Sadly, not a month goes by where I am not contacted by a friend or colleague who is in a panic because they've "lost" their important domain name. Losing access to your domain name (and associated Website and email) can, of course, have catastrophic results, but this doesn't have to happen to you. Most of the time my friends or colleagues are convinced that nefarious third parties (e.g., their domain registrar, "domain hijackers", etc.) are responsible for this unfortunate situation, however in almost every case the responsibility rests with them. In my humble opinion, 99.9% of the "lost" domain scenarios could have been prevented had the owner of the domain followed some or all of the following advice:
- Ensure the email address associated with the WHOIS record is correct.
I'd say this is the number one reason people "lose" their domain names. They register a domain name using an email address that they subsequently abandon. The registrar sends renewal notices to that defunct email address, and since the owner never receives those notices, the domain expires. It is your responsibility to make sure this email address is current and functioning. Do a WHOIS lookup at SmartWHOIS and check to see what email address is associated with your domain. If it is not correct, contact your domain registrar (also listed in the WHOIS) to update your information.
- Never use an email address that is tied to the domain name in question.
This is a classic mistake. Do not use an email address that matches the domain name, e.g., if your domain name is fluffy.com, do not use an email address like [email protected] for the domain registration because if that domain name expires you won't have access to that email address to manage the renewal of the domain name.
- Make sure you are listed as the legal owner of the domain name.
Are you sure you are the legal owner of the domain name? Many people are surprised to discover that the actual owner ("Registrant") is not them but a third party, such as a friend, family member, employee, Web designer, or Web hosting company that may have registered the domain name on your behalf. That can lead to some major problems, especially if you and the third party have a falling out. Since renewal notices and other important communication about the domain name are sent to the Registrant, it is important that you and your contact information is listed there. To check who is listed as the legal owner of your domain name, do a WHOIS lookup. If your information is not listed there, contact your domain registrar (also listed in the WHOIS) to arrange for an update.
- Figure out when your domain is set to expire.
Once again, using the WHOIS record, check to see what "Renewal" date is listed. This is your domain's expiry date and you must renew your domain name before then. In fact, it is advisable that you renew your domain name at least a month prior to the expiry date just to allow ample time for any hiccups that might occur along the way.
- Configure an automatic reminder to renew your domain name.
Using your electronic calendar, day planner, or PDA, setup an alert to remind you to renew your domain name well in advance of the expiry date. Do not rely on your domain registrar to do this for you; at the end of the day, this is your responsibility.
- Set the domain name to auto-renew.
Most domain registrars allow you to configure the domain to automatically renew, as long as you enable this with them and provide the registrar with some form of payment method, such as your credit card or PayPal account. Then, usually a few weeks before expiry, the domain is automatically renewed.
- If you use auto-renew, make sure the payment method on file is valid.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a friend who lost their domain name because they had set their domain up for auto-renew but had not kept the credit card information with their registrar up-to-date. When the registrar tried to auto-renew the domain, the transaction failed because their credit card had expired. So make sure that whatever payment method you have on file with your registrar is current and functional.
- Renew the domain name for more than one year.
Although domain names have to be renewed at least once a year, most domain registrars allow you to make multi-year renewals. If the domain in question is one that you have built a business on, or expect to use and/or keep for many years, you might as well renew the domain now for up to 10 years. This is a small investment to make for overall peace of mind.
- Get to know your domain name registrar.
Your domain name is registered with a registrar, and they are the folks to turn to for help configuring or renewing your domain name. If you are not sure who your registrar is, do a WHOIS search to determine the name of your registrar and get their contact info. Their email, phone, and Website will likely be listed under "Technical Contact". A common mistake that people make is confusing their domain registrar with their Web hosting company. They are not always the same company, and it is important to know the difference.
- Confirm that your domain registrar will send you several expiration notices via email.
Although it is mandated by ICANN, there may be some domain registrars who do not do a very good job of notifying their customers that their domain name has expired. Contact your registrar to find out when and how they will notify you of your domain's expiration. While you are speaking to them, ask them to let you know what email address they will be sending these notifications from so that you can "whitelist" that address in your spam filter. You want to make sure that these important renewal notifications do not get filtered into your spam folder by mistake.
- Renew your domain name before it expires.
Admittedly this may seem rather obvious, but when you get the reminder message - you know, the one you configured yourself - to renew your domain name, take action right away. Call your registrar or visit their Website to renew your domain name. In most instances, it only takes a few minutes to renew your domain name using a credit card, and the cost is usually only in the $15-20 range.
- Verify that your renewal has been completed.
Wait 24 hours after renewing, then check the WHOIS record again to make sure your domain name's expiry date has been updated to reflect your recent renewal. Even if your registrar sends you an email or receipt confirming that the renewal was completed, make sure you check the WHOIS record yourself just to make sure. If I sound paranoid, it is because I have seen renewals fail for various reasons, so it always pays to double-check.
By following the advice above, you will vastly increase the odds of never losing one of your valuable domain names. As I noted at the beginning, most of the domains that are lost are due to negligence or human error on the part of the former owner, not the diabolical work of hackers or domain hijackers.
Finally, if you do end up in the situation where one of your domain names has expired by mistake or something fishy appears to be going on, act quickly because time is of the essence. Contact your domain registrar right away because sometimes a difference of a few hours can make all the difference when it comes to rescuing a domain name. In most cases, with expired domains, you will have about 30 days to rescue the domain name (and sometime even longer), but don't take that for granted. Act fast the moment you think you have lost the domain name, and start by contacting your domain registrar.
Domain name expert Bill Sweetman is the President & Lead Ninja of Name Ninja, a boutique domain name consulting firm that helps companies acquire, manage, protect, and profit from their domain names. Bill has provided strategic domain name advice to major companies around the world for over 20 years.
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