Your domain name is like the sign on your building or the right to use your company name. It is essential to your branding. It is essential for people who want your services or products to find you.
WOULD YOU ALLOW SOMEONE TO TAKE THE SIGN OFF YOUR BUILDING AND USE YOUR BUSINESS NAME?
This month I have heard the same frightening story from two different small business owners. The most recent was a friend of mine named Pete who has a service company. Pete wanted to change web designers to one who he felt would bring more traffic to his site and increase the number of prospects. But when Pete contacted their old web designer, who hadn’t been very responsive, they wouldn’t give Pete access to the site or access to make changes to his domain name information. When Pete and the new web designer contacted the hosting company they found out that Pete didn’t even have ownership of the domain name any longer.
Yikes! When Pete first had a web site done for his business he didn’t know much about domain names and how they work so he let the original web designer do all the work. Pete just paid the bill and enjoyed having a web site.
What happened, though, is the web designer registered Pete’s domain name in his own company name not Pete’s name, even though it was the domain name that Pete picked out. From that day on, it was the domain name that Pete’s customers and prospects used to get information about Pete’s business.
So here’s the problem. Pete wants to hire this new web designer to bring his web site up to date. He also wants to upgrade his email service to a different company. He can’t do any of these things unless he has control of his domain name registration and his domain name services (DNS) settings.
The former web designer doesn’t want to give it to him. Perhaps he is upset for losing a customer. Who knows the reason but he is making it difficult by not responding to Pete’s requests to get listed as the domains Registrant.
Here is a little background about domain names. On the Internet every device has a unique IP address that is just made up of a long string of numbers. Since long strings of numbers are hard for humans to remember you can request a unique name so that people can find your web site or email server by name rather than by number.
When someone types in www.ibm.com into their browser they expect to see the web site for the company IBM. What happens in the background is that your computer asks domain name services what is the IP address (number) for the domain name www.ibm.com. The domain name services server sends back to your computer the IP address. Then the browser uses that IP address to requests the home page for IBM. As if by magic you see the home page for IBM on your screen. It all works in the background.
A domain name is unique in the world. There can never be two domain names that are the same. When you think of a domain name for your business you use the services of a company called a “domain registrar”. You enter your name into a search program and the registrar tells you if the name is available for use. If nobody else has a domain already registered with that name, you can pay a fee, fill in some contact information and “register” that name as belonging to you for a period of time. The longer the time, the larger the fee. Whoever is listed as the “Registrant” is considered the owner of that name during the designated period of time.
So, aside from sitting in the corner and whimpering, what can Pete do? Since the former web designer is listed as the Registrant for Pete’s domain and Pete does not have a receipt from the Registrar showing that he paid for the domain, or the password to the account, his options are limited.
There is something called the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy established by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and numbers). UDRP is a process for trademark holders to fight against buying and holding on domain names in an attempt to disrupt a trademark holder’s business dealings. Using the UDRP could be a long and expensive process with no assurance of a good outcome for Pete.
It might be worth it for Pete to contact an attorney with experience in Internet and Intellectual property. Perhaps a legal looking letter to the former web designer with a reasonable offer to buy control of the domain name would get results. Otherwise, it is back to square one and choose a new domain name.
So, here are five things you can do to prevent the loss of a domain name?
- Make sure you are the listed Registrant on record. There are two other contacts listed in the registration; admin and Tech. It is OK to have your web designer or tech support person listed as tech but Registrant is considered the owner. Never relinquish that title to anyone.
- If you have someone like a web designer or technical support person register the domain for you, make sure you have a contract with the third party. This way you have in writing that the contractor is registering the domain name for you and that he is doing it at your direction and that the domain name belongs to you and your business.
- Have your domain registered in a separate account using your company name and that only your domain(s) are in that account. Sometimes a web designer or technical support company will have an account with a registrar and will keep many of their customer’s domains in that account. This is not acceptable. Be sure yours is separate and that you have ownership and access.
- Get and secure the username and password for the account. Even if your technical support registers the domain for you, insist on having the username and password for the account.
- Pay for the domain name registration yourself. Use your company credit card. The minimum time is usually one year but paying for multiple years is preferable. Also, you can setup “auto-renew” so that if you miss the renewal notices it will renew automatically.
It might be worth registering your domain name yourself. It’s about as easy as buying a book on-line. You search for what you want. When you find a domain name that suits your needs then place it in your shopping cart, then pay for one or more years with your credit card information.
Your domain name is as important as the sign on your business, your logo and your company name. It is your brand. It is how people find you to do business with you.
Let me know what you think. Was the article helpful? (or not). Are there subjects you would like explained or discussed? Please send me a comment.
Best wishes and great success,