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A Guide to Buying Domain Names

Domain names, web site names - these are those unique names like "my-really-amazing-site.com" which provide an identity for your web site. Domain names have also been attracting an increasing number of "collectors" (aka "domainers") and potential investors, thanks to news articles about names like "bike.com" selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars!

But for every domain name selling for those sky-high prices, there are hundreds of thousands of others which expire without earning a penny or which may even end up costing the registrant expensive legal fees. Investing in domains, like other investments, is a complex business and you should do your homework before entering the field!

However, if you are just looking to buy a domain for your business or a personal web site or blog, here are some general guidelines.

Domain Buying Do's and Don'ts

  • DON'T ever buy or register a name containing a trademark (unless you are the trademark owner)! Corporations like Microsoft, Disney and others actively search for misuse of their trademarks - best case you will get a letter from their lawyers and have to give up the name. Worst case, this may be accompanied by costly legal fees.

    How do you find out if a term is trademarked? In the USA, you can search for active or pending trademarks for free at the US Patent and Trademark Office site. Canadian trademarks can be found in a database search at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. (also free to use).


  • DON'T buy or bid on a .US domain unless you are a USA citizen or have a business presence in the United States - it's unlawful to register a .us domain unless you meet those requirements.


  • Similarly, DON'T bid on a .EU domain unless you are in a European Union member country - you may not register a .eu name if you only have a US address.


  • DO register or buy a name which is easy to spell and remember - A good rule of thumb is the "phone test" - how easy would it be to spell out the domain name over the phone to someone? Avoid dashes and numbers, as these make it more difficult for people to type and spell the domain name correctly.


  • DO try to find a suitable name with a .com extension - Years ago, the only domain extensions you could buy were ".com", ".net" or ".org". Nowadays, there are now many new extensions like .info and .biz, as well as dozens of country code extensions (.us, .cc, .be ...). Why buy a .com? Because people who are unsure of your web site URL will always try the .com first - it's what we're all used to typing! A .org is fine if you are a non-profit organization, and .net is OK if the .com isn't available, but unless you have your heart set on a name which is only available in one of the "unusual" extensions, inexperienced domain buyers are better off avoiding them. Among other drawbacks, many of the country code extensions come with hefty annual registration fees - a Japanese domain name (.jp) will cost you about $100/year!


  • DO ask about the domain expiration date, transfer and registration fees. - Domains are "leased" from a registrar, not owned outright. If the domain is going to expire soon, figure the cost of re-registering it into the price you are willing to bid.

    If the seller registered the domain very recently, you will not immediately be able to transfer it to a different registrar. This usually doesn't pose a problem - reputable, major registrars will let you set up a free account and the seller can then "push" the domain to your account after purchase. If you have any questions about the domain transfer process or associated fees (if any) be sure to ask the seller before bidding!


  • DO check the seller's feedback - good advice for any kind of auction!

 

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