In the last few months, I have run into a number of companies and organizations, who don’t have control of their domain name (e.g. yourcompany.com) and don’t know who actually has control or owns the domain name. If no one in your organization has kept track of who controls your organization’s domain, things can get a bit messy if not downright scary. Before we jump in to how and why you need to be in firm control of your organization’s domain, lets clarify a few things:
- Domain Registrar/Host: The company you purchased your domain name (e.g. your company.com) from
- Site Host: The company who runs the servers where your email accounts and website live.
Often these services are provided by the same company. While best practices encourage folks to have separate companies for domain and site hosting, many folks believe that it is simpler and cheaper to take the free hosting. But beware, nothing is truly free and it puts control of your domain name, email, and website all in one place.
Understanding the basic differences between domain hosting and site hosting is vital to companies who are making changes to web-related parts of their business. In my experience, there are a variety of reasons that a company will need to make changes to their domain information. For example:
- updating or creating a new web site
- changing email services to a 3rd party email service or adding email encryption, anti-spam service etc.
- staffing changes
- changing ownership due to purchase, sale, or succession
- making changes in business support services such as IT, marketing, advertising, etc
More details about how domain and site hosting work are available at the end of this post.
Who is in Control?
Often there is documentation about a company’s domain registrar and getting control of the domain can be as simple as recovering a lost ID and/or password. I become worried when inquiries about domain hosting get responses like these:
- Domain host/registrar? What’s that?
- Our domain was purchased by an employee who no longer works here.
- The domain was purchased by the person/company who set up our old website, handled our marketing, or did our IT work.
It is relatively easy to find out what company the domain is registered with using tools like MXToolbox, however privacy settings usually mask who actually legally owns the domain name. Due to privacy and piracy concerns you can’t just call up the registrar and say I own the company so I am entitled to the domain, you will have to prove it and probably pay to gain access to “your” domain.
Getting Control of a Domain
If you are on good terms with the employee or other entity who purchased the domain, they will probably transfer the domain over to you. You will need to pay for the cost of domain hosting and perhaps some sort of redemption or transfer fee. For example, there are some companies who buy domain names for their customer to “rent” while using the company’s web development services. If that is the case, if you decide to use a different service, you will need to become the legal holder of the domain name. Some companies will transfer them relatively easily, but sometimes the company will make the process very slow and/or very expensive. There are also instances where companies refuse to relinquish control of the domain that they purchased for your company.
Having clear ownership of your domain is like having a clear title to a piece of property. That is why we always recommend that make sure that you own your own domain name. For example, when we buy domain names for clients, we act their agent and use their name and contact information in the registration account. It is vital that you are the the legal owner of your organization’s domain name so you can keep control of your own destiny.
A Cautionary Tale, Because Things Don’t Always Work Out!
Recently a potential client came to me because the organization they worked with needed an email address to submit a grant application. I was a little surprised since they already had a domain name and website. I soon learned that a former employee, who had been fired, was actually in control of their primary domain and a few other domains that the ex-employee had purchased. The employee couldn’t be contacted, and no one knew how to access the existing domains and accounts.
To make a long, painful story short, we had to rebuild their internet presence from scratch. Confusion over the different websites and domain names had to be explained and credibility re-established. While we regained control or 3 of the domains the ex-employee created and the Google Business listing; 2 domains are beyond our reach without expensive legal intervention. We also felt compelled to purchase some additional related domains to protect the organization’s brand. The story behind their social media is a blog for another day.
Keeping Track and Ensuring Control
This is a great time to check your domain registration and hosting account information. Do you own your control these keys? Here is a partial check list.
- Legal Owner, aka Registrant. Make sure to use your company’s official name for the Legal owner instead of just an individual’s name.
- Administrative Contact. Use a company name not just an individual name because this is company or person for the day-to-day/technical operation.
- Billing Contact. Since this is who pays for the accounts, make sure you know who it is and at least the last 4 digits of credit card number they used.
- Snail Mail Address: Even though 99.9% of your contact will be via email, if there is any option to provide a snail address for your company, do it. We were able to recover one of the domains for the client describe above because the Domain Registrar confirmed who the company ownership by snail mail.
- Passwords and Account Access. Be sure you have current logins and passwords for your domain registry and hosting accounts. When was the last time you logged in to see account details? Have you changed the passwords since any changes in personnel?
If you are expanding your web presence make sure that all critical purchases are paid for with your company’s credit card information, it will help ensure control in the future.
Your Digital Real Estate is Incredibly Valuable
You may have only paid about $16/year for your domain name, which is far less than the address associated with your brick and mortar operations center. However, in the era of digital information your domain connects people with some pretty valuable real estate. Your domain is the basis for your internet presence which supports your business by providing things like:
- Business information point available 24/7
- A resource to prove your company’s credibility and capabilities
- Place to highlight client experiences/case studies
- Rapid communication via tools like email and online chat
- Sales point for goods and services
- Point of contact for customer support
- Customer insights via web analytics
If you have any questions about your domain or want to make sure you are making the most of your digital real estate give us a holler. Link to Visibility will guide you through the marketing and internet wilderness. Contact us today, online or by phone: 724-453-1481.
For those that want additional details, the following information provides more details about registrars and hosting.
Domain registrar. This is the company from which you purchased your organization’s internet name or named address, in my case it is linktovisibility.com. Domain names are comprised of the company or website’s name and a domain extension. The most common and oldest extensions are those that end with .com, .net, and .org, but there are many other domains that have become available. Strictly speaking a domain registrar is a company that has been accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or a national country code top-level domain (TLD) (such as .us, .uk or .ca) to register domain names. Domain registrars are also known as domain hosts.
In addition to being a registration service, domain registrars point to computer servers (aka domain name servers) which resolve your computer’s request to see a website or send an email by translating the name to the right IP.
Just to make things a little more complicated there are large companies like GoDaddy who sell domains and have affiliations with smaller companies like Wild West Domains. There are even small local companies and individuals who provide white-labeled registration services that are affiliated with larger company’s like GoDaddy.
The most important thing is to know who your registrar is and have full control of your domain name. Think of it as the address or telephone number that lets folks contact you.
Site hosting is the server where your actual website and email accounts exist. Since nothing is ever simple, it helps to know that your email and website don’t have to be on the same server to work and there are different types of hosting depending on your particular needs. Options include shared, dedicated, cloud hosting, managed, hosting, colocation and more. For the moment, think of site hosting as the building where your website and email accounts live, like an e.g. apartment building (shared) dedicated (single family house).
Still with me? The final bit is that many companies like GoDaddy*, Blue Host*, Host Gator*, etc, offer free domain hosting when you choose to host your website and/or email on their servers. As I mentioned before, best practices encourages folks to have separate companies for registrar and site hosting, many folks believe that it is simpler and cheaper to take the free hosting.
*Pleas note, this is not an endorsement of any particular company, just examples of well known hosting services.