Domain name - things you must do

This section applies if you are in the process of getting a domain name or already have one and want to verify it is OK.

Rule 1 - know how to look up your domain name details

This is something you absolutely must do yourself - direct on the Internet. I do not think you should rely on someone sending you details e.g. as an email attachment. This means using a ‘whois’ service. Type whois into Google and visit a few of the sites that appear up top in the search results. You need to end up with a page that includes details like below. Click either/both and then print off from your Web browser so you can follow the detailed discussion below.

Whois records for yahoo.com (as a text file)
Whois records for yahoo.com (as a PDF)

These are for the big site Yahoo.com. You obviously need to use whois for your own domain name.

Rule 2 - know who your registrar is

   Registrar Name....: Markmonitor.com
   Registrar Whois...: whois.markmonitor.com
   Registrar Homepage: http://www.markmonitor.com

See previous section if you do not know what a 'registrar' is. The registrar for yahoo.com is Markmonitor.com. The name appearing here should be accurate enough (a full company name) for you to do a company search to find out details like their registered office and who the directors of the company are. You can do this type of search on the Internet.

A registrar can go out of business. Or you may simply be unhappy with the service your current registrar provides. In either case, you want to change registrar. There is a set procedure for doing this, and fees tend to be standard and quite reasonable - around US$50-US$100. The new registrar you pick can help you with this i.e. they will help you with the "change of registrar" process. After this has been done, re-check the entries on whois.

Rule 3 - Keep your web hosting provider and registrar different

This is a debatable rule but one I still stand by. Your domain name is your own long-term asset. It is actually your brand. You should avoid any risk that sees you lose your asset. If your web hosting provider is also your registrar and you enter into a dispute with them, they may intentionally or unintentionally block your ability to update your whois details. For example, they may disable your online logon to their site to maintain the whois details.

On balance I think you should not allow one business to be both your registrar and your web hosting provider. This is a "be safe, don't be sorry" rule.

Rule 4 - Find a registrar where you can maintain whois details yourself

If you want to change registrar, you have to follow the "change of registrar" process - see Rule 2 above. Apart from that, you want to find a registrar where you can maintain all other whois details online yourself. The registrar may have some controls around this e.g. they may make your change pending until such time as you reply to an email confirming the change. You should expect that any change you make is finalized within 2-3 working days - assuming you respond quickly to any control requirements. This is quite normal if your registrar has efficient IT (Information Technology) systems and people. If a change takes more than 5 working days to be finalized, I personally would view that as a cause for concern.

Rule 5 - verify registrant details

   Registrant:
   Domain Administrator
   Yahoo! Inc.
   701 First Avenue
   Sunnyvale CA 94089
   US

The "registrant" is the person who owns the domain name i.e. your business or you personally. In the case above, this is the corporation Yahoo!, Inc. You could also use an organisation (your company, charity, business etc.). The registrant name must be exactly correct all of the time. If it is not, then you may find yourself in a really terrible position. It is like owning a piece of real estate. If the name is slightly wrong on the deeds records for that property, your title to that asset is not 100% secure and you may end up losing it altogether.

You could choose to give a generic name like 'Managing Director' or 'Domain Administrator' as the contact person. You can give a real person name if you want to. This is not a big deal. If you give a generic name there are some benefits. Firstly if someone looks up the whois and writes/emails you, you recognize the source of the information about you. Secondly, you don't have to worry about updating the name if you personally are no longer involved in the organisation.

If you change any of the registrant details, you should expect your registrar to want to confirm it in some way. For example a change of address may trigger an email or phone call from them asking you to confirm the new address in some way. A change in the actual registrant name - Yahoo! Inc. in the case above - is particularly important because that could indicate a change of legal title to the domain name. If that changes, you should expect your registrar to react. For example they might ask if this is just a change of company name (same company, different name) or indeed a change of title (you have sold the domain name to someone else).

