Thinking of registering your own domain name? Good luck finding your ideal name. Domainstats.com reports that there are more than 35 million domain names registered worldwide, with more than 22 million in the ubiquitous dot-com top level domain.
This means that virtually all single word domain names have been taken. Ditto to many two or three word names. To get a satisfactory domain name these days, you're going to have to do some creative thinking, skillful searching, or both.
It hasn't always been this hard. Back in 1994, only 33% of the Fortune 500 companies had registered their names with the official domain registrar at the time, InterNIC. In the hilarious article "Billions Registered" journalist Joshua Quittner recounts how he was able to register the mcdonalds.com name, even after he alerted a spokesperson from the fast food giant of his intentions.
Today, of course, McDonald's Corporation owns McDonalds.com, and dozens of other variations ranging from mcdonaldsgame.com to macyourcareer.com. Nevertheless, they still don't have the entire mcdonalds world locked up. There are still 18 countries where the mcdonalds name is available, including such desirable hotspots as Christmas Island (mcdonalds.cx), Tonga (mcdonalds.to), Vanuatu (mcdonalds.vu) and even the Heard and McDonald Islands (mcdonalds.hm)!
Now, I'm not suggesting you go out and register one of these domain names. McDonald's owns several trademarks covering a wide range of businesses and services (including metal goods, electrical and scientific apparatus, and smoker's articles -- go figure), so you'd likely be inviting a call from their legal department if you register one of the unclaimed domains.
The point is that even though most of the common domain names are already taken, there are attractive options if you do a bit of sleuthing. So how do you go about finding your ideal name?
The simplest way is to use a Whois lookup service to see if your preferred names are available. Whois services simply query domain name registration databases and tell you if the name has already been registered or not, and who the owner is if the name has been taken. There are many whois services on the web; I like allwhois.com because it offers lookup for all of the domain registries everywhere in the world, whereas most others focus on single regions or top level domains.
Virtually every ICANN accredited registrar for .com, .net and .org domain names also offers a whois service. Some of these go a step further and suggest alternatives that are available if your chosen name has already been taken. DomainNotes.com has an extensive list of registrars. They also provide a list of online domain utilities that can make it easy play around with various word combinations to select an unclaimed domain name that appeals to you.
If you have your heart set on a particular domain that's already been taken, there may be hope. One route is to go through a domain broker, who is in the business of buying and selling domain names.
These companies aren't cybersquatters holding domain names for famous people or companies hostage for high-dollar ransom. Rather, they have simply registered hundreds or thousands of common names with the hope that someday someone will pay them a premium for handing the name over. They're speculators, and the reputable ones will treat you just as fairly as a fine art or wine broker, for example. The Google Directory has a list of domain brokers in PageRank order, which gives you an indication of their web "reputation."
If you're not willing to pay a broker fee, there's one final option for securing your favorite domain name, but it requires patience and a bit of luck. Each day, thousands of previously registered domain names are deleted by registrars and "released" back into the pool of available names. Snooping around among lists of recently deleted domain names can turn up some real gems.
The most common reason a domain is deleted is that it was simply abandoned by its previous owner. The grace period extended for failing to renew registration fees varies from registrar to registrar. Some act swiftly; others may take months to delete a name from their database.
For this reason, it pays to use a service that monitors deleted domains. Deleteddomains.com is essentially a search engine for domains that have been deleted or are "on-hold" (domains with past-due fees that are pending delisting). Its database is updated daily, so there's always something new and interesting available for the sharp-eyed searcher. According to the site, more than 114,000 domain names were deleted just in the past 7 days alone! A fairly good indicator that the "dot-com bust" is still in progress.
Searching for your own ideal domain can be a challenge in the crowded world of cyberspace, but with a bit of ingenuity and exercising your searching skills, you'll likely find a name that's right on the dot.
DomainNotes.com Registrars directory
DomainNotes.com Online Domain Utilities
Google's Domain Broker Category
Trademark Search Center
Once you've found an ideal domain name, it's prudent to make sure nobody else has trademarked it. NameProtect offers both a free online search and more comprehensive research reports to help you determine whether your name is infringing on a pre-existing trademark.
Joshua Quittner's account of the state of Internet in 1994, when there were only "2.5 people" handling all of the Internet's domain name registrations.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.