What’s in a name? If it’s your domain name, there’s a lot to consider when choosing and managing your web address. Think of your website domain as something that’s as important as your physical address. It’s where people can find you and reliable information related to you.
Do you own your domain name? What should you do if you don’t? How can you prevent losing ownership of it? Those who have lost ownership of their domains can tell you about the unpleasant experience required to get it back – if you can get it back. It’s important to be knowledgeable about your domain so you can avoid this potential nightmare altogether.
Five Things You Should Know About Your Website Address
1. What’s a Website Domain?
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a worldwide naming system that gives addresses to web servers and web pages. This is what makes it possible for you to have a memorable and easy-to-spell web address. Behind each easy to read name is a long string of numbers that is called the IP address. No one really cares about the IP address as much as they care about preserving the web address that’s easy to remember. Examples of domain names include 30degreesnorth.com, or nytimes.com. These addresses “point” people to where these websites “live” (AKA: your hosting server, but we’ll leave that for another blog.).
2. What’s a Registrar?
A registrar is a company that issues and manages domain names. This is where you went to “buy” your web address – or register it. Really you’re leasing it on a yearly basis, giving you exclusive rights to use it. An example is hover.com, where you can search for a domain name and register it. Other common registrars include godaddy.com and networksolutions.com. Most registrars offer you the ability to register your domain name for several years at a time. This can be nice so that you don’t have to do it annually.
3. What’s the Difference Between a Domain Name and a URL?
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a more detailed part of an Internet address that tells where you are specifically on a website. All URLs for your site are managed under your domain. An example of a URL is 30degreesnorth.com/team. URLs should be created with simplicity and SEO in mind; you want Google to be able to identify what your page is about by simply reading the URL.
4. Who Should Be in Charge of Your Domain Name’s Registration?
The thing to remember about domains is that they expire. Let’s really emphasize this! Your domain will eventually expire and if you do not renew it you will lose control over it and anyone will be able to purchase and use it as they wish.
The expiration date will depend on what company you bought the domain through.
If you hire an IT person to be in charge of setting up and registering your domain, what happens if that IT person leaves the company or worse, doesn’t feel generous about telling you when the renewal is required?
No matter who is managing your domain name for you, someone in the upper management of your organization should always have the current username and password to the registrar account in their possession. Don’t lose it. It’s as important as a physical location for many businesses.
This is why we advise our clients to initiate and maintain access to their own domain accounts. Not because we’re going anywhere any time soon, but because it’s best to leave that important information in the client's hands if they need to access it for any reason. If you think managing your domain sounds too difficult, it’s really not! Most registrars have an easy-to-use panel that lets you make updates to your domain name and lets you give other people (like coworkers) access to your account if need be.
Tip: It’s a good idea to set up an annual reminder to check on your registration account to be sure the contact information is correct. Also to check for important renewal update emails and reassess who has access to the account so you can remove anyone who is no longer with your company.
5. Should You Auto-Renew Your Domain?
Luckily, most companies give you the option to auto-renew your domain registration. This helps avoid your website being unavailable because of an expired domain. However, be sure to keep the credit card information accurate!
Another good thing about auto-renewing is that it helps ensure your name doesn’t get taken by someone else that’s just waiting for you to lose ownership so that they can purchase it for themselves. This happened recently to a very public figure: his website domain expired and before his web team could renew it, someone snatched it up and pointed visitors somewhere they weren’t expecting. You don’t want that to happen to you! We’ve had experience with clients that have lost control of their domains because they were unaware of the renewal and someone else purchased it. We want to help you avoid the headache of tracking down long lost employees and the possibility of losing potential customers because visitors can’t get to your website.
How to Know Who Owns Your Domain Name
If you’re not sure who your domain name is registered to, we suggest visiting whois.icann.org. Enter your exact domain name in the search bar including the .com (or whatever you have after the dot in your web address).
If you (or whomever purchased your domain) paid a little extra for a private account, you won’t be able to see a name associated with the account. In this case we suggest talking to whomever set up your email addresses or your website. This person had to have this for email and the website to work.
If it’s not a private account you’ll be able to see the name, address, phone and email of the owner. If this is not an employee or owner of your company we recommend initiating a change of ownership.
What to Do if You Don’t Own Your Domain Name
If your domain is owned by your IT or marketing company, we suggest you talk to them about transferring it to an account you own. They should be able to help you with this process.
Maybe your domain is owned by your company, but you don’t have access to it. It could be that the employee that purchased it is no longer with the company or you don’t have access to the email account that was used to set up the account so that you can gain access to the domain. In this case, most domain registrars have a process for claiming ownership. This may involve proving that you have access to the website files by placing a file they give you on the server, or by sending them company documents that prove you are with the organization. Check with your registrar for how they handle these situations.
Your domain is the most important part of your web presence. It controls who can get to your site, your blog, even your email. Rest easy knowing you have the knowledge and control of your domain and don’t have to fear any surprise domain expirations. If you have any questions for our team about your domain or if you are thinking about creating a new one, contact us!
Originally published August 2017. Updated June 2019.