I have seen many business owners who place themselves in a difficult predicament. Increasingly, businesses need a web presence. They hire a computer consultant or web developer to design or enhance their website. Their web presence now becomes a critical part of their business entity, yet they risk losing it
because they are unaware of key aspects of their website and email. It is critical that the business owner know more about these important facets in order to avoid catastrophe. Let’s examine how the technology works.
The internet provides individuals and businesses addresses in a similar fashion to physical addresses in a street. These addresses are referred to as domains, and are generally assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. It is through this means that we are able to access different websites on the internet. The first part of the domain (right to left) is referred to as the domain extension, or more properly as the top level domain (tld). This refers to extensions such as .com, .org, .net, among others. There are some assigned specifically to countries, such as .us, .ca, .mx, etc. Each tld has a set of regulations and governing body. For example, .gov is generally assigned to government organizations, and .ca is reserved for Canadian companies and residents.
Each tld can have many sub-domains. Sub-domains can consist of up to 63 letters, digits, and hyphens. It is these sub-domains that people normally refer to as their domain that they “own.” For example, www.mycompany.com is part of the .com tld, and the sub-domain is mycompany. Internet domains aren’t really “owned”, but rather licensed on a yearly basis. You are allowed to register a domain if it has not yet been registered by someone else. In some cases, pre-existing domain names may be successfully disputed and their ownership transferred to someone else by submitting an application to the appropriate body that oversees a particular tld.
Now that we’ve got the basic aside, let us suppose that we want to set up a web page for a new business venture. Tony opened a new pizzeria in a trendy area of town called Tony’s Big Slice. He’s decided to put his menu on the internet to allow people in the area to send him orders directly. He figured he wants www.tonysbigslice.com to be the address, because it is easy to remember. He spoke to a consultant that a friend recommended, and the consultant told him that the domain is available. Tony wants it. The consultant then has to contact an accredited company who is authorized to register the domain on his client’s behalf. This company (such as Godaddy, BlueHost, HostGator) is called a Registrar. Tony is the Registrant. When the consultant registers the domain, he must submit a set of contact information for the administrative contact for that domain, as well as a billing contact and a technical contact. You, as the Registrant, should insist and verify that the consultant puts your contact information for the administrative and billing contact information, and that they are correct. You can check the registration info for your domain by using a web browser at one of various services such as that offered at http://www.uwhois.com. Do not enter the www part in your search (ie: enter tonysbigslice.com).
When the domain is registered, an account is created by the Registrar for your domain. This account will have a user id and password that will allow you to log into the account and control various technical aspects of your domain, such as where it is hosted, and where email is delivered. It is imperative that you obtain this user id and password for your records. Sometimes consultants register the domain under their own account and use the excuse that they cannot give you their account id and password because it would jeopardize their other domains. In such a case, insist that the consultant create a separate account for your domain only and transfer your domain into that account. If you do not get co-operation, then look for another consultant now.
The next step is being aware of where your dns records are hosted, where your website is hosted, and where your email is hosted. Many of the large Registrars now offer inexpensive and highly capable hosting plans that can provide all of these services for your website under a single account, but they do not necessarily have to be provided by the same company. Be sure that you ask the consultant where these are and get user ids and passwords for all of them. Of course, make sure you get the user id and password for your email address and for the domain administrator address if different.
There you have it. These are the most important aspects of being in control of your web presence. Perhaps the most important is to have yourself as the administrative contact for your domain with your email address (whether at your domain or a different domain). Next in importance is having the user id and password for your Registrar so you can control your domain. I have seen many a time where domain owners are not aware of these important aspects and have trusted someone to set these things up for them, and suddenly the consultant or friend disappears, or the relationship deteriorates, or they are not informed of domain renewal notices, and the website becomes completely inaccessible.
Experience has shown that Registrars will not entertain requests from you to try to get access back to your own domain, even by providing corporate or other documents to show that you are the legitimate owner. Instead, they refer the claimant to seek dispute resolution through a designated body. This alternate “official” channel is a very expensive and time consuming process that can ruin your business through lost revenue. Be prepared and protect your investment.