Arr! Talking like a pirate is fun, but if Corsairs of the Internet take away your domain name, you will be having anything but fun.
People I know have faced the following scenario – one day you go to your browser to look at your organizations’ web site, and it’s not there! In its place is the web page of someone else’s site, or even more aggravating, that of a domain name squatter.
Domain name squatters are people who look for domains that have expired, hoping to resell them to someone else or back to you for an inflated price, or use them for some other purpose. If this happens to you, you will either have to pay the pirate a ransom to get your domain name back, or get a new domain name for your site. Neither of these options are very attractive. In the first case, you’re rewarding unethical behavior which is infuriating not to mention expensive, and in the second case you face having to reprint any collateral that has your web site address on it, go back to square one on any link building you’ve done for your web site, or possibly even change the name of your company. What a nightmare!
How does this happen? Often it’s because the person who has control of the domain name has changed their email address and they didn’t get the reminder message from the registrar with the notice that their domain name is due to expire. I think it’s a good idea for someone in every organization to stop for a moment and think about whether you know the answers to the following questions:
- Do you know who in your company is in charge of the domain name?
- Does that person have the current username and password to get into the domain name account?
- Do you know what registrar your domain name is currently registered with?
- Is the email address and other contact information on your account current?
- Do you know when your domain name expires?
I recommend you find out and document the answers to those five questions, then take the following actions. If the contact information with the registrar is not current, fix that immediately. If someone in your organization is not the Administrative Contact, correct that as soon as possible. Make note of the expiration date of your domain and put it on your calendars. Then decide how many trustworthy people in your organization should have access to this information, share it with them, and ask them to store it in a safe place. That way, if there is a domain-related emergency with your web site and the person who usually manages your domain is not available, someone else can step in and help.
Some people don’t want to deal with all the above details, they prefer to let their web hosting company or an outside web developer handle all domain related issues and put the domain registration fee on the bill with their other services – understandable, but I don’t recommend it. If the person you work with at the outside company leaves, there might not be anyone else in the organization who knows the information, and it’s often a bit of a hassle to try to get the registrar to give you access to your account. Not that they don’t have good reasons to make it difficult – they don’t want your domain to get poached by an unauthorized party. Nevertheless, it’s one more hassle you don’t need. If you are certain of the name of your domain name registrar (I’ve run into many clients over the years who did not know that information), you will be protected in case domain name pirates send you a fake renewal notice. The expiration date might be real, that is public information, but the company sending the notice might not really be your registrar – they are just trying to trick you into moving your business to their company. Even worse, if you’re dealing with an unethical hosting or web development company, they might hold your domain information hostage until you give them something they want that they’re not really entitled to. I personally know someone who found herself in just that situation. So please, make sure you’re in control of your own domain name. Share the login information with your web developer or hosting company if they need it, and change the password after they’re done with their work if that makes you feel better, but always maintain control.
If you have already lost your domain name, what should you do then? I recommend getting a new domain name as similar to the old one as you can, and putting your web site there. Then, see what the expiration date is on your former domain name. When that date arrives, check to see if anyone has renewed it, and if not, grab it. It’s possible that if someone was holding your domain name in order to resell it, they were unable to unload it and chose not to renew it. Domain name pirates usually only renew their booty one year at a time – one reason why search engines are said to favor web sites with domain names reserved for longer periods of time. The preceding scenario has happened to someone I know, so it’s possible that you could get lucky and get your former domain name back without having to pay bounty to a pirate. That will leave you with two domain names, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You can redirect one to the other, so that no matter which of the two addresses someone uses to get to your site, they can still reach you. Having two domain names to play with is also an advantage when it comes to Search Engine Optimization – so if you’re in this position don’t get rid of that extra domain name until you’ve talked to a search engine expert about the SEO possibilities available to you.