How to avoid losing control of your business domain name

After chatting to 2 businesses recently who had lost control of their domain name, we've put together a guide to what they are and how to look after them.
Craig Harffey
12 Mar, 2019

Last week we spoke to 2 people who had found themselves without their domain name, putting their business at risk.

Domains are a valuable business asset that needs protecting to avoid business disruption or the risk of becoming a target for cyber squatters.

Cybersquatting, or domain squatting, is the term used to describe the practice of using a domain name to profit by infringing on a trademark or ransoming the domain name back to the original owner, often at a vastly inflated price.  According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, cases of cybersquatting reach record levels each year.

The first person found their chosen domain name had recently been registered by a web developer “on their behalf”.  The other business was convinced they had control of his domain name, but after a little digging we worked out it had been inadvertently given  away years ago.

Losing a domain name is an incredibly stressful experience, but one that can be easily avoided, so I thought I’d write a little introduction to domain names, what they are and what you need to know to make sure your business website is protected. 

What is a domain name and why does it need protecting?

Put simply, a domain name is your “title” on the internet.  It’s the online identifier for your business.  Ours is gorillahub.net and we use it for our website, email and other online assets.

If we lost control of it our online presence would vanish overnight.  Our website would disappear and we’d lose access to our emails.  As a managed service provider all our customer tools would disappear too.

Quite a scary thought.

How do you get one?

Simple really – pick a domain registrar (there are loads to choose from such as GoDaddy, 123-reg, or Google) and fill in the details for the domain you want (and other variants you want) and pay your fee.

You now own the rights to use that name for the registration period.  You DO NOT OWN a domain – this is the first common area of confusion.  If you bought a 12-month registration you can use it for a year.

You then tell the internet where the records for the domain (website location, email provider, additional names you want to use (such as support.gorillahub.net).  The authority for managing these records can be safely given to a third party.

After 12m you need to renew the registration or you risk losing it.  Set yourself a reminder.  If you are an existing customer you can relax, as domain expiry is one of the many important things we monitor as part of a website or management plan.

 

 

What can you do to protect it?

Don’t let anyone else register it

It’s quite simple to register a domain name, there is no need for anyone else to do this for you.  Any web developer / designer worth their salt shouldn’t advise it.  If you a really stuck, then suggest a shared screen session so they can talk you through the process.

If someone did register it on your behalf, get it back.

However well-intentioned, do not trust anyone else with your domain name.  If there is ever a dispute or a change of circumstances you old be at risk.   Every registrar will have a well-published transfer process and the simplest process can often be an “internal” transfer from one account to another.  To do this set an account up with the same registrar and then request the domain.  The other person will be notified to authorise and on completion, the domain is immediately sent into your account.

Know there are 2 types of domain changes

Our customer was told to transfer the domain to them to set up and make their new website live.  They then gave their domain away.  Luckily, our customer’s old web company is only charging a nominal fee to transfer it back.  The other business found their own domain for sale for £3000.

It goes without saying, we don’t register domain names for customers unless they beg us to in extreme circumstances.

TRANSFERRING a domain is used when giving/selling  it to somebody else.  You will know you need to do this and be aware its a one way thing.

“POINTING” A DOMAIN / CHANGING NAME SERVERS means giving domain administration rights to the person managing your domain and/or website.

Understand DNS records

The easiest way to think about a domain record is to consider it a public address book.   Royal Mail keeps records of your physical business address and your phone company your number so they can route your mail and phone calls.  A set of DNS records serve the same purpose.

These records sit on a DNS server and are published to other servers globally.  They contain details of your website, other network addresses and email provider.

If you change DNS servers, make sure any records have been copied over as well to avoid outages.

Hopefully this has helped clear up any confusion round domain names, but if you have any questions or want some advice just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.

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How to avoid losing control of your business domain name

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