3 Facts About Domain Names Everyone Should Know

Don't let your URL turn into a parked page through neglectImagine this scenario. You’ve invested the time and money to have a great website that generates revenue for your business. Your domain name has become your brand online and it’s a valuable asset.

Then one morning, you log on to find your web site address now goes to a parked page (a placeholder page when a domain is inactive).

Your website is gone and potential customers are left to find another business to fulfill their needs. Could this happen to you?

We find that some small business owners don’t realize they may have left their domain name (their online brand) unprotected. Here are 3 simple precautions to make sure your online brand is secure:

First, make sure your domain is actually registered in your name. This sounds straight forward, but it’s trickier than it seems.

For example, when business owners hire a local web designer to create their website, that person often registers the site’s address (domain name) as part of their services. The problem arises when this designer registers the domain in their own name. The same thing sometimes occurs with company employees — they will register the domain in their own personal name. The individual who registers that domain name has the right to that domain (unless you have a trademark on the name — in which case there are avenues you can pursue to get your name back.)

If the employee leaves (or worse yet, goes to work for a competitor) they may have the right to take that domain name with them if the domain is registered in their name. Likewise, if your local web designer is the registrant on the domain they have control over the content and even the renewal of that domain name. If you decide to stop working with them, it could be possible for the web designer to take your content down.

The key take away here — make sure you are the registrant for your domain. Don’t assume.

Second, if you’re not sure who the registrant on your domain is, find out. This is easy to check. You can look it up in the WhoIs database. If your name is not listed as the Registrant Contact, be sure to have whoever is listed call the registrar and change the contact information to yours right away.

Third, make sure your contact information stays up-to-date with your registrar. If you move locations, change telephone numbers or change email addresses — be sure to let your registrar know of the change. Often domains are registered for multi-year terms — so you may not have heard from your registrar in a while but when it’s time to renew your domain you won’t receive renewal notices if your contact info is not up-to-date. This means your domain name might expire without your realizing it.

Normally, domains have expiration grace periods during which the site will be taken down and the registration will be held. But after that timeframe, the domain will go back on the market and could be purchased by another party. If this happens your domain name could be lost for good. Then all the time and money you’ve spent building up brand equity in your domain name goes down the drain in an instant – you wouldn’t want that to happen.

In today’s online world, your domain can be one of your business’ most valuable assets — so make sure to protect it! With just a little effort, you can be sure your domain continues working for your business for years to come.

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Wennedy Kennedy, Editor of Register.com Small Business Learning Center About the Author: Wendy Kennedy is the creator and editor of the Register.com Learning Center (an online resource site for small businesses). Wendy has also served as a consultant with over ten years of experience developing marketing and awareness programs with small businesses and entrepreneurs.


23 Reactions
  1. The first point is spot on. Make sure you don’t allow anyone other than yourself ultimate control of your domain name or your content. Would you leave the only set of keys to your office with the janitor or the realtor?

    Also, purchase your domain for as long as your budget will dictate (although most places have a max of ten years). Google likes to know you’re in it for the long haul. A domain registered for a decade gives some indication that you aren’t a fly-by-night spammer.

  2. Welcome aboard Wendy!

  3. While I wholeheartedly agree with the message behind #1, and all would be wise to follow it, the legal risks are not quite so significant. Specifically, an employee who registers a domain for your business within the scope of his or her employment cannot claim ownership of that domain; regardless of whether you’ve filed federal or state trademark registrations, you have common law rights in the name, and the employee has fiduciary duties preventing him/her from taking control.

    The same principle applies for designers. While in the absence of a written agreement, some questions may arise as to copyright ownership of designs , there is little doubt that the designer has no right to the domain name itself, regardless of whether they register it in their name.

    With these things said, it’s worth reiterating that it’s absolutely a great idea to make sure employees and contractors register your domains in your name (and give you access to the account). While you may have a solid legal claim to the domain, you’ll almost certainly want to avoid the trouble and expense of getting it back.

  4. Good advice. I would add that the same concern goes if you purchase a business that has a website. Make sure you end up owning the domain name(s) and actually complete the transfer.

    Back in the day, I used to do a lot of M&A work for a unit of Bell & Company. We had a couple of instances where we acquired a business, and the contract required the acquired company to transfer all domain names. But we never held up closing of the deal for that, figuring it was just a detail in a much larger transaction.

