Below I’ve re-posted a painful yet informative article THIS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU: A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT YOUR DOMAIN NAME from my sister-agency Spokes Marketing in Baltimore MD. The author poses the question: who really controls your company domain name? Often, the unfortunate answer is “not whom you think it should be”. In fact, I have seen this very thing happen numerous times and even now have a client who is in the process of re-acquiring their own domain.
An Unfortunate But Common Tale
In the Spokes article, the author describes a couple situations where a company has inadvertently lost control of their domain name and, as a result, their website went off-line unexpectedly. This happened because the domain-related emails (warning of an impending expiration) went to either an employee’s email who is no longer with the company, or the deceased company owner’s email after they passed away.
In my experience, there is an even more common situation that leads to a company not having control of their domain name. The situation occurs when a company has a third-party purchase the domain name, or URL, on the company’s behalf. Often, the URL ownership is never transferred to the company or individual it was purchased for. After a few years, one of the following occurs:
- The developer who bought the domain name goes out of business. They are unresponsive and unable or unwilling to provide domain registration information.
- The developer who bought the domain name gets hired full-time and closes their business. Again, they are unresponsive and unable or unwilling to provide domain registration information.
- The developer who bought the domain name simply disappears off the face of the earth (most common scenario!)
- The owner hired a young family member to purchase the domain and build the website. Years later, the family member is on a self-discovery trip in Asia and has no record or access to the original domain purchase information.
- The developer who purchased the domain is upset that their client is hiring somebody else and is unwilling to provide domain registration information or access (this is fairly rare these days, but I have seen it happen).
(I have personally experienced each of these scenarios more than once.)
Regardless of the Cause, the Result Is Chaos
Regardless of the many possible causes for such a situation, the result is that the domain expiration notices go on answered, the domain expires and company’s website goes off-line. Once the domain has expired and the website has gone off-line, it may be very difficult to retrieve ownership of the domain and get the website live again with the same URL. The author in the article mentions some of the hoops one has to go through in order to prove ownership of the domain name. It’s a hassle you don’t want to deal with if you don’t have to!
For a company who receives a lot of new business from their website, this down-time can be very bad for their sales. For an e-commerce company, it is catastrophic.
Controlling Your Company Domain Name
So, the moral of the story is to make sure you find out RIGHT NOW who owns your company’s domain name. The author of the article provides the following solutions:
- Go to whois.com.
- Plug in your domain name in the upper right, click the WHOIS button and check the renewal date. If it’s a long time off, make a note to check it again in a year.
- Also, make note of the Registrar, the Registrant/Owner and the Technical Contact. These should all be recognizable to you and correct.
- Confirm you have CONTROL over the domain name.
- Log into the registrar at least once a year to ensure you can see the domain name and it’s set up for auto-renew.
- If the Owner or Technical Contact were wrong when you did #1, correct them here.
- Call me if you need help
I agree 100% with these solutions. However, I would add a fourth step that may be critical in preventing the problem from occurring in the future:
- Make sure that the email and other technical contact information is Position-Specific, not Person-Specific. In other words, if your technical contact is going to be your company’s IT person (just an example), then the technical contact email should be something that stays consistent regardless of who has that job not that person’s specific email address. For example, you should use something like ITadmin@yourdomainname.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. ITadmin will go to whoever is in the position, whereas susie.special will only go to Susie.
A big thank you to Jeff Spokes of Spokes Marketing for publishing this article and letting me to re-post it with attribution. I have posted the full article below, and you can read the original article here.
THIS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU: A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT YOUR DOMAIN NAME
Originally published on spokesmarketing.com, July 2, 2016. Re-posted by permission.
A company, let’s call it Acme Products, is cranking along with great service, great products, great customers and a great web site. One day the website disappears. Falls off the internet. Like it never existed. You call your web company. They have all the files up and running. Good to go. Except it’s not. You’re nowhere to be found. Now you’re panicked, losing business trying to figure out what happened. Well here’s a couple of ways this could have happened:
Let’s say the President, John Smith founded the company. John started the company and when he did he bought the domain name AcmeProducts.com, using his own personal email address. John died last year. No-one thought to wonder what happened to the domain name because after he died the website continued on just like before. Well, this year with the domain name up for ‘renewal’, the registrar tried to charge the credit card and it failed because the card for John Smith had been cancelled. The email address where the registrar notifies the owner that the card failed had ALSO been cancelled because no-one need monitor a dead person’s email account. And then 30 days later the domain is cancelled and your website goes down.
Now you’re stuck trying to get control of the domain from a deceased person’s account. Having to provide death certificates, dealing with red tape. All the while your website is down.
How could this be prevented? We’ll tell you but first ANOTHER way this could happen.
Say you’re part of a large organization that controls all the domain names of the organization. Say that early on when the organization wasn’t so large or before a merger, one or two of them were registered in someone’s name and email say Suzie.email@example.com and now whenever they register a new domain name, it gets registered to firstname.lastname@example.org, which is cool. But the early ones are still registered to Suzie.Jones and get sent notification to suzie.jones. Unfortunately Suzie Jones no longer works at Large Organization. Now your website is non-renewed and you’re fighting to get it turned back on through the red tape of your organization.
So how do we prevent this? Here are a couple steps you can take to make sure you’re all good:
1) Go to whois.com. Plug in your domain name in the upper right, click the WHOIS button and check the renewal date. If it’s a long time off, make a note to check it again in a year. Also, make note of the Registrar, the Registrant/Owner and the Technical Contact. These should all be recognizable to you and correct.
2) Confirm you have CONTROL over the domain name. Log into the registrar at least once a year to ensure you can see the domain name and it’s set up for auto-renew. If the Owner or Technical Contact were wrong when you did #1, correct them here.
3) Call us if you have any questions. It’s simple to do steps 1 and 2, but if you don’t you may be scrambling. No-one likes to scramble, especially when your website’s down!