I just got an email from a web hosting client about whether or not to renew his domain name registration with Domain Registry of America or not. This question comes up easily once or twice per month. Someone receives a letter in the mail or an email from this company that appears to indicate their domain name is about to expire and they should renew right away. What they don’t realize is that this a scam! Invariably the person’s domain is not registered with Domain Registry of America. Often their domain is not due for renewal for months. By reading the fine print, you learn that renewing with DRoA actually means switching your registration of your domain to this company. Given their unscrupulous practices, this is something I would never recommend to anyone.

The problem is that many people don’t keep track of where their domain names are registered and when their registration renewals are actually due. It’s fairly easy to determine by doing a whois lookup. I recommend everyone who owns a domain name (or think they do) and is not aware of what the whois record states, do this search and read the record carefully.

Why do I say “or think they do”? I continually run in to instances where a client believes they own a domain name (indeed, have even been paying the registration renewal fees for years), but the whois record indicates something else. Often this has happened because a web developer originally registered the domain for the client as a service. But instead of entering the client as the domain owner, the developer has listed themselves! Now, some years later, the client wants to work with someone else, wants to move the domain to a new host, etc. but, technically they have no control to do this.

Sometimes, this can be handled easily, as the former developer is happy to cooperate by transferring the domain to the proper owner. But I have seen several instances where this was not the case, and regaining control of the domain by the rightful owner became a painful process.

So, if you are looking to register a new domain name but don’t know how to begin, what should you do? Here are a few simple steps I would recommend:

Be sure your domain name is actually available
Many people assume that if they type their desired domain name in to their browser’s location or address field and no web site comes up, it means the domain is available. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. Millions of domain names are already registered, meaning they are owned by someone, even though the domain doesn’t point to a web site. Because domain name registration is inexpensive, people often register domains that they might use in the future, that they think someone else might want in the future (and might pay them for transferring the domain) or simply to prevent anyone else from owning the domain. Domaintools.com has a nice tool for finding available domain names. Remember there are other possibilities besides domainname.com. If your desired domainname.com is taken, perhaps domainname.net would work for you.

Find a reputable registrar
Before their monopoly was broken up back in 1999, Network Solutions was the only place to register a domain name. Since then, thousands of registrars have gotten in to the business. The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is currently responsible for certifying registrars. If you come across a domain name registrar that you think you would like to use, but you are unfamiliar with, you might want to search ICANN’s list. Otherwise, domain registration is wide open. Get a recommendation from your host company or web developer (they may be a reseller of registration). Compare prices: Network Solutions is one of the most expensive. Many registrars now offer bundles of services such as hosting and marketing and try to up sell you at every turn making simple domain regisration and maintenance a nightmare of declining offers. Other registrars are much more straightforward, keeping the focus on registration and domain management. I’ve used a company in Germany for years. But I am sure there a many others.

Control domain ownership
If you are going to register your domain yourself, this is not an issue. However, if you ask a consultant, web host, or web developer to register a domain for you, be sure to insist they register the domain with you as the owner. You should also have a record of the registration purchase, and login access to the account so you may make changes. Keep these records someplace safe! Situations change over the years and you should be sure you can access your domain name registration account now and for years in to the future.