by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
Your domain name is a crucial part of your site promotion strategy. It's in search engines, directories, parts of links from other sites, on your business card, and all over your print advertising. So what would happen if you lost it? The price could be quite high - in both time and money - to get it back.
How To Lose A Domain
The most common reason webmasters lose domains is simple: they fail to renew them. After a certain period of time (it varies from registrar to registrar), the name gets dropped and becomes available to others.
There's nothing underhanded about this process. In fact, the Internet Commission on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires accredited registrars to delete domain registrations if they aren't renewed:
"3.7.5 Registrar shall register Registered Names to Registered Name Holders only for fixed periods. At the conclusion of the registration period, failure by or on behalf of the Registered Name Holder to pay a renewal fee within the time specified in a second notice or reminder shall, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, result in cancellation of the registration."
But why wouldn't you renew your name if you planned to keep using it? Especially if you've spent time and money promoting it and building link popularity? Well, accidents happen. Fortunately, new ICANN regulations give you time to correct the problem.
Redemption Grace Period
In response to problems with accidental deletions and fraud, ICANN instituted new guidelines for domain name registrars. All accredited registrars have to implement something called a "Redemption Grace Period." It's a 30-day holding period that gives the owner time to renew an expired name and the registrar time to resolve any fraud complaints.
The entire process is pretty complex, so I contacted Ron Bautista, owner and CEO of Names Are Cheap (NAC), a Web hosting and domain registration company. Ron explained how the process works in the real world, using an example of a domain name that has a July 31 expiration date.
- Several months before - probably in April - NAC sends a reminder email to the email address listed in the Administrative Contact section of the registration.
- More reminder emails are sent to that same email address as the expiration date approaches. Let's assume the owner doesn't respond to these emails and the name expires on July 31st.
- On August 1st, the site goes down and all email addresses stop working. This is when the owner generally contacts the hosting company!
- At this point, the Redemption Grace Period kicks in. For the next 30-45 days, nobody but the previous owner is allowed to renew the domain name. A whois lookup shows the domain's status as "REDEMPTION PERIOD." It's still in the registrar's registry, but it doesn't belong to you anymore.
- If the previous owner fails to renew the name, the next domain status to appear in the whois lookup is "PENDING DELETION." Nobody - not even the previous owner - can buy or renew it until the name is deleted. After several days (the number depends on the individual registrar), the name drops completely and anyone can register it.
The redemption grace period sounds like a great way to protect domain owners, but it has generated a surprising amount of controversy.
The High Cost Of Redemption
The big issue with the redemption period is cost. Depending on the registrar, you may spend $100 - 200 (or more) to get your name back. Critics call this a "ransom fee" but Ron defended it in our interview because "… it's an extremely labor intensive process that can take several days to resolve completely."
That's because the process isn't automated at all. Here's what happens when an NAC customer's domain name enters the redemption period:
- Customer service gets an angry phone call and/or email because the site is down.
- An NAC representative personally calls the customer to explain about the name expiration and the redemption period. This personal service is necessary because the process is so new and complicated.
- Large companies often pay the fee immediately. Naturally, the fees hurt small businesses and individuals the most. Some customers just let the name drop, but others are desperate to get their name back and their business back online.
- If the customer wants to redeem the name, the NAC representative calls the registrar and initiates the redemption process. All information is entered by hand, faxed, or given over the phone. Time is critical here because the name may drop at any time. There have been cases where the customer requested to redeem the name and the registrar dropped it before the redemption process was complete!
The important thing to remember is that every registrar has its own policies and procedures. However, there is one constant: this is a time-consuming, manual process and your site is down until it's complete!
Keep In Contact With Your Registrar
Ron explained that the most common mistake made by domain owners is the failure to update the contact information tied to the domain name.
Think about the information needed to register a domain name: your name, address, company name, phone number, and email address. The email address is far more important than most people realize because it's often the only method a registrar uses to contact you. When the email information is wrong, you'll miss the renewal reminders and warnings.
For instance, suppose you used your AOL email address when you registered your domain name two years ago, but you switched Internet service providers several months later. Even so, the registrar still has your AOL address and sends renewal notices there - not to your new email account.
Webmasters often indignantly protest that "I didn't receive any emails from you!" - and they're usually telling the truth. But the reason they didn't receive the email is because it got sent to an old email account. One of your most important duties as a domain name owner is to keep your contact information updated. Ron's advice is this:
"The day you change email accounts is the day you should update the administrative contact information for your domain name."
Ultimately, you are responsible for managing and renewing your domain name. Your registrar can help you, but only if they can find you. If you lose control of your name, all the effort you put into promoting it with Search Engine Power Pack will be for nothing! You may get it back, but you'll spend a lot of time, money, and general anxiety until your name is restored. Don't let it happen to you!