Unusual Investments

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How to Make Money from Expired Domain Names with No Upfront Investment

Domain names have always fascinated me.  There were so many great domains that I passed on registering in the mid to late 90’s because the cost at the time was $100 for a 2 year registration with Network Solutions — everything from 3 letter .com domains to one word and common phrase .com’s.  Register.com came out and changed the paradigm a bit with $35 registrations, but it wasn’t until GoDaddy made a splash with domains being sold for $10 that the true gold rush was on.  Suddenly everything under the sun was being registered.  Everyone thought their payday was just around the corner, and who could blame them with Business.com selling in December 1999 for $7.5 million?  Even domains that had traffic due to being a typo of a common URL or with the wrong ending (.cm instead of .com, for instance), had value because you could put pay-per-click advertisements on the landing pages when people accidentally visited.

Fast forward a few years and a lot of the random domain names people registered ended up being worthless.  Without any income coming in, some owners consciously made the decision not to continue renewing the domain, while others just forgot about them.  While many of these domains have always been empty placeholders, some were actually developed at one time but no longer being used.  Back in 2002, I registered RepublicRealty.com, a catchy name for a real estate company that had been previously registered but expired.  I found it on DomainDuck.com, which at the time had a way of searching for expired domains.  Looking at the Internet Wayback Machine, it does not appear that it was ever developed.  (I’ve renewed it over 16 years but have still not developed it)  For me, it is worth renewing because it still probably has value.  I’ve given up on many other domains and many other people at some point give up on forget about renewing some or all of their domains.

The expired domain grab phenomena is not limited to the early to mid 2000’s, however.  It goes on and on every day.  There are websites that track expired domains, such as expireddomains.net.  Others like snapnames.com pick out the best expiring domains and conduct some type of an auction to see who gets it once it is released back to be registered (you are basically pre-registering in anticipation of the domain coming available).  Being the winning bidder for an expired domain is nice, but it does require speculatively buying the domain name with the hope that you can then market it to the general public and flip it for a profit.  There is no guarantee that someone is willing to buy it from you.  The other way you could possibly make money is to buy a domain name that had traffic or link popularity that could be useful to generate traffic to another website or to improve your search engine ranking.  That is a much more complicated way of monetizing a domain name and still requires buying and possibly investing time and money to develop it.  But you don’t necessarily have to buy an expired domain name at all to make money on expired domains.

The strategy that I thought up and implemented consisted of looking for cases where someone bought another a domain name for their business because the .com was taken.  So going back to my RepublicRealty.com example, a company might have registered RepublicRealty.net because RepublicRealty.com was already taken.  On the expiredomains.net website, I would look at cases where the .net was registered and unavailable, and the .com had just expired.  I specifically looked at domains that had already expired, not ones that were about to expire.  Why waste my time on these because they might get snapped up by one of the pre-registration auctions?  (Note: The vast majority of domains don’t get snapped up in a pre-registration auction)  I was able to find several examples on a daily basis of companies that did not own their own .com.

Did I register the .com and then try to sell it to them?  The answer is no.  While I wouldn’t be opposed to speculating on a domain name, the whole point was to spend no money and just make money off my ingenuity and legwork.  Instead, I joined the GoDaddy Affiliate Program and could earn a commission for anyone that clicked my link and then went to GoDaddy and registered a domain name.  I would look up ownership of the .net domain, find the person’s email address either in the WHOIS database or on their actual website and then send them an email politely letting them know that the .com name of their company had just expired.  I would encourage them to click my link to go to GoDaddy and register it.  I even let them know that it wouldn’t cost them anything extra, but I would earn a small commission for sending them there.

I started by looking for URLs that ended with Realty or Properties, since I knew those were obvious company names, there are thousands of thousands of realty companies, and many have a web presence.  There were dozens of other searches I started doing as well — domain names ending in Insurance, Flowers, etc., or starting with a city name like Boston, Atlanta, etc.  There really is no limit to the types of things you can search for.  Nor are you limited to just looking at .net addresses that have been registered.  You can find instances where someone registered .co, .org, or some other URL.  You could take it a step further and look for people that were registered XYZRealtyLLC.com or XYZRealtyofCalifornia.com, for instance, instead of the better URL of XYZRealty.com because it wasn’t available.

The strategy was very manual in nature and somewhat tedious, but at the same time rewarding as the commissions started to come in.  I didn’t utilize any type of script or programming as I didn’t want my emails to be treated as spam or to do anything that would take this away from actually providing value to businesses that legitimately had an interest in owning their own .com name.  At $8 or $9 per domain name, this strategy never made me a fortune, but it was still free money as far as I was concerned.  I was starting another business at the time and eventually stopped investing any time into expired domains, preferring to focus on the other business instead.  I just took another look at it, and I’d need to re-apply for an affiliate program account to try it out.  Rather than do that, I think I’ll just share it with the Internet and see if anyone can make a buck off of it.  Enjoy!

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