Do you know where your domain name is registered?

This is a question I ask a lot in my line of work. I find the answers to this question to be very interesting. I hear everything from “I’m not sure”, and “Let me check”, to “What is a domain name?”

Let’s start with the last one. Basically, your website uses a domain name (e.g. yourbusinessname.com) like an address. You enter the address into your web browser, and you are taken to the site.

Before there were domain names, your “address” would have been a numerical sequence and would have been difficult to remember. Domain names are a sort of overlay to your website’s IP address, which is a series of four sets of numbers that would be listed like 35.227.194.51. The domain “name” just makes it easier to remember. If you want to know more about domain names and DNS (Domain Name System) this is a good resource.

To obtain a domain name, you must register that name and pay a yearly registration fee (Note: you can pay for more than one year at a time). Today’s top domain name registrar is GoDaddy with over 76.6 million domains registered, but there are thousands of others out there.

Since we now have a basic understanding of what a domain name is, we come to the point of this article.

Who Controls Your Domain Name?

Many of our clients report back to us that their domain name is controlled by someone else. This can be bad, but sometimes it is for the best. My opinion is that you should always have controlling access to your domain name, even if you never use that access personally.

Many of our clients use an IT company to handle all of their technical details such as keeping their computers running and up to date, email accounts, data backups, and many other tech aspects of their business. In most cases where a business uses an IT company, I have found that the IT company controls the domain name registration.

To an extent, this makes sense. IT companies have to deal with the DNS records that are a part of the domain name in order to keep emails and other related things operating properly. You want them to have access to this information. They know what to do with the domain DNS and how to set things so that you can go about your business.

Other clients find that their domain name was registered by an employee who no longer works there, and no one seems to know how to get access to the domain name. This can often be resolved, but it can take a bit of time and effort.

The Bad and The Ugly

If someone else controls your domain name, they can cause lots of trouble with your website, emails, and more. A disgruntled employee or terminated IT company could potentially point your domain name to a website of their choosing (think a porn site, a site that has malicious code, or a competitor’s site). We would all like to hope that never happens, but it does happen and has happened.

Plus, if your site should disappear because of a technical failure, you can always create a new one somewhere else and just point your domain name there. We had a client lose six websites due to a server failure at the web hosting company. Generally, the hosting company will have backups on another server to help restore the sites in an event like this, but they did not. This client was also not on our maintenance program, so we had limited backups, also. It was a big mess, and they were offline for a while.

Yes, you can always get a new domain name, but that domain name is a big part of your branding for the business. It carries with it a lot of weight with your entire digital marketing efforts. Starting over is a big deal and can take a while to recover, and you will likely lose some revenue along with that.

What Should You Do?

My opinion, as I stated above, is that it is (almost) always best to make sure that you have control over your domain name. I say almost because there are situations with certain businesses that it might be best that your IT company or parent company have control. Also, if you have an internal IT department, they should be the ones with that access.

If you have the main access to the domain name account, you can always allow others to have access, as well as control who and to what parts of the account they have access. For instance, GoDaddy has a feature that is called Delegate Access, which allows you to give access to those people who need it for some reason. As website designers, we often need to move (point) the domain name to a new website. In those cases, we need access to the DNS records. However, we do not always need ongoing access, so you could log in and remove our access when we have completed the task for which we required access.

If you are not going to maintain control of your domain name access, at least be certain who it is that has that control and be certain you can trust them. A little paranoia can go a long way towards keeping your online presence safe and secure.