How I Snagged a Great Domain Name

Is there a website domain name that you wish you could get your hands on for your law firm? Have you wondered how to do it? Perhaps someone owns it, but they don’t actually have a website up. That’s the situation I found myself in. The owner had a multi-year registration, but hadn’t posted a website there for years.

About 7 years ago, I successfully snagged the name when the previous owner didn’t renew the registration. I just happened to check up on it at the right time. To my delight, it was available and I bought it immediately. That’s all there was too it. Times have changed, however…

Why It’s Harder Now to Get the Domain Name You Want

I knew from 10 years of watching my coveted domain name, that its registration was about to expire. It was on my calendar. No website had used that name for over 3 years. I feared that this time I might have a good bit of competition for the name I wanted, however. And not just from business competitors. Now people make a living from buying and selling domain names on a regular basis. Additionally, domain registrars like GoDaddy and Network Solutions try to stir up a bidding war on names registered with them. The process is convoluted, and I couldn’t find a clear, plain-English explanation of how it works. Fortunately, I started researching the subject online months in advance of the expiration date, so I knew how dramatically the domain game had changed.

Attempt to Buy the Domain from the Registered Owner

With all my confusion, I didn’t want to compete for the name with someone far savvier than I. So, I considered approaching the existing owner to purchase the name. I worried that my contact would cause the owner to wake up and either (i) pay the renewal fee, (ii) demand a significantly higher price from me than I wanted to pay, or (iii) decide that there was enough value in the name to make it worth drumming up additional bidders. I often receive unsolicited emails from people doing just that respecting desirable domain names.

I ultimately decided that contacting the owner was safer than trying to negotiate the labyrinth process of a domain name auction. Unfortunately, the phone number and address in the WHOIS lookup were no longer valid. The email I sent didn’t get a response. The owner didn’t seem to have an internet presence either. I went down many rabbit trails before giving up.

What Happens at Expiration

If a domain owner allows the registration to expire, the registrar (Network Solutions in this case), usually allows a grace period (typically around 30 days) in which the owner can pay a redemption fee (read: penalty) and the unpaid renewal fee to the registrar in order to reclaim ownership. That’s called the Pre-Release period. At the beginning of the Pre-Release period, the WHOIS registration for “my” domain name changed to a Network Solutions affiliate, increasing my concern. I assumed that meant that Network Solutions would try to create a market and auction off the name, if it didn’t get redeemed.

Placing a Back Order

I ascertained that I needed to place a backorder on the name in order to be able to participate in the auction. But which of several companies should I place it with? Should I place an order with multiple companies? When should the order be placed? At what price should I set the backorder? I had already placed a minimum backorder with GoDaddy for the domain name in 1999, and GoDaddy never even alerted me that the name registration had not been renewed. Some commentators said that GoDaddy backorders were worthless.

I kept researching and found out that had been acquired by Network Solutions, and NameJet was the exclusive auctioneer of Network Solutions’ inventory of expired domain names. I scoured the FAQs on NameJet auctions. Other buyers had lost their opportunity to capture a name because they didn’t understand the byzantine process. It was clear that I couldn’t bid in an auction if I didn’t have a backorder placed before the auction started.  But, did it matter whether I placed it in the Pre-Release period or the Pending Delete period? What was the difference?  I’m still not certain, but I think that if I placed the only backorder during the Pre-Release period, I would be deemed to have won the auction at the end of the Pre-Release period.  When there were about 15 days left in the Pre-Release Period, I placed a backorder at the minimum price of $69. There were no other backorders. Yippee!

About 2 days before the end of the Pre-Release period, someone else placed a backorder for $69, too. Together we rolled into the 30-day Pending Delete period. I was deemed to be the high bidder because our bids were the same amount, and mine was first.

Pending Delete

I checked back every day, and there were only our two bids for $69. I was daring to hope and crossing my fingers. I read that a lot of bidders hold off until near the end. About 5 days into the Pending Delete period, a couple more bids for $69 came in. The next day there were 4 new ones. After that, more and more showed up each day. Ultimately 114 backorders appeared, all at $69.

NameJet closed the Pending Delete period and sent me an email saying there would be an auction in which the 114 backorders could participate, but they didn’t state the date of the auction. I hunted through my emails, my NameJet account, and the auction section of the website, but I couldn’t find a date. I bit my fingernails.

I must have checked the website 10 times and my email 50 times before a notice finally came out 2 days later that the auction would run for 3 days and close at a specified time and date. Oh no! The auction was scheduled to end on a date when I was already fully booked with telephone coaching appointments. To make matters worse, under the NameJet auction rules, if any bids come in during the last 5 minutes of the auction, the auction gets extended another 5 minutes, to prevent auction sniping. The extensions continue until there are no new bids in the last 5 minutes. Therefore the real end time of the auction is unpredictable.

Auction Day

After discussions with several advisors, I determined the maximum amount I was willing to pay for that domain. On the final day of the auction, I charged my assistant, Karyn, with keeping an eye on the bidding screen while I coached clients. I instructed her to bring me a note if any significant action occurred. The day started with all 114 bids still at $69. Since I had been the first bidder, I still had the “winning” bid.

After a couple of hours, someone placed a bid for $79. Karyn came running in with the news. As soon as I got a break, I put in a bid of $80 to try to determine whether I was dealing with a live person or a proxy bid. Instantaneously a response outbid me by $10, the proxy bid increment. We still had hours to go, so I let it sit while I went back to coaching calls.

At lunch break there were less than 2 hours left to go. I tested out the proxy bidder some more, and found that it topped out at $100 and things quieted down again. When it was almost time for my next coaching call, I was still holding the lead at $101.  I debated whether to enter a proxy bid, and how much to make it. I was willing to pay a lot more, but I had seen forum discussions in which participants expressed the opinion that the auction systems ran the bid up to proxy ceilings unnecessarily. I held off.

Things stayed calm until the last 30 minutes of the auction. Karyn burst in to my office with a panicked look on her face and a note that 2 new people had outbid me and they had some activity going. Suddenly I couldn’t hear a word my client was saying. Fortunately, this was a long-standing client with a lot of goodwill toward me. I explained that I had a small crisis, and she graciously rescheduled to a cancellation opening later in the afternoon.

I didn’t want to risk not getting the high bid in at the end, so I entered a proxy, knowing it would keep responding quickly. It fended off the two challengers, and they dropped away. Before I could relax, however, a brand new opponent appeared. Bids flew back and forth, but I had the top bid when time ran out. Karyn and I thought an extension period was about to start, but nothing happened. I had hit my opponent’s proxy ceiling and my last bid was 6 minutes before the end. No extension. I won!!

We yelled and danced and broke out cold beer in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I acquired a domain name that I sought for 10 years. And the price was less than my proxy bid and less than I would have offered the original owner, if I could have located him. Who says you can’t get no satisfaction?

I hope that, if you decide to buy a domain name, now you’ll have a better sense of how the process works than I did.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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