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Ask HN: Should I try to get squatted domain or use domain hack?
17 points by Titanous on July 6, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments
I've got a name for a project I'm working on; projectna.me is available (and inexpensive), but projectname.com is just a parked page, and there's a hotmail address in the WHOIS. All the other gTLDs are available (.net, .org, etc). The name is two generic words strung together (11 chars), and is not in use by anyone.

The project is a SaaS product for customer service and technical support departments of SMBs (not to mention a few other segments that I haven't anticipated).

Should I:

a) Stick with the domain hack, and worry about the .com if/when my site gets big?

b) Contact the .com owner and try to buy it before launching. (If so, how should I approach him? In my previous dealings with squatters I've been asked for a "4-figure offer", which is out of my bootstrapped budget.)

c) Ignore the hack and .com, and go with a .net?

My advice would be to contact the owner of the .com before you launch. Once you have launched, the .com will have a higher perceived value and will give the owner more leverage to bargain a higher price.

Failing getting the .com at the right price, I would recommend going with the .net. Domain hacks are often regarded as harder to remember (is it projectna.me? projectn.ame? etc.) and it is much easier to switch from a .net to a .com than from a domain hack if you do get the .com later.

Domain hacks are often regarded as harder to remember (is it projectna.me? projectn.ame? etc.)

I agree...it's risky to go with the domain hack without the .com. If people can't remember the hacked name, they will probably go with .com before trying .net (think script.aculo.us and del.icio.us). On the other hand, if most people get to your site through search results and links, you might not have to worry about typos.

Do "people", and by people I mean not people who read HN, actually type in domain names any more? Most I see simply search for it, even if they end up searching for the domain name itself.

PageRank > Shiny domain name.

I guess I fit into the "squatter" category here so I can possibly offer some advice from that side. I receive about an email a week asking if I want to sell xyz domain. They nearly never offer a price and I end up going back to them and saying that it is for sale, I haven't really thought about the price blah blah blah, but I paid a bit for the domain - make me an offer. And they tend not to come back.

My advice would firstly be to not use a hacked name for a business orientated product. Some comments here imply that your clients will be tech savvy - well in my experience the guy that is going to sign off the bill probably is not, and being too clever with a name wont help you there - stick to a simple .com name.

Secondly use a thesaurus and try and find different words for "project" and "name" that you might be able to string together and pay $9 for rather than buying off someone else. Whilst lots of domains are taken there are still billions of combinations available.

Thirdly, without going too obscure, see if you can find a 5-7 letter pronounceable generic domain. Know any kids, ask them to spell the word you come up with, that is always a good test. http://domaintyper.com/ has a list of "web 2.0" names it generates, sometimes some good ones (generally not, but worth a click). Last time I did this exercise for my business I came up with about 30 usable names.

If you do want the squatted name, try sending an email directly to the person along the lines of "Hi, I have an idea for a small business and the domain name registered to you xyz.com would be quite a nice match. It is only in the early stages, I'm a student blah blah so have little budget and was wondering if you'd be interested in selling the domain for $200". If it was me I might come back to you wanting $400, but unlikely I'd ask for $1,000 or 10K unless it was really valuable, and if it is 11 characters it probably isn't. You've set the expectations of what you can afford and that is a good place to start. Bare in mind you can get a readable 4 letter domain for under $1,000 so don't go too high.

Sorry if this is bad form on HN (both replying to my own message and/or posting the following), but I thought this might be of interest to a lot of readers. Before you go and pay a bomb to a "squatter" or complain about how expensive domains are here is a list of some domains that I would consider reasonable names, that I have bid on (please note I didn't win most of them) at dropping domain auctions, that could have been purchased for a fairly modest amount (yes I know some people think $8.17 or whatever it is is the only amount anyone should pay):

clovo.com 65.00 axod.com 70.00 exod.us 100.00 forq.com 190.00 disc.us 200.00 wrax.com 201.00 flysafely.com 275.00 changethings.com 286.00 stockwidgets.com 294.00 given.org 300.00 conky.com 302.00 maxan.com 303.00 coret.com 325.00 pinex.com 331.00 surun.com 359.00 broadly.com 401.00 airlabs.com 403.00 onecolor.com 428.00 typically.com 450.00 exchangemedia.com 450.00

If this is not HN style then please let me know and I will delete the post (if that is possible). If you want more examples I could post a page somewhere. But my point is a bit of research and patience and you can nab some pretty good domains for a good price (I so wish I had bought changethings.com)

Contact the owner, but don't seem too interested. Maybe go as far as mentioning that it's for a "personal project" rather than a business you're about to launch.

Every week there is an article about how nobody uses the URL bar anymore; they just type in the company name and click the first Google result. In that case, projectna.me will do just fine.

If you are going to advertise on TV and billboards, then you need a .com. Otherwise, people will just be clicking links or getting the email from their address book, so you could just as easily be 293874djkhae98745jmdcf.com.net.org.lol. Google will save you.

OTOH, I bet "project name" has some pretty high-ranking results already, and you may never show up. Who knows.

(My personal page is apparently the second result for "jrock", which is a pretty popular subject that my website is completely unrelated to. So who knows.)

Pick another name.

I agree that spending a little time trying to pick another name is good, but these days it's almost impossible to find a .com that makes a decent name.

To pick a name where you'll be able to get name.com, it has to be something really out there. Something foreign (Heroku), something fairly random (thesixtyone, Weebly, 280 North), some weird spelling (Disqus, Xobni (haven't seen too many backwards-word sites. could be some gems there), or something else strange.

