Do You Really Own Your Domain Name?
May 8th, 2013
In short, the answer is “no”. Nobody actually owns their domain name. Think of your domain name as a lease that may be renewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up with your payments. An international organization called ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – is responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), the registry of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and the management of both generic and country code Top-Level Domains (TLDs). To register a domain name under a generic top-level domain, you use one of several hundred ICANN-accredited registrars located throughout the world. The most commonly used generic top-level domains are the original .COM (commercial), .NET (network), and .ORG (organization). Once again, there are hundreds of accredited registrars, not simply GoDaddy and Network Solutions.
A few Internet acronyms to confuse people.
The idea behind all of this bureaucracy is to ensure that anybody using any computer anywhere in the world (other than in countries that try to keep a lid on democracy by restricting Internet access) can connect to any individual or legal entity that is represented by any particular domain name. When somebody in either Cincinnati or Sierra Leone types in your domain name, you want to ensure that they reach your website and nobody else’s. In most instances, your involvement in this process will be limited to selecting a registrar, checking on the availability of the domain name (or the best available option, if your first or second choice is not available), paying to register the domain name (for a period of time ranging from 1 to 10 years), and pointing the domain name (using the aforementioned DNS) to the name servers where your site resides.
In most instances, you want a domain name that is as short as possible, is memorable and easy to spell, relates to the name of your business (in three words or less), and is based upon the .COM top-level domain. In many instances, your first choice may not be available, often because there is another business somewhere else in the world with the same or a similar name as yours. In other instances, a domain name may be assigned to another company or individual hoping to profit from your current need. In the early days of the Internet, a modern version of the California Gold Rush took place, where speculators and cyber-squatters became abundant. I define a domain name speculator (also known as a domainer) as someone who had the foresight to register (and maintain the registrations) of domain names made up of a logical combination of words that are not currently associated with a known company or organization. I, for example, own several dozen speculative domain names – such as FamilyCampingUSA.com – many of which I have sold over the years at fair prices (typically $500.00 or so). A cyber-squatter, on the other hand, is somebody who intentionally registers the domain name of another company or organization or who intentionally grabs a domain name that was allowed to expire by a careless registrant, all in the hope of releasing what is essentially a hostage in exchange for a sizeable ransom (typically $10,000.00 or more). In some cases, a domain name that generates traffic will not even be available for sale, but simply maintained as part of a large portfolio of domain names that might be flipped for millions of dollars. There is money to be made in clicks!
There are also instances when a business is willing to pay to transfer a domain name from another registrant for a mutually agreed upon fee. For example, Good Sam recently announced the purchase of the RV.com domain name from Dometic Group. An established site with existing traffic, such as RV.com, will command a higher price. If you are curious, you can check out the continually updated “Year to Date Top 100 Domain Sales Chart” at the DN Journal website. Some are private sales, but most are handled by domain name brokers such as Sedo and Afternic. So far this year, the price leaders include Booker.com (which sold for $375,000.00) and Mojo.com (which sold for $300,000.00). Within the last decade (mostly before the burst of the so-called “Internet bubble”) some of the highest domain names sales prices have been commanded by Hotels.com ($11,000,000.00), Beer.com ($7,000,000.00), Loans.com (bought by Bank of America for $3,000,000.00), and YP.com ($3,850,000.00).
In most instances, you will want to register the best available domain name (not already registered by another company or individual), using an accredited registrar and paying an annual fee of no more than $35.00. You may perform these domain name searches and registrations yourself, or you may rely upon your webmaster to act on your behalf. How do you know what is available? You cannot simply type a domain name into a Web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) and presume that it is available just because a website does not appear. You need to perform what is called a “whois lookup”, using a tool that is provided by any registrar and many independent search websites. If a domain name is available, you may register it using the registrar of your choice; however, you should be prepared to register a domain name immediately or risk losing it. Some registrars provide reports of whois search queries for unregistered domain names to unscrupulous parties who will then put a lock (using a process called “domain tasting”) on a domain name, hoping to sell it to you at a quick profit a day or two later.
Back to the original question: Do you own your domain name?
