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Do You Really Own Your Domain Name?

domain name registrationSo, you bought a domain name – congratulations! After all, you do own it now, right?

Actually, no. At least, not in the sense you may think. Possibly not at all.

You see, a registrar licenses the domain to you, the “registrant”, for a limited time. So, domain registration isn’t absolute ownership. It’s close enough for most purposes, though.

So, a “whois” search on a site like Who.is should list your current email address as the registrant for your domain. If it does, you have nothing to worry about.

…but what if it doesn’t?

Keep Calm and Double-Check

Different “whois” searches cover different types of domain, so don’t worry if your domain doesn’t appear on the site above. Even if a domain is listed, it may use privacy services to hide the registrant contact details. Either way, check with your domain provider if you aren’t sure about the results.

However, if the registrant is listed, that’s who controls the domain name. If that isn’t you – call your domain provider to correct it right away!

It may just be an oversight. However, if your provider resists the change or says it’s their “policy” (or worse, in their contract) to own the domains they register, transfer that domain to a better domain provider, ASAP! I can help, so drop me a line if you like – but however you do it, get this fixed.

Why Domain Name Ownership Matters

It’s easy to register a domain without really understanding how it’s used, how to protect it, or even its true value. So, let’s fill in those blanks a little.

Managing Domains

This isn’t the place for a tutorial on domains. Fairly obviously though, someone will need enough access to your domain to link it to your site. Unless that’s you, that person can either:

  • Explain all the technical changes needed and ask you to do them
  • Request access to the account you used to register the domain
  • Sell you the domain themselves, or ask you to transfer it to their registrar account

The first option obviously isn’t ideal – explaining technical tasks often takes longer than just doing them. The second may give them access to your billing details, or other web properties or sensitive information. The third is safest, as long as you remain listed as the domain’s registrant.

Some domain types will also list your domain manager as a technical contact, but that doesn’t give them authority over the domain. It just means any technical queries will be directed to them. As long as they aren’t listed as the registrant, that’s fine.

Defending Your Domain

Any domain transfer or update triggers a verification email to the registrant from the registrar. The transfer or change won’t complete until you respond to this, and will time out after a week. If a verification request arrives from a higher-level authority like ICANN or Nominet, respond to that quickly, too. If you leave that too long (usually 15 days), the domain may be suspended until you do. Still, if you are in any doubt about such emails, check them with your domain provider.

This means it’s vital to:

  • Get yourself listed as the registrant of your domain name
  • Keep your contact details up to date with your domain registrar – especially your email address
  • Check that email address regularly and keep it absolutely secure
  • Keep emails from your registrar, domain provider (if different), or bodies like ICANN or Nominet – don’t lose them in your Junk Mail folder!
  • Read verification mails carefully and respond to them promptly

Incidentally, it’s also important not to pay anyone but your domain provider for the domains you already own or for “search inclusion”. Remember, people can find such details from a “whois” search, so these scams are common.

The Value of Domains

Now, whilst most businesses understand the value of a brand, domains are cheap. Maybe that’s why I still see folks acting like their domain is only worth its annual license fee. Such a small investment is easy to undervalue.

Of course, the value of a thing isn’t just what you paid for it. It’s what you can get for it (or from it, until you plan to sell). Unlike most physical goods though, used domains tend to increase in value.

Even cheap domains are business assets that can sell for big money. That’s quite apart from their value to you as part of your web address. It’s possible to shut up shop, close your site and still sell your domain for far more than you ever paid to license it. There’s no guarantee of that, but it’s worth taking seriously.

What’s In A (Domain) Name?

So, what gives some domain names this intrinsic extra value? Well, scarcity, for one thing. Cool, memorable domains (like yours, right?) are hard to come by. Many of the best names have already been used at least once.

That’s especially true for the older types of domain like “.com” and “.co.uk”. However, the words in a domain name influence SEO too. There’s some debate over hoe much the newer domains – like “.art”, “.actor” and “.lawyer” – do this, but they do clarify a site’s intent. As such, these new domains can gain extra value in their specific markets.

Domains gain extra weight in SEO terms with age, too. To mature like that, the domain needs to have been the address of a website for a few years – and the more successful the site, the better. However, just being cool and memorable can be enough to boost a domain’s value on the premium domains market.

Yes, there’s a lively market for used domains. Some people make a good living from trading on it.

The Dark Side of Domain Trading

Of course, that lucrative market means domain trading has its own types of crime, too. Some people steal domains. Others register domains they know a brand will want, then try to charge a premium to hand them over. Unless the brand can prove it has rights to the name (a trademark or similar) and that this “cyber-squatting” was deliberate, the squatter may get away with it.

That’s why big brands often buy up domains for many variations of their own name – .com, .co.uk, .org and others. It’s cheaper to protect your brand by registering domains that you don’t need yet than to buy them off someone else when you need them urgently.

Now is it worth keeping your domain registration details up to date?