What to do if your domain is taken
You’ve landed on just the perfect domain name. It’s short. It’s memorable. It’s easy to pronounce. It perfectly embodies everything you’re all about.
So you type it in to your registrar’s search bar and … “Already taken.”
What now? Start over?
Well, not so fast. There may still be some options open to you
Modify the domain name
Your first and maybe most obvious option if the domain name you want is already registered is to change it slightly to try to get around the exact domain name you wanted being already taken.
There are a few ways you could change your domain name to change it enough that it doesn’t significantly compromise the meaning of your domain name but still makes it different enough to register.
One method would be to change the spelling of your domain name. This is a particularly good strategy if your domain name is a made-up word anyway. For example, if foo.com is already taken, you could try phoo.com instead.
One problem comes if you change the spelling of a common word in your domain name. If example.com is taken, eggzample.com might seem like a good idea, but because that’s not the normal way to spell ‘example,’ you lose the advantage of having a short, memorable domain name since every time you tell someone the domain name verbally, you’ll have to spell it out for them.
A better method is to add a descriptor to your domain name. A couple of common options that add context to your domain name are adding your industry or business type to the end, or adding a geographic descriptor, like your city.
If you’re a pizza shop and example.com is taken, you might try registering examplepizza.com instead. Or, if you’re located in San Francisco, you might try examplesf.com.
Another option is to add an article to the front of your domain name, like ‘the’ or ‘a/an.’ If example.com is taken, you might try theexample.com or anexample.com instead.
The downside to any of these methods is that there’s a high potential for confusion between your domain name and the one that’s already registered. The small differences might mean that a minor misunderstanding could direct traffic to the other website.
To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?
Another problem when either adding descriptors or articles is whether or not to use a hyphen. There’s a range of advice about whether or not you should use a hyphen in your domain name, but we find that it varies depending on the situation.
In general, you should use a hyphen if it improves legibility — especially if the word you’re using is already hyphenated — or the division between the two words in your domain name is ambiguous, if you’re using it as a way to shorten a longer word or phrase, or if you already own the other version.
However, keep in mind that hyphens are hard to communicate (you’ll have to say “hyphen” or “dash” in the middle of your domain name when you say it outloud), and they might look spammy to some people and keep them from clicking a link to your website.
Change the domain ending
So maybe the .com version of your domain name isn’t available. That’s not too surprising. After all, .com is far and away the most saturated domain ending, which is to say, you’re far more likely to find any given .com registered versus any other domain ending.
If the domain you want is taken, then one option you have is to register it with a different domain ending. But not all domain endings are created equal. There are three main types you can choose from, and you might choose each for different reasons or to serve different purposes. Let’s take a look.
Generic domain endings
A generic domain ending is any, like .com, that don’t really have a specific meaning, but are just “generic.” Anyone can register them and anyone might be interested in them. A good example is .net, but other, newer generic domain endings also exist, like .space, .name, .xyz, or .website.
Not only are these great alternatives if the exact domain name you want is already taken, they can also make your domain name stand out, and might even make your domain name more memorable since they allow you to create a more distinctive identity.
Geographic domain endings
Other domain endings refer to specific geographic areas. The most common of these are the ones that use each country’s two-letter code. These include .uk for the United Kingdom, .fr for France, and .br for Brazil, amongst others. There is a domain ending in this format that corresponds to every country in the world, so one option you may have is to register your domain name with the country code domain ending that corresponds to your country.
There are other, newer geographic domain endings as well. Some of these, like .africa and .asia, cover whole continents. Others, like .tirol, or .quebec cover a specific region, province, or state within a country. While still more — like .nyc, .tokyo, or .joburg — are for a particular city, (n.b. not every continent, region, or city has its own domain ending).
Using one of these geographic domain endings not only allows you to add information to your domain name about who you are and where you’re from, but also helps you target a more geo-specific audience.
Niche domain endings
There is also a subcategory of generic domain endings that includes domain endings that cater to a specific community, interest area, or industry.
These include sponsored domain endings, like .aero, .coop, .museum, or .travel, which are sponsored by individual corporations or especially industry groups related to aerospace, coops, museums, and travel respectively. This type often requires you to verify that you’re a part of the industry being represented.
Others, like .desi, .nowruz, .irish, or .lgbt are intended for specific linguistic, cultural, or social communities.
Finally, some, like .tech, .pet, .recipes, .style, or .wine just represent a particular area of interest, hobbies, or industry.
All these types of “niche” domain endings help you to say more about you or your project or business in the domain name itself and can also help you include a search keyword in your domain name to help improve your search engine ranking.
While this option is available to you in most cases, be careful about registering a domain name with a different domain ending of an already established business. For example, you may run afoul of intellectual property laws if you try to register ‘facebook.tech’ or ‘apple.tech.’ These, of course, are obvious examples (of domains that are already registered), and you’re more likely to run into more ambiguous cases.
Contact the owner of the domain name
If your really must have the domain name you’ve picked out and which is already taken, you can also try contacting the current owner of the domain name.
This is especially true if the domain name you want to register is not being actively used by its owner.
How to find domain contact information
The Whois is a directory of domain name owners. However, either for legal reasons or just data privacy concerns, most Whois information is obfuscated.
That does not mean that the information cannot be used to contact the owners of a domain name.
Wait for it to expire
If the owner of a domain name really isn’t using it, they might decide to let it expire, at which point the domain name becomes available to anyone to register again. This option is really only available to you if you have time to wait — domain names have a minimum registration period of one year and a maximum registration period of 10 years, so even if a current domain name owner isn’t interested in keeping their domain name, it could be up to a decade before it becomes available again.
You can also use the Whois to tell when a domain name is set to expire.
If you land on a perfect domain name only to find that it’s already been registered by someone else, you have options. You can try changing the domain name by adding additional details, by including an article, or by changing the spelling, or you could try registering your domain name with a different domain ending that reflects your geography, your industry, your interest area, or is just another generic domain ending.
If you’re really committed to that particular domain name, you can try contacting the owner to see if they’re interested in selling it, especially if it’s not in use.
But if at the end of the day, neither modifying the domain name, changing the domain ending, or trying to buy the domain name from the current owner work for you, you might have to just start over.