Don’t only perform a whois lookup when you are looking for a new domain name. Do a whois lookup now to confirm that you are, in fact, the registrant of your existing domain name(s). Did you buy your business and never update the previous owner’s registration records? Did your webmaster or the company hosting your website (or a former webmaster or host) register the domain name on your behalf? You may be surprised to discover that you are not actually listed as the registrant for your domain name. I see this on an almost daily basis. Usually there is no ill intent involved; however, YOU want to be the owner of your domain name(s). Your webmaster may be listed as the administrative and technical contact, as well as the billing contact if he or she handles the registration renewals on your behalf, but you need to be listed as the registrant. If your webmaster is handling your renewals, be sure that you can rely on that individual or company to not drop the ball and risk jeopardizing your domain name.
If you are not, in fact, listed as the registrant for your domain, don’t panic … but also don’t ignore the situation. The whois lookup will tell you the name of the registrar. If you have the login credentials to the registrar account (not usually the same as the login credentials to your hosting account, unless the registrar is also hosting your domain), go to your account to modify the settings. If you do not have those login credentials (which will usually be the case, if the registration and renewals are handled by your webmaster or hosting company) and you recognize the name of the registrant, I would suggest contacting that individual or company. Explain that this “unintended error” has just come to your attention, and ask that the registration record be corrected. If you have trouble with any of this, feel free to contact me directly for personal assistance at no charge.
You will be glad that you have taken a minute to check your domain name registration records should you decide to make a change at some future date. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you need to fight for what should be your own or, worse yet, have to start with a new domain name because you have essentially lost what was never actually yours. While you are at it, check to be certain that the e-mail address that is associated with your contact information is valid and not an old e-mail address that you replaced 4 or 5 years ago and can no longer access. The administrative contact generally approves changes to a domain name registration via the e-mail address on record. Having a valid and current e-mail address associated with your account can save you from endless hassles on down the road, when you eventually need to make changes to your registration. Investing a few minutes today could save you from hours of headaches in the future. Knowledge is valuable!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?
April 17th, 2013
Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!
Check them out before signing a check.
If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!
Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)
Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!
There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Domain Tasting: The Sour Follow-Up
June 9th, 2010
Just in case there were any doubts about the validity of my previous post, here is a current real-world example in evidence. One of our clients is a tea merchant who owns the trademark to Hu-Kwa tea. They have owned the hu-kwa.com domain name for quite some time now. Last week, I was contacted by two companies within an hour, each offering to sell me hukwa.com (without the hyphen), one using multiple e-mails. The first was a company called Flex Media / Flex Media Domains, which sent me an e-mail which included a “Priority Sales” hyperlink. This outfit is supposedly located in Hollywood, Florida. The second contact came in the form of three e-mails from InTrust Domains / Domain Names International / eTraffic Services, an outfit supposedly located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sending me what they called a “Priority Domain Availability Notice. According to their website, they “currently manage a portfolio of approximately 10,000 domains, with about 70 new domains added each day.” I did a whois lookup at the time, and it very suspiciously showed nothing. I replied to this second company via e-mail, asking them for a price and the registration history (no reply, of course), although their e-mail directed me to a form where I could “express my interest”. I didn’t use the form with either of these outfits. Yesterday, I was contacted again, with a follow-up offer to sell me the “now available” hukwa.com. This time I clicked on the form, out of curiosity. It said that the price would be $397.00 and had a payment form.
I just did another whois lookup. Guess what? The company that contacted me yesterday registered the domain name YESTERDAY. I am guessing that happened immediately upon my clicking on their link! Either they are also “tasting” for 5 days, or – once they’ve had somebody express interest – they actually will keep the domain for a year. The price is $397.00 for a domain that they bought yesterday for about $6.00 (and can probably get refunded under a grace period).