Rule 6 - pay for your domain name

   Created on..............: 1995-01-18
   Expires on..............: 2013-01-18

The expiry date for this domain name is January 18th, 2013. When a domain name expires, it becomes available for someone else to register and use. They then own it and you have no right to it. In domain circles, an expiry of an existing domain name is called a 'drop'.

Domain names expire simply because they are not renewed. They are not renewed if you do not pay for them to be renewed. So if you want to keep the domain name, you must pay for renewal. The cost of this is about $20-$40 per year. You may be able to get it quite a bit lower than that e.g. $5-$10 per year, but I really don't think price should be a big factor here. You can pay several years in advance if you want to. This typically gets you a multi-year discount.

You pay the renewal fee to your registrar - typically online using a credit card. Do this at least one month before the current expiry date. Then after your payment has been processed, check that the expiry date has been increased in line with what you paid. Your registrar should send you advance notification that your domain name is close to its expiry date. But it is highly likely your contract with them says they carry no responsibility if they fail to remind you. I suggest monitor the expiry date yourself. Put a note in your diary, ask someone close to you to remind you etc. Paying for several years in advance is no bad thing, but check with your registrar what happens if you change registrar. For example if you pay for 5 years in advance with your old registrar, ask them how much of what you pay is carried foward to your new registrar if you change registrars.

Rule 7 - maintain DNS entries

   Domain servers in listed order:
   ns3.yahoo.com
   ns2.yahoo.com
   ns4.yahoo.com
   ns5.yahoo.com
   ns1.yahoo.com

Your web hosting provider will ask you to maintain ‘DNS entries’ or ‘DNS nameserver entries’. If you change your web hosting provider, then you will certainly need to change the DNS entries. Ask your provider (the new one if you are changing provider) what these entries are. They will gladly tell you what they are and when you need to make the change. If the entries are wrong, your web site and email can become invisible on the Internet so you need to get the details right.

Rule 8 - keep contact details uptodate

   Administrative Contact:
   Domain Administrator
   Yahoo! Inc.
   701 First Avenue
   Sunnyvale CA 94089
   US

The whois records allow an "Administrative Contact" and "Technical Contact" to be different from registrant details. In the case of Yahoo they are all the same. You might want to have them different. Your registrar should use the administrative contact for business issues like change of registrar and billing enquiries, and the technical contact for more technical things like DNS entries. If that contact fails, a careful registrar should then revert to using the contact details for the registrant. But it is still your responsibility to keep all contact details uptodate and useful.

Rule 9 - remember the importance of email addresses

Large registrars rely heavily on email to manage your domain names for you. That is, they will have automated systems that send emails first. They may then follow up with phone calls later only if they have to. If they send you an important email about your domain name and you never get that email, you are at risk. You must monitor your email carefully and make sure that any email from your registrar is not accidentally treated as spam.

Anyone trying to steal your domain name is likely to change the email address first. That way, any further emails go directly to them and you never see them. A competent registrar should know this. When a change of email address is processed, they should send an email to the old email address asking you to confirm that the email address change can go ahead. So if you change the email address yourself, you should do this while the old email address is still working - not later when the old email address no longer works or you have stopped reading emails sent to it.

Rule 10 - remember you are human

All the rules above assume that you want to actively manage your domain name yourself. Of course it doesn't have to be that way. Someone else - including your web hosting provider or ISP - can offer to 'do it all' for you at a price. For example they might charge you $80 to renew a domain name that you could renew yourself for $40. It remains your choice. Personally I think there is not much effort in managing a domain name directly and I prefer the certainty of being in complete control myself.

If you make this choice, the responsibility falls squarely on you. If you become indisposed then someone else has to act on your behalf. If you haven't even told anyone what you are doing, you can lose your domain name simply because no-one knows they should help you. Plan for that. At the very least tell someone 1) what domain name(s) you have, 2) which registrar you currently use, 3) when any critical action might be required e.g. next renewal on your domain names.

Rule 11 - find a registrar you are comfortable with

There are no cast-iron rules here. I recommend a larger registrar that has been trading at least 5 years and backs up highly automated systems with very good personal service should you need it. Cost should not be a major factor.






October 2014.