I'm not saying that you can't find a good name that's a little more direct, just that your odds are a lot worse, especially if you want a reasonably short domain name (which you do).

So I guess if I were looking for a project name soon, I would briefly try a few obvious things, then look for japanese words, try reversing a word, etc.

I would even bet that disqus.com didn't just go to namecheap.com and say "hi, I'd like to pay 9.95 on disqus.com, please". Most pronounceable 6-letter domains are already being squatted on.

In my experience, it really can't hurt to approach the seller and see what you can negotiate. Just make it clear that you have a plan B, and plan C, and so on, and tell them "I have a budget of $xxxx--are you willing to sell". Be willing to walk away, and make sure they understand that.

Finally, keep in mind that a domain for which you pay a premium is an asset that, at worst, you can take to squatting on and try to resell someday. So even if it appears to come with a steep price tag, you should recognize that it's part investment along with the obvious expense part--just like a car or a house.

Oh, yeah, I should have mentioned that if you come up with a few domains you really like that are taken, you might as well contact the owner and see what happens. But if they want thousands of dollars that you aren't willing to part with just for a domain, looking for obscure ones is probably the way to go.

Also, while it is true that domains are an investment, I'd keep in mind that they're pretty risky and illiquid investments. Unless you negotiate well or get someone who doesn't know the market value of the domain, you're probably going to pay approximately what you'll get for it if someone actually comes around wanting the domain. But that might not happen or might not happen for years. I guess there are probably domain squatting sites that would buy the domain from you, but probably for much less than what you paid, especially since you're approaching them, so they know you want to get rid of it and would probably do it for much less than what it's potentially worth.

This seems like a good option too, but if you've found a name you really want then why not send an email and find out if you can get the .com first? You have little to lose.

I think it would be a pretty rare squatter who'd turn down say $300 free and clear for an obscure domain, provided you don't clue him in to your interest. As one of the other commenters said, just approach it casually and don't clue him into the fact that you want this domain badly enough to post on HN about it.

Being friendly always helps; don't seem annoyed by the fact that he's squatting, don't say stuff like, "well, you're not using it anyway", etc.

That's point #1. The second point is: why do you really need the .COM anyway? Do you anticipate a lot of people typing your domain in directly? Won't they use Google? The competitive advantage of .COM vs. .XYZ is nothing like it used to be IMO. Take 4chan.org and 4chan.com as a colorful example.

The bottom line is that if your product is useful and your website is indexed, people will find your site. They're not going to hit the parked page and think your site doesn't exist. I mean, if you were selling lolcats it would be one thing but for an SaaS product with tech-savvy users?

Also, don't go through the automated "make an offer on this domain" process that some registrars (eg Godaddy) have. In my experience that increases the perceived value of the domain, because the guy on the receiving end gets a nice colorful email, etc, "ooh! somebody's interested in your domain". Just send a short, boring three-liner to him directly.

Domain registration is really only the half of it. Having just gone through a product naming, I was stunned how many available or squatted domain names are trademarked. I would really encourage you to search for any existing trademarks before you contact the owner of the domain you like. It's not going to help you to get X.com only to find out later that X is trade-marked to a company in your space (or even a company in a different space but serving the same target customer as you) via a previously registered XGroup.com or GoX.com or whatever. As a rule, ideas float to the top at the same time so the likelihood of a competitor using some variation of ProjectName.com for a similar service is higher than you think...

In addition, I would vote emphatically against creative spelling. At a previous start-up, we got a short pronounceable dot com that was a fusion of two words but it caused us nothing but grief and (probably) lost word of mouth.

Paying money for a domain name is so 1998, go with the name hack or use another name entirely. Google will save you.

I agree, personally I like domain hacks, they are creative and are interesting from a creative perspective.

I love hacks!

SEO is making domain names less and less important and type in traffic becoming a thing of the past. Currently trends show that people will more than often use a search engine even if they frequent your site.

I run a business and we promote on television, radio, newspapers you name it. We get 80% more hits from people typing in our obscure business name into Google than we do typ-ins.

Hacks may have people wondering where the hell to put the dot! BUT it also adds to the uniqueness and a point of difference worth talking about from the get go.

My advice - if you are selling something FUN and for a young audience then run with the hack and implement a tonne of social media strategies.

As you said though, it's a customer service product aimed at SME's - so the less educating you need to do the better. Offer 10 times wholesale for the dot com, and register every single possible extension to protect your brand!

My 222 cents :)

You can counter-offer. I offered a domain-squatter half what they asked, and they sold to me immediately... leaving me thinking that I could have offered much less.

Maybe choose a different name. "Project name" is probably hard to google for. That's another reason for making up words. It's easy to test for uniqueness by googling it yourself.

Choose a .com name. ".com" names are helpful because people expect it (and sometimes ponder a little over why it isn't a .com); and browsers try automatically complete to that first.

Get the domain hack ... theprojectname.com or getprojectname.com works well ... and if you're actually successful you can eventually buy the domain.

If projectname.com doesn't work and thats all a user remembers, they'll search for you in google, so make sure you show up #1 for projectname.com with good SEO.

Worked for facebook and dropbox.

I'm not a huge fan of domain hacks. I would definitely at least try for the .com. If the person hasn't really had much interest in the name, then maybe they'll sell it in the 3-figure price range.

Don't pay squatters a red cent. Be creative but also realistic. A crisp unique name is better for SaaS than an obvious phrase. The quality of your service will set you apart, and fwiw, Google is not called SearchEngine.com.

Yeah, but people don't say "search engine", they say "google".

That's because Google established its brand via sheer quality. "Google" was not a generic layman's term for "search engine" until Google made it so. Hence, proving my point.

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