Here is the current whois lookup information for the domain:
Domain Name: HUKWA.COM
Created On: 08-JUN-2010
Last Updated On: 08-JUN-2010
Expiration Date: 08-JUN-2011
Sponsoring Registrar: THREADSHARE.COM, INC
Registrant Name: Domain Admin
Registrant Organization: InTrust Domain Names
Registrant Street1: 4845A Pearl East Circle
Registrant City: Boulder
Registrant State/Province: CO
Registrant Postal Code: 80301
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: (1)(866) 582-2599
Registrant Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tech Email: email@example.com
Name Server: CALL.303-800-0310.COM
Name Server: FOR-SALE-AT.INTRUSTDOMAINS.COM
Check out the “website” of their registrar: http://threadshare.com/
Does this look like the site of a legitimate registrar? Not in my mind.
Here is the whois lookup for ThreadShare.com:
Registration Service Provided By: Thought Convergence
Domain name: threadshare.com
Thought Convergence, Inc.
Domain Administrator ()
11300 W. Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064
ThoughtConvergence.com is located at the same address in Los Angeles.
Totally legal. Totally unethical. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?
This post was written by Peter Pelland
“Domain Tasting” Is a Pretty Tasteless Practice
May 25th, 2010
For quite some time now, I have had a suspicious feeling that one of my increasingly frequent observations was far beyond a matter of coincidence. Have you ever performed a whois lookup to check on the availability of a domain name, confirmed that it was available, but delayed registration of the domain until a later time? Sometimes it seems reasonable to presume that a domain name might be so obscure and highly personalized that there would be no chance that anyone else might consider registering that same name for years, if ever. Well, it turns out that this would be a bad presumption because in far too many instances that domain name would be lost moments later. You will have been the victim of a practice known as Domain Tasting or Domain Front Running.
I had a small business owner call me on May 24, 2010. She said that her son was interested in having a website built for his construction business. She said that a friend had checked and that the domain was available on May 20, 2010. It was an obscure, three-word domain name. I double-checked by performing a new whois lookup, and I discovered that the domain had been registered on May 20, 2010 … apparantly moments after the original whois availability search. What is happening? More importantly, how and why is it happening?
It turns out that the practice is not new. A post by the Daily Domainer back in February of 2007 generated 191 responses, most of which pointed an accusatory finger at GoDaddy. Other blog posts have singled out Network Solutions for engaging in this practice. Together, these are two of the biggest names in the domain name registration industry.
Here is how it works: It seems that many unscrupulous registrars who provide whois lookup services (which are, in fact, provided by virtually every registrar) are selling the domain search data to domain tasting outfits which, in turn, register the domain name with the registrar. Over the next few days, they test (or “taste”) the domain to see if it generates any significant amount of traffic. If it does generate traffic, they will make money from clicks on their bogus landing page. If the new domain does not generate traffic, it might be turned in for a refund under the 5 day “grace” policy of some registrars. Everybody wins, except you lose.
In the old days, Cybersquatting was a common practice, where unsavory characters would register domain names based upon legitimate small business names or product names, with the intention of then selling the names at an enormous profit margin. Domain tasters, on the other hand, cannot be bothered with selling domain names because they are more interested in earning millions of dollars, a nickel or a dime at a time. The Washington Post published an exposé of this practice, titled “Entrepreneurs Profit From Free Web Names” back in 2007. If you are not familiar with the practice, old news is still news.
How to you protect yourself?
- Do not perform a whois query - anywhere - unless you are immediately prepared to register the domain name. This cannot be overemphasized.
- Do not ever “search” for domain availability using Address Bar Guessing. There are ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) who have been found to engage in the practice of selling Non-eXistent Domain (NXD) Data to domainers.
- If you have just “lost” a domain name that you failed to register, go back to look for it in 5 days.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Does Long-Term Domain Registration Have Any Impact Upon SEO?
November 1st, 2009
In short, the answer is no.
I was one of four Web developers in a round-table session on broad-ranging Internet topics, presented at a trade association conference in New York this past weekend. In response to an audience question, one of my associates suggested that a longer-term domain name registration played a role in determining a site’s search engine ranking. The rationalization was based upon a presumption that a domain name registered or renewed for single-year terms was an indication of a “fly by night” business. Since it is always our policy to renew our clients’ domains (and our own domains) on a one-year basis, I had to take exception and question the validity of this statement.
