44 Killer Tricks to Hunt Down Any Webmaster

Tips to find and contact website owners who go AWOL.

It’s no secret that I approach webmasters to sell their websites. But, surprisingly, my biggest challenge is often contacting the owner.

I’m constantly shocked by the number of sites with no about us page, no contact details, no forms etc.

The worst offenders? Domainers, no contest. I’ve never seen so many default WordPress install pages.

That poses a real challenge: how do you get an offer to the webmaster? Here’s a list of some of the techniques I’ve used or considered in the past:

  1. WHOIS data is an obvious first step. If it’s anonymized or garbage, look for clues: nicknames or handles in the ‘name’ field.
  2. IP addresses. Check with sites share an IP address with MyIpNeighbors.com. Is there a portfolio or personal site that has contact details or other clues?
  3. Name servers. Does the site use custom nameservers? A Domain Tools lookup can suggest other sites in their network (even with separate IPs).
  4. CPA Networks. Look for links to CPA networks (eg, nbjmp.com is a Never Blue Ads link). CPA affiliates have an account manager who may be willing to pass a message on.
  5. Affiliate links Part 1. Look for affiliate links that feature a username for clues. For example, Amazon affiliate links contain a string (&tag=…) which has a tracking name (eg, qualitynocom-20).
  6. Affiliate links Part 2. Can affiliate networks pass a message on? High traffic sites will likely be on their radar.
  7. Use Live HTTP Headers for Firefox if affiliate links are masked via redirects.
  8. AdSense IDs can be matched across sites. Look for the “google_ad_client” string in the code.
  9. Sub-affiliates signups very occasionally tell you which affiliate referred you. Only seen this with a handful of homebrew affiliate platforms.
  10. Ad marketplaces. Is the site listed on sites like BuySellAds.com or AdBrite?
  11. Ask advertisers if they can pass on your message.
  12. Advertising enquiries. Is there an ad rate card page or PDF, for example?
  13. Newsletters

  14. Newsletters always have a reply-to address (of course, it isn’t always live).
  15. Even ‘noreply@yourdomain.com’ works if catch-all email is enabled on Cpanel…
  16. CAN-SPAM compliant emails require a postal address. Many hosted email services, like Aweber, require this even for non-US users.
  17. Common emails. Have you tried info@, webmaster@, contact@, postmaster@ the domain? Get guessing!
  18. Backlinks

  19. Explore backlinks with tools like SEO for Firefox or SEO Link Analysis. Many webmasters link from another network site *somewhere*, so look for anchor text that is suspiciously close to their target keywords.
  20. Forum signatures. Can you find forum users with signature links via BoardTracker or in the backlinks? PM them.
  21. Blog comments. Can you find blog comments using the URL? Blog owners using common platforms, like WordPress, will have an email address for the commenter.
  22. Social bookmarks. Which users have submitted or bookmarked the site on Delicious, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon etc? Look for patterns with Social Media for Firefox.
  23. Other social media. Try guessing obvious Twitter, Plurk etc usernames.
  24. Widgets etc. Do they embed widgets from external sites? Don’t forget you can message users off-site at YouTube etc.
  25. Better Business Bureau backlinks may mean membership or complaints. Either way, the BBB may have contact details.
  26. Look out for listings in web directories with the submitters name next to the listings.
  27. HTML

  28. HTML forms. Search the source for email submits via FormMail or similar scripts. There may be no domain, just the name before the @ sign.
  29. Boilerplate text. Google snippets of their Privacy Policy or T+Cs. Find them on other sites? Bingo.
  30. Footer footprints. Is the copyright notice or footer phrased in an unusual way? Get Googling.
  31. Meta data. Check the source for hallmarks, like a Frontpage author’s tag on an old site.
  32. Who’s the designer? Look at the footer/meta data etc, and try the designers (provided it’s not a template, natch).
  33. Hosting etc

  34. Archive.org is your friend. Do cached pages have contact details or clues?
  35. Or does Archive.org show a change of ownership? Old owners can help.
  36. Web Hosting. Find their web host and ask if they can pass on an urgent message.
  37. DMCA notices. Obviously appropriate only in very specific circumstances.
  38. Researching Names

  39. Phone book. Old school, but worth a shot.
  40. ZabaSearch, an incredible people search tool for the US.
  41. Social Networks. Everyone is on MySpace or FaceBook nowadays.
  42. LinkedIn for business people.
  43. Niche social networks. Eg, Sphinn for SEOs, DNhour for domainers etc.
  44. Industry forums, like DNforum.com for domainers or Acorn Domains for UK domainers.
  45. Bebo is massively popular in the UK with under 30s.
  46. 192.com for unlisted UK citizens.
  47. The UK electrorial roll is available at your local public library.
  48. Companies House provide Ltd company directorships in England and Wales (but not Scotland) with director’s addresses.
  49. If All Else Fails…

  50. Setup Google Alerts for the domain. Future mentions may offer clues.
  51. Track changes to the site with a tool like Versionista.
  52. Search arrest records to find a home address using a tool like Records Ferret.

Which techniques have I missed?