Recently I was helping a client who needed to update their domain name, and we ran into a common issue: no one knew the password for their domain registrar’s account. This is an all-too-familiar scenario that’s easily avoided.
Let’s take a look at what’s at stake and some recommendations on handling your company’s domain names.
Domain names are cheap, but losing them is costly
We all know that registering a domain name costs almost nothing, and there is no shortage of companies offering registrar services (note: Tantramar Interactive Inc. is not one of them). It’s no harder to register a domain for 10 years than for 1, so why wouldn’t you save some time? Let’s look at the downside.
Losing control of a domain name can mean:
- wasted time retrieving login information for your registrar account
- losing access to your website
- damage to your brand (the extent of which is determined by who takes control of your domain if you lose it)
- losing search engine placement
- losing access to email messages
- instant obsolescence of anything tied to your domain name (especially printed material like ads, business cards, brochures, etc.).
The question, then, is why would registering a domain for 10 years mean losing control of it? The answer?
Identity is fluid
I’ve seen similar situations many times over the years, including…
- government departments that had been renamed in cabinet shuffles (so that even requests on official letterhead didn’t satisfy the registrar; at least not before lawyers got involved);
- registrants who’d long-since left organizations — sometimes not on the friendliest of terms, which made getting their co-operation delicate;
- registrants who’d used personal email accounts that were abandoned or whose passwords were lost;
- registrants who’d used email accounts tied to domains and/or internet service providers that had long-since changed or ceased operations (due to mergers/acquisitions, bankruptcy, re-branding, etc.)
Institutional memory is fragile
What made this situation particularly painful for my client is that…
- the domain was purchased nearly 13 years ago for a 20 year period — a challenging length of time for any organization to keep track of login information.
- In 20 years — or even 5 years — people change jobs (if not employers or even careers); they change names, they change software and computers, they retire, they die…
- Even without any big changes, how many people can put their finger on an email message they got 5, 10, or 20 years ago? (How about a message someone else got that long ago? Are you even sure who got that message originally?)
- the email account used to purchase the domain was defunct (its domain lapsed years ago; in this case, as a result of a merger), so a password-reset link from the registrar’s site won’t work.
Advantages to buying long-term
- you lock your domain name in, preventing competitors from getting it
- you may get a volume discount on the per-year cost (although I vividly recall one prominent registrar *cough* Network Solutions *cough* offering domains at “$35/year or 10 years for only $350!”)
- you’ll save a few minutes each year when you don’t have to renew
To me, these advantages are not compelling.
Advantages to buying short-term
- you’ll remember who bought what domains from what registrar using what email account (and if you don’t, you’ll track it down more easily if it’s a year or 2 old than if it’s 5 or 10 years old)
- you’ll be ideally positioned to take advantage of the downward-pressure on domain name pricing
- you’ll be more likely to recognize renewal messages from your registrar, which keeps your domain safe from accidental expiry
Domain name registration recommendations
- Register domains for 1 or 2 years at most — and stay on top of them
- Have your trusted web hosting company register on your behalf — they should have procedures in place to manage renewals without relying on the registrar’s reminder emails — but make sure you’re listed as the Registrant and Administrative contact (your host can be Technical and/or Billing contact).
- Use an email address tied to a position (e.g. email@example.com) rather than an individual (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) as your contact.
- Make sure that others in your organization know the login information associated with your domain name(s), or know how to retrieve it.
- If registering yourself, go with a reputable and well-established registrar over cheap-cheap-cheap every time. Tantramar Interactive Inc. has used Vancouver, BC,-based Webnames.ca for years.
- Deploy encrypted login-storage-and-retrieval software such as AgileBits’ 1Password for Mac/iOS, Android & Windows (this may not scale well to larger organizations with more complex policies, but for smaller firms or for individuals, I consider 1Password essential).