Upon my return, I did a bit of online research, and this served to confirm that any suggestion that a longer-term domain name registration has an impact upon a site’s search engine ranking is total nonsense. Apparently this is a piece of misinformation that has been concocted and disseminated by GoDaddy(and often innocently passed along as “fact” by otherwise well-intentioned companies who use GoDaddy as their registrar of choice), in an effort to get people to sign up with them for longer terms. Long-term registrations are in any registrar’s interest because they reduce “churn”, the likelihood of a registrant to transfer to another registrar … either intentionally or as the result of being slammed by an unscrupulous registrar such as Domain Registry of America.
With some registrars, one must be very careful and wary about long-term registrations because they may be, in fact, banking your money (for 10 years, for example), while actually registering your domain on a year-by-year basis, essentially preventing you from transferring your domain to another registrar without suffering a financial loss and the loss of what you presumed was the remaining length of your registration. Do a whois lookup to check. The 10-year registration that you thought covered you through 2018 may, in fact, only be covering you on a year-by-year basis until 2018. In other words, if you transferred now, you may be in for the rude awakening that your domain has only been registered or renewed through 2010. Fortunately, this unscrupulous practice is quite rare.
In summary, there is NO reason to register a domain, or to renew a domain, for more than one year at a time, unless the discount for doing so presents a sufficient incentive in itself. According to Google itself, there is no validity to this recommendation.
Domain authority, on the other hand, does play a role in determining search engine ranking. Domain authority is a measurement of the accumulated length of time that a domain name has been registered, but it has nothing to do with the term of registration (or renewal) itself. Domain authority is directly related to the length of time that a website has been in existence and is part of the explanation for why older, established websites often appear higher in search results than newer websites that are otherwise superior in every respect.
Here are a few additional sources of reference:
My advice is to always question statements of this nature claim to present tips that appear to be a bit far-fetched, in this case the SEO equivalent of urban legends. Take the time to do a search, and discover the truth.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Beyond the Basic Whois Lookup
August 15th, 2008
When choosing a domain name for your business, there are three rules: short, memorable, and easy to spell. “Short” is pretty self-explanatory. You want the shortest available name that ends in .com. “Memorable” generally means that the name somehow directly relates to either the name of your business or the name of its key product or service. “Easy to spell” is also self-explanatory. If your name is Kodzuleskizicz, you may want to adopt the “Hollywood approach” and come up with a new “stage name” that will be easier to spell. In fact, this last example would be in opposition to all three of the basic rules, right? How do you find the names that are available? The basic tool is the whois lookup, a tool that will tell you whether or not a name is available or already registered to another company or individual. Every domain name registrar will have a whois lookup tool, usually embedded into the home page of their website. At Pelland Advertising, we have a basic whois lookup tool available at the following page on our site: http://www.pelland.com/hosting1.htm The basic idea is that you cannot simply enter an address into a browser’s address bar and assume that a domain name is available simply because a site does not appear. Furthermore, you generally do not want to deal with trying to negotiate the purchase of a domain name which is already registered by another individual. At best, this is usually a costly process that is not worth the time and effort, let alone the expense. What you need to do is to get creative and to keep looking. In almost all instances, any domain name which is based upon a single word in the English language was probably already registered several years ago. The same goes with many of the most logical two-word combinations. Three-word combinations (or hyphenated word combinations or domains that end in anything other than the .com suffix) are far less desirable (and often get too long to be practical). How can you make the whois lookup process more efficient and useful? My suggestion is to try the free tools found at the Domain Tools website. One of the best of these tools is the Whois Lookup and Domain Name Source tool. This tools provides a wealth of useful information, not only when searching for a domain name but for checking the status of an existing domain name. It will show the basic whois records (name, address, phone number, and e-mail address of the registrant, administrative contact and technical contact, along with the nameservers, and dates or original registration and expiration), but it also shows a whole lot more. This additional information includes a screen shot of the site’s home page (along with historical thumbnails), the site’s title and meta description, the site’s DMOZ listing, server and registry data associated with the domain, a calculated SEO score, and the site’s Alexa, Complete and Quantcast rankings. Another very useful tool when looking for the best available domain name(s) is the site’s Domain Suggestions tool. With this tool, you enter your desired domain name or product concept to generate a list of possible names that might be appropriate, showing which ones are available (or already registered) under the .com, .net, .org., .info, .biz and .us top level domains. For example, I just entered the term “lawnmower repair” and found that lawnmowerrepair.com (as well as .net, .org, .info, and .biz) was already registered; however, I was provided with several useful (and available) suggestions, including mowerrepairsite.com, mowerrepairworld.com, mowerrepaironline.com, mowerrepairdirect.com, and others. Useful information? You bet! Take advantage of every online tool at your disposal in order to run your business smarter and more cost-effectively.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
The Inside Scoop on Domain Name Registrars
April 16th, 2008
When it is time to register a domain name these days, there are understandably times when some of us almost yearn for the “Good Old Days” when Network Solutions held a monopoly on registrations. Prices have certainly come down, but it has become more important than ever for the buyer to beware and to remember the old adage that you get what you pay for.
