Protect your domain names

28 January 2011 by Kevin Holdridge  
Filed under News and views

A couple of experiences this week have prompted me to write about the often neglected need to protect your domain name(s).

Proving domain name ownership

We picked up a new client this month who was fed up of the poor service they were getting from their web host. Before the transfer of their site to Kent House could be processed, their supplier went bust. Luckily, we had just obtained a copy of their files and database, so it was easy for us to rebuild those on our servers. But, the domain name ownership was registered to the now liquidated supplier, and not to the client. It took nearly two weeks of time consuming effort and frustration to get the registrar (Fasthosts in this case) to recognise the client as the legitimate owner of the domain and then to transfer control to them. During that time, the client’s site couldn’t be seen by anybody. Wouldn’t you know it, that all happened just as the client was trying to promote itself to new funding bodies.

Remember to renew your domain name

Halfords domain name blooper

Halfords domain name blooper

Blue chip retailer, Halfords, suffered a major embarrassment this week as their site went down for at least a couple of days. In this case, the problem seems to have been that they or their agents had forgotten to renew the domain names (halfords.com and halfords.co.uk). So, instead of visitors seeing the Halfords website, they were presented with a generic holding page from the domain registrar (Network Solutions) which also contained adverts from competitors! I don’t know the financial impact in terms of lost sales for an operation like Halfords of 2 or 3 days downtime, but I think it safe to assume it was more than the £20 renewal cost of two domain names. I see that the domain names have now been renewed 10 years ahead!

Whois record - domain now renewed for 10 years!

Whois record - domain now renewed for 10 years!

Domain name registration and management lessons

If you invest time and money in an online presence, your domain name is a critical part of that. Domains may cost very little, but if your £10 domain name isn’t working neither is your £x,000 or £x,0000,0000 website or ecommerce operation.

Here at Kent House, we take great care to ensure that our clients’ investment is protected in order to support intellectual property rights, business continuity, and market position. Regardless of who you use to look after your domain names, here are some essential tips to avoid embarrassment and possible disaster.

  1. Make sure the domain name is registered to you or to your organisation – never to your web developer or some other agency. Unless that is the case, you will struggle to prove your ownership and will become a hostage to fortune. We have inherited clients who were told by their old developers that domain names could only be registered in the name of the developer. Such operators are either incompetent or untrustworthy (possibly both) – use them at your peril.
  2. Make sure that the email address on the domain ownership record is yours, that it works, and that the mailbox is monitored actively. Most domain management processes are automated or semi-automated and carried out through email.  If you aren’t receiving those emails, you risk not being notified that the domain is expiring or that somebody is attempting to steal it (which is much a more common event than you might think).
  3. Demand that your supplier sets up an online management area (or control panel) specifically for your domain(s). Less diligent suppliers will just chuck all their clients’ domains into a single holding account. That’s easy for them but it means that they will never allow you direct access to online management of your own domains because that would mean you also having access to everybody else’s domains. If you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine the scenario if the supplier goes bust – how will you move your website and domains to restore service, especially bearing in mind that your email will also have stopped working if you’re using the same domain for that? Keep the URL, username, and password somewhere very safe.
  4. If your domain name permits it, ensure that it is ‘locked’ to prevent accidental or malicious changes being made. UK domains don’t have that facility, but it is available for most others.
  5. Check the public record (‘whois’) to ensure that your domain has been set up for you as described in this article. You can do that very easily online and for free using a tool like DomainTools.
  6. Consider registering your domain(s) for several years in one go. This reduces the likelihood of unintended expiry each year. Long-term registration is also an SEO tip as it slightly improves the performance of your website in search engine results.

There’s lots more to say about domain names, especially about strategies for choosing the right name or portfolio. But that can wait until the next article. For today, the key message is about risk management and disaster recovery. Choose your supplier wisely, and make sure you are covered against fraud, negligence, and supplier failure. In nearly a decade of operation at Kent House, we have never had a client suffer any loss of domain or domain-related service. That’s because we invest in quality processes, pay attention to detail, and pride ourselves on customer service. If you really have to use a different supplier, make sure they deliver the same!

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