This has happened to us all before. You get an idea for a great website, but you just can't think of the right name. You want something snappy, something easy to remember, something that sticks out as just being awesome. You want a website URL that can grow to the size of your dreams.
Then it comes, a flash of inspiration that gives you the perfect name for what you're about to do. You check online by typing in the name and see that there's no website set up. Great! Now knowing the next few steps on how to buy an inactive domain name will be the difference between success and failure.
Is The Domain Name Owned?
Generally speaking, an inactive domain name is one that is owned but isn't being hosted or only has basic ads put up. If the domain isn't owned then unless you're looking for a crazy backend like a .edu, you should be able to purchase it relatively easily.
The next step comes with finding out who owns it and what your options are. The best tool to use is called the "Who Is" database. It might be written as whois or who.is, but it's all referring to the same information. Unless a website owner has specifically bought privacy to protect their contact information from being out there (think of privacy like being a PO Box instead of using your home address), you will be able to find contact information to attempt to contact and buy that domain name.
Some website name registrars, such as GoDaddy, often have a Who.is search function on their website but even if you can't find it, just Googling the term "Who Is database" will bring up a variety of options to help you find the information that you need.
Contacting the person directly can often be the best way to buy the domain name, but you may find yourself having to compete. So what are your other options?
Is The Domain Name Up For Auction?
Many times a domain name will be up for auction. You may find yourself in a bidding war, or you might be the only person going after that name. Domain auctions can be frustrating because depending on who is running it, you may see other bids or you might not be able to. There might also be a reserve price that isn't listed, meaning even at the end with an auction with bids the domain name owner doesn't have to, and won't, sell it at that price.
It's also possible, unfortunately, that the person who owns the domain name is just holding it and has plans of their own. In this case you might have a really hard time getting that inactive domain name because as much as it stinks, they don't have to use the domain name to keep it: they just need to keep up on payments.
Another potential option is to look at the same name but with different endings. Instead of going with .com you can look at .net or .org and see if the same name is available. This might not be your ideal #1 choice, but it does give you an option that you can fall back to.
Domain Buying Services
Even if you can't get a response directly or even get into an auction where you can get the inactive domain you want, consider domain buying services that many large companies offer. Usually for this you have a company that offers a special group who attempts to buy the domain on your behalf for a nominal fee.
These services can have an advantage as they may have ways of communicating company to company, allowing them to work past privacy to get messages to the domain owner and give you at least a chance to make an offer.
While seeing an inactive domain name can be frustrating, the truth is that this can also be a major opportunity. This can give you the perfect chance to jump in and get that domain name before anyone else sets up something else. You have options from hunting down the sale yourself to going through a broker - so don't give up on that perfect name!