By Gudrun Frank
Weblink Studio

Often times, business owners do not know how important it is to know how and where their domain is registered until it is too late.

Every day businesses lose their domain name because they were not registered correctly in the first place. Every business owner has to understand the basic meaning of registration entries. Check how your domain name is registered here.
The most important entries are:
  1. The “Registrar” = the company that registered the domain name. Check accredited registrars here 
  2.  The “Registrant” = the person or entity that legally owns the domain name
  3. The “Administrator” = usually the person or entity that receives notifications about renewal and also receives password recovery messages.
When you register a domain name, you also enter an e-mail address associated with that registration. It is important to keep that in mind because most likely, renewal notices are sent to that address.

Pitfalls

  • You are registering a domain name with a company, assuming they are an accredited registrar with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). However, they are a reseller for a registrar. Resellers are often times not monitored, so if they disappear, so may your domain name. You may unknowingly register a domain name with a registrar that is located in another country making communications difficult or impossible. (See story 4 for a real life example.)
  • A web design or hosting company is registering the domain name for you. Instead of registering the domain name in your name, they are registering the name in their name. So legally they own the domain name. Although you are paying for it, legally, you don’t own it. If you are lucky, they will release the domain name to you when you want to change services but many times this is done to keep you hostage and prevent you from changing services. Imagine the nightmare if that hosting company goes out of business and you have no way of accessing your domain name registration to change name servers. (See stories 1 and 2 for examples)
  • You register a domain name with your @verizon.com, @comcast.com, @aol.com e-mail address but you forget to change the e-mail address associated with your domain name when you change service providers. Therefore, notifications of pending renewals go to obsolete e-mail addresses and finally expire. (See story 5)

What you Should Do

  1. Make sure you are registering your domain name with an accredited registar
  2. Discuss with anyone who is registering the domain for you how it will be registered and make sure that you have access to your domain name settings through a control panel. You need to be able to change name servers and make payments independently from whoever registered the domain name for you. Also keep in mind, that it is important to register a domain for a business not in a person’s name but in the businesses’ name. Remember, whoever is the “Registrant” is the legal owner of a domain name. If the registrant of your domain name is an employee, this employee is the legal owner. If the employee leaves your organization, so may your domain name. This is also very important for Non-Profit organizations. Many times they depend on a knowledgeable volunteer. If that volunteer disappears with all the registration information, the domain name can only be recovered if it was registered in the organization’s name.
  3. Make sure that you keep in mind any changes to your e-mail service providers that may be connected to your domain name. Simply log into your control panel for your domain name registration and change the associated e-mail address.
  4. Check how your domain name is registered here. All domain names can be looked up in a Registry that is called WHOIS. If you chose “Private Registration” the available information may be limited. “Private Registration” is meant to shield and hide the real owner of a domain name but also does not give you the ability to easily check that the domain is registered correctly in your name.

Real Life Examples or How to Lose a Domain Name:

Note: The following stories are real and should illustrate how important it is to understand domain name registration. Unfortunately, all these people, and many, many more learned this lesson the hard way. It is very common that people hire a web designer who then registers their domain name and sets up the hosting for the website. (Hosting is where the web site files are stored to be connected to the Internet).
Story # 1: Business Owner “A” did just that. He hired company “C” to create an extensive shopping cart website. Company “C” registered the domain name and hosted the site on company “C’s” own servers. Business Owner “A” never received username and password to the domain name registration because “C” registered all customers’ domain names under their name in one single account. Everything went great. “A” was very happy with the website. Soon he made $10,000+ dollars a month from that website.

Disaster struck when “C” went bankrupt and the owner disappeared overnight without warning. Since the website was hosted on “C’s” servers, the website went down with the lights in the building.

From one day to the next, “A” lost everything he built over the last several years. He did not have a backup of his files to move them to another hosting company. He did not have access to his domain name registration to change the name servers. (Name servers are a database that the Internet uses to look up were a website is hosted and to connect a domain name with the hosting company). That meant his well-branded domain name, that all his customers knew and which was well established in search engines, went dark. Overnight he lost his successful business because he did not take care of some very basic precautions.

  Mistake # 1: He did not ask for username and password for the domain name registration. Had he done that, he could have at least created a new website and move on. He would have had the expenses of creating a new site and entering all his products again, but the part that takes months, if not years to accomplish – his search engine ranking, could have been recovered.

