How to Look up Who Owns or Owned a Domain Name
Finding out who owns a domain name and finding contact details was never the easiest task. With GDPR it got much harder and the whois search results are mostly useless these days. This being said, it was possible to find domain owners and still is. The following steps allow you to check different paths to find out who the domain owner is and ideally their contact details at the same time. Due to the nature of the topic, there isn’t a guarantee of finding the owner of a domain. Yet at least this increases your chances of getting in touch with the owner.
Basics: Official domain name registrars
The official domain registrars once were a great resource to find the owner of a domain name. This was until GDPR hit. With GDPR, most European registrars (and others to avoid trouble with European customers) decided to precautionarily switch on their “domain privacy”-modes to mask the actual owner information. This way, they made sure not to violate the new data protection laws. It might be still worth to check the registrar database. Some domain registrars have left their data visible. Head over to a “whois service” and enter the domain name in question to run a check.
Impress or contact options on the website
If there is a website under the domain name you should continue investigating the information on the website itself. It seems like an obvious thing, but still worth mentioning: check on the website for an impress or contact page. Google can be your friend using queries such as “contact site:domain.com” and “impress site:domain.com”. You might be lucky and find one which is kind of hidden from regular visitors, but still included in the Google Index. Also, check the cached version in case there are recent changes to the contact information.
Previously existing contact pages
There is a chance that the website used to have a contact page but doesn’t have it anymore. Or it simply has been changed, moved or renamed. In this case, the “wayback machine” is a good idea to search on. It allows you to enter a domain and see previously fetched and stored websites. The pages might look broken as not all content was fetched and stored but basic information such as text should be readable. You can also navigate within the wayback results.
Mentions of the domain around the web
If you can’t find any contact information on the website itself you can still search for information on the web. Simply google for the domain name being mentioned on the internet.
You might find out who owns or at least owned the domain before by searching on social media channels. The first tweet or first post on Facebook may have been done by the owner him-/herself. It’s worth a try at least. Twitter’s advanced search allows you to limit the date, in case you got a lot of results. A regular search for the domain name will give you all public posts on pages, in a group, as well as individual profiles.
Searching for backlinks to the website can lead you to other websites, which might give you more information on the owner. If you find forum a number of posts under a particular profile you’ve got a good chance of finding out more. At the time of writing, there are two free tools; backlinkwatch and Neil Patel’s backlink, which have been around for a while. Run both to get better results.
Plain text mentions of the domain name
There is a chance someone mentioned the domain or project without linking to it, or the link has been removed and only the text remains. A Google search for “ -site:domain.com “domain.com” ” will bring up these results. Especially keep your eyes open for profiles and signatures in profiles. These can give you an idea of the owner. If you have one account mentioning the website extensively, you might be found your man.
Search for email addresses on the domain
Besides emailing generic email addresses such as [email protected] you can also search for a particular email address. There are several different ways to find an email address on a particular domain.
Finding existing email address on a domain name
First of all, there are services to help you to find an email address on particular domain names. Most of these services are paid, but some are free or offer a free trial. The landscape is changing, so mentioning which services are free here wouldn’t make much sense. As of today, the most popular is hunter.io. But there are several alternatives on the web. Lists of these can be found on ProductHunt and Quora. If you need more you will find them with a simple search for “hunter.io alternatives”.
Search for a contact email address related to a website
When you are searching for the domain owner using the plain text approach mentioned above and you got a lot of results, you might want to try limiting the results further. It would make sense to include “contact”, “email”, etc. as additional keywords. These searches would look something like this:
- -site:domain.com “domain.com” email,
- -site:domain.com “domain.com” contact,
- -site:domain.com “domain.com” write, or
- -site:domain.com “domain.com” send
This might help to find requests to send emails to the owner.
How to find an email address on a domain for a name
Sometimes you might know or have found out who owns or owned the website or domain. But you are missing an option to contact the owner. In this case, you can also try common email patterns such as “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” in Gmail. If you type them in a new email in Gmail you might see an avatar popping up - if so, you got a sure hit. If no avatar is coming for any address there is a good chance there might be no email avatar set. You will need to send an email to the address to find out for sure. After a few tries, you might land a hit and get your contact details. If not, you can still email on the email addresses and await a bounce of your email.
What to do if you don't find anything
Naturally, if you got nothing by now it's hard to continue. You can always give it a bit of time and hope for inspiration and continue searching for the owner later on. If you aren’t getting any closer to finding the owner, you can always search for an alternative domain name for your business. These research steps might lead you to a better and - more importantly - available domain name.