This is part 1 of a 4-part series explaining the importance of maintaining ownership of your various web properties and how to keep them under your control. This section will focus on your domain name.
Want to read from the beginning? Read the intro here.
What is a domain name?
Your domain name is the address a visitor types in to go to your website. On this website, the domain name is cardinalwebsolutions.com. Your website is not stored on the domain; the domain just points to the hosting account where the website really is stored (we’ll talk about that later).
Why is it important to own your domain name?
First of all, let me get something straight with you here. You do need a website. The only kind of company that does not need the website is the kind that is non-existent.
But even if you don’t think you need a website, or you don’t think you can afford one right now, you need to buy your domain name. There are countless examples of companies or individuals buying up domain names just so that they can resell them later for a higher price, just like the people who scalp tickets for concerts or sports events. For example, we recently worked with a company – we’ll call them ACME Trapdoors, Inc. – who owned acmetrapdoors.net but not acmetrapdoors.com. Another web design company had purchased acmetrapdoors.com to use as leverage for selling ACME Trapdoors a website.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The other company was eventually willing to transfer ownership of the domain. But for many months, potential customers searching for trapdoors were landing on a fake site with inaccurate contact information – not good for ACME Trapdoors’ brand reputation or their bottom line.
This problem could have been completely avoided if the client had purchased the .com domain as soon as they began their business.
How do you make sure that you own your domain name?
If the domain name that you want is not already owned by someone else, you can purchase and register it at a domain registrar. GoDaddy is probably the most well-known example of a domain registrar, but there are many others to choose from. The domain registrar you choose does not affect what domains are available to you.
If you are already working with a company to develop your website or are planning to do so in the near future, make sure to purchase your domain before you get started. Although this is not the norm, some companies will buy the domain to compel you to work with them, like in the example of ACME Trapdoors, Inc., above. Registering your domain name before contacting a web development company can protect you from any later confusion regarding ownership of the domain.
IMPORTANT: If for some reason you would prefer that the other company handle it on your behalf, request that the domain is purchased on a separate account in your name with your money and your contact information, and ask for the username and password for this account.
After registering your domain, keep track of when it expires, and be sure to renew the domain before the expiration date. If the domain expires, you are opening the door for someone else to swoop in and purchase it out from under you.
What should you do if someone else owns your preferred domain name?
The first step is always to contact the owner of the domain and ask if they are willing to transfer ownership to you. If the owner of the domain is your current marketing company or a previous company that you are still on good terms with, chances are that they will readily agree to this request, especially if they registered the domain on your behalf in the first place. If you do not know who owns the domain, you can use a service such as whois.net to find out, unless the information has been made private.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the owner of the domain may not be so accommodating. If they demand more money or flat-out refuse, the situation becomes much more complicated. In these cases, your next step depends on whether or not your business name is protected by trademark law.
Yes, I own the trademark! 😀
That’s great! This gives you a significant advantage in dealing with the owner of the domain. You can use ICANN’s dispute resolution procedure, file a trademark infringement lawsuit, or file a cybersquatting lawsuit. If you win your case, you may even be awarded money damages in addition to your domain name. I’m not a lawyer, so if you are looking for more details on these options, I suggest you read this page.
No, I do not own the trademark (or I don’t want to get involved with a lawsuit). 🙁
That’s ok; you’re not completely out of options. First, you can try offering more money. If the price is too, high, however, you will have to settle for some variation of the domain name.
Be sure to check back next week for part 2, in which I discuss ownership of site files, databases, and hosting.