5 Steps to Becoming the Master of Your Domain (Name)

Don’t Take Chances With Your Business’ Online Presence

Your domain name is like the deed to your property, except in this case it is your business’ online presence, as well as its headquarters on the Internet. Castlewood Studios has helped scores of businesses of all kinds sell products and services online, and over the years we’ve battled time and time again with issues related to lost, expired, or forgotten domain names. Sometimes we could help our clients regain control, but other times even we couldn’t do anything to help, and their businesses lost revenue and resources as a result. In an effort to help your business avoid such costly mistakes, we’ve put together a list of five things you need to know to keep control of your domain name.

1. Register Your Own Domain Name

If you’re thinking about starting a website, you’ve probably seen some companies offering “build your own website for free” services, and bragging about giving you a “free domain name”. This is not technically true. What they’re actually giving you is a subdomain on their own site, like “YourFreeWebsite.wix.com” or “ThisWontWork.weebly.com”. Since it’s a subdomain they own and not a proper top level domain, you don’t control that name, own it, or have any say about what happens to it when the website company decides to take it away from you and/or give it to someone else.

Not only do you not control these “free domain names”, but you’ll never rank well on a subdomain on someone else’s site either (though you might help THEM rank better when the search engines see all the traffic you’re sending their way). Plus, if you ever decide to leave Wix/Weebly/etc, you’ll lose that “free domain name”, which means any links floating around in cyberspace pointing to your website will not work anymore, and those wanting to find you will have to work harder to do so (or probably just give up).

Don’t fall for the free domain name trap. Do yourself a favor and spend the $10-$15 a year to register your own domain name. Then, if you want to link it to a “free website” company’s site, go right ahead; when you get sick of them, you’ll still have your own domain name, and can move it anywhere you want without worrying about losing your backlinks or confusing your visitors*.

*Basically. Redirects are a whole other topic and beyond the scope of this article. Let’s keep things simple, shall we?

2. Renew You Domain Name Promptly

Did you know that nobody actually OWNS a domain name? Instead, you lease them from a “Domain Name Registrar” for a period of time, usually 1 year or longer. When that period expires, you’ll get a reminder letter from your registrar giving you first choice at renewing that lease, but only for a limited time. If you don’t renew within that period, anyone can then lease that domain. This means if Coke ever forgets to renew their “Coca-Cola.com” domain, Pepsi could buy it and have a lot of fun at Coke’s expense. Clearly this would not be good for Coca Cola, and it won’t be good for your business either. Always remember to renew your domain name on time, especially if you have competitors that would love to get their hands on it.

Of course, it’s not just your competition you have to worry about snatching your expired domain name out from under you. Maybe somebody on the other side of the country wants to start a business website with the same name as yours. Or maybe a domain squatter wants to grab it, then sell it back to you for an exorbitant fee. Whatever their motivations, just know that there are others out there willing to take your domain off your hands; don’t give them the chance – renew your domain name promptly when it gets close to expiring.

3. Know The Password For Your Domain Name

Your domain name’s Registrar will require you to use a username and password in order to make changes to or renew your domain name. DO NOT LOSE/FORGET THIS USERNAME AND PASSWORD. If you do, you could lose control of your domain name (and all your valuable backlinks) to someone else when it expires.

Imagine if you owned a cab company, and all your clients knew your phone number. Now imagine you lost that phone number, and a competitor took it over. Such a scenario would be great for them, but disastrous for you. The same thing could happen to you if you’re not able to access your domain name to renew it.

If you do lose access to your domain name, you might be able to regain access by contacting your registrar and jumping through all their hoops. Or you might never get things straightened out, it varies by registrar. Over the years, Castlewood has used Namecheap almost exclusively as our registrar, and we’re big fans of their service and support to this day. No, they don’t pay us to say that and yes, they should. Whoever you choose to register your domain name with, just make sure you can log into their site and know how to get help if you run into problems.

4. Retain Control Of Your Domain Name

Let’s say you’ve allowed someone else to register your domain name. They know where it’s registered at, and it’s their email/password on file with the Registrar. Guess what? You don’t actually control that domain name; they do, and at any moment they could cancel the domain, sell it to someone else, or even point it at a different site and you’d be powerless to stop it. Trusting someone else with your domain name should carry the same weight in your mind as giving them power of attorney over yourself would; it should be something you’d do only after careful consideration and with complete trust, not something you’d do without a second thought and then promptly forget about.

5. Don’t Fall For Common Domain Name Scams

Finally, be aware that there’s a scam going around where you’ll get an email or actual paper letter saying “your domain name is about to expire immediately, and you have to pay us hundreds of dollars to renew it. Act now before it’s too late!” Lot’s of people fall for this, and it makes sleazy people a lot of money. However, if you know where you’ve leased your domain name from, and haven’t delegated that responsibility to someone else because you “don’t do computer stuff”, you’ll instantly know or be able to determine that this is a hoax. If you get one of these letters, do the world a favor and report these creeps. Sure, it probably won’t do any good, but at least you’ll feel better afterward.

Knowing these five things about domain names that will help ensure that yours is working for you, not against you. As long as you register your own domain name, don’t lose the password or forget to renew it, don’t expect someone else to be responsible for it, and don’t fall for any scams related to it, you can rest peacefully knowing you have control of your business’ online headquarters.

By Eric S. Streeter, writer, web designer and account manager for Castlewood Studios, a company responsible for the hosting/management of over 150 websites for businesses of all kinds all across the US.

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