Start-ups Roll Up, Roll Up: How to Secure a Premium Domain at a Budget Price

Over the last year I’ve entered negotiations for five different domains, I’ve purchased four of those domains of varying value from different domainers. The domains I’ve purchased have varied in value from $150, to several thousand dollars.

Previously I refused to buy domains from resellers – I always held that primitive view that there would always be something out there available at the registration fee that would suit my needs. As I’ve built and sold websites I’ve realised that all of the good names are registered for a reason: Because they’re worth it.

All of the domain names I’ve bought have been for new projects; consequently I’ve not had buckets full of cash to throw at the names. In this article I’m going to look at a few techniques that you can use in order to secure your ideal domain name “on the cheap”.

What I’m about to share probably won’t work with five figure domain names and large portfolio holders, but for the lower end names I’ve been purchasing it has worked just fine.

Identifying your domain name

Before you go round flashing the cash you must first identify the domain name you want to acquire. For the record, all of the domain names I’ve purchased are exact match domains (EMDs – an EMD is a domain that is in itself a keyword or keyphrase, like my domain Of course there’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding EMDs because they no longer carry as much weight in the SERPs as they once did. That aside however, I still believe EMDs are great because they get type in traffic and they’re memorable. Any favourable treatment they get in the SERPs is a bonus.

Identify the domain you want to buy, whether it’s an EMD or a brandable domain, the chances are someone else will have already registered it (if not, register the domain ASAP and run as fast as you can!).

Setting a budget

Before I steam ahead with the acquisition process I always set a budget. I write that budget down on my notepad and I never, ever exceed that budget. I don’t just write down any old number – I think long and hard about how much that domain is worth to my business. If there are various alternatives that work just as well my budget will be lower. If all the alternatives are in use and it’s not realistic for me to be able to acquire them, my budget is higher.

Making contact with the seller

I much prefer dealing directly via email with sellers. I don’t like using platforms like SEDO. If there’s no landing page on the domain then I always look at the WHOIS record and contact the owner directly via email. Around half the emails I send never get responded to – I always send a quick reminder email after a week, just to show I’m serious. If that email is not responded to I’ll look for a telephone number on the WHOIS record to call.

Although I dislike SEDO, there are other platforms out there that allow you to communicate with sellers and brokers, as well as submit your offers to them (my favourite being

So, I’ll get in touch with the seller, tell them I want to buy the domain and ask them how much it’s selling for.

Making a counter offer

This is where it gets interesting.

Domain 1: This domain was only $160, so I just took the plunge and paid for it. I couldn’t be bothered trying to negotiate for what would have been a minimal discount.

Domain 2: The seller said $3,000 was their asking price – they gave me an ultimatum of 24 hours to buy the domain at that price. The domain wasn’t worth that – my budget was set at $1,000, tops. I was pretty peeved about the 24 hour ultimatum thing so I went back with a message saying: “My offer is $800 – take it or leave it, but it expires in six hours”. I went to sleep without hearing back – upon waking up in the morning my offer had been accepted just a few minutes before my six hour deadline expired. I definitely didn’t expect that! Result: $2,200 off the original asking price.

Domain 3: I’d been after this domain for 18 months or so. I’d checked on the price previously on two separate occasions. The first time the seller indicated he wanted around $3,000 plus VAT – the second time it was around $2,000 plus VAT. I dropped the seller an email out of the blue and told him I’d offer $1,200 including VAT for both this domain and the hyphenated version – but my offer was only valid for 12 hours. A deal was struck within the hour.

Domain 4: This domain is worth roughly the same amount as Domain 3 but I only paid $250 for it. I found the domain being peddled on a forum for around $1,500. For whatever reason little interest had been shown and the guy had reduced his asking price gradually down to $500. A few people said they’d buy it but never paid and the seller was getting frustrated. I steamed straight in with a $250 offer – no messing about with Escrow, just an instant bank transfer. The seller bit my hand off. I still feel like I got a ridiculously great deal on this name.

Domain 5: I haven’t acquired this domain, yet. This domain is a little different to the rest because it’s being sold by an end user – ie, this guy paid a fortune for the domain from a domainer about two years ago, but never used it. He’s now holding out for a sum that exceeds the inflated figure he paid for it. I’ll tell you now: It’s not going to happen. I’ve pulled out all the tricks so far to secure this domain but none have worked. I’ve made repeated offers but I have been careful not to offer an ultimatum as I have with all the other offers. If I made an ultimatum, he declined then I went back with another bid, I get the feeling he’d point blank refuse to sell to me out of spite if nothing else. I’m biding my time with this domain – it’s a real gem, and I’m confident I’ll get it at a great price when the guy finally gets tired of waiting for a mega bucks offer to land in his inbox.


Here are the key points that I think you should take from this article:

  • Never pay the asking price. 99% of the time there’s some movement in there (read: a lot of movement).
  • Don’t be afraid to be cheeky – bartering happens all the time, don’t be scared to make an offer (but don’t make insulting offers at the same time).
  • Determine whether you’re dealing with a professional domainer, or an end user like yourself. The way you negotiate will differ depending on the type of seller.
  • Set ultimatums. I do this because usually I have a few domains shortlisted and I don’t have time to wait weeks on end for a decision. I think 24 hours is fair in a lot of cases. If the ultimatum isn’t met then don’t go in for a second bite of the cherry unless you absolutely have to – your negotiating position is seriously weakened.
  • All of the best domains have been registered for a long time. If you want a good domain you’ll have to pay a premium – forget about paying the reg fee.
  • Be persistent: the lesson from Domain 3 shows that I had to wait 18 months, but eventually I got the domain for less than half the original stated price when VAT is accounted for. You might not be able to wait that long, but if time is on your side then it’s worth holding out for a lower price.
  • You can strengthen your negotiating position if you forego formalities like Escrow – but then you run the risk of being ripped off. Weigh up the pros and cons and make a sensible decision.
  • Getting a good deal often revolves around being in the right place at the right time – just look at Domain 4, I still can’t believe I picked it up at such a crazy price.

Final thoughts

I realise that hard core domainers making a living out of this business won’t appreciate my article one bit. That said, I hope this article helps entrepreneurs and start-up business owners when it comes to landing their ideal domain.

Next time you try to purchase a domain only to find it has already been registered, why not try the above tips? You might just get your domain after all!

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