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How To Avoid Losing Your Business Domain

August 17, 2018

HTTPS security
Losing a domain happens, and it can be a major issue, even disruptive enough to put a small business out of business.

Few assets are more important to a business than a domain. Even if you're not doing business directly through your website, it's typically the primary point of contact with existing and potential new customers. And don't forget, all business email runs through your business domain.

How You Could Lose Your Domain

It's possible that your domain could be taken by a hacker. The chances of this happening are admittedly low, simply because there are so many targets out there. But just because there are a lot of wallets in the world doesn't mean you should leave yours lying around in the open. Why be an easy target?

"Hackers know small businesses make easy targets because they don't have the resources or knowledge to secure their domain." - Leo Taddeo, FBI Cyber Division.

You may be in danger of losing your domain if your contact info is not accurate, or you fail to respond to renewal notifications. In these situations, your domain can be suspended or cancelled by your registrar (e.g. GoDaddy). They can put your domain back on the public market where it can be registered by another party who may or may not be willing to sell it back to you at a reasonable price.

Luckily all of this hardship can be avoided by taking some simple steps to ensure your business domain remains securely under your control.

Get Control of Your Domain
Know where your domain is registered

First and foremost you need to know where your domain is registered - your 'Registrar'. Often it's GoDaddy, but it could be Network Solutions, Tucows, eNom, Namecheap, or another provider.

The way to find this out is to use a WHOIS lookup. Domain information is public record, so it can be searched by anyone online. Here's a free WHOIS to use: https://www.godaddy.com/whois. Your 'Registrar URL' is the company through which your domain is registered.

Get access to your domain account

Once you know who your domain is registered with, you'll want to access your account. If you don't have your login info, you'll need to contact the registrar (or use a 'Forgot My Username/Password') to gain access. Things can get tricky if the email associated with the account is no longer active, but most registrars will work you in providing proof of ownership, and establishing an active email address as the contact email.

This can take some effort, but it is absolutely critical. Not having control over your domain is a major way that business domains are lost - notices and renewals are sent to a defunct email account and never answered. Eventually your domain is released back on the market. Don't wait for this to happen to your business - make sure you have access to your domain account.

Properly Manage Your Domain
Update your contact information

In your domain account, make sure the contact information (often shown as the Registrant information) is your information, not your IT guy or your web host's information. This is a critical piece of maintaining legal rights to your domain.

The contact information associated with your domain must be your current information, with a valid and active contact email address. This is a requirement from the high level international authority (ICANN) that regulates domains. You will receive an email once a year from your registrar (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, etc) reminding you that your contact information must be current. If it is, there's nothing you need to do.

TIP: Use a contact email that is not related to your business. Instead, use a Gmail address or other personal email address. This way if anything goes wrong with your domain or hosting that prevents you from receiving business email, you always have control of your domain.
Use strong passwords for your domain account and contact email

Once you have access to your domain account, verify that you're using a strong password for both your registrar account (GoDaddy login), AND the email address you've designated as your contact email. You can test your passwords using this site: howsecureismypassword.net.

Using secure passwords is a little more effort, but it's critical that you are taking appropriate steps to secure this valuable business asset. It's part of your responsibility as a business owner.

Lock your domain

All registrars give you the option of locking your domain. This prevents transfer of the domain without your authorization. It's free and easy to do within your account.

Set your domain to auto-renew

Set your domain to auto-renew every year. This way you are never bothered about it and never have to worry about losing it for lack of payment. If there's any issue with payment (expired card, etc) down the line, your registrar will surely be in touch to make sure they keep the payments coming.

Consider adding an account manager

Most registrars offer the option of adding an account manager. You can give account access to another person, such as your web designer or IT guy, without revealing your password or payment information. This allows a professional to keep your domain managed for you, or to help you initially take some of the steps above, such as setting domains to auto-renew, locking your domain, or helping keep your contact information accurate.