February 5, 2019

5 Steps to Negotiate a Squatted Domain


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    Thanks for sharing your experience, Rob - I wanted to add a few tips mostly from the perspective of a "squatter", but also as an occasional buyer. Your headline drew me in because it amazes me how often people get upset with others who own domain names they don't seem to be using, believing they're entitled to having a domain name for cheap just because it would be the perfect name for their project.

    There is an oft-used analogy with real estate that is worth pointing out: you would not expect to get anywhere by showing a landlord a screenshot of the $1000 in your bank account hoping to get that sweet condo in Midtown NYC, would you? Just because someone was in a market before you were, grab grabbed land or apartments that would be perfect for your business, and may have more than they need, doesn't mean they should give them away to anyone who asks. We don't call property developers or real estate investors "squatters" - so I would encourage you to look at domain names similarly, if you're trying to get anything done.

    Calling a domain owner a squatter will not get you anywhere, to begin with. At most, it does exactly what you're trying to avoid in step 2 - insult someone.

    Before I get to tips, I should clarify - I do believe there is a category of registrants who deserve the title - folks who use brand names in nefarious ways, either hoping the brand will reach out and buy them off, or pointing them to ads, using them for phishing purposes, etc. GoogleLove dot com would be an example - but EmailLove dot com? I wouldn't call that a squatted name. (And, by the way, there are easy ways to get names from true squatters through procedures like UDRP - but that won't get you anywhere with generic names or names that have nothing to do with a trademark or real company).

    Now, if you can get past the idea that you are entitled to a domain just because no one is using it, here are a few more helpful tips:

    • Do some research into what similar domain names have sold before. Namebio.com. For instance, they report 169 previous sales of two word .com names including "Email", with an average price of $1,788. Pretty close to what you ended up paying, but a few caveats: most sales are not reported, most of the data they have is from aftermarket auctions, and owners who go out of their way to report. Still, a decent indicator.

    • Avoid the "fun side project" or "hey I'm a college student just using this for a class" openers. It may have worked 10-15 years ago but anyone who owns more than a few domains and has received offers before will have heard that one too many times. A sour way to open a negotiation. If the owner is what you call a "professional squatter", this will more often than not backfire and get you a really high counteroffer to blow you off - that is, if you ever get a reply at all.

    • The personal email trick is also well-known. If it's an email you've used on the web before, it could be traced back to a domain you registered a while back, and thus one could find out all the domains you own (more difficult to do after GDPR but still quite easy). Another sour way to open a conversation.

    Sure - you could use a brand new email that's not tied to anything you've done online before, and that might work sometimes. But I know many owners who will not reply to emails that provide no information or ways to find out who is behind the email - unless, of course, you open with a pretty high number.

    • Be honest about your intentions and as much as possible try to get the owner on the phone rather than email.

    • Ultimately, be realistic in your expectations. Millions of dollars in domain names change hands every month, and lots are reported on Namebio or places like DNJournal.com. There is an active domain name aftermarket, with auction websites like Dropcatch, Namejet or Godaddy Auctions where you can find AMAZING deals on names that expire or are auctioned wholesale - if you're patient and somewhat flexible. That is also the source of many domain investors' purchases - and believe it or not, "squatters" pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars EVERY DAY for names they will hold as an investment until the right business or developer comes along with a plan.

    But in 2019, if you expect to get a good dictionary-word .COM for less than 5 figures, or a good two-word combo for less than $2-3,000, you're better off saving everyone's time by using a domain name generator and finding something unregistered.

    Bottom line - don't be sneaky, do your research and be realistic about your budget and expectations.

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      Hey Rob - will reply properly in a bit - just want to say a massive thank you for the constructive reply. Such a testament to the Indie Hackers community.

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      Hi Rob, as a seller, would you recommend Dropcatch, Namejet or Godaddy Auctions ? I'm looking to get rid of a few domains. Also, any blog posts or guides to selling you'd recommend?

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        Signing up to sell on Namejet takes some time and more verification than it might be worth for just a few names. Dropcatch doesn't allow individuals to sign up to sell as far as I'm aware. Godaddy Auctions would be the way to go, but I would also look at Sedo and Afternic, depending on the quality of your names and how fast you're trying to sell them.

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    I want to add my suggestion:

    When you decided to buy a domain name, you can go dofo.com and search the domain name to know if it listed for sale on any marketplace.

    Also, domain investors aren't "squatters," and they don't like to be called so. Please don't insult us. Domain name registration rules are obvious, and we (as honest investors) don't violate them.

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      Thank you for the Dofo suggestion Kemal!

      After @fictions excellent reply further up, I definitely won't be referring Domain Traders as Squatters in the future.

      Without going into it too much, I personally see phrase-matching domains like "cheap car rental" [dot com] or "wedding" [dot com] way more acceptable than buying up a ton of brandable phrases like Email Love.

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    Another tip that worked for me. Google "domainnameyoureinter­estedin.com" (in parenthesis). I found the person who owned the domain via their LinkedIn profile.

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      Great tip Gregg - thank you!

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    Thanks Rob. What's your opinion on the new .app domains? Do you think they'll get as popular as .com?

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      Hey Christian - I personally don't think any TLD will become as popular as the .com but really cool to see the rise of .io domains, I didn't expect it.

      The .app domains are neat but aren't my first choice. If I can't get the .com I try make a clever use of a TLD to create the brand name. Example: I recently bought a Spanish domain to create https://audionot.es

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    These days lots of startups are going with .io or .co. If you have the content, then having your keywords in a .co should probably be as Seo effective as .com, no?

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      I can't say for sure but having a .co or .io with several great links in (from established resources) will have a lot of SEO weight than the .com without links in. What we'd do to see that Google algorithm:)

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      Really appreciate that Alex! :)

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    Lots of good tips! Thanks for the write up.

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      Glad you enjoyed - loads of different tricks but these are a good start at leas:)

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    Rob, I watched your video on this too, so I'm pretty happy to see it in written form so that I can ask more questions!

    So I'm wondering what tips you'd give for someone on the other end of the table, I've been approached 3 times with offers to buy domains from me, and every time I've messed up, is there a way to stay humble on the OTHER side while still getting the price you want?

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      Great question! There is lots at play here.

      Personally, decluttering domains is a great feeling. I literally cannot spend another second day-dreaming about that potential project as I don't own the domain anymore.

      I'd say minimum cover the renewal costs you spent owning the domain. Then maybe an hour of your time for the domain transfer but if you believe the person is going to to build something great with the domain you should push to give it to them as low as possible.

      So to answer your question from a different angle. Ask them their intentions for the domain. If they want to resell and squat, don't support it.