Understanding Domain Names
Websites are identified by a domain name. For example, “google.com” is a domain name, and it is used to identify Google’s website.
Domain Names are Not Websites
For those who may not understand the difference between a domain name and a website, you can consider a "non-technical" illustration: Domain names are similar to ordinary labels like the ones you apply to boxes in storage; or labels you may apply to file folders. In these scenarios a label is used to identify the content of the box or folder. Another example is the license plate on a car. The license plate is used to identify the car, but the license plate is not the car itself.
Similar to labels and license plates, domain names like “microsoft.com” are merely used to identify websites. And like a label can be moved from one box to another, or a license plate can be moved from one car to another, a domain name can be moved from one website to another.
In fact, websites do not automatically have any domain name. This is just like cars coming off a factory assembly line have no license plate. After a car is built, the license plate is added later. The license plate can also be changed later. The same is true for websites and domain names. Websites are frequently created with no domain name at all. Then, when it’s time to make the website live on the Internet, the domain name is hooked up to the desired website.
Domain Name Registration
To acquire a domain name, you must purchase it through a company that is an official domain name registrar. GoDaddy, Network Solutions and Google are all authorized domain name registrars through whom you can purchase a domain name.
Domains are registered in one-year increments. If you plan to utilize a domain name indefinitely (for the foreseeable future), it is usually smart to register it for many years at a time. This reduces the risk of losing the domain name in the unfortunate case where you may forget or otherwise accidentally fail to renew the domain name registration.
Domain Name Contacts
When you register a domain name, you are required to provide the name and contact information for each of these four contact types:
- Registrant (legal owner of the domain name)
- Administrative Contact
- Billing Contact
- Technical Contact
Each of these contact types must be kept current so the appropriate person can be contacted for any of the purposes relevant to owning or managing the domain name.
Domain Name Ownership
It is critically important for business owners, or the leadership of a non-profit organization, to ensure the correct legal name and contact information are listed for the Registrant contact.
The Registrant is the legal owner of any domain name.
To be clear, the legal owner is not merely the owner of the account where the domain name is registered (e.g., GoDaddy). The legal owner of any domain name is the Registrant. When a claim of ownership of a domain name is made, the registrar company (e.g., GoDaddy) will recognize only the Registrant as the owner. And if there is ambiguity as to who is the owner because the Registrant information is not valid, the courts may be involved to determine who is the actual legal owner. If the courts do not get involved, and the registration fees are not paid for renewal, then the registrar company (e.g., GoDAddy) may release the domain to the public where anyone can subsequently purchase the domain name.
Recommendations for Business Owners
Renew registration early, and for many years at a time: The cost of annual registration is far likely less than the costs associated with losing your domain name. Also, you should register your domain name(s) for periods of many years in an effort to reduce the risk of losing your domain name(s) due to failure to renew.
Establish legal ownership of your domain names: It is common for technical consultants to register domain names on behalf of their customers. And many technical consultants simply are unaware the Registrant is the legal owner of any domain name. Naïve consultants will list themselves as the Registrant, perhaps thinking that is supposed to be the name of the person conducting the registration process (i.e., themselves), not knowing they are establishing themselves as the legal owner of the domain name.
As soon as possible, and on a recurring basis, you should check and verify the correct and valid Registrant, including legal entity name and mailing address, is listed for each of your domain names.
Cover Image Illustration Credit: vecteezy.com