    Back then in the late 1990s and early 2000s it seemed to take a lot longer to transfer domain names than it does today — weeks if not months. So everyone would go on their merry way and completely forget about the domain names. A year or two later, when the URL expired, everyone would be scrambling to fix things. By then the people in the acquired company who knew anything about the domain names were long gone.

    In one case, the domain names had been registered in the individual employee’s name, just like Wendy mentions. That employee had been terminated and actually had a lawsuit pending against the company for wrongful termination. There we were, asking him to transfer the domain names … pretty please. It was a nightmare.

  5. These are really important points to keep in mind especially for a beginner. I can see what a mess that would be to work so hard at establishing your site then having someone just yank the domain away from you. Great advice.

  6. Great article. Timely too. [ Rated * * * * * ]

    Anyone with a website, whether it is business or personal would be well advised to read this article. Then take appropriate action as necessary.

    Looking forward to more great stuff from the Small Business Trends network.

  7. Stephen Douglas

    Nice article. This is extremely important information being given, gloriously forgoing the demonization of many domain investors who buy these expired domains on the open market. Thanks for that!

    My advice to all business owners: Build a stable of keyword generic domains, even if it costs you thousands of dollars a year, because those domains will be worth more than your company will be worth in five years. Learn how to register a domain name yourself, and if you’re in the marketing department of any company, this gives you great insight and leverage as an employee who knows about “new media marketing”.

    A domain name is an “appreciable marketing asset” that your company will be very happy to own in 2010.

    Stephen Douglas
    Successful Domain Management™
    BLOG: http://www.Successclick.com
    “Own Your Competition™”

  8. Welcome, Wendy.

    My first year in business the developer held the name and then I changed developers. When the notice to renew came up – the first developer received the email and didn’t pass the information on to me. The expiration date came and went and I woke to find my website had vanished from the web! Panic set in. I quickly figured it out and made the corrections. I was lucky.

    I understand that there is a 40 day grace period but the host can charge super high rates to get your URL back. Has anyone heard that as well?

    Better be safe than sorry, follow Wendy’s advice, and reserve your URL for as many years as possible!


  9. Wendy, your advice is very good, as well as the advice added by Anita. It is probably obvious that someone needs to transfer the ownership of the website when the website IS the business, but it is easy to overlook when the website is ancillary to a brick-and-mortar business such as a restaurant or retail shop.

  10. It could be a start-up problem. You want to register a domain for your new company, but you don’t have all your stuff ready, so you have to register it to your personal email address. Due to several reasons, my own Lindeskog.com domain elapsed and was taken over by a company that put up a “landing – search” page. I learned a “hard” lesson, but it turned out well. I have now a new, more personal domain extension, http://Martin.Lindeskog.name instead of the more common used .com address. Read more in my post, Martin Lindeskog Name Domain.

  11. Depending on the domain name that you have bought, they can be a very valuable asset in the future. Some have made millions just buying domain names and selling them in the future when their appraisal value is up.

  12. Great post – I would like to add another important fact that everyone should know especially if they have not already got a domain name. The top level domain is very important for search engine visibility. I used to advise my clients to always register a .com domain because this is typically what people associate with the web – however when Google ranks websites it also looks at the top level domain (i.e. .com, .net, .co.uk, .fr, .etc…) as a factor and also the IP address of the web host to try and determine where a domain is located. So if your business is location specific you should choose a country-level domain. If you already have a .com or .net domain but your main business is in another country don’t despair – Google has an area called Webmaster tools where you can tell Google the primary location of your website.

  13. I can’t tell you how many times we have ran into this with our clients! We make it part of our process to have our clients register their domains and hosting on their own with their contact info and purchasing info. I makes life a lot easier having this taken care before starting any new projects! Great points, great article!

  14. You have come up with some great advice Wendy. If someone is starting a website of his/her company, then he/she must make sure that the domain name is registered under his/her name.

  15. that’s some excellent information. I look forward to more

  16. Thanks for the info – don’t forget to post about the Australian domain name industry – it’s really starting to take off… Thanks again

  17. Thank you for you post, this article is just great, especially for beginners. Are there any forums that you recommend I join ?

  18. The contact information is definately the most important. Without that being accurate you could lose your domain name. And with cybersquatters that could end up costing you lots of money in the end!!

  19. The scary thing is that your website can be auctioned off and ownership gone forever. If you try to buy it from whoever won the auction they will typcially charge you $1500 – $2500 if you are lucky.

  20. I have recently started blogging and I think that this post is of great help to newbies and beginners, if you do not have the domain registered on your own name you could just lose all your hard word that you did for months on that domain, just for making this small mistake.