The Domain Market is a Mess

About six weeks ago, I had an idea for a side project that I wanted to build. Of course, the first thing I did was try and come up with a great name for it. I knew it’d be difficult to find something good, but I didn’t realize it would take five weeks, thousands of domain searches, and a million headaches. As difficult as it was, at the end of it I acquired a domain for $495 that I really like. By the time it was all over, I learned a lot that I think you’ll find helpful if you’re looking for a domain.

The Domain Market is a Mess

Researching Domain Names

I started out by listing a few dozen words that described the product. Not how the product made me feel or what emotions I wanted it to invoke in people — that’s a better exercise for branding than for a domain — but focused more on words that described what the product would do. I used those words as my base for what came next.

In a great interview of Jason Fried, where he covers everything having to do with the founding of Basecamp and 37signals, he’s asked by the interviewer how he comes up with names for his products — names like Basecamp, Campfire, etc. — and Jason responded, “whatever you do, never use a thesaurus.” While I agree with Jason that you won’t be able to plug in a word and get back a good name, I did find a thesaurus to be a great word idea generator.

I took my few dozen words and plugged each individual word, one at a time, into which I found to give you the cleanest search results. With every result, I took the word or words I liked and added them to my document. Then I took the new words and ran thesaurus searches on them as well. I repeated that process for every new word I found and liked. When I was done, I had about seventy-five words that I liked.

Next, I made a Google Spreadsheet document with six columns: name, domain name, domain availability, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. For each domain name I would search on Domain Tools, I’d keep a list of available domains and make sure that their social media counterparts were also available. I’d only save names to the list if they were available for registration or for sale.

As many of you know, the chance of a domain name being available for registration is slim to none if it’s any good at all. This is especially true if you are limiting your choice to .com domain addresses as I was. For me, old school on this topic, it’s a .com or bust. Until the Internet changes significantly and having a .com extension is proven to give you no advantage, I will continue to register .com domains only.

With my spreadsheet in hand, I searched and searched and searched for a good combination of words on Domain Tools. I was searching so often that they thought I was a computer and asked me to enter a CAPTCHA. The great thing about Domain Tools is that they won’t simply tell you whether the domain name is taken, they’ll also let you know whether it’s for sale, and how much it costs.

The process of domain availability search is a tedious one and after a while I found a service called Bust A Name that allows you to bulk search on a list of words. Even better, you can add words to different groups and have it only combine one word from each individual bucket. This is great if you’re looking for a two-word domain name, as I was because in effect everything else is taken.

Categorizing Good and Bad Ideas

Several thousand searches later, I had compiled a list of 164 names that were either available for registration or for sale. As this was a side project, I limited my purchase price to under $2,500 — but really under $1,000 if I was being honest with myself.

Next, I asked four friends to go through the spreadsheet and 0 or 1 the names they liked. Of the 164 names, there was only one name that all four people gave a 1 to. Two names got three 1’s. The rest either got all 0’s or one or two 1’s only. As it turned out, the name all four people gave 1’s to was the name I liked best.

Fortunately (and unfortunately), it was for sale.

Acquiring the Domain Name

While the domain search process was painful and time consuming, it didn’t compare to the nightmare I went through finally acquiring the domain name from the seller. I thought the hard part was done now that I’d found a domain name for sale at a reasonable price. It wasn’t.

Within an hour of deciding that I’d buy this domain name, I purchased it through Sedo. While their site doesn’t have the friendliest user interface, the purchase process was relatively simple. I got an email from them confirming that I’d paid $495 for the domain name and to submit my GoDaddy information for transfer. I immediately submitted my information, thinking that I’d get the domain name pushed to my account later that day. Instead it took twenty days.

I waited twenty-four hours before emailing Sedo to ask what was taking so long. They responded about a half-day later that they had contacted the seller and were waiting for them to push the domain name. This was on a Wednesday. Several days passed and I still hadn’t heard anything. I decided to wait until Monday to follow up. I wasn’t in panic mode yet, but something definitely smelled fishy to me. Why would a simple domain transfer take more than a few days if I’d already paid for it?

Monday came and I still hadn’t heard anything. I wrote Sedo in the morning to ask what the hold-up was. I hadn’t heard back from them by late that afternoon, so I decided I would take matters into my own hands and contact the seller directly. I got lucky and found his phone number on the whois of the domain name. I gave him a call and remarkably he picked up. He told me that Sedo had in fact contacted him and not to worry, he’d be pushing the domain to Sedo (who then pushes it to me) later that day.

Thinking that everything was fine, I went to sleep thinking that I’d have the domain in my account that Tuesday (about one week later). The next day there was still no word from Sedo or domain transferred to my account. I decided to give Sedo a call to find out what the delay was. The guy at Sedo was very nice and explained to me that they’d put in several requests for the domain to be transferred to them from the seller, but the seller had not sent it.

This was baffling to me, as the seller had said he would send it on Monday. I emailed the seller to ask what the hold-up was and if in fact he had sent it. He responded later that day full of apologies. He said that GoDaddy and Sedo had recently ended a relationship — not sure if this is true or not — and that transferring domains happens in a different way now — also not sure if this is true. He said that he’d be calling his GoDaddy rep to figure out how to resolve this ASAP.

Several more days passed. Still no word and still no domain. I was really beginning to worry. Was this seller trying to get out of his legal obligation to sell me the name that he’d agreed to sell on Sedo? I had just completed several thousand domain searches to come up with this name and I really didn’t want to go with something second best or start a whole new search.

Two weeks had now gone by and I was starting to get unbelievably frustrated. The seller would tell me that it was a problem with Sedo and GoDaddy and Sedo would tell me that it was a problem with the seller. I had no idea who to believe and I was getting quite pissed off. Nobody wants a runaround, and I was getting it from both sides.

Finally, twenty days into the process, I called Sedo again to complain and ask about the status of the domain name. It just happened that they had just received the domain in their account and were planning to push it to me shortly. With a huge sigh of relief, I knew I would finally get the domain name that I wanted. I kept checking my email, and several hours later I received, finally, an email from GoDaddy instructing me to accept the transfer. After the domain was safely in my account, I emailed the seller with a “good doing business with you” message, never to hear anything back.

The takeaway from all this was two-fold for me: (1) finding a domain is f**king hard, and (2) the domain transfer market is terrible and ripe for someone smart to wreak havoc on the existing players. In the end, the time I spent finding this domain name is time well spent, and I’m really happy with what I found. I wish everyone the best of luck in finding their domain name, and I can certainly relate to any craziness you go through in your search.


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