Nightmare On Domain Street
The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed….
One dark and stormy night, a prospect called me about a new website. During that conversation, the prospect stated that his domain name was in “Deletion” mode, and that he’d been informed that it could take up to six months for the name to become available for repurchase. The prospect’s webmaster, who was the registrant on the domain name, had mysteriously “disappeared” (not an unusual occurance in Webworld). This disappearance had caused a great road block for this business owner to simply renew the domain name and get on with his business.
So, I have to ask – is this a one-off case or does it happen often?
Sadly, I suspect this is happening very frequently, and will happen even more often as we move to what I call the second phase of the Internet – and web development and management – when we find that a lot of the “so called” webmasters have retired or recognized they did not have the skill sets for this industry. In their hasty departure we (BeareWare) will get phone calls just like the one above. Usually, the domain is in jeopardy of being lost (and may have to be bought back for hundreds or even thousands of dollars), or – even worse – if the domain name was snatched up by a competing business, it can be kept away from you (and from potential web traffic looking for your business). In my opinion, domain name management is one of the least understood aspects of owning a website.
Well – if we paid our webmaster for the domain name – we should be set – RIGHT?
You can register a domain name for one year or for multiple years, and so long as you maintain the payment on your domain name as it comes due for renewal, you really should not encounter problems retaining it. Sounds simple – but now add the fact that you yourself didn’t actually register your domain name (“Web Dude” did) and he actually didn’t put your name as the Registrant (he put his own) AND for contact information, he used a now-defuct e-mail address (email@example.com), an old cell phone number, and his old credit card securing the account. To top it off, “Web Dude” has now quit the webmastering business, moved to Santa Monica to pursue a career in seashell sales, and your formerly viable and informative website is now completely off-line.
OK – I get it – Now we have some major problems!
At this point in time, the website and domain owner is in a “spot of bother”. Depending on what they know – what accounts, passwords, renewal dates, etc. they were given privy to by the former webmaster – their website could be basically paralyzed. At best, the owner may end up with a Registrar’s Customer Support group that may or may not be able to direct the domain owner in a course of action. Of course, if your name is not associated with the domain, you technically are not the registrar’s customer.
How about some terms clarification – Registrar – Registrant – Who are these folks?
Good question. I think some description of terms will help put the domain game into a more understandable format.
ICANN (Internet Corporation Of Assigned Names & Numbers) is the governing organization of domain names on the Internet.
ICANN is the relatively infant, world-wide governing body of the Internet. Unfortunately, it is not easily accessible yet for resolving the “smaller” problems like domain disputes – in other words, it sure doesn’t operate the same as visiting the county clerk to register a business name, even though the function appears similar and is probably most relatable to our process in registering a domain name.
REGISTRARS – Companies that have been “appointed officially” by ICANN to register domains on behalf of domain owners.
You are probably familiar with some of these companies – Network Solutions, Go Daddy, Aplus.NET, etc. These registrars deal with thousands and even millions of domain registrations. They are very strict in their policies regarding domain ownership, and maintain support policies for domain name owner/registrants only. (The owner of a domain name is, for all practical purposes, the same as its registrant.)
Many of these registrars have started selling auxiliary services including hosting & web development. The auxiliary services, in my opinion, have created an even greater level of confusion for domain owners – who quite often think that hosting the website is the same as managing and maintaining the domain name.
REGISTRANTS – The person or organization that registers the domain name – with the registrar.
The owner/registrant of the domain name should be the name of the person and/or company that owns the website. This is the BIGGIE, the detail that causes so much trouble when “Web Dude” vanishes but is listed as the registrant and has his contact information in the registrant info.
ADDITIONAL DOMAIN CONTACT INFO – When you register a domain, the Registrant is the primary contact, and his/her contact information should be listed – but you are also required to fill in the following contact info, and this can help you in terms of differentiating between the owner of the domain name and webmaster.
ADMINISTRATIVE CONTACT – The person who administrates the domain name.
Now, this a far more logical place for “Web Dude” to be listed. The administrative contact does not have to be your webmaster, but be aware that the more people you list as contacts, the greater the chance that some information will become incorrect or out of date when it comes time to receive the notices that your domain name should be renewed.
