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What to do if the domain name you want is taken

By Erin Hutchison
Content Marketing and Social Media Specialist

Sometimes a domain name you want is already registered by someone else. Here’s an overview of why that happens, and what your options are for getting a great domain for your website.

I really want this .CA domain…It’s already registered, but it is not being used! How can I get it?

Our support team sometimes gets a question like this. Sometimes followed by:

You’re the .CA domain registry – can’t you just give it to me? I have a really great plan to use it!

As polite, but firm Canadians we have to say: Sorry, that’s not really how it works! If you find the perfect domain for your website and it’s available, then you’re in luck – it’s just like buying anything else online – it takes a few minutes to checkout and register the domain. But we understand it’s disappointing when you want a domain that happens to be already taken. Here are a few tips and options if the domain name you want is taken.

Register a domain name early on while setting up your business

Meet Mike from Canmore. Mike spent hours coming up with his company name, filed a trademark and registered his business with the government, and then found out that the exact match .CA domain name for his business was already taken.

Don’t be like Mike.

Business owners can do themselves a favour and avoid this scenario by thinking about what their domain name will be before anything related to their business is announced publicly; even before any paperwork is completed. In fact, business owners should take into account what domain names are available when making a final decision on their business name and register the domain name in advance.

You can search to see what .CA domain names are available right here.

A .CA domain declares your business is proudly Canadian

Another important step for a new business is to search the web for your desired business name to see what else is out there.

You can find out what other websites might have a similar name – you don’t want customers to confuse your site for any other one. You should also find out what usernames are taken on Twitter, Instagram, or any social media platforms you plan on using for your brand. It’s not the end of the world if the exact match to your business name is taken, but brand consistency is an important consideration.

What do I do if the domain name I want is already registered?

Choose an alternative domain to launch your website with

As you’re building your business, get online quickly with an alternative domain, and then continue to pursue obtaining the ideal domain and if you’re successful, make the switch later.

What you compromise in brand consistency, you may make up in speed by getting started with an alternative domain name. There are many ways to get creative in finding a short, memorable and on-brand domain for your business – we have some tips and examples in our free guide.

It might be a risky option if you establish your brand name and make it big (a good problem to have). Tesla, after launching initially with the domain name, eventually paid a small fortune to acquire in the secondary domain market.

Check the expiry date of the registered domain

When you find out a domain is registered through CIRA’s domain search, the “Domain info” tab displays the expiry date. If the expiry date is coming up soon, keep checking on the status and either attempt to scoop it up during a To-Be-Released (TBR) session (especially important for premium domains) or you can wait and see if it makes it to the next phase of the domain name life cycle, from TBR into general availability.

Purchase the domain from the current registrant

Note: In very special circumstances, companies that have registered trademarks who believe they have the right to use a certain domain name can follow CIRA’s Dispute Resolution Process (CDRP).

While buying a shiny new domain name registration happens almost instantaneously, the time it takes to contact the registrant of an already-registered domain, have them respond, negotiate a fair price, and make the technical transfer can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

“The vast majority of people who are looking for help buying a domain are shocked at how much the cost is going to be. I do a lot of bubble bursting,” said Bill Sweetman, president, Name Ninja, a Canadian firm dedicated to helping companies secure their domain of choice in the aftermarket. “If you’re lucky, you might be able to obtain your domain in the secondary market for under $5,000.”

At the other extreme, was resold in the secondary market for $600,000 USD, the most expensive publicly-reported aftermarket .CA domain sold to date according to

Another factor in your ability to obtain a domain name in the secondary market is how it is currently being used. “If the domain name has no content, no active website or is “parked,” chances are higher that the owner will be willing to sell,” says Bill. “That said, a parked domain means there’s a good chance you are dealing with a domain investor who manages large portfolios of domains with the intent to flip them for a higher price.”

How to contact a person who currently has a domain

If you perform a search for a domain that’s already registered, you can click on the “domain information” tab which may show you contact information. Note that CIRA protects the personal privacy of individual registrants unless they specifically approve having their contact information displayed in the WHOIS system.

If no contact information is displayed, CIRA has a tool called a Message Delivery Form, which enables people to send an email to the domain registrant without revealing what the registrant’s email address is. People can use this form to send offers for domains. A word of caution: there are a few scenarios where it may be better to go through a domain name broker.

When to use a domain broker

By using a domain broker, you are able to conceal your identity, which can help provide leverage in the negotiation. For example, if a domain investor is approached by ABC Co. to purchase a domain name and after a quick search the investor finds that ABC Co. has $100 million in annual revenue; chances are the price will go up. Another challenge is trying to negotiate a domain name sale on your own without giving away your identity. Unfortunately, an email that says: To Whom It May Concern, I have a surprise sum of money I’m willing to offer you but I’m not willing to let you know who I am! sounds a lot like a phishing email and may be ignored.

Domain brokers can help you:

  • track down the person who registered the domain;
  • assess what a fair market value for the domain name is and negotiate on your behalf;
  • make the technical transfer and/or sending payment.

Domain broker listing

Here are some domain brokers you can work with. All offer different services for different fees.

Note: CIRA is not affiliated with any particular name brokers and this is not an extensive list. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Phew. We’re aware that was a lot of information. But the domain name market is a bit complex once you start looking into how it all works. To recap, here are some tips to help you get an amazing domain name for your business:

  • Register your domain name as early as possible in setting up your business.
  • If the domain name you want is taken, start building your website on an alternative domain.
  • Consider enlisting the services of a domain broker to help you obtain the domain you really want.

About the author
Erin Hutchison

Erin brings to CIRA a background of marketing experience in higher education and the not-for-profit sector. In 2015, she participated in ISOC’s Youth@IGF Programme and traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend the IGF. She has a Bachelor of International Business from Carleton University.