  Mistake # 2: Since the domain name was registered in “C’s” name, he could not go to the domain name registration service (registrar), proof that it is his domain name, get access, create a new website and move on.
  Mistake # 3: He did not have a backup of his website and database files. So even if he had had access to his domain name, he would have lost thousands of dollars to recreate his website. Lesson to be learned: Not only do you need access information and ownership of your domain name, you also need backup copies of your website and database.
Story #2: Business Owner “B” and his Partner “P” opened a business together. “P” knew more about the Internet so he took care of the domain name registration. He registered the name in his own name and registered his personal e-mail address as administrative contact.
Unfortunately, although “P” was only 42 years old, he had a heart attack and died completely unexpected. By the time the domain name renewal came up, all the notices that the domain name registrar sent to “P’s” e-mail address went into “Neverland” because his widow had canceled the account. By the time the business website went dark and “B” looked into the “whys” it was too late.
The well established business presence was gone and he had to start from scratch. Luckily, in this case, the website was hosted with a different company so the website files were not lost. After registering a new domain name, he started over publishing his new identity. (Domain names are usually not available for new registration for a period of time after the registration lapses).
  Mistake # 1: “P” did not educate “B” about the ins and outs of domain name registration. He did not create a folder with all pertinent information that all business owners could access.
  Mistake # 2: “P” registered the name only in his name and did not put the business name down as owner. Had he registered the domain name in the business name, “B” could have proven to the registrar that the business is the legal owner (with tax records or other official documents) and the registrar would have given him access information.
  Mistake # 3: He used his personal e-mail address as administrative contact. So when the notices for renewal were sent, “B” never received them. Had “P” used an e-mail address that all business owners monitored, “B” could have filled out a password recovery form (usually available on the registrar’s website) and received username and password within minutes.
Story # 3: A non-profit, “NP”, organization relied on a volunteer to register the domain name. The volunteer became disengaged and did not renew the name when it was up for renewal. The domain name was bought up by a domain name broker who offered the name back for purchase to “NP” for $400. Grudgingly “NP” paid the fee. But instead of changing all the ownership information over properly, they just got their website up and running again without making sure the organization was the legal owner, the “registrant”. They didn’t even make sure they had username and password. Lo and behold, a year later they found themselves in the same spot. The domain name expired because the volunteer did not react and they did not have access information. To add insult to injury, they still were not the legal the owner of the name.
  Mistake # 1: The domain name was not registered properly in the organizations’ name. Had they done that, the domain name could have been recovered.
  Mistake # 2: They did not make sure that more than one person had all the pertinent information. Especially with non-profit organizations that rely on volunteers, it is extremely important to spread the information to 2-3 people. If one volunteer disappears, at least 1 or 2 others will be able to pick up the pieces. Having a policy in place is so important before things go wrong. You don’t want to appear distrustful but yet, it is normal that volunteers sometimes become disengaged without notice.
To make a long story short, they did not want to buy the domain name back a second time for $400 or more. They registered a new domain name, properly this time. As of this writing, the domain name broker still waits for a buyer of this domain name. But since it costs him probably only $6-8 a year, it is worth waiting. He got already $400 out of it once….
Story # 4: Another Non-Profit “NP2” registered the domain name, unknowingly, with a registrar in China. “How could that happen”, you ask? Registrars often times subcontract with resellers. The reseller was located in the US but reselling for a registrar in China. “NP2” lost their domain name when the reseller lost his interest in the business and did not maintain his control panel. “NP2” had no way of renewing the domain name although it was properly registered in their name, and they did properly attach an e-mail address that they monitored.
  Mistake # 1: “NP2” failed to check where the registrar was accredited. NP2 had no idea that they actually registered with a reseller for a Chinese company. Although they researched who the actual registrar was when all e-mails and phone calls to the reseller went unanswered, the registrar had no interest in helping NT2 gain access to their domain name. Cultural differences may have been part of the problem.
The end of the story? When the domain name expired, it went to a company that specialized in auctioning off domain names to the highest bidder. Because NP2 had been #1 on organic searches in Google for all their relevant keywords with that domain name, they bought their own domain name back for $270. You bet they now know what to do so that will not happen again.
Now, you may think that if you are not making $10,000plus dollars/month with your name, you are not #1 on Google and your domain name could be changed if needed. Imagine the uproar of constituents in our fifth story:
Story # 5: A small town established a community website for their residents. Again, not following the rules outlined above, the domain name was not renewed in a timely manner. A Russian porn site bought up the domain name and when residents wanted to check out about township meetings, they were served hard core porn instead.  That went really well with the residents….or not….
My sincere hope is that everyone who reads this post, will know how to register a domain name so that he or she really owns it.