TECHNICAL CONTACT – The person who technically manages the domain name (and most likely your website).
The technical contact is a great place for your webmaster to be listed. They manage the domain technically to ensure it is pointing correctly to your website, and should also manage contact information updates.
BILLING CONTACT – The person responsible for ensuring that payment is made on the account when it is up for renewal.
The billing contact can also allow for an additional person to be listed, who would be responsible to ensure the domain is paid for on renewal (usually by way of keeping a valid credit card on file with the registrar). However, I would recommend using the owner/registrant as this contact – or the webmaster if he or she is providing domain management services – versus another individual who may be unreachable when the time comes for renewal, or may not hold the same position in your company, for instance, as when the domain name was first registered.
In a nutshell, you want to use the most PERMANENT names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers possible for your domain name contact information. You do, however, want to have at least two different, reliable persons listed as contacts, each with their own e-mail address, etc. Domain name renewal is something you will only have to deal with once a year (if not even less frequently), and things can change dramatically in the course of a year. Don’t let your domain get hijacked unnecessarily by not providing good contact information when it is first registered, or by not keeping that information updated whenever it changes.
If you are following me at this stage, we are in good shape and you have the basic structure of your domain name and what is involved in its long term management. There is one more loop to this process – which also can add confusion – and that is the Account that you setup with a registrar. When you go to a registrar to register a domain name, you set up an account as part of this process. So, if I go Aplus.NET to register a new domain, I will end up with an account with Aplus.NET and within my account I will have one domain name.
Every Domain Name Sits In A Registrar’s Account!
A good way to manage your domain names, in particular if you have more than one, is to manage them within one account. You can have as many domain names in the same account as you like. This of course is how many webmasters manage domain names on behalf of their clients – but it also causes greater hardship when a domain owner has lost contact with his webmaster, and it is identified that the domain is in the webmaster’s account (not theirs), and they have no immediate rights to access or update the information in that account.
This then requires some significant paper work to verify your domain ownership – around 3-4 hours to actually get around this scenario and get the domain name listed in the rightful owner’s name. You will generally need a company that knows what they are doing in this situation, as well. If your domain name goes into deletion mode, then from 30 to 60 days later the domain will be released to the general market, and whoever gets to it first becomes the new owner. If it is a valuable domain name – or one that a competing business might be keen on owning – there is no guarantee whatsoever that you will get to the domain name first when it comes up for sale.
In BeareWare’s experience of managing over 400 domain names for clients, we have really learned that the domain world is one in which the consequences for lack of knowledge or diligence can be absolutely devastating. Losing your company’s domain name is a major issue, and one from which your company may never fully recover. In other words, once it’s gone you may NEVER get your domain name back.
I would recommend to all domain name owners to be proactive in understanding this part of the web, and to be sure to have a company that can assist you with this process. I would not recommend relying on the registrars solely, as they are very much geared to mass domain selling and are not as well geared to serving an individual client. They are not responsible for your domain if it is not renewed correctly and if your current e-mail contact is now incorrect – they don’t pick up the phone and call. If the domain name expires and someone else comes along and registers the domain with them, they have merely fulfilled their function – selling and/or renewing registrations.
If you have a webmaster who has “taken” care of this for you past, ask some questions: “Who is my registrar? Can you send me a copy of my registration, including contact info and renewal dates?” Your webmaster should’t mind providing this info, and you will be able to see for yourself who is listed as registrant, administrative contact, etc. and will be able to get any corrections made.
Remember, this is unlike any other area of management on the web – a downed server can be brought back online and a hideous website can get a makeover. Once a domain name is lost, however, it might very well be gone forever. The website at the beginning of our story, incidentally, was miraculously rescued from Deletion Mode by an anonymous hero in a bear costume. (Go figure.) Anyway, after a few hours of phone calls and paperwork, the storm had finally passed. Take ownership of your domain name, and do it today. You’ll greatly minimize your chances of starring in the next edition of “Nightmare on Domain Street”.
Peter Beare – Webmaster
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Peter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.”