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Who Is Monitoring Your Domain Searches?

It has happened to most of us:

  • A perfect domain name pops into your mind.
  • A quick check at your favorite domain registrar reveals that the domain is still available.
  • For some reason, you put off the actual registration for a few days.
  • And when you come back to finally register the domain, it’s taken by someone else!

In many cases, this is simply a coincidence. But there are increasing reports of domain search data being sold to domain tasting companies which then register your domain ideas to see if they attract any traffic.

No traffic? No problem. The domain taster simply drops the domain after five days. But if the domain proves popular, the taster will keep it and monetize its traffic through PPC (pay per click) ads.

Bob Parsons of GoDaddy.com was one of the first to raise hell about domain tasting. He focused on what he calls « domain kiting » – repeatedly registering a domain and dropping it right before the end of Verisign’s 5 days refund period, only to reregister it shortly thereafter. This strategy ensures that the domain taster never actually pays for the domain, even though his payment is « on deposit » with Verisign and therefore tied up permanently.

GoDaddy and its associated companies do not engage in domain tasting, according to Parsons. Not that they would have to: GoDaddy already earns millions of dollars in PPC revenue off their client’s newly registered and/or unused domains.

While the Daily Domainer considers random domain tasting to be a legitimate business, we believe that leeching off the domain searches of others (who expect their domain ideas to remain private) differs by several orders of ethical magnitude. Recent mainstream press reports about domain tasting in general are bad enough already.

For example, last night an Associated Press article made the rounds (read the full version here) and the arguments are predictable: Domain tasting is defended by those who are engaged in it and attacked by those who either missed the boat or consider themselves too « above-board » to take advantage of the opportunity.

Until recently, prospective domain tasters had to set up their own domain registrar to get started. But even individual domainers can now use registrars such as Dynadot or Moniker to register domains and give them back within 4 to 5 days at no charge (Dynadot). This is very helpful if you’re eying several domains and are undecided which ones to use.

So what can domain owners learn from this?

  • Delay searching for available domains until you’re actually prepared to follow through with the registration. Better still, search for and register new domain ideas immediately whenever inspiration strikes you.
  • If one of your domain searches is registered by a domain taster shortly after you checked availability of the domain, and you still want the domain, wait five days and it might become available again. Do not visit the domain during these five days, otherwise the domain taster will believe that the domain gets enough traffic to warrant adding it to his permanent portfolio!
  • If you’re thinking of several domains for a project and are undecided which one to use, register all of your domain ideas immediately. If you use a registrar like Moniker or Dynadot, you’ll have 4-5 days to decide if you actually want to keep a domain once you have registered it. This practically eliminates the danger of impulse registrations that you might regret later.

Finally, if after reading this post and despite all our warnings you are thinking about joining the « dark side » of domain leeches and spies, here’s how you could go about it.

  1. Set up your own domain search tool or approach registrars that will sell you their search data (not GoDaddy of course, they are too ethical to even consider doing something like that! 😉 ).
  2. Once you have gained access to the domain search data, analyze it and register promising domains to test them for traffic. The faster you do this, the better.
  3. Keep domains that earn at least 5% to 10% of their annual registration fee during the first five days. Drop all others.
  4. And last not least: Be prepared for a massive backlash from disappointed end users who will publicly accuse you of having « stolen » their domain!