In an ideal world, one envisioned by Hollywood, ICANN, and Pollyanna, anybody who wanted a particular Internet domain name could get it. If somebody already had the dot-com of your dreams but didn't care enough to renew it when it expired, the worthy candidate who really wanted it could pick it up, dust it off, walk off into the sunset with it, and live happily ever after.
You may have noticed that we don't live in such a world. If you peruse the Whois records I spoke about a couple of weeks ago, looking for domains that are about to expire, and back order them for 20 bucks at GoDaddy...well...good luck to you. Just don't expect to get the domain you're interested in.
If you want a piece of the action, you need to hire the right shark and pony up whatever that shark might ask for.
When a choice domain expires, it doesn't so much enter the free market as fall into a shark pool. An aggressive group of domain hunters scan lists of expiring domains and sharpen their teeth for a fight when the most attractive domain names appear. If you want a piece of the action, you need to hire the right shark and pony up whatever that shark might ask for.
Where domains go to die
There are several little-known facts about expiring domains that buyers need to know. The first is that domains expire in stages. The actual date when the previous owner's tenure on a domain expires is not the day that it enters the market. Most registrars take 40 days to evict a delinquent dot-com domain tenant; after that, they hold the domain over for another 35 days, hoping the previous tenant will pony up a hundred bucks or so to reclaim it. In many cases, then, the domain's not free and clear until 75 days after the official expiration date. To muddy the waters a little, some domain registrars actually shrink that grace period down to 35 days.
But no matter what actual date the domain expires, the process of releasing the name is called the drop, a period of several hours in which the registry releases all the expiring domains into the pool ready for reregistration. The actual start time of the drop is a closely guarded secret, and the release time of your favorite domain is anybody's guess. But you're more likely to get front-row tickets for U2 by strolling up to the ticket office half an hour before the show than to pick up a popular domain by manually applying for it on its drop day.
You need to get an accurate read on when your domain will drop. Visiting Betterwhois or a registrar's Whois database is hopelessly inefficient for this. One of the better tools comes from enom.com pioneer Chris Ambler. His $30 program DropShark 2.5 serves up a constant list of expiring domains, giving domain prospectors plenty of inspiration as well as information. It also provides a reliable time for when the drop will happen. Once you have a domain name in your sights and a drop date on your schedule, you need to hire a shark service to get it for you.
This shark for hire
There are three major domain drop-catchers: Pool.com, SnapNames, and eNom's Clb Drop. They all work in pretty much the same way: Customers sign up with them for expiring domains, and they bombard the master registry at VeriSign with multiple requests from a barrage of registrars. The drop-catchers play a tough game and need to be careful not to run afoul of VeriSign by mounting a virtual denial-of-service attack. But the sharks all seem to stay on VeriSign's right side, while still maintaining a competitive and aggressive edge. Naturally, with all this action at drop time, it's highly unlikely that anyone without a battery of big guns is going to slide under the crossfire and take the domain. The three big sharks have numbers in their favor, and whichever one gets the domain wins the customer.
The three big sharks have numbers in their favor, and whichever one gets the domain wins the customer.
Here's where things can get ugly for you: If there are multiple customers for a given domain, the domain shark that wins the domain for you turns around and holds an auction. The highest bidder gets the goods. And in some cases, the bidding process can be pretty intimidating. It's slightly different for each of the main players, which will affect your decision of which shark to hire. In fact, if you're really desperate to get a domain, you might want to hedge your bets and hire multiple sharks to go after it for you. There are plenty of different nuances to each process that we'll gloss over here, but for an overview, read on.
Why to hire SnapNames (or not)
SnapNames partners with Network Solutions, the onetime biggest registrar that was only recently ousted from the top place on the domain registrar charts by upstart GoDaddy. Right there is your reason for hiring SnapNames; it has an inside track on domains registered with Network Solutions--or at least, that's what it wants everyone to believe. The snatching process is murky at best, but there's enough circumstantial evidence to show that SnapNames may have an edge. Scope out the Whois record for the domain you like, and if it's currently under Network Solutions, consider SnapNames. It charges $60 if it succeeds in securing your domain unless there are multiple bidders, at which point it holds an open bid auction.
Why to hire Pool.com (or not)
Pool.com is a tried-and-true pioneer in the domain-drop process. This Canadian outfit has a solid track record and a good network of servers to submit registration requests (handy if your domain drops late in the process and VeriSign gets annoyed with duplicate registration requests from a single IP address). You can back order dropping domains for free at Pool.com, but it preauthorizes your credit card for a minimum $60 purchase when you do. If Pool.com secures the domain, it puts you into an auction system so that you get the chance to buy the domain. Even if you're the only bidder (and you'll never know!), you still enter the auction and have to enter a bid. Auction faint-hearts will agonize over how to bid; too low, and you lose the domain; too high, and you overpay. If you bid within 30 percent of the top bid, you enter a second-tier auction. Either way, you're bidding in the dark. Yuck!
Why to hire Club Drop (or not)
eNom has the lowest entrance fee for bidding, a scant 10 or 15 bucks for uncontested domains and $30 for private auctions between multiple bidders. That's less than half what the others charge, and you don't get big-box dollar-store service there, either. Club Drop is the brainchild of eNom's Chris Ambler, the man behind DropShark and a guru of the domain drop. He's set it up so that big-time resellers can put in for up to 500 domains a day. That's excessive enough for the vicious world of domain dealing, don't you think?
Why to back order from somebody else
Of course, there's yet one more secret to the domain drop that (sort of) changes everything. Some time ago, VeriSign proposed to do away with the domain drop altogether and provide a flat-fee, first-come-first-served waiting list service. This was completely in keeping with the spirit of brand-new domain registration, and the prices weren't even that high. But VeriSign completely controlled the wait list process, which was monopolistic. Several lawsuits later, the waiting list service was (sort of) shelved. Quietly, registrars amended their user agreements, allowing them to repossess and resell domains as they expire. That's how SnapNames got the inside track on domains registered with Network Solutions. GoDaddy and Tucows have similar wording in their agreements.
So if you're going in for the kill on a domain drop, see where the domain is registered.
So if you're going in for the kill on a domain drop, see where the domain is registered. If it's with Network Solutions, GoDaddy, or Tucows, they may well have first dibs on the domain as it expires. If someone back orders a domain on, say, GoDaddy and you have put in bids with everyone else, your rival may still get the all-access pass, leaving you with nothing. So be sure to add a back-order bid at the domain's current registrar as a safety measure.
It may not seem fair, or moral, or right. But nobody's offering a Hollywood ending here. Unless the movie in question is Swimming with Sharks.
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