How expired domains can help your startup grow

5 min read
Madhavan Narayanan

There was a time when I could have registered my own name with a .com extension. That was about 20 years ago, when the internet was in its infancy in India, and indeed, elsewhere in the world. I remember dreaming about buying off so I could run a trekker's business from there. Problem is that I was only dreaming — before I could say "Amazon!" many cherished domains (including that one) were gone. Just as well, because many so-called "dot-com" companies went bust in the bubble that burst around the years 2000 and 2001. Of course, this was long before you could easily search and register expired domains.

About this time, a new class of people called cybersquatters emerged.

Expired Domains Treasure
Cybersquatters buy up domains with the goal of selling them later for a profit.
Photo: TommyClicks on CC BY

These people registered domain names in order to profit from selling something that by all rights should belong to others. This was before the courts ruled that you cannot use a famous brand's domain just because you learned about the internet first! Of course, there were companies that chose to buy off domain names from cybersquatters rather than use the same money (or more!) to hire lawyers to fight their cases.

A tiny nation’s fortunes improve

There were other surprises as well. The South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu made waves when the world learned its country-code extension is .tv. Broadcasters, game producers and video-streaming companies realized they could use the .tv extension to pull viewers in. Domain names are now Tuvalu's biggest source of revenue. Turns out, people will pay to buy off .tv domains for use with video sites.

The domain market grows up

Things have come a long way, though. Domain registrations have gone well beyond the early days of .com, .net and .org extensions. There are now a host of country-code domains — like India’s .in — and hundreds of other extensions such as:

Early cybersquatters realized that they could not continue buying up unlimited domain names, spending money like it was real estate and hoping to cash in later on the demand. Just like real estate, too much supply can cause prices to fall. In fact, that is what has happened. Because you don't "buy" but only "rent" domains, the rights to thousands of good ones have lapsed. Which brings us to expired domains.

Expired domains: A business opportunity

If you are a small business or a startup, this might be a good time to check on the availability of domain names you always wanted but once found that is taken by someone else or too expensive to buy. My own name's .com extension is now available for a huge price, but who cares? I now find there are other domains that I can get much, much cheaper. Check the name you want now

I checked out GoDaddy's Auctions site and was pleasantly surprised to find stuff that I thought would be out of my reach. It should be even easier for successful business brands to find valuable domains, given their resources. Whatever your goals, it might be worth doing two things.

1. First, check out the domain you fancy

Expired Domains GoDaddy Auctions

If your first-choice domain name isn’t available, expired domains with a strong brand feel might well be available at reasonable rates. Think of it as a basement bargain sale for domain names.

2. Consider starting a domain portfolio

Secondly, it might make sense to consider buying not just one extension, but several so that you can consolidate your brand or corporate name across several extensions and pre-empt cybersquatters. This might also help your business do better in Google searches because the chances of being found are higher. Naturally, you can get more people and traffic to your domains if you forward various domains to a single site on your primary domain. So a furniture manufacturing company in Uttar Pradesh might scour expired domains for:

If the business trades globally, they might also try for and Simply direct any secondary domain names you acquire to your primary domain. A toolkit blog post like this can help you get the hang of using expired domain names to build a portfolio of business domains.

Consult with a trademark lawyer

It also makes sense for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to hire a good trademark or service mark lawyer when they register domains. Imagine you are starting a business today in India but are not focused on scaling up globally for now — and then one day you discover you can do it across the planet. Do you want to be left in a lurch where your .com or .global domain is taken or faces a trademark challenge? That can get tricky. According to Mumbai trademark lawyers Hemant Goyal and Mohit Porwal, writing for Mondaq: "A trademark or service mark promotes and protects your brand name, while a registered and protected domain name provides you protection against any unauthorized use of your domain name by any person or entity (and) a trademark supports the face value of your business or profession, while a domain name increases access value of your business from any remote place of the world over." A lawyer can get you there and keep you there.

Opportunity awaits

Expired Domains Flowers
Don’t let an unsuccessful domain search discourage you. Auctions could be the answer.
Photo: Nikunj Gupta on Unsplash

Many startups have searched for a business domain name only to find their or .com has already been registered and is unavailable to them. If this happens to you, head over to the nearest domain auction house to see what’s on offer. Who knows? You might find something you like even better.