What You Should Know About Domain Registration

There are a lot of companies out there who will offer to help you register your own domain.  I’ve mentioned a few of the bigger names, such as Verisign, Dotster, and GoDaddy.  Often a hosting provider or an ISP will provide you with domain registration services as a reseller.

I’m going to assume for now that you’ve selected a domain name and that you know which top-level domains (TLD’s) you want to register your name in.  Examples of top-level domains are .com, .net, .org, .info, .me, etc.  If you’re not sure about your options, see the list of valid TLD’s .  Each TLD is represented by its own domain registry, which is operated by an entity called a registrar.  In most cases, you won’t be dealing directly with the registrar — you’ll most likely be dealing with a company that partners with the registrar to provide registration services.

This is where you need to be very careful.  Sometimes when a third-party registration service  provider registers a domain on your behalf, they effectively control your domain as the administrative contact.  For example, domain registration provider Tucows has a business model where they only deal directly with the reseller and not with the domain owner.  This could put you in a very bad position if you need to make changes to your domain or if your domain isn’t renewed properly by the reseller.  Imagine the trouble you’d have if your domain registration expired and the reseller went out of business a year earlier or doesn’t return your phone calls.  I’ve seen it happen.

Make sure you’re doing business with a reliable registration service provider and that you have complete control over your domain registration.  Don’t ever risk having your domain expire because of a reseller’s billing error.  Cheaper is not necessarily better if your domain is effectively being held hostage.

Along the same lines, you need to realize that the administrative contact for the domain is the only contact with the authority to make changes to the domain registration.  Don’t let “Joe Sysadmin” register your corporate domain as an individual.  Make sure the domain is registered to the organization.  That will give you some recourse under the domain registration rules if something goes sour and you lose the ability to directly control your domain registration.

You also need to make absolutely certain that your contact information is kept up to date with your registration service provider, especially the email address for the administrative contact.  It’s really hard to recover your account password if the account is tied to the private or inactive email address of a guy that left your company five years ago.

Another thing you may need to know when you register your domain is the fully-qualified hostnames and IP addresses of the DNS servers where your new domain will live.  If you’re going to use your domain provider’s DNS servers, you won’t need to worry about this.  But if you’re going to use your own DNS servers you need to know it.  If you don’t know it up-front, you can always use the provider’s DNS servers and then change it later if you’ve followed my advice about keeping control of your domain registration.

What if you already have a domain and you’re not sure how your domain is registered, or where your domain is being hosted from?

You can do something called a WHOIS search.  I like to use the whois tool at geektools.com, but you’ll need to enter a captcha each time you do a search.  Your domain provider probably also has a WHOIS tool on their website.  Here’s the result of a WHOIS search for dotster.com:

Registrant:
Dotster Inc.
8100 NE Parkway DR
Suite 300
Vancouver, WA 98662
US

Domain name: DOTSTER.COM

Administrative Contact:
Admin, Domain legal@dotster.com
8100 NE Parkway DR
Suite 300
Vancouver, WA 98662
US
3602532210 Fax: 3602534234

Technical Contact:
Admin, Domain legal@dotster.com
8100 NE Parkway DR
Suite 300
Vancouver, WA 98662
US
3602532210 Fax: 3602534234

Registration Service Provider:
Domain Name Holding Company, Inc, {email address redacted}
+1.8007972958
This company may be contacted for domain login/passwords,
DNS/Nameserver changes, and general domain support questions.

Registrar of Record: Domain.com
Record last updated on 14-May-2013.
Record expires on 12-Dec-2020.
Record created on 12-Dec-1999.

Domain servers in listed order:

NS1.DOTSTER.COM 66.96.142.146
NS2.DOTSTER.COM 65.254.254.170

Note that this domain is registered to the company, not to an individual.  You should also take note that the email address for the Administrative contact is a generic email account that belongs to the company, not to a specific person.  The Administrative contact should usually be managed someone in your IT team, your Brand Management team, or your Legal team.  For a small business, this could be the owner of the company.

Please be aware that this email account will be targeted with spam — lots of it.  Most domain registration providers offer a service where they will hide your domain registration details from spammers and other unsavory types.  If you don’t have good antispam tools at your disposal, or would like to protect your privacy, this service may be worth the price.

Finally, your domain registration will eventually expire.  If you’ve kept your account information up-to-date, your registration service provider will notify the email address on your account that it’s about to expire with plenty of time to renew it.  If that email goes to an account that nobody ever pays attention to, you might wake up one day to discover that nobody can get to your website or send you email because your domain expired.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure your account and registration contact information is current and correct.

Don’t build your online business on top of a shaky house of cards.  Your domain registration is essential to your online brand — protect it, don’t neglect it!

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