True story: A small business owner, who was not a client, called me one day with a problem. Let’s call him “Dave.” His web site was missing. Not missing from the search engines, missing completely. Gone. No longer reachable at his domain. It was nothing I could help with since he wasn’t a client, but we kept talking. I wanted to learn more.
Dave had a disagreement with his web developer over money. The web developer took the web site offline. But he didn’t stop there. He also took ownership of Dave’s domain. And there was nothing Dave could do about it, because the web developer had listed himself as the administrative contact for the domain when he registered it on Dave’s behalf.
Ouch! It’s one thing to lose a web site; you can rebuild that. But losing a prime domain name, the address at which customers have found you for years? That hurts big time. There’s a search marketing angle to this, too: If you’ve spent several years building up “search engine trust” in a domain, you’ll have to spend at least the same amount of time re-building trust on a new domain if you have to start over like Dave did.
This story dates back several years, but I’m sure similar stories could be told today. I’ve found over the years that many small business owners don’t appreciate either the value of their domain name or the need to protect it. I’ll focus on the need to protect your domain name in this article.
How to Protect Your Domain Name (i.e., How to Avoid What Happened to “Dave”)
It doesn’t matter if you register a domain name yourself, or if your web host, web developer, or someone else does it for you. What matters is that you, the small business owner, are listed as the domain owner and main contact person.
When registering a domain, you have to list several contact people:
Registrant: The registrant is the legal owner of the domain. This should always be you, the business owner, not your web developer or anyone else.
Administrative Contact: Whoever is listed here has the ability to change the domain record at will. Again, this should be the business owner, or someone who works in a position of authority at the business. In Dave’s story, the web developer listed himself here, and had the ability to change the Registrant information when he and Dave had their disagreement. The web developer claimed ownership of the domain and Dave would have an uphill fight to get it back because the web developer was the domain’s administrative contact.
Technical Contact: This is the person in charge of dealing with any technical problems with the domain. If you have a system administrator or some kind of IT person on staff, it could be him or her. But this is also the one contact where it might be okay to have someone not on your payroll listed. Your web hosting company, for example, might be the most appropriate technical contact.
To protect your domain name, make sure you are listed as both the Registrant and the Administrative Contact on the domain record. Not sure if this is how your domain is currently setup? You can use any WHOIS service to see your domain registration. One that I use for quick checks is OneWhois.com—no graphics, no sales pitches, no advertising, just a quick-to-load text page with a simple search box.
If you find you’re not listed where you need to be, get that changed. You don’t want to be the next “Dave” and lose that domain, not to mention all of the search marketing trust it’s developed over the years.
Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.