In recent weeks, I have been in a position where it was necessary to transfer several domain names from one registrar to another. In another instance, I successfully negotiated and rescued a domain name that had been lost four years ago by a previous webmaster who had since dropped off the face of the earth. Time and again, I am reminded of the importance of choosing a reputable registrar AND being aware of your domain name registration details.
As most people know, nobody actually owns a 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.) If you were leasing an apartment or an automobile, you would probably try to avoid getting burned by somebody working out of a back alley or who prefaced the conversation with the words, “Have I got a deal for you!” The same gut feelings apply to domain name registrars. My general recommendations are to never choose a registrar based solely upon price, avoid registrars that are based outside of the United States, and to resist the lemming-like tendency to choose a registrar based upon name recognition. Just because a registrar advertises on the Super Bowl does not mean that it should be your first choice.
When the time comes to transfer a registration, I have had transfers complete within 24 hours, and I have also had transfers that have dragged on for a month. I have generally found that the worst nightmares involve working with registrars based in foreign countries. In one instance, I had a client willing to pay $500.00 for an unused domain name, the widow of the registrant eager to facilitate the sale, but a registrar in Norway that refused to cooperate and eventually prevented the sale from taking place.
The first step in preventing that you ever find yourself in this type of nightmare scenario is to check the status of your existing domain name registration(s), particularly if they were registered by a webmaster or somebody else acting on your behalf. The quickest and most accurate way to check the registration of any domain name (and also to explore the availability of new domain names) is to perform a whois lookup. Go to www.whois.com, and enter the domain name in the “Whois Lookup” search box in the upper right of the page. If checking an existing domain name, the first thing that you want to check is the “Registrant” information. This should list YOUR name and YOUR business name and address, along with YOUR e-mail address. If the information is outdated or incorrect, update that information without delay. If the information is not recognizable, you may be paying for a so-called private registration. More on that later.
Another important piece of contact information associated with a domain name registration is the Administrative Contact. This will often be the contact information for your webmaster. The important things are for this to be updated if you change webmaster and for the associated e-mail address to be current and correct. Nothing will hold up a domain name registration transfer like an old e-mail address that has not been used in years. Finally, check the expiration date on your domain name, just so you can be aware of that timeframe.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you register or renew a domain name:
- Avoid Add-Ons: I mentioned private registrations earlier in this article. 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 total waste of money, and it will prevent you from confirming your domain name registration details without logging into your account.
- Don’t Take the Bait: Domain name registrations can be registered for terms from one to ten years. Unless there is a significant long-term discount, I would suggest registering domains and renewing those registrations on a year-to-year basis. Of course, any registrant would like to have your business locked up for the maximum 10 years. In fact, one registrar (GoDaddy) actually spread the misinformation several years ago that a 10-year registration would enhance a domain’s search engine placement.
- Be Aware of Scams: The reason that registrars would like you to register for 10-year periods is because of the domain slamming that contributes to the already high rate of “churn” within the industry. Be particularly wary of any mailed solicitations that you WILL receive in the mail from a company using the names “Domain Registry of America”, “Liberty Names of America”, or “Domain Registry Services”. The letters always show an icon of the American flag or the Statue of Liberty next to the return address, which will also show an address in either Buffalo or Niagara Falls, even though the company is conveniently located over the border in Canada – beyond the reach of prosecution by a number of otherwise eager state attorneys general. The letters imply that you are at risk of losing your domain name and must renew it now. Your domain name expiration date is probably months away – remember, the actual renewal date will appear in the whois lookup – and the fine print at the bottom of the letter will explain that by signing and returning the form with the required fee, you will actually be initiating the transfer of your domain name to the new registrar.
- Beware of Country Code Solicitations: You will probably also receive e-mail solicitations (spam) from companies (usually in China), alleging that another company has “expressed interest” in registering the .cn version of your domain name. They further imply that they are paying you the “courtesy” of offering you a right of first refusal to “protect your trademark”. They will then offer you the dubious opportunity to register the .cn (the country code for China) and various other versions of your .com domain name. Doing so is a total waste of money.
- Avoid Working with Drop Catchers:Drop catchers are people who make a living offering expired (dropped) domain names to businesses with similar domain names. When a domain name is not renewed by its registrant, it goes into a 30-day grace period, then another 5 day lock period. It is during this time period that drop catchers, without even having to actually register the expired domain in most instances, will offer it to you for purchase.Usually, they will imply that the domain name has a high value and will be going to auction. In fact, if it is of interest to you, it is highly unlikely that it will be of interest to any other business, unless there are many businesses with names similar to yours. Sometimes the drop catcher will insist that the name will go to auction. Either way, if you really want the domain name, I typically offer only $100.00, and the drop catcher will generally jump on the opportunity, since they rarely have other prospects and will have just earned about a $90.00 profit.
The domain name registration that I recently rescued after it had been lost four years ago by an old webmaster was registered with a drop catcher. Although I was able to persuade him to do the right thing and release the domain name to my client at no charge, this is a highly unlikely scenario and a stroke of extremely good luck. The most common registrars that tailor their services to working with drop catchers are SnapNames, Enom, Pool, and GoDaddy.
When you transfer a domain name from one registrar to another, it will renew the registration and extend the expiration date by one year. This is a reciprocal arrangement that applies to all registrars. Also, once a domain is transferred to another registrar, it will be locked from further transfer for 60 days.
If you are wondering why any of this is important, just keep in mind that your domain name is essentially your second business name. Losing your domain name can be just as damaging as a wildfire or flood that devastates your business. Whether you handle your domain name registration(s) yourself or have a trusted webmaster who handles that responsibility on your behalf, take a minute to check the details of your registration and be aware of the scams and pitfalls that proliferate in the online industries.
This post was written by Peter Pelland