what is a domain broker and why do I have to ' make an offer' on a domain name that is not in use?
Domain brokers are a side business for registrars where they will offer to try to contact the domain owner for you.
And when they ask for an offer, what is reasonable?
Depends on the domain, it can be anywhere from $50 to over $10 million. Most won't let a domain they are speculating go for under a few hundred though.
it isnt in use, I do not understand why I have to give money for this.
That's like asking why your neighbor won't give away his car just because he isn't using it. The reason is because he bought it and it's his.
Can you register it when someone else owns it?
No. You have to buy it from the owner or through a service (that is what the domain broker is).
I'm guessing you ran into Go Daddy's service, it's not quite a scam but I've never used it myself. I've bought domains from domain speculators and others (nothing too outrageous, my purchases ranged from $200 to $5,000) and I usually just try to contact them directly. Sometimes they don't want that, or don't answer so in those cases a service like the domain "broker" might be interesting. For example, one of the domains the last company I worked for had always had buyers making offers but the owner of the domain didn't want to sell at any price. When I ignored the offers they'd sometimes use such a service and Go Daddy would email me asking if the domain was for sale.
Thing is, it really looks like for your needs you should be looking for an unregistered domain. The way to do that is basically go to any domain registrar (such as NameCheap or Go Daddy) and type in the domain and submit it. They'll tell you if it's available or not.
That can be a big pain, because as you are about to discover most of the good names are taken so it would take a lot of trial and error. You may find a "domain name thesaurus" handy, something like:
If you want a one or two word domain you may have to make up the words (e.g. I made up ajooja just to get a pronnouncable one word domain) or get a rare word (e.g. waggery) so a good strategy may include prefixing things.
E.g. if acme.com isn't available do acmephotography.com and so on.
When picking a domain you need to decide if you want a good SEO domain (descriptive, e.g. "<city>photographer") or a good brandable domain (e.g "Google" or "Yahoo"). For brandable it's better to have something short, even if it doesn't make much sense as Yahoo and Google both illustrate.
If I were in your shoes (and assuming you don't have a big online marketing budget), I'd be going with a local descriptive domain to get SEO traffic. Something like <cityname>keywords.com
So I'd find out (using the Adwords keyword tool
and Google Trends
) what keywords can bring me the most traffic and that aren't already registered.
I'd start with something like "<cityname> photographer" and use the suggestions the adwords tool generates to build a list and then rank them by popularity. Then I'd check their availability on a registrar and get the best one available. Then with some link building your domain selection can help you get natural search traffic.
If I had a big enough budget or didn't really need the online traffic (e.g. if you are mainly referring people to the site who contact you some other way) , I'd usually go with a brandable domain.
P.S. Buying a .com is almost always a very very
good idea. Try to think of a famous site you know of that doesn't own the .com version. They are rare (even del.icio.us eventually moved to delicious.com).