I think it started with seeing something pop up on Google Reader. I’m old school and still love my RSS feeds. There was a new post Marketing on the Internet Made Simple from Colm Brophy. Huh? I definitely didn’t write that. My next realisation was that my site had been hacked. I got in touch with the wonderful people at A Small Orange who host this site. After talking to their support people I realised that it wasn’t a security breach but rather my own negligence; letting the domain expire.
I had been planning on moving it away from GoDaddy and thought that I could just let it expire then pick it up with the new service. Who would want an obscure domain for a very uncommon name. It turns out a few people. What I didn’t realise at the time was that GoDaddy auction off expiring domain names. While the domain URL may not be terribly valuable in itself, the accumulated search rank and trustworthiness that came over the years of posting original content was valuable. So someone bought it for that and started posting their own content and linking to sites they wanted to boost.
In the meantime I was scratching my head wondering what I can do about this. Essentially with domains, possession is nine tenths of the law. I happened to come across a post on Hacker News where the subject of domain squatting came up. I got in touch with a helpful guy called Ewan who had some insights and experience with the business of domain squatting (while my case wasn’t exactly squatting there are a lot of parallels). He had a few bits of advice, one was to set up a drop-catch (a service which automatically purchases the domain if it becomes available). He also advised on how to get in touch and approach them with an offer to buy.
I held out hope that the domain would lapse after a year when they realised that it wasn’t a very valuable domain in itself - I had at this stage removed all links from my social media pages sending traffic to the site. So I gritted my teeth and waited it out, and was pretty surprised to get a notification email telling me that the domain had been renewed. At this point it was time to go to plan B and make an offer.
This was tricky since there was no email address shown anywhere around the site, and a WHOIS search turned up nothing more than an anonymous service which hides the identity of the owner. So a hopeful email to firstname.lastname@example.org was sent with the subject title “Want to buy colmbrophy.com for $100″ as Ewan had advised.
It was a lot of money for a domain particularly since Ewan had said they’d probably come back asking for much more and you could settle for $200. If I had never owned the domain I would have just written it off and started a fresh domain, but it was associated with me and I really didn’t want people thinking I had written the content that was hosted on the site. As someone who derives their income in no small part from working in digital and online these this have added value. And if your name is Colm Brophy, then it’s a pretty great domain that ranks 1 on Google, which is nice for the vain.
The reply to my email came quickly from a Dino Goncalves:
I wouldnt take less then $1000 for it…
Its a seasoned domain, and I have put zero work into it..
Luckily Ewan had prepared me for such a high price, I responded:
OK, I understand.
I don’t think it’s worth anything like $1000, given how uncommon a name it is and any traffic you get was probably from my old links to the domain from my websites and social media.
I wouldn’t pay any more than $200. So if you’d be interested for that price any time in the future let me know.
I think it was only at this point that he realised I was the former owner:
So this use to be your domain?
So we chatted a bit:
Yes I had it for a long time, but I let it expire in order to switch hosting providers from GoDaddy to someone else - stupid thing to do wasn’t it?
Didn’t expect someone to have a drop-catch set up. Or anyone to care enough to want to buy it.
He actually seemed like a decent guy, and I finally understood the value of the domain had nothing to do with the traffic:
Sorry to hear that…It seriously happens every day..
There are people that do that as a business…NOT me, I use them domains to feed other domains, for link juice…To move other sites up the Google index..
Its a great domain… BUT..tell you what, because its your name..
and and you wont be able to get a dot com… Ill let it go to you..and only you..the original owner for $500
However I was in no way prepared to pay so much so I stuck tight:
Ah OK, that makes sense. I figured it shouldn’t get enough traffic by itself to make it worthwhile to buy or renew.
As I said I don’t think it’s worth more than $200. I thought that was a more than generous offer for a domain that’s the name of maybe 5 people in the world, but I don’t know how much it’s worth to you providing link juice.
I’ve my own company site which I’m planning on updating. So I’ll focus on putting content on there instead. But I thought it was worth asking if you were interested in selling my old domain on the off chance you were before I put in the effort.
He came down again sending me an image of a Google search for Colm Brophy with my site at the top:
If I were Colm Brophy… It would be worth every penny…
Especially doing what you do…You are also into design..so
Do you want prospects to click on some other Colm Brophy,
or THE one and only Colm Brophy according to Google?
Because its a dot com… it rules anything else you place on the Internet.
I can buy other domains… Just want to make sure you see the value in your name.
$400 and its yours..
Let me know..
I decided to give it one last try at $250 (about £165):
Hope you’re well.
$400 is just way too much money for me to spend on something like this. I just don’t have that kind of cash for a domain. I don’t make any money from it so it’s not an expense I can justify, it’s just vanity.
I thought I’d try one last offer, of $250. I’d absolutely love it if you could come down to that price. If not best of luck, maybe I’ll get it back when you’ve used up all its Google juice and it’s worthless.
Man you drive a hard bargain…
But… I know I would want that if it were my name..
so…because its friday..TGIF..
I guess…You have a deal…
Where is your current account..Godaddy?
All sorted. Right? Well not really cause I have to give a complete stranger money and he has to give over a domain. I got back in touch with Ewan and did some Googling on the topic. Both suggested some escrow services which handle domains. I suggested this to Dino, but he wanted to do the method tried and tested by Hollywood films for decades: Half before, half after.
We talked on skype for a bit and he set up a screen share and showed me he had all the details ready to transfer the domain. Then I transferred half. Then he transferred the domain showing me live as it happened. And I transferred the second half. All went smoothly. Phew.
Perhaps I was gullible and too trusting in this process. Certainly someone sufficiently devious, deceptive and careful might have tricked me out of at least half the money. But I may have been able to do something to get the money back through PayPal and really they had to put in quite a bit of work for that $125 with emails, skype calls etc.
Regardless it was an interesting experience. I definitely learned my lesson about letting a domain expire naturally.