When I work on a website, I begin by asking my client questions such as, “Where is your domain registered?” and “Who is your web host?” Sometimes, they sheepishly admit they have no clue what I’m talking about. It reminds me of the time I had an HVAC repair guy come out to fix our furnace and he said, “When was the last time you changed your filter?” To which I replied, “Ummmm……filter?”
I certainly don’t expect a client to know the same things I do. You hire an expert for a reason, right? However, in both cases of websites and furnaces, there are some basics that you should understand so you know what you’re being charged for and what needs maintenance.
With that, I’m writing a series of posts to help small business owners understand the basics about their website:
- Domain names
- Email addresses – coming soon
- Web hosting / platforms – coming soon
- Website backups & security – coming soon
First up…. domain names.
What is a domain name?
If you have a website, you have at least one domain name, also known as a network address. My domain name is surelutions.com. Domain names have a suffix or extension like .com, .net, .edu, .org.
You may own more than one domain. In most cases, extra domains forward to your primary domain. If your domain is something like yourawesomebusiness.com, you might also own yourawesomebusiness.net. You might purchase domains similar to yours to prevent others from using them or domain names with common misspellings of your business name.
Domain names should be purchased in the early stages of planning your business. There is an entire business model of resellers who buy domain names they expect may be useful to others, and sell them at a premium. Good domain names are hard to come by, so if the one you want is available, buy it immediately. You can always decide to cancel it later if you change your mind.
Domain names are purchased at a domain name registrar. Examples include Namecheap.com, GoDaddy, BlueHost, or Network Solutions. Domains typically run between $10-20 per year. You own the domain as long as you continue to pay for it.
What small business owners should know about their domain name(s)
As a small business owner, what you really need to know about your domain name is:
- Who is the primary contact on your domain name (surprise: it might not be you!)?
- Who is your domain registrar (and how to log in to the account)?
- What domains do you own?
- When and how much are you being billed?
It takes some detective work to track down and organize all this information. The first thing to do is search the internet’s WHOIS database for your domain name. This is a worldwide directory of domain names where you can see what public information is available about your domain name. Print out your WHOIS information and keep it for your records.
1. Who is the primary contact on your domain registration?
Your business should be listed as the “Registrant Contact” for your domain. By law, the Registrant Contact has ownership of the domain. The “Admin”, “Technical” and “Billing” contacts may be the same, or they might be different if you have someone else managing your account. For example, I handle the billing and domain renewal for many of my clients, so I could be listed as Admin or Technical contact, while they are listed as Registrant/Owner.
The biggest problem is when someone no longer associated with your business is listed as the Registrant. I’ve rescued many websites that were registered by a long-gone volunteer or former employee, and it’s a huge hassle. A hassle that could have easily been avoided if the business owner knew what to do in the beginning when the account was set up. If owners or key managers change, it’s important to update this information immediately.
2. Who is your domain registrar?
The domain registrar is the company where your domain is registered. It may or may not be the same place your website is hosted, but it’s not usually the company who provides your internet services. Your domain has an annual fee, so if you are the primary contact on the account, you should have an email receipt of this transaction.
Check your WHOIS information for the registrar information, and then search your email for messages from that company. If you know your registrar, and you are main contact for the domain, you should have enough information to log into the account — you may have to use “forgot my password” to reset your login credentials. Once you are logged in, you can make any updates necessary.
3. What domain names do you own?
If you have a website, you have at least one domain name. Do you own others? If so, are they forwarding to your primary account? Are there others you should own, such as the .net or .org equivalents of your business name?
For the ones you own, check the WHOIS records for each one to make sure the contact information is correct, note the registrar for each, then print it out and keep it with your other important business records.
For your sanity, it’s simplest if all your domain names are registered and managed under one account. If that’s not practical, then try to at least get them under one registrar, even if you need to use different accounts.
4. When does your domain expire or renew?
Domains are paid for in 1-year chunks, but you can buy multiple years at a time. Some people like to buy domains for 10 years out, which is fine in theory, but the downside is that it’s all too easy to forget about it. I prefer to purchase domains for 1-2 years, and therefore get the yearly reminder of it renewing. You can expect to pay between $10-20 per year for your domain. Some are cheaper, some more expensive.
Most importantly… Don’t let your domain expire!
Make sure your domain is set up to renew automatically, and that your credit card information is up-to-date. An expired domain will have a few days’ grace period, but if you let it expire, it no longer belongs to you and is put back up for sale.