Every website needs a domain name. It’s your address on the internet (perhaps “yourbusiness.com” or “yourname.com”).
So, how do you get one?
Domain Name Basics
There are various places on the internet where you can register (buy) your domain name. These businesses are called domain name registrars.
Some good, established domain name registrars are:
- GoDaddy.com (our favorite: it’s easy to use, low cost & reliable)
- Gandi.net (European)
To get your domain name, you need to go to a registrar’s website (see above), and see if the name you want is available. (There will be a search form on the registrar’s site where you can find this information.)
If the name you want is available, you can register it, making it available for you to use for a website.
You can register your domain name for a single year (the minimum) or for up to ten years at a time. This gives you the use of the domain name for the period you’ve registered it for.
If you don’t renew your domain name before the registration period ends, it will expire, and become available for other people to register. You’ll no longer be able to access your website using that domain name! So, it’s extremely important that you keep your domain name registration current.
Losing Your Domain Name
It can happen. For example, I know a publisher who lost the domain name associated with his publishing company, and an artist who lost her domain name.
They just didn’t notice the domain name renewal notices that were sent to them by their registrars, so forgot to renew the domains, which were then snatched up by others. Don’t let it happen to you.
Why would others want your domain name?
In a word, it’s usually money. There are a couple ways that unscrupulous folk make money from picking up expired domain names.
- They hold your name hostage, offering to sell it back to you at a high price.
- They put it up for sale or auction to the highest bidder (not necessarily you!).
- They create a new webpage, using the domain that used to belong to you, and put ads on it. They hope that people will visit the site (expecting to find your site) and will click on the ads. They get a little money each time someone clicks on an ad.
Not everyone who buys an expired domain name is unethical. The person may want to start an actual website using that name. Perhaps they’ve been hoping you’d let the domain expire, so they could use it themselves.
Can you get your domain name back?
If you find that your domain name has expired, contact your registrar right away. There is a grace period during which your domain name may be restored to you. Depending on how much time has passed, you may have to pay an (often hefty!) additional fee for this to happen.
If your domain name is past that grace period, and has been sold to someone else, you can try to buy back your domain name from the person who bought it. But they may want a lot of money for it, and they are under no obligation to sell it to you.
If someone has registered your trademark or business name, you may also file a complaint with ICANN, the body that regulates registration of domain names. More is explained in ICANN’s FAQ & Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy.
You can also wait until the domain name expires again (at least a year!) and try to get it back then. However, others may also try to get it, too. And, the new owner might not let it expire.
As you can see, it’s best not to lose your domain name in the first place!
Keeping Your Domain Name Safe
There are various ways to keep your domain name safe.
Register for more than one year
This is the simplest way to protect yourself. You can register your domain for up to 10 years at a time. The longer the registration period, the longer until you have to renew & the less opportunity there is to miss, or forget to pay, the bill.
Currently, at GoDaddy, the rate for registering a .com domain for 10 years is just $85.00 (8.50 per year). That’s very little to pay for peace of mind.
Keep your registrar informed
Your domain name registrar needs your current email address & postal address so they can send you reminders – and the bill! – at renewal time. If they can’t contact you, you are likely to miss renewing your domain name. If your email or mailing address changes, notify your registrar right away. Each registrar has an easy way for you to change your contact information, and it only takes a few minutes.
Whitelist your registrar’s email
Adjust your spam filters so that email from your registrar always gets through to your in. If it’s accidentally sent to your spam , you’re likely to miss the bill.
Use Automatic Renewal
If your registrar offers it (GoDaddy does), have your domain names renew automatically. The registrar will keep your credit card on file (securely!) and, when registration time comes up, they’ll charge the renewal fee to your card. Just be sure to keep your credit card up to date – if it expires, put the new number & expiration date on file with your registrar.
Mark the date on your calendar
Mark your domain’s expiration date on your calendar. Then, mark another date about a month before its expiration. Renewing in advance will prevent last-minute worries & problems.
Got a little extra cash? Even if your domain name doesn’t expire until next June, you can add another year – or three, or five, or ten! – to your registration whenever you like.
Make Sure You Own Your Domain Name!
Did someone else (a webdesigner, or webhost, perhaps), register your domain name for you? That’s fine, but you’ll want to check a few things:
- The domain name should be registered in your name, not in the name or your webdesigner or webhost.
Go to http://domaintools.com/example.com (substitute your actual domain for “example.com” in the address , making sure not to include www).
This will allow you to view the “WHOIS”(ownership) record for your domain. You should be listed as the registrant, and your contact information should be listed.
- You should have access to your domain name account. Get the name of the registrar, login, password & email address (it should be yours) associated with the account, from whomever registered your name for you.
- If the domain name isn’t currently in your name, ask the person who registered it for you to transfer it to you. It is a free, and simple, process.
Good luck with your site! Please let me know if you’d like to use my services, or if you have any questions, or suggestions for this page.
P.S. Beware Registration Scams
Registering your domain name is safe, but as with anything, there are some folks who may try to scam you. Here are two things to watch out for:
- Know who your registar is. You might receive offers (especially in the mail) from other registrars who may lead you to believe that you need to renew your domain name with them. While you can do that (you can transfer registrars at any time), these offers usually are at high prices. Don’t fall for it. If the notice isn’t from your registrar, pitch it in the trash.
- “Lock” your domain name. Registrars offer a feature called “domain locking” at no extra cost. It prevents your domain name from being transferred to another registrar unless you authorize the transfer by first “unlocking” the domain. It’s a good safeguard, and you can do it online in just a couple steps.