition purposes. Avoid using any email that is associated with your Linkedin account. Why? There is a great app called Rapportive (recently bought by Linkedin) which shows who you are. There was a recent case where a certain Mr X (please don’t hate me) approached a client for one of her domains. Within seconds, thanks to Rapportive, we knew he ran a massive investment company. Sorry Mr X.


GGRG TIP ⇒  Beware of the seemingly innocuous contact form. While you might think you are successfully keeping your anonymity here, most contact forms track your IP address and therefore geographical location. Oh is it someone from Menlo Park? Good, let’s just 10x him. One more thing –  even if you use a completely anonymous, un-Googlable (yes, I just made this word up) email address, the first thing the owner will do upon contact is to research the keyword of the domain you inquired on to see if the there is any large company that has any obvious match. So if you want to buy and your Inc 500 company already uses, you might want to abandon the ninja disguise and just lay the cards on the table – they’ll know it anyway.


FRIEDRICH’s TIP ⇒ Want to go the extra mile? Consider creating an email with the following free email services:


To deal with a contact form, you might want to use a VPN to hide your IP location:


You might also consider using VPN browser add-on (which you can easily turn it on and off in your browser). Should be free for basic use. My favorites are:


A full VPN suite is a little overcautious, but it provides protection for your entire internet traffic:


SECRET WEAPON (AND NINJA COUNTERMOVE) ⇒ one of the secret weapons we use is, a tool which allows you track exactly when, where and on which device your email is opened. This is very useful if you want to figure out how the owner is engaging with your email. Is he opening it every day? He might be thinking about it day and night, despite his short “Sorry, not interested” replies. There are tons of similar tools you can use, like ToutApp or our SuperFriedrich’s favorite: BananaTag – you just need to find the one that works best for you.


Want to defend yourself from people spying your location? Read this article here:





When the final result is expected to be a compromise, it is often prudent to start from an extreme position.


John Maynard Keynes


If you read the negotiation classic “Getting to Yes”, you might recall how the basic insight of the book is to insist on using a reliable external standard to come up with a fair agreement. The issue with domain negotiations though, is that 80% of them revolve around one issue: price. Your goal is to pay the lowest conceivable price. The goal of the owner is to sell it for the maximum price possible. So how much should you offer on the first bid? And should you make an offer first or ask for pricing? As my Alaskan friend Steve says, whoever gives the first number in negotiations, loses. Well, that might be true in most cases, yet there are certain cases in which making an offer first, will help to anchor the price at a lower level.


Obviously if you try to lowball… ehm, “anchor the price” on a super premium or liquid domain, your attempt to obtain the domain for less than its fair value will not build any goodwill with your negotiating partner, who will probably think that you are trying to steal. Don’t do that.


In those cases, what you want to do is to offer the lowest amount that is reasonable enough to get you a reply and serious enough to get you a counter. That is the best strategy for super premium domains. For premium domains, and especially in the case of private sellers, you might opt to just just ask for a price, since the value of these domains is not self-evident.

For liquid domains, however, what you want to do instead is to appear like an expert and NOT like a private/corporate buyer (remember the 10x?). These domains have fixed trading ranges and your best chance at getting the domain for a fair price is to know the exact trading range and insisting on paying within that range. Here is a quick chart recap of the initial approach:


Owner/Domain Premium Liquid Non-Premium
Investor Ask for pricing. For super premium domains, submit a decent offer. Offer floor price (they know anyway) Offer $ xxx
Corporate Offer $ x,xxx. They won’t even  bother for less. Offer floor price (Ok, they do not need the money, but they received unsolicited offers anyway) Offer $ x,xxx. They won’t even bother for less.
Private Ask for pricing. Hope for the best. Offer floor price

(no one likes lowballers. And yes, they receive unsolicited offers too.)

Lowballing is possible – but not encouraged!


I want you take these as reference guidelines: there are no definite rules when negotiating, and the charts above are the prevalent correct strategy per domain type. There are exceptions, though, like when the company is a struggling startup, rather than Johnson & Johnson, they might be inclined to accept a lower amount. Use common sense. If you do not feel the guidelines apply to your situation, go with what you feel is right and/or consult a professional.





“I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.”


Soren Kierkegaard


Just as Jiu Jitsu has been defined as the game of human chess, negotiation is a game of moves and countermoves, where planning and being one step ahead of your negotiating partner goes a long way towards getting the upper hand (and will save you a few thousands dollars).


So, let’s assume that you asked for pricing, or submitted a low but reasonable bid. If the owner is smart, you will get one these types of replies:


  • A price OR price range (a good sign – unless they ask for a ridiculous amount).
  • A variation of: “Sorry, the domain is not for sale – but feel free to make an offer” (meh – this guy knows what he is doing, but will probably sell).
  • “Not for sale” (not good).


