Why You Should Understand Domains

Why in the world should I care about understanding domains?  I’m not an IT person, I’m a [fill in blank].

Light pouring through a gothic archway & window

Understanding domains is important for more than your tech team for a number of reasons, not the least of which is so you don’t get taken advantage of.

Having even a basic understanding of domains will help you to communicate with others who do need to deal with them.  The more you know, the better you can convey what you want, or when you need it by.  It can also help you to recognize when someone might be taking advantage of you.  For instance, if you know how to change your DNS or add a CNAME record yourself, than you’ll know someone is blowing smoke when they try and tell you it will take them hours to get it done.

Understanding domains will help you to better evaluate strategic moves whether at the business level, the marketing level or the product level.  This will also help you to understand what issues you may run into or what steps you should take to avoid issues.  For instance, imagine your marketing department has come up with a great new name and campaign for your latest product?  What’s one of the first things you should do?  See if the domain is even available.  Honestly, this should be done even sooner in the process but I digress.  It’s scary to me how many companies completely develop and launch products without a second thought only to find afterward that the domain is already registered and they’re unintentionally sending traffic to a completely unrelated company or product, or worse, a competitor.

It seems like an obvious question, but do you know what happens when domain is not renewed (or is not configured correctly)?  I’m not referring to the details of what happens at the registrar level, but what happens at the other levels.  Your website goes down.  Possibly your email goes down.  You potentially lose customers who suddenly can no longer find you, or can’t find you for the first time.  Sometimes registrars will put up some kind of a notification alerting visitors or a place holder page such as coming soon. But more often than not, especially on misconfigured or non-configured domains, they may put up a page advertising that your domain may be for sale or use it to host relevant Google AdSense links (or similar).  As these ads are often automatic and keyword based, you may drive traffic to your competitors.

Domains 101: Choosing a Registrar

The thought of registering a domain intimidates a lot of people, but it’s easier than you might realize.  However, before I get into that, there’s one point I cannot stress enough – Register your domain YOURSELF in YOUR OWN account.

DO NOT have your neighbor, ad agency, web designer or anyone else register a domain in their account for you.  If someone is helping you, that’s fine, but be firm on this point.  You wouldn’t give someone the keys and title to your car would you?  When you let someone register your domain for you in their account, that’s essentially what you’re doing.  You’re giving up all ownership rights to the domain because in most instances that alone shows ownership.  It’s much harder to prove theft when the account that created the domain still has control of it.

I have heard horror story after horror story of people finding themselves in a bad situation that could easily have been avoided had they done this one little thing.

Choosing a Registrar

The number of options can be intimidating, but it’s well worth it to put a little effort into selecting one.  Some things you should consider:

What TLD do you want to register?

The majority of registrars handle .com and .net but there are more than 250 options currently and many more potentially on the horizon, all with varying restrictions and requirements.  You can view a list of them here.

Do you want your hosting at the same place it’s registered?

Just like not every hosting company offers domain registration, not every domain registrar offers hosting.  (Unless you have your own server, and if you’re reading this you probably don’t, you need web hosting for your site to be accessible.)

How much access do you need to your domain?

Some registrars limit what you can access, or charge you to have access to things such as DNS, CNAME records etc.  Basically what you need to decide is whether you want to have to contact the registrar’s support staff to have them make a change anytime you need to, or if you want to be able to manage it yourself.

Will you need privacy protection?

Not every registrar offers it and many charge extra. Also, depending on what TLD you choose, this may not even be an option.

What’s their reputation?

First off, you want an ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) certified registrar.  Second, do a search on them.  What do people like and dislike?  Be wary of any that get complaints about transfer difficulties, and especially any that attempt to charge for transfers.

Is their site user friendly?

If their site is difficult to navigate before you’ve even registered something, don’t expect it to be much easier when you’re trying to manage your account.  Do they have multiple ways for you to get support should you need it? Do they make that information easy to find?  Personally, I would be wary of any company that makes it too difficult to contact them.

What are they charging?

Don’t base your decision solely on price.  Many registrars frequently run deals on new registrations and transfers, but charge more for renewals.  Some registrars charge a little bit more but include extras in the price that will cost you a lot more to add at other registrars.  Prices can vary substantially across all the TLDs, so it doesn’t hurt to do a little comparison shopping.

Where are they located?

You will find registrars located throughout the world.  Don’t feel like you have to use a registrar from your home country, but be aware there are some inherent risks when you don’t.  This could easily be a post in itself, so I will just give you one key point to consider.  Is your domain at risk because of the local government?