We've had a great response to our article last month on protecting your domain name and why you should not let your webmaster own it on your behalf. This month's article is about domain name expirations and what you should know to keep your domain name safe.
It is very important that you keep your domain active. When you get a renewal notice from your domain registrar, you must take it seriously. Check immediately in your domain name control panel that your credit card information is accurate and up-to-date. Don't assume that your registrar will auto-renew your domain. We've just had a client experience a problem on that issue. He was set up to auto-renew, but his credit card had expired. The registrar turned off his domain breaking his access to email and "taking down" his website. Fortunately, our blogger found out his site was down when she went in to post, and the client was able to work with his web host and domain registrar to get back up online the same day, but others have not been so lucky.
Make sure that you keep your contact information current in the accounts you have for your domain name and for your web hosting. Supply two email addresses whenever possible so you will make sure to receive these very important renewal notices to prevent problems.
If you don't respond to the emails to renew or update your credit card information, after the expiration date of your domain name, and there an expiration date for every domain name, your registrar will allow you for a time to quickly repair the situation, pay up, and get back online. Wait too long, and the registrar will hold your domain. We've had a situation such as this and the fee to return the domain to the chastised owner was over $300. Sometimes the fees are so high that it is best to abandon the domain and select a new one. The registrar is not violating any laws or rules by charging a return fee.
Don't think that to keep from paying this "hostage fee" and that you can rebuy the domain in a few days or weeks on the open market. Registrars know this, and some will actually hold your domain for several months under their own name hoping to charge a big "return fee" to you the original domain owner. If you have gotten to this juncture, at some point the domain may return to the open market, but only if someone has not placed a hold on your domain name to buy it when it becomes available. The reserve applicant will have the first opportunity to buy your domain name. Then and only if no one else wants it and sometimes after months have passed, your domain may actually appear back on the open market allowing you to rebuy it for $7 or so. But just think, you've been out of business throughout the whole process.
Don't think this disaster could happen to you? Well, I have actually helped several clients in this situation and it is really a mess when it gets this far. My recommendation is start domain name renewal 30 days out. I recommend this as sometimes you have forgotten the login information to your renewal control panel, or possibly you don't even own your domain name and you didn't know it and need time to remediate that issue first. Don't wait until the last minute to renew and risk being shut down and having to go into a "crisis repair".
My next recommendation is that when you do renew your domain name, renew for a minimum of five years on your company's main website domain and two years on peripheral domains. The reason is that Google actually evaluates the length that you have held your domain name and the length of your renewal as just one of the over 150 different and important factors they use to determine your organic placement on the search results page also known as the organic rankings.
So in conclusion, own your domain name outright, make sure you keep your email and billing information up-to-date, and renew 30 days out.
I am the President of McCord Web Services LLC. My firm has been providing Internet services for over seven years.