So, 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.
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?
There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between web designers and web developers. That’s a problem when you’re trying to decide which to hire. However, it can be an even bigger problem if that confusion leads you to assume they’re both the same.
It often helps to think of your website as a marketing vehicle. In that sense, web designers build a chassis and dashboard around an engine and tweak things so that they all work together. Developers build the engine and other working parts. Of course, there’s a bit more to than that.
What’s a Web Designer?
Web designers are creatives – but their job goes far beyond just making things look pretty. A designer is an artist who knows how to make things work. For web designers, that means understanding at least three types of code:
- HTML is the code that glues the web together. It doesn’t do much beyond grouping the content into headings, paragraphs and other structures. It is also used to define forms – but can’t do much to process them
- CSS adds style to the content, defining fonts, colours and the positioning of all the page elements. It can do a bit of animation, too
Typically, web designers also know how to use key front-end web design, graphic design and photo-editing tools like Adobe’s Dreamweaver, Illustrator and Photoshop.
…But Wait – There’s More!
So, a web designer is an artist who knows how to code, right? Sometimes – but really, professional web design isn’t just about knowing how to draw and code. It’s about knowing what to draw and code.
You see, much as web designers want to please you as a client, the good ones know that successful websites are built for the target audience, not the site owner. So they don’t just study creative stuff like typography, composition and colour balance. They also study colour psychology, user behaviour, interface design, usability, accessibility and much more. They also need to know how to adapt page layouts to different-sized screens (aka “Responsive Web Design“) and the quirks of different browsers. Some web designers study marketing, social media and search engine optimisation, too.
In short, it takes a huge range of skills to be a good web designer – and that takes years to develop. Only the least experienced are just “pixel-pushers” who merely render your layout ideas into code and graphics. With experienced designers, it’s best to just explain your goals, provide any resources they need, and trust the solutions they offer.
What’s a Web Developer?
Web developers are engineers. They build the engines that power the web. Specifically, they write programs that tell web servers what to do.
So, web developers need to know those three “front end” languages and at least one of the popular “back-end” languages like PHP, Ruby or Python. However, it doesn’t stop there.
Databases speak different languages again. So, web developers also need to know at least one of those, like MySQL, MSSQL or MongoDB. Then there are different types of server, each with their own commands – most notably Apache, IIS and NodeJS. These typically either run on Linux or Windows systems that may need to be managed with text commands. Many systems – like Google Maps – also let developers use their services through “APIs”, which are still more sets of commands.
Great – So What Does All That Do?
Developers are skilled problem-solvers who focus on modelling processes and building applications that perform tasks rather than just presenting content. For “web apps”, the skills above are usually enough. Those who also build mobile apps may also need to study more traditional programming languages like C++ or Java.
Thankfully, there are plenty of component libraries and “RAD” (Rapid Application Development) tools to help with common tasks. Still, these are built by techies for techies, so they come with their own learning curve. Good developers also study software design, security and interface design – but not so much the graphic art and usability stuff.
Beyond that, it gets complicated – and we’re not even into devops yet.
If you’re thinking that’s another huge set of extremely valuable skills that must take years to learn, you’re right. That’s one reason very few people can do both. The other is that visual design and in-depth programming require vastly different mind-sets. In fact, they seem to be mutually exclusive for almost everyone.
Wait – Unicorns?
Well that’s what folks call people who can do both – they’re that rare.
“As rare as a replicant that can pass for human,” he says, because Bladerunner references seem more relevant to techno-unicorns than mythical steeds.
Anyway, it’s common for web designers and web developers to take on tasks beyond their original skill set. However, covering both huge ranges of skills equally well takes a very special mind-set and many years of experience.
Now, the common criticism of Unicorns is that a Jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. We rarely hear the counter-arguments, though – so here’s a brief rundown:
- Few people are true masters of a single skill. What really matters is whether or not the individual’s skill is good enough for the task at hand
- Many projects require collaboration, which benefits from those involved understanding each others’ jobs. This is especially true of web projects
- The “man-month” is a myth. Adding people to a project typically increases costs by more than it cuts work time, because larger teams need more management
Think about it. If you’re building a house, it’s great to have a team of specialists. Still, what if you can’t afford a full team? Do you ask your master carpenter to do the wiring and plumbing? Or do you look for someone who has adequate experience in all three skill sets? Sometimes, a Jack-of-all-trades is exactly what you need.
So, Do I Need a Web Designer or a Web Developer?
Sometimes, you only need a web designer.
If you just want a site that presents a few pages of text and images, possibly with videos or PDF downloads, you probably won’t need a developer. Even if you want to be able to edit your site, or sell stuff online – pre-built platforms like WordPress and PrestaShop mean that most web designers can handle that unless you want something really unusual.
If you want your web project to model a specific or uncommon process, you’ll probably need both. Or a Unicorn, if you can find one*.
*Full disclosure: In case you hadn’t guessed, with over 20 years’ experience – I’m something of a techno-unicorn.