We’ve built some great marketing microsites for clients over the years, and one of the more recent ones is the I’m An Engineer site we built for Newark Element14. Check it out!

In these situations, when you need a great domain for a digital marketing initiative, you often end up buying the domain from somebody who already owns it.

Since we have some great in-house expertise at our digital marketing agency on this topic, I thought I might share some useful tips for buying a domain when you need it for a marketing campaign.

Here are my top five tips for buying a domain for a digital marketing initiative.

  1. Don’t Get Locked in on One Domain Name and Know Your Price. The more you want it, the higher the price will be. All the experts on good negotiation tactics say you have to be willing to walk away. If you’re not willing to walk away from a negotiation, the other side has all the negotiation power. Yes, your marketing campaign needs a great domain but are there other domain names that might work besides your top choice? The answer to this question is always “Yes.” Come up with a list of domains and, if you are on a tight timeline, pursue buying them in parallel. This is absolutely the best way to ensure that you don’t overpay for a domain. In addition, before you contact the domain seller, you have to define the price range that you are willing to pay. This makes it easy to walk away when you can’t get within your price range.
  2. Use an Intermediary to Buy the Domain You Want. Firms that can afford to build out new websites around a marketing campaign tend to have deep pockets, or at least people think they do. Think about it. Let’s say American Express or Procter & Gamble calls you up and says “Hi. We want to buy your domain for a marketing campaign. What do we need to pay you?” As a domain seller, you immediately think of a high number like $100,000 or $150,000. But if some individual you’ve never heard of emails you asking to buy a domain, then maybe you are willing to sell that same domain you’ve been sitting on for years for a much lower number, maybe $5,000 or less. There are services out there that allow you to anonymously express interest in a domain; this can be a good way to go if you don’t have a friend or business partner who will serve as your middleman.
  3. Don’t Let the Domain Owner Name the Price. There’s an ongoing debate about whether the best practice in negotiation is to be the first party to throw out a number or to let the other side do that. Whoever puts a number out there first often anchors the negotiation. If you let the domain seller say “I was thinking my domain was worth at least $80,000,” then, even if that number is ridiculous, they probably won’t take less than $50,000 because anything less seems like a defeat. It’s better if you start the conversation by saying something like “I’m interested in your domain for a website I want to build. Is it possible that I can buy it from you for a reasonable amount?” Typically, they’ll ask what you’re willing to pay. Respond with something like this: “We’ve budgeted [insert a low, but not insulting, number from the range of what you are willing to pay here] to buy a domain. I just bought [insert an alternative domain name here for the project that was just acquired as a new domain] for $8, but I prefer your domain if you are willing to part with it for a reasonable amount that works for both of us.” This language anchors the negotiation, manages expectations, and also informs the other party that you have an alternative — all good things for a domain purchase negotiation.
  4. Check the Domain Health. Many domain buyers who are not familiar with the crazy unethical things that people can do with a website domain don’t have a clue on how to do due diligence when buying a website domain from a third party. The domain you are buying for your marketing campaign could very well have been poisoned by the person who owned it before you. Maybe they bought tons of links for SEO purposes or maybe the site was hacked and it had bad content on it for years. If you don’t identify these things in advance, it can be the equivalent of buying a house only to realize that it’s built on a toxic waste dump. Just as one can do environmental remediation, there are remediation tactics for toxic websites but this should be factored into the domain price. Hire somebody smart like us to look at the site for you before you start the process of buying the domain
  5. Get It in Writing and Pay Via an Escrow Service. Assuming you can arrive at a good price for buying a domain, then it’s important to document the agreement in writing. The counterargument is that a formal contract to buy a domain can spook the other party, but, on balance, it’s better to risk that and go with a domain sale contract. Here’s a simple one offered by DomainSherpa.com. Even more important than documenting your domain purchase agreement is to use an escrow service for payment. If you send a check or wire money, there’s a possible risk that the other side takes your money and never gives you the domain. Instead, use Escrow.com or a similar service and avoid an unnecessary (and very embarrassing to you) worst-case scenario.

That’s all I’ve got. In short, buying a domain and creating a microsite for a marketing campaign can be a high-ROI initiative. But make sure you approach buying a domain from a third party in a structured and thoughtful fashion.