Buying a domain name – don’t make this mistake

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I’ve recently had two clients come to me with a similar issue, to do with their domain names. It’s a problem that’s been around ever since I’ve been working with the internet, and it makes me angry that it’s still going on, even in 2014.

The problem is to do with domain name ownership. Who owns your domain name? I’m not talking about web hosting, or blog platforms or anything like that. All those things are easily changeable. Domain name ownership is not.

If someone else has registered your domain name on your behalf, it should be in your name, not theirs. Too often I see clients’ domain names have been registered in the name of the web designer or developer who has set up their website or blog. There is no other word for this than WRONG.

Hosting packages for blogs or websites quite often will include a domain name. Once you sign up, you should get access to your web hosting control panel and the domain name control panel. These are two very different things.

If you go to a third party (typically a freelance web developer or any small web design firm that offers to do it all for you) then they may or may not offer you access to both control panels. In fifteen years I’ve not yet come across a client who has been offered control of their domain name as a matter of course.

If you buy into this kind of ‘all in’ service then you need to do a bit of due diligence. Will the domain name be registered in YOUR name, or THEIRS? Where will the domain name be registered? Will you have access to the domain name control panel? A domain name owner is different from the technical contact. So if your web designer /developer wants to put himself down as the tech or admin contact that’s fine. And if you’re happy with the service and never want to change hosting or use another web developer, that’s fine too.

But what if you decide you want to move to a WordPress.com hosted blog? Or you fall out with your developer for whatever reason? Or feel the hosting fees are too high and want to change? That’s when you need to get into your domain name control panel.  If you don’t have access to it, it’s up to the web developer to change the name servers for you, so that they point to your new hosting service. They might be happy to do that.

But you may not want to be beholden to them in the future whenever you need to access your domain name hosting. And they may not be interested in helping you once they’re no longer collecting your web hosting fee.

Worse still, if you’re not the owner of the domain name, it is very difficult to get it back from the registered owner without their co-operation.

If you’re not sure, you can check who owns your domain, and the name of the registrar, here. (For Top Level Domains (like .com or .org) scroll down the results to ‘Registrant Name’.)

I would always advise registering your own domain name independently of any firm offering to do it for you. It’s quick, easy and cheap to do.

I feel very strongly that people are being taken advantage of over this, and I’ve seen it cause a huge amount of inconvenience and upset, yet it still goes on.

I’m planning to create a download about this, because it’s clearly a subject that’s important but often played down.

Meanwhile if you have any stories you’d like to share of good or bad practices you’ve come across in domain name registration or ownership issues, please let me know.

Writer & fledgling poet. Social comms mentor & trainer. RSA Fellow. Walked the online talk for 15yrs with the blisters to prove it. Author 'Blogging for Writers' (Ilex, 2014)

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