Sometimes, you will not get a response. If this is your first contact attempt, the owner probably did not open or receive your email. In this case, if after many follow ups the owner still does not reply, consult a professional – they might help you get through the owner (Friedrich has superpowers). If the owner has responded you in the past (and Yesware confirms they opened the email) – you might have encountered the toughest negotiator of all – “The Unresponsive Seller”. There is a concept called emotional investment – the more time and effort you invest in any negotiation, the more the other party has a stronger negotiating position. Experienced negotiators know this and they often use the simple tactic of avoiding any response, which is extremely effective. When a seller is not responsive, the only way you can get his or her attention back is by either A) following up (which reveals you really want it) or B) increase your bid. Or you might want to jump ahead to chapter 9 – strategic retreat.


If the domain owner quotes you a price, it is time to practice your jiu jitsu. Your goal is to find a common ground with the seller to establish what is a fair price. Saying “the domain is only worth $300” won’t get you anywhere – that is, unless the seller is desperate and/or uninformed.


Which tools can you use to establish a fair price?


  • COMPARABLES. The best way is to bring comparable domains that have sold in the past. How do you find those? The best tool for finding comparables is This website is a powerful weapon: you can type in a specific keyword and check how much it usually sells for, which will give you a good idea about a fair price range. You can also filter your research by extension, category and domain length.


  • ESTIBOT. will tell you important data including appraisal, number of other taken extensions and monthly exact searches. While the value is not always accurate (despite a team of PHDs constantly working on improving their algorithm), it is a good indicator. An added benefit is that Estibot will tell you if the domain sold in the past and for how much – this information is priceless, because this will tell you exactly what a fair range is that the domain owner might be inclined to accept. Use selectively.


  • FLOOR PRICES. Use data from,, and our newsletter to explain to the seller that you are aware of the going rate for the domain you are trying to buy.






“There is no shame in strategic retreat if it lets you remain strong enough to go after the enemy later.”


Jane Lindskold


If the domain owner is still unresponsive or refuses to negotiate according to a reasonable standard, it is still not the time to despair. You have the following options:


  1. GET CREATIVE. You might not have the amount requested right now. Would the seller consider a payment plan (it is easier to set up than you think)? Maybe the seller would consider stock in your company (that is how Uber and got their domain names).
  2. FIND ANOTHER NAME. It hurts when you can’t get your dream name, but you can often find  great alternatives. If you have a decent budget, you might go for one listed in, or large marketplaces like, and If your budget is on the low end, you might still find some gems at registration fees by using tools like Remember, your negotiating position is always as strong as your BATNA. You might want to do this before entering negotiations.
  3. PATIENCE. Remember that, for most domains, there is never a second buyer – which means YOU are the only buyer the owner has been negotiating with. No domain investor buys a domain to hold it and pay renewal fees. This means that, despite the fact that you are the party who contacted them first, if you are buying a non-premium (and often a sub-premium domain), you are in a position of power.  Leverage that. In the case of premium domains, patience is your strongest ally. The first 6 digits domain I brokered took me 15 months; the longest domain negotiation on behalf of a client took 2 years but we managed to get it when the company who owned the domain changed CEOs, and was finally responsive. Can you wait six months to go to market? If yes, then you’d be surprised by how many owners will get back to you saying: “in order to take advantage of a deal, we might exceptionally consider selling the domain for.. (a lot less)”.





“At the end of a good negotiation, both parties leave smiling.”


Chinese proverb
You have a deal!


If you have taken all the steps above, you might finally reach the stage where you and the seller reach an agreement on the price. Congrats!!! Careful though. I love legal constraints as much as the next person, but here is an important caveat: whenever you make an offer via email and the owner accepts, you have a contractual agreement. Same goes if the owner counters you with a price and you accept. Therefore, even if that’s just an email – a deal is a deal and the seller can take you to court for that. It is totally ok to withdraw your offer before it is accepted. It is not ok to change your mind after the price has been agreed.


So how do you send the money and get the domain transferred? If you are dealing with an experienced seller, they will probably insist on using and can probably guide you through the process. It is customary that the buyer pays for the escrow fees. Chinese owners sometimes will ask to use, which is a similar escrow service, only China based. Refuse categorically to use PayPal for any transaction of a meaningful amount. After escrow approves the payment, you can use a simple push transfer and BAM – the domain is yours!




Hope you have enjoyed the article and that this will help you get the domain you have always wanted. If you are having an ‘a-ha’ moment about the value of domain names, just like I did a few years ago, I will be glad to welcome you into this great little industry. In case you are curious about investing in domain names, the best resources to study at are, and DomainNameWire also does a great job publishing a very informative podcast with industry leaders. And the legendary Ron Jackson reports the weekly top sales on Domain name acquisition experts include Bill Sweetman at Name Ninja and Alan Dunn at – and you can meet all the folks above at, the largest industry event taking place in Vegas every year in January. Good domain brokers include Andrew Rosener from and the folks at DomainHoldings. Are you in the position of selling a domain instead? Look no further than these articles on for tips. I also publish a weekly domain newsletter with updates about floor prices, resources about liquid domains and tips for domain investors. Are you looking to buy or sell a liquid .com domain between 2 to 5 characters? We specialize only in these types of domains and we believe we know this niche better than anyone else. Contact us here.


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