John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Domain Acquisition is Tricky Business

I have been buying domains since they were $150 each. I have been a “domain acquisition consultant” since I started making side money hand-crafting DNS records for others back in the early 90’s (Network Solutions was the only registar, and they did almost nothing for your $150). During the past year, domain acquisition has become quite sophisticated, and my customers know because I warn them almost constantly about how careful we need to be when we are in pursuit of a domain.

My client list is confidential, as are my methods and tactics. I don’t want to be “famous”, and I know as a competitive webmaster I compete directly with a number of companies and individuals on a daily basis. But Bill Hartzer is in the news media business and likes notoriety, and he has done some good work exposing various facets of the marketing and “domaining” industries on his blog. Today he exposes an activity my customers have known about for quite a while, and he does it admirably. Now, courtesy of Bill, you, too can witness one of the many tricky aspects of domain name acquisition — how registrars watch to see what domains you are evaluating, buy them out from under you, and try to resell them to you at an inflated price.

Personally I don’t see Network Solutions behavior as offensive as some others playing in the space, because they are merely attaching themselves to a domain that was initially checked through their interface, and offering it at their regular (inflated) price. They could say they are assisting the customer by reserving it temporarily on behalf of the Network Solutions customer who has expressed interest. If they allow it to drop in 4 days or so, the behavior is more of a shame than criminal.

Bill shows evidence of Network Solutions allegedly engaging in this front-running practice, but I assure you professional domainers are equally on the watch, buying ISP data to scan for unresolved domains they too can snap up with hopes of selling them to interested parties at auction prices. Some time ago I asked “Would you trust these guys” when OpenDNS launched. This domain front-running-like activity revealed by Bill is just one of many facets of information brokerage available to the infrastructure guys like OpenDNS and registars, who are in the business of monetizing opportunities created by the availability of your Internet activity data. The same thing goes for those “free SEO tools” that take in a domain name and “check it” for SEO. Those guys are collecting data for free from you, which they monetize later. Nullem gratuitum prandium, or something like that.

Check out Bill Hartzer’s coverage, and watch your back when looking for domains. If you are in need of a consultant I am definitely available, and happy to take on domain acquisition projects (new domains, auction purchases, buying domains from existing registrants, tracking down domains in limbo, etc).

Addition: A discussion on DailyDomainer highlighted Network Solutions as the probable source of a leak in domain checking activity back in October of 2007. In that case domainers had observed checked domains getting snapped up by offshore domain holding companies within minutes, even when the checking was done through previously trustworthy services. One of those services investigated and reported that it seemed pass-thru whois checks sent to Network Solutions were being monitored and used by those offshore companies to snatch desired domains. With that sort of leaking, there is no way for even Network Solutions to conduct business, as good domains would disappear between the time you placed a domain in your shopping cart and the time you attempted to pay the balance due. Ouch. If that is the case, this “temporary hold” imposed by NetSol seems like a good solution, eh?

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4 Responses to “Domain Acquisition is Tricky Business”

  1. jeff Says:

    Thanks for the informative article. While I hadn’t read much about this kiting before, I’d been suspecting it for a long time. (Editor note: corrected the spelling of “kiting”)

  2. Ernan Says:

    Very helpful info considering that I am evaluating other registrars “popularity” in registering my domains.

  3. travel blog Says:

    150 that is crazy.

  4. Jim Scott Says:

    Mr. Andrews,
    How do you value a domain that has already been acquired, but is not used?
    I am sure that they are waiting for a big payday from a multi-national company, but what about a sole-proprietor start-up trying to get ‘their name’?

    Some companies may be willing to pay mega-bucks, but I can’t afford even $1000…

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