How to buy an existing domain nameBy: Rose Massary and Domenic Romano

A customized website domain name can (a) assist in marketing efforts, (b) help develop brand identity and (c) provide fast and easy access to prospective customers.  But what if the domain name you want is already taken?

You may be weighing the costs of buying that perfect Web domain for your small or medium-sized business instead of settling for the next best thing.  But how do you buy it?  

1.  Do your research.

As with any purchase, figure out what you’re buying and how much you’re willing pay. Do some general research before making an offer:

      • Browse the site to gauge its functionality.  Be sure that the domain isn’t dead or defective.
      • Check if any backlinks (or inbound links) are sending traffic to the website.  Excessive, irrelevant or bad backlinks may lead to search engine penalties that negatively impact a domain’s presence in online searches.  Getting rid of bad backlinks can be a long and difficult process.  Such links may be a reason to rethink the purchase or substantially lower the price you’re willing to pay.
      • Evaluate whether the domain name uses third-party trademarks.  Under federal law, trademark owners have certain rights against those who use domain names that are identical or similar to a distinctive mark.  Purchasing a domain name that’s similar to someone else’s trademark may lead to a cease-and-desist or take-down demand down the road.
      • Scan the Web for reviews.  If the current owner is using the domain for an existing business, there may be negative reviews online.  Internet users may be deterred from visiting a site if it comes with baggage in the form of bad feedback.

2.  Reach out to the owner.

Many websites contain “About Us” or “Contact Us” pages that provide owners’ contact information.  If not, you can do an inquiry at WhoIs.com.  The search results may include the owner’s name and email address.

When contacting the owner, be polite and professional.  Reach out by email using a generic address that doesn’t give too much information away (a good example would be “john@gmail.com”).  If your initial email provides relevant information about your professional or personal status, the seller may conduct online research to assess your financial situation and possibly inflate the price.

3.  Use an escrow service.

To complete the transaction safely and avoid online fraud, engage an escrow service like Escrow.com to oversee the sale.  The funds won’t be released until certain conditions have been met.  Conditions for release can include satisfactory testing of the domain name, transfer of the domain and all relevant passwords, and updating online registrations to reflect your new ownership.

4.  Get it in writing. 

Draft a Domain Name Purchase Agreement to set out the parameters of the sale.

A buyer should make sure that the agreement, among other things:

(i) confirms the seller’s ownership of the site and authority to sell;

(ii) guarantees that the domain name doesn’t contain infringing material;

(iii) spells out what is included and excluded in the deal;

(iv) transfers all of the seller’s right, title and interest in the domain name and all goodwill associated with it;  and

(v) clearly lists all conditions that must be satisfied before releasing the escrow funds.

Buying an existing domain name came be a tricky process.  Remember to kick the tires and do your own due diligence.  Once you’ve set your sights on a particular domain, treat the purchase seriously and with care.  Like real estate, domain names can be very valuable to a business if acquired and used properly.

Contributing Authors: Josh Wueller and Victoria Gionesi

Josh - EXT

Rose Massary

Associate Attorney

(212) 865-9848

Email Rose

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Rose - EXT

Domenic Romano

Managing Attorney

(212) 865-9848

Email Domenic

See my full profile

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