For starters, we all know that the “standard” price for domain name registrations back in the days of the NetSol monopoly was $35.00 per year. I just performed a search on Google for the term “cheap domain name registry”, and the first page of results included listings which allegedly offer domain name registrations, some including free website hosting and others claiming to include free website design, for $6.95, $5.95, $2.85, $1.99 and $1.00. What … no registrar is willing to pay me $100.00 for the privilege of registering a domain name? Remember TINSTAAFL: There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
For any company to provide registrar services, they must pay the necessary fees to ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). These fees begin with a non-refundable $2,500 application fee (scheduled to increase) and end with added per-transaction fees. So how can any registrar stay in business offering $6.95 (or less) registration packages? How can they do this and still buy expensive ads on the Super Bowl or 10-12 page spreads in IT magazines? Quite simply, add-ons and fine print.
If you should ever fail to renew your domain name registration, does your registrar offer a renewal grace period? In many instances, the “bargain” registrars will put your domain name on the auction block the second that it expires, where it will be bought up two seconds later, and where you will have lost it forever. This practice is known as “drop catching”. Quite a price to pay for an oversight, isn’t it?
Of even greater concern are the registrars who routinely engage in deceptive marketing practices, using any combination e-mail scams, junk faxes or direct mail. You may have seen these solicitations. They usually look like invoices, until you read the fine print at the bottom, and they generally arrive months before a domain name registration’s renewal date, sometimes listing inaccurate renewal dates in an attempt to trick the recipient into making an urgent decision. In most instances, these shady registrars are trying to get you to transfer your domain name registration(s) from your existing registrar into their portfolio. In other instances, they are trying to get you to register variations of your domain name under a variety of worthless country codes (such as .cc and .cn). These solicitations are a spin on the old “slamming” techniques that had been used by long-distance telephone companies back in the 1980′s. One of the most notorious companies is Domain Registry of America. Do a Google search for their company name, and (after the link to their own website) you will see an entire page of websites warning about these scam operators. Another similar outfit is called Liberty Names of America. Same scam. Check out a Google search for their company name. My recommendation to my clients is to save any solicitations from these companies. Eventually, there are likely to be some sort of class action legal actions in response to their deceptive marketing practices, and your letter, fax or e-mail could allow you to be included in any settlement.
As if these were not bad enough, a new registrar scam just came to my attention last week, when one of my clients received an e-mail solicitation. This one, from a company in Hong Kong called Asia Network Online, claimed that it was sending a “courtesy” notification that a (fictitious) person was attempting to register versions of the client’s domain name under a variety of TLD’s (top level domains), including .hk, .cn., and .info. First of all, there is no registrar who would offer any such “courtesy”. Secondly, if somebody did, in fact, want to register the .hk version of a domain name, they would take the money and run. If it smells like a scam, it is because it IS a scam.
Do I have a suggestion for a registrar whom I have learned to trust? Yes. I hesitate to make recommendations because there are so many good registrars out there. My best advice is to avoid any company which has an offer which appears to be too good to be true. Over the years, I have been very happy with a company called directNIC, located in New Orleans, Louisiana. Their basic registration fee is $15.00 per year, and they offer a variety of added services, many at no additional charge. And, yes, they do have a grace period.
This post was written by Peter Pelland