Your website cannot be found without a domain name, yet many people lose access to this critical item. How does this happen? Read on to for a full understanding of domain names.
A Common Scenario
You decide to build a website and the first thing you do is buy your domain name, the name your business will be known by on the web. They are so inexpensive, you might decide to get a few extra ones. You pass the information about the domain name along to your web developer and then you forget about it. Maybe you even have them buy it for you, registered in their name.
A few years go by, your website needs refreshing, you hire a new website developer and one of the first things they do is ask for access to your domain name account. First, you have to remember what that even means, then you realize you have no idea what the account login information is. Your web developer helps you figure out where you need to login, so you attempt a password reset—only to find out you no longer have access to the email address you used when you created the account.
This series of events is all too common, and not even the worst scenario I have encountered. Domain names are inexpensive and many people don’t fully understand what role a domain name plays in their website.
Domain Names Explained
Your website’s domain name is the unique name you have given it that you use in all your marketing efforts. It identifies your business or non-profit. Conversely, website hosting is the computer (server) that your website resides upon (it’s more complex than that, but this helps distinguish it from the domain name.)
No one wants to lose access to their hosting, especially if they have not done a good job of making backups of their website, but losing your domain name can be worse. You can build a new website if necessary. But, if you have put years of marketing efforts in to promoting the name of your website and you lose that, all that work is gone. Worse, whoever gains access to the domain name can build a new site that has nothing to do with your business—yet your customers will continue to go to the site thinking it is you and not understanding what has happened.
As long as you have have access to your domain name, you can move your website to a new server and/or completely redesign it and still have it be YOUR website.
So, what should you do to make sure you retain control of your domain name?
- Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “tech” person, purchase your own domain name in your own account. A reputable web developer will help you do this.
- Make sure the contact information you use when purchasing the domain name is correct, especially the email address used as the contact for the domain name.
- Regarding the email address: avoid using personal email addresses that may leave the business or non-profit. You should use an email address that will pass along to the person who takes over the position within the company, or just a general email address that is used by the business (or non-profit), such as info@ or admin@.
- Record the account login information in a safe place!
- Guard the account login information carefully. Consider it as important as logins for your banking information. Only give it to people you completely trust (and only temporarily. Change the password once that person no longer requires access to the account,)
- Make sure you renew the registration on time when it comes due. You can register your domain name for multiple years at a time.
- Watch out for scams! There are companies that use deceptive methods to get you to move your domain name to their registration service. If you get a “renewal notice” that says things like “you risk losing this opportunity”, then it is almost certainly not from your domain company. Unless you are certain a renewal notice is legitimate, don’t click on the links in it. If you have done steps 1-6, then you can easily log in to your domain account and see if it is due for renewal. If it is, go ahead and renew. But, don’t get fooled by the scammers!
What if You Have Lost Access to Your Domain Name?
If you are reading this because you have lost access to your domain name and are now wondering what to do, all may not be lost! All domain registrars have instructions for how to recover a domain name that has been hijacked (e.g., taken by an ex-employee or by a hacker) or one where you don’t have the account password and don’t have access to the email address associated with the account (see GoDaddy’s instructions here). It can be a tedious process that will involve proving you “own” rights to the name. You will have to send in business documents and personal identification, but if you are persistent, you should be able to regain access.
Unfortunately, if you didn’t keep up with payments on the domain name, allowing it to expire, and someone else acquired it, you may be out of luck. People will often do this and then try to sell the name back to you for a fee. This is legal and there is nothing you can do about it. Your best bet is to pay attention to step 6 above and never get in to this situation. In the worst case scenario, you will have to change the name of your website.
Domain names are definitely an example of small things playing big roles. Treat yours like the valuable object it is and it will serve you well for years! If you have any questions about domains, hosting or your website, please reach out. Our goal is to provide Peace of Mind for your Tech World.