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Lost Domain Names Are No Fun

"Five in Five" Series Part One: Owning Your Digital Assets

There are many ways organizations and their domain names can go separate ways.  It can be something as innocent as forgetting to pay a bill or as scary as outright theft.  However, the fallout of a lost domain name is always the same. If your email stops working, customers can't purchase products or learn about your business, or worse, your website is replaced with content from your domain's new proud owner. 🙁

Losing a domain name aside, there are more practical reasons to make sure your domain is accurately registered to your organization and access is delegated in a safe way such as being able to adjust your domain while hosting a move or changing email providers. When preparing your business for sale or negotiating the purchase of a company, special considerations need to be in place. The ownership of the entity's domain names and transfer process are overlooked time and time again.

How to Mitigate the Risk of Losing A Domain Name

#1 Make a list and check it twice.

In over 20 years of providing hosting and web design services, I rarely have a company come to me with an organized list of all domain names that are the entity's property. A list indicating when the domains were registered or due to expire. Create an up-to-date list that should at least include:

  1. Domain Name
  2. Registrar login information
  3. Domain Purpose: Primary website, redirect, email, etc...
  4. Expiration Date
  5. Additional information would include DNS and hosting information but more on that later

#2 Review registration information.

Whether the domain is privately or publicly registered, it is critical that accurate registration information is reviewed and updated regularly:

  1. Registrar: Where is your domain registered??? Some companies "act" like registrars, but they are actually reselling through a top-level registrar like Tucows, Network Solutions, or GoDaddy.  Know where your domains are registered and control those passwords with your life.  Access to your domains can be delegated to people who need to make changes without providing your login information. PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE EMAIL ADDRESS! Access to this address is typically all it takes to hijack a domain.
  2. Registrant: Your domain is your organization's property, not yours, not your boss's, not an ex-employee.  Make sure that the "Registrant" is listed as the organization with correct citation information such as address and phone number.
  3. Administrative Contact: Contact is allowed to help move the domain between registrars and can often request other changes to a domain with the registrant's approval.
  4. Billing Contact: The registrant can authorize individuals to receive the invoice for domain name registration and renewal fees.
  5. Technical Contact: This person responsible for maintaining the DNS nameservers. More on DNS later!

P.S. Each of the above "domain contacts" can be exactly the same person or organization. To check your domain's registration, perform a whois search here: ICANN: Whois Lookup

#3 Renew your domain names for as long as you can afford

There is a correlation between domain accuracy and a longer domain registration renewal periods. There is no harm in registering your domain names for five or ten years but if you are not in a position to do this, at least enable auto-renew for your domains.  Just don't get complacent. Make sure your domain registration contacts and credit card on file with the registrar are kept up to date.

#4 Lock it up!

A domain lock is a simple step you can take to prevent a transfer of your domain. Per NetSol: "Most domain name registrars offer mechanisms for "locking" your domain name registration; such as Network Solutions' Domain Protect. When the lock is engaged, your domain name registration can't be transferred to another registrar until you remove the lock." There are also less-known levels of locks that can be applied to domain names that typically require more extreme steps of identity certification before any type of changes are allowed.  Unless you are Nike, you likely don't need these protections. (read more about Nike losing their domain)

#4 Private vs Public registration

Setting your domain to private registration will hide your contact information from the ICANN Whois Registry.  This has the advantage of reducing the amount of junk phone calls and mail you might get, however, there is evidence that accurate public domain registration information is an important SEO (Search Engine Optimization) marker.  Our rule of thumb: if the organization is public and wanting to rank well in search engines, keep registration public. If the website is personal and owned by an individual, set it to private. Domain registrars charge for private registration so naturally, they will encourage everyone to choose this option regardless of benefits to the organization. Cough cough GoDaddy, cough cough.

#5 What to do if you have lost a domain

If your domain is suddenly missing in action or you can't gain access to the registrant, don't delay, act now!  Let me say that again, don't delay another minute, act now! Time is your enemy, and if it is possible to get the domain back it will likely take some social engineering and sleuthing.  We have solved many, complex domain names and DNS issues over the years and have learned some painful lessons along the way.  DO NOT HESITATE TO ASK US FOR HELP! We have seen it all.

Resources:

Domain names are the single most important digital asset your company or organization owns. Take the time to protect and organize them.

Joel Eckman is the owner of Globalsites and has been developing websites and digital marketing solutions for businesses for over 20 years.  Contact us here