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Butterfingers – or successfully catching a dropped domain…?

butterfingerThe dog days of summer have arrived and with the days getting longer and the summer vacations closing in, watching the kids play catch and baseball reminds me of that age old debate..is it really possible for you to catch your own domain? Or without the help of those big catchers out there like pool.com and snapnames will the curse of butterfingers bestows us all…


Firstly for those who are not aware a lightning quick overview of the domain expiration process..

  1. Expiration: The domain name expires as scheduled. On this day, it stops resolving to wherever the site was hosted. You can check the date when a domain expires using ‘whois ’ on a linux or OSX machine; you’re looking for something like “Record expires on 01-Oct-2016.” At this stage, the domain is just starting the expiration process and it’s possible for the domain owner to reclaim it.
  2. On Hold: The domain has expired, but it has not yet been released for resale and it still held by your registrar. Depending on the policy of your registrar, you might be able to make a quick payment to renew the domain name at this point. This period can last a couple of days.
  3. Redemption Period: Most registrars will hold onto your domain and let you buy it back for up to 30 days following expiration, for a fee.
  4. Pending Delete. At this stage, the domain is being reverted back into the pool to be resold. If this was your domain, you’ve lost it. Deletion status lasts 5 days.
  5. Deleted. At this stage, the domain has been deleted and anyone can buy it. First come, first serve.

And so who are the main players?


Pool.com really created the current model where buyers only pay if they acquire the drop with out any upfront fees. Now days this is pretty much the standard across the board. The minimum bid price for pool.com is $60. Multiple people may place bids on the same name. The system will not tell you if anyone else is bidding against you until Pool.com acquires the drop. Then, if multiple people placed bids the domain name goes to a closed eBay style auction.


SnapNames use to be the exclusive auction site for Network Solutions domains. The site is still going strong after that partnership ended. The minimum bid with SnapNames is $79, and you do not need to pay unless you win the auction. In fact, you don’t even need to provide SnapNames with payment information until after you win. If SnapNames catches the drop then it goes into a 3-day auction between only those who placed a bid on the domain name prior to the drop. The auction is run as a typical eBay style auction where you can place multiple bids, set a maximum bid, etc. If no one else is interested in the domain then you’ll automatically win the auction at the minimum bid.


NameJet is the newest company to the market, being formed when the partnership between Network Solutions and SnapNames ended. NameJet is the exclusive aftermarket auction site for Network Solutions, eNom, and Bulk Register. If the domain you are interested in currently registered with one of these registrars then NameJet is the only site you need to deal with.

The minimum bid price starts at $69 and as normal you do not have to pay unless you win the auction. They offer both public auctions where anyone can place a bid, or private auctions where only those placed a bid before the drop can participate.


With their system you first purchase a “DomainAlert Pro Backordering” slot for $20.99. This slot can be used again and again until a backorder is successful. Once you’ve purchased that slot you can select which domain name you want to place a backorder on. One thing to note is that they only allow one back order per domain name. If GoDaddy catches the drop then you’ll receive the domain right away. Since they only allow one back order per domain there is no post-drop auction like the other services.


Players in place, you have chosen your poison so what happens next..?

If the domain is some crazy gibberish domain name, it’s possible that nobody will try to buy that domain and you can pick it up at your convenience. If it’s something really marketable like “summer.com,” you can bet your bottom dollar there will be hundreds of people trying to grab that domain the moment it is deleted.

As we all know there is  a whole industry simply  focused on grabbing expiring domains as soon as they are deleted. Sites like the ones mentioned above will let you “backorder” a name and then use specific software to catch the domain the split second it becomes available and yes they are very efficient at what they do but once they get hold of an expired domain, they launch an auction to try to sell it to the highest bidder. They create a market for that domain if they get it.

Which of course many will argue creates a conflict of interest you tell them what domain you want, they have a system to grab it once it’s available, then they run around marketing that domain to as many bidders as possible.  In a nutshell simply by using such a service to backorder a domain creates interest in the domain and alerts them that it’s worth buying it. You might even be worse off using such a service because you suddenly are bidding against a bunch of people who otherwise would have no idea the domain existed or was for sale.

There is a large population of domain buyers who bid on just about every ok-looking domain which ends up at auction on the domain catching sites, for this reason more and more people are turning to the option of trying to grab these domains themselves

David v Goliath

If you choose to try this option here are a few pointers to get you started..

  1. Do not backorder the domain anywhere! Do nothing to reveal your interest in the domain to registrars.
  2. Using whois find out what day the domain expires.
  3. Set a calendar reminder to check the status of the domain 30 days after that date.
  4. You should see the domain change to “Pending Delete” status. Set your calendar reminder to 5 days after the time when the Pending Delete Status began.
  5. At that time, do a whois. Is there a domain record? No? It’s yours! Go buy it on your favorite registrar. If it’s still pending delete, keep checking. It could become available at any time. This is best accomplished using a shell script so you don’t have to keep checking by hand.

And what if one of the domain catching services grabs the domain before you? You can still bid on it at this point. (the auction will appear on their web site in a few days and you’ll see the domain record update)

Slippery things…

The domain expiration process is confusing, convoluted, and congested.. With little to no regulation the current system allows each individual registrar because they can create exclusive partnerships with auction services.

A better and possibly more fairer way  would be to set up a single waiting list or auction style system allowing a more leveled and open playing field. With all that said we are stuck with the current system for the foreseeable future so going back to my original question do butter fingers prevail every time when trying to catch your own domain? Well If you’re trying to grab something that isn’t typically useful, universally marketable, easily recognizable and a less popular TLD, maybe…  Remember keep a low profile and stalk your chosen domain through the expiration lifecycle and swoop in when it becomes available, but please dont be too disappointed if this strategy does not work – remember there are many vultures out there!

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