There are lots of online tools that you can use to get detailed information about a particular domain name. This can include public sales history (if the domain was previously sold), details of the current and former owners, and even snapshots of how the domain was used in the past.
Many of these tools are free, but the most detailed information is often only available using paid services. Some of the paid services also offer ‘feature-reduced’ or ‘query-capped’ free versions of their tools.
For those readers that are less familiar with domain names, below is a very brief overview of a key concept that is referred to throughout the article: ‘whois’.
When a domain name is registered, the buyer (known as the ‘registrant’) must provide a series of details, such as their name and email address. This information is recorded and held by the registrar (the business at which the customer registered the domain name). This registration information is referred to as a ‘whois record’.
Whois records are publicly accessible to anyone through whois search services. A whois search is also commonly referred to as a ‘whois lookup’ or ‘whois query’.
Some extensions, such as .com, allow registrants to use whois privacy (or ‘proxy’) services to shield their personal details. This is not permitted for the .au namespace (e.g. .com.au and .net.au domains).
Under auDA’s WHOIS Policy (2010-06) and Registrant Contact Information Policy (2010-07), it is not permissible for registrants of .au domain names to hide their personal information on WHOIS through use of private or proxy registration services.
Reverse whois searches
Some services offer the ability to search for whois records using details other than the domain name, for example you could search by an email address and see a list of registered domains that contain that email address on the whois records.
These services operate by querying their own database of indexed whois records, rather than querying registries directly for each search. For this reason, the index will not capture all registered domains and is only as up-to-date as the most recent indexing or re-indexing of domains in their database.
Additional mapping is done to ‘connect the dots’ between whois records in the database, which allows users to run what are called ‘reverse whois’ searches.
UPDATE: unfortunately IPNeighborhood has shutdown and is no longer available.
IPNeighborhood is one of the better research tools for Australian domain name investors, as the service has a particular focus on .au domains (it also covers all the other major extensions).
I personally use their paid services and have been very happy with the intelligence features on offer. It has some similarities to the paid services offered by DomainTools (a summary of their services follows), but IPNeighborhood offers far more competitive pricing.
For the reasons outlined above, I will provide a more in-depth look at IPNeighborhood than for some of the other services.
One of the features of IPNeighborhood is the ability to undertake domain history searches, which allow you to see the current and former registrants of a domain name (provided the domain has been indexed). Here is an example of a domain history search result:
You can click on details such as the ‘Registrant Name’ or the ‘Registrant Email’ to see a list of all the domains that are associated with those details.
In the image below, historical whois details are shown for the same domain name. When these details are indexed you can see the former registrants of a domain name, in addition to the current registrant details.
Clicking on the link (to the right of ‘Changes’ in the screenshot) brings up a pop-up box with more details on the former registrants, of course in this case it is the same entity (Google).
A feature that I personally use a lot is trademark alerts. I have a number of online businesses, brands and trademarks, so this is a very helpful tool for me to monitor my intellectual property assets. This feature alone makes the subscription worthwhile for me.
It is very easy to use, you simply add the term you wish to monitor and select the other options as applicable. I tend to leave the trademark class field empty and I also opt to monitor both US and Australian trademark activity.
This section allows you to search for expiring domains, previously expired domains, domains listed for sale on forums and more.
For example, you could view the list of expiring .com domains and apply the ‘Bids’ filter to see those names that are getting the most attention.
There are a number of other features that I have not covered, the screenshots below show some of the other menu options to give you an overview.
They have a large number of domains indexed and some powerful intelligence tools, but their pricing is higher than many other providers.
I am not a fan of their free whois search service, as I find it far too cluttered. I have recommended some good whois search providers later in the article.
A free trial membership for DomainTools is available on their website.
domainIQ is a more recent entrant, with a particular focus on domain portfolio research (seeing who owns what). Their pricing is higher than IPNeighborhood, but they do also offer a ‘basic’ subscription that is quite a bit cheaper than the entry level DomainTools subscription, putting them somewhere in the middle on pricing.
A free plan is also available with ‘pay as you go’ access.
Whoisology is a reverse whois service, with similar features to the other providers listed above.
In addition to paid accounts, free accounts are also available (with a cap on the number of queries).
