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During my commute to the CIRA office in Ottawa, I pass by several empty lots on Bank Street. They don’t appear to be for sale, there doesn’t seem to be any development planned, and they are often covered in weeds. Those lots are prime real estate, but whoever owns them is leaving them empty.

A similar thing happens with online real estate—domain names. Our support team sometimes gets a call like this:

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

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!

The reality is, people come across domain names every day, but don’t really give too much thought as to:

  1. How to pick the right domain for their business, or
  2. What the heck to do if the one they want is already registered.

So allow us to share a few important points that will help if you’re stumped in trying to get a great domain name for your business.

Tip: If possible, 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 considering 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.

Another important step for a new business is to search the web for your desired business name to see what else is out there. In addition to see what other websites might have a similar name, you will also discover what usernames and handles are taken on popular social media platforms. 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?

Companies big and small can struggle to obtain a domain that’s already registered.

Even a large company like Tesla struggled to get their ideal domain name. After launching initially with the domain name teslamotors.com, Tesla eventually paid a small fortune to acquire tesla.com in the secondary market.

Even if you’re willing to pursue buying a domain name from the secondary market, there are some advantages to getting online with an alternative domain name first.

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

Start building your website with an alternative domain

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.

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.

Check the expiry date

When you find out a domain is registered through CIRA's domain search, the “Domain info” tab displays what the expiry date is. If it’s 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.

What to know about purchasing a domain in the aftermarket

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, jobs.ca was resold in the secondary market for $600,000 USD, the most expensive publicly-reported aftermarket .CA domain sold to date according to namebio.com.


Some premium (short, keyword) domains would be the equivalent of a waterfront property in downtown Toronto – you pay more for a premium property.

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” or WHOIS 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 are also knowledgeable in:

  • tracking down the person who registered the domain;
  • assessing what a fair market value for the domain name is and negotiating on your behalf;
  • making the technical transfer and/or sending payment.

Domain broker services

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.