When the Domain Name You Want Is Already Taken

I want to use my company's name, plus dot-com, for my Web site. But that name is already taken. It will expire later this year. Is it possible for me to reserve it so nobody else can get it or renew it? I currently have my company name with a dot-biz domain, but would rather have the more memorable dot-com. —H.J., Cleveland

You're right to conclude that a dot-com extension is typically where customers will look for your company online. While you can use the dot-net or dot-biz extensions with your business name, they are not as memorable, says Michael Weiss, CEO of imagistic, a digital marketing and technology company in Westlake Village, Calif.

If you haven't done so already, find the individual who currently owns the domain name you'd like for your company. If there is no Web site at that URL, or no contact information on the site, you can look up the current ownership at WHOIS, Weiss says.

You can try negotiating with the owner directly for the domain name, or you can request to back-order a domain name that is coming close to its expiration date. Sites such as SnapNames take back orders for expiring domains, says Eric Esposito, CTO of SilverTech, a New England online marketing and technology business.

Putting in a request does not guarantee you will have first choice of the domain name when it comes up for grabs, Esposito says. "Typically, when a domain expires, the current registrant will hold it for 30 to 45 days to give the owner a chance to renew. After that, it goes into an auction where those who place back orders or those who are interested in it can bid on the domain name," he says.

Be Sure to Register for Multiple Years

All the bidding is done online, and winners must pay up front before the domain name is released. "This process can take some time, so it is good to plan ahead and request a back order at least a couple months early," Esposito says.

If you win the domain name, or you can persuade the owner to sell it to you directly, make sure you register it for multiple years. "Domains registered for only one year can negatively impact search engine rankings," Esposito says. And if you do get the dot-com domain name and retain the dot-biz URL, you should try to purchase the dot-net, dot-org, and other available extensions for your company as well, Weiss says.

What if you don't manage to secure the domain name you desire? All is not lost. There are likely other, less expensive dot-com domains you can register using alternate versions of your company name. "There are search engine benefits to getting certain keywords in your domain name," Esposito says.

For instance, hyphenating your company name with a keyword representing your main product or industry can bump up your Web site listing in organic search results. "It could get more difficult if your company has a widely diverse set of products or services, but it is something to keep in mind," Esposito says.