WebBoar.com is a free reverse whois service, that is supported by a small number of advertisements.
Basic (traditional) whois searches
When it comes to basic whois search services, there are many, many options (including DomainTools listed above and registrars such as GoDaddy, VentraIP etc).
It is worth keeping in mind that free services from many commercial operators are not really ‘free’. You may not be opening your wallet, but you are paying with your data or with your eyeballs (i.e. being bombarded with advertising!).
Whois searches are recorded and sometimes that data is made available to the registrants. For example, at one of my main registrars GoDaddy, I can see how many whois searches have been conducted on each of my domains. This may even influence the valuation that I put on a domain name, because a large number of whois searches can indicate that there is a high level of interest for the domain. As a domain investor, this information can be very helpful.
Incidentally, it should be noted that this data is typically not available to domain owners (registrants) through many registrars – this is an additional (free) service provided by GoDaddy.
If you would prefer to limit the amount of data that you are sharing or avoid being inundated with advertising, then you can use the whois search services provided by the applicable registry operator itself.
For example, for .com.au whois searches you can use the service provided by AusRegistry; and for .com whois searches you can use the service provided by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
For .au whois searches, I usually use the service provided by the registry itself (AusRegistry), because it works well and the page is uncluttered. For other extensions (mostly .com), I will often use my registrar or who.is (see below).
A good commercial whois search provider is quite aptly named ‘Who.is‘ (it is owned by domain registrar Name.com).
The search results screen is not overly cluttered compared to many others, and they also provide a simple history function to display the previous registrant (if known).
Domain sales history
The NameBio site has a nice clean design and their search interface is easy to use.
The free service is supported by fairly unobtrusive advertising.
DNPric.es is a more recent entrant in the space, but reportedly has a very extensive database of domain sales history.
Like NameBio, the free service is supported by advertising.
In addition to the tools listed above, there are also a number of other free sources for details of public domain sales, including sites such as DNJournal and TheDomains.com. Australian domain forum DNTrade.com.au also keeps track of notable .au domain sales.
Search engine popularity – search volume and advertising
There are a number of tools available to indicate how much search volume a particular term has (i.e. the number of people typing that term into a search engine such as Google), and also how competitive the term is for advertising (typically measured by the ‘cost per click’ (CPC) that businesses will pay).
Search volume and CPC are some of the key measures that are used to determine how valuable a domain name is. Without going too far off-track, it is worth noting that whilst they are important measures in many cases, search volume and CPC are not the only metrics for assessing the value of a domain – there are many other factors to consider.
We will cover domain evaluation in more detail in future articles, including some other useful tools that can be used when valuing a domain name.
As the dominant search engine, Google’s tool is the best one to use, as it reflects the largest user base. The tool is free to use, but you will need to register for an account.
You can narrow your search to the local market (i.e. Australia), which is recommended if you are assessing a term used for a .au domain. However, it can also be useful to run a global search (no location targeting), to get a broader picture of how popular a term is (trends do cross international borders after all!).
There are also some free tools available to see what a domain was used for in the past.
Recent usage of a domain can affect its value. For example, if the domain was given a heavy penalty in Google or was used to distribute malware, then the value will be affected as a business would have to work hard and expend a lot of resources to repair the reputation of the domain.
The most well known website archive is Wayback Machine. It is free to use and has archives for a huge number of websites dating back to the 90s.
Screenshots.com is a new entrant and is owned by DomainTools. The service is free to use and while it does not date back nearly as far as Wayback Machine, their archive of site screenshots is growing steadily.
Another simple way to see what a domain was used for in the past is to run a search in Google (or another search engine such as Bing). Enclosing the domain in quotes can help to target the results (e.g. “namely.com.au”).
If a previous website was active on the domain until recently, it may still be indexed in the search results, and a ‘cached’ (snapshot) version of what the site looked like will sometimes be available.
Phew! It is a huge topic, so well done for making it to the end of the article!
Did I miss a domain detective tool that you often use? If so, let me know in the comments.
The fine print
This article was independently written. None of the service providers were aware of the article prior to publishing and we were not paid for any of the content.
Of course now that the article is published… we will happily accept freebies and upgrades! 😉