I recently had some work done on my car, where I left the shop my wife’s key fob rather than removing my own from a crowded key ring. A few minutes later, the shop called to tell me that the battery was dead in that little-used key fob, requiring that I drive back to the shop and take my own key off of the key ring anyway. Domain name registrations are somewhat similar, where we give little thought to something that we do not use on a regular basis, but that lack of attention can suddenly become important.
One of my clients called me yesterday, when I was able to congratulate him on the impending sale of his business, a small marina on a lake in northern New England. He asked for advice on the transition of the business’s website, and I told him how he needed to ensure that the registrant information for his domain name was updated at the time of sale. The registrant is the owner of a domain name, even though nobody actually “owns” their domain name. Think of it as a long-term lease (from 1 to 10 years) that you enter into with a domain name registrar (the equivalent of a rental agent, in this instance.) That “lease” may be renewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up with your payments.
When selling a business, it is much easier and more efficient to leave the domain name registration with the current registrar. If possible, it makes more sense to simply change the registrant information (name, email address, and other contact information) to that of the new owner rather than fully transferring the ownership of the domain to a new account or a new registrar. When actual transfer of ownership is necessary, I have had transfers complete within minutes, and I have also had transfers that have dragged on for months or failed entirely.
Who “Owns” Your Domain Name?
In another recent instance, I was contacted by the new owner of a campground in Pennsylvania who is looking to replace the website that she inherited from the former owner. Upon doing a whois lookup, I immediately learned that not only had the domain name registration not been updated at the time of sale, but that the former owner never owned the domain name in the first place! The domain had been owned for nearly 10 years by the discount hosting services provider that the previous owner had been using, registered with one of its sister companies. In the attempt to rightfully transfer ownership, the park owner is at the mercy of the website host that they would like to leave.
In yet another recent instance, I was contacted by the owners of a campground in Alabama that has never had a website. The owners are interested in a website now, but the most logical domain name (the name of the park dot com) was registered earlier in the year by the owner of a local tattoo parlor who apparently dabbles in websites. I casually reached out to the owner of the domain on behalf of the campground, but he never even returned my call. In this instance, the campground’s only option is to seek out the next best domain name, but realizing that confusion with that most logical domain name is likely to haunt them for years to come.
Protect Your Existing Domain Name
Protect your existing domain name(s) from potential hijacking. Unless you are certain where your domain name is registered, know that it is locked to prevent transfer, and know its expiration/renewal date, do yourself a favor and perform a whois lookup. Go to https://whois.com/ and enter your domain name. Confirm that YOU are listed as the registrant, not your webmaster or your hosting services provider. This should list your name and your business name and address, along with your email address. You should also confirm that the domain status includes the words “Transfer Prohibited”, “Update Prohibited” and “Delete Prohibited”. If the information is outdated or incorrect, update that information without delay.
If the information in your whois lookup is not recognizable, you may be paying for a so-called private registration. That is probably the most commonly purchased domain name registration add-on, usually incurring an annual fee of $5.00 or $10.00. In almost all instances, a private registration is a waste of money, and it will prevent you from confirming your domain name registration details without logging into your account. When you actually do log in, you might be surprised to find – like the new campground owners in Pennsylvania – that your webmaster or hosting company is the actual registrant (owner) of your domain name. If that is the case, this is something that needs to be corrected immediately. You also want to confirm that the email address associated with your name is not an old AOL email address that you have not used in years, or that your domain is unlocked – which is roughly equivalent to the carelessness of leaving your parked car unlocked on the streets of a major city.
After the registrant, a second important piece of contact information associated with a domain name registration is the administrative contact. This will most often and correctly be the contact information for your current webmaster. The important things are for this to be updated if you change webmaster and for the associated email address to be valid, since the administrative contact is the one to approve (or decline) changes to your domain name registration. I have seen instances over the years where there is a falling out with a webmaster / administrative contact, a situation that can really put a domain name in jeopardy. Though this does not happen often, it usually involves a webmaster who is an estranged family member or a local webmaster who thinks he is owed money or who decides to become vindictive should you decide to take your business elsewhere. Take a moment to confirm that all of the information associated with your domain name registration(s) is correct and up-to-date, avoiding an encounter with last-minute surprises when you are ready to sell your business or otherwise need to make a change. While you are at it, check the batteries in your key fob.
This post was written by Peter Pelland