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, if a “whois” search on a site like Who.is lists your current email address as the registrant for your domain, you can be sure it’s licensed properly.
…but what if it doesn’t?
Keep Calm and Double-Check
Updates to privacy laws now mean that registrant details are often hidden from such searches. Also, 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. Basically, the registrant controls the domain name. So 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.
Incidentally, your “domain provider” may be a specialist domain registrar, or they may not. For instance, hosting companies often also sell domains. Web designers do, too — because we’re usually the only ones who need to manage domain settings. It’s a lot easier for us to keep your domain secure that way. So that’s how my Hosting Plus plans work — and of course, I’ll always list you as the registrant.
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.
Because the third option is safest, some domain types list a technical contact separately from the registrant. That means any technical queries will be directed to them — but as the registrant, you retain full authority over the domain.
Why Domain Name Ownership Matters
It’s easy to register a domain without really understanding its true value or how to protect that. So, let’s fill in those blanks a little.
The Value of Domains
Whilst most businesses understand the value of a brand, domains are cheap. That leads many to assume 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). However, unlike most physical goods, used domains tend to increase in value.
Even cheap domains are business assets that can sometimes sell for six figures or more. 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. The newer “top level” domains — like “.art”, “.actor” and “.lawyer” — currently don’t seem to add as much weight as some expected, but they do clarify a site’s intent. As such, these new domain groups 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 many people 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.
Defending Your Domain
Any domain transfer or update triggers a verification email to the registrant from the registrar. Respond to that quickly, but check that it is valid first. It should come from your domain provider, or a higher-level authority like Nominet (for “.uk” domains) or ICANN. If you are in any doubt about such emails, check them with your domain provider straight away.
If it’s a transfer, you should already know about that, and the process won’t complete until you respond, but the request may time out after a week or so. Otherwise, if it’s an unexpected request, read it carefully. Domain providers and high-level authorities are often required to send these out annually. In some cases, domains may be suspended if you don’t respond within a week or two, but in others, you only need to respond if the details provided aren’t accurate.
Likewise, you’ll probably get renewal emails — and if those are from your domain provider, you will need to respond before the renewal date. Otherwise, retrieving a lapsed domain can get surprisingly expensive.
The “Fake Domain Renewal” Scam
Be aware, though, that common scam emails often threaten some sort of suspension if you don’t “renew” your domain with them. The wording is often very sly, and if you read carefully, the only thing that will expire is their “offer” to list your domain in search engines. That’s not even proper SEO, as search engines find most domains without any help, and these emails aren’t offering any help with search positioning.
In any case, the key point is that these emails won’t be from your domain provider. So you can’t “renew” with someone else. That would involve transferring the domain to them, and as these are scams, you may lose control of your domain in the process.
Conclusion: How To Keep Control Of Your Domain
So you don’t own your domain outright, but the license to use it is so valuable that people will try to steal it from you. This means it’s vital to:
- Know who has provided your domain and keep in touch with them — this is less common than you may assume!
- 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 genuine ones promptly
- Avoid paying anyone but your domain provider for the domains you already own, or for “search inclusion”.
Remember — one day, that cheap domain license could turn out to be one of the most valuable things you own. Especially if they reach the top of search engine results for valuable terms.