The seven deadly sins of domain registrations

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“Darkness falls across the land

The expiry date is close at hand

Your domains may look that they are all good

But have you looked underneath the hood?

And who so-ever shall be found

Without the rights to register abound

Must stand and face the enforcement team

Who will end their illegal get rich scheme.”

About the author

Glenn Hayward is CEO at Com Laude.

This blog isn’t a guaranteed Thriller but Halloween is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of some of the lessons in managing domain names. All of these tales are real examples of what can and has happened to some of the biggest brands. All of them have the potential to damage reputations and revenues. All of them could have been avoided.

Domains are critical digital assets for organizations, but sometimes things go wrong. Cyber- and typo-squatting is a real threat to every organization but often the greatest problems are due to something happening, or not, much closer to home, as our seven deadly sins of domain registrations below show.

Always proof read the domain name

As we grow older, our brains learn to take a short cut when we read text. Take this line from the first verse of Thriller:

“Udner the moonlgiht, you see a sihgt that alomst stops your haert”

Despite fifty percent of the words being misspelt, our brain translates them, so the line reads correctly. This principle underpins the strategy of a typo-squatter and is also a common reason why domain names are registered incorrectly. When words are pushed together, they can also take on a new, and sometimes unfortunate, meanings. There are plenty of examples of genuine companies registering domain names that take on a whole different meaning because of this.

Always research who else owns matching domain endings

You’re about to launch a new brand campaign and have a fantastic name for it. A matching domain name is available – you jump to register it. But have you checked who also owns the same keyword in other, equally popular, domain endings? The domain name relating to one of the world’s most iconic buildings, The White House, was often, rather unfortunately, mistyped into browsers as a .com rather than the .gov, leading people to a website that featured adult content.

It’s key to understand what relevant domain endings haven’t been registered. Securing those is just as important to prevent third parties using them to divert traffic (and revenue) or damage reputation.

Don’t publish your URL before registering a domain name

You’ll be amazed how many brands have got to launch stage before checking if the domain name is available. Checking the status of a domain takes seconds and could avoid huge costs if it turns out it’s already been registered. Where the only option is to try to negotiate the acquisition of an already registered domain name, costs could be in the tens of thousands.

Ensuring there’s a clear brand launch strategy is one way to avoid this, and organizations should ensure they have compiled a domain landscape report prior to announcement. A brand holder should not try to negotiate any domain acquisition with the existing domain owner themselves – a long and expensive negotiation could follow.

Don’t give control to a third party

It may seem like a good idea at the time to allow a third party, such as a marketing agency to register domain names on your behalf, but commercial relationships end all the time and you could lose control of a critical domain name, leaving you open to huge risk.

All domain names that are registered on behalf of an organization should be transferred into that organization's control as soon as possible so that there is visibility of them. They use the same technical infrastructure, and any communication from the registrar or registry must be handled appropriately.

Don’t let your critical domain names expire

It’s amazing how many big organizations have suffered outages by not ensuring their critical domain names are renewed. In most instances the situation is quickly spotted – major websites are monitored both at an IP address and domain name level, so if a page isn’t resolving then a quick diagnostic check determines why. A firm may lose revenue if it’s an e-commerce website – but the risk to reputation is greater, with media quick to jump on this type of story.

The real danger comes if nobody spots that the domain name hasn’t been renewed and it’s released to be registered again. There are numerous websites that publish lists of domain names that are about to “drop”.

Be careful about sharing plans

Whether it’s a merger, or a rebrand, it’s often wise to hold the cards close to the collective chests of as few people as possible, especially if the organization is listed on a stock exchange.

It’s vital that any information that is being shared publicly only happens once the relevant domain names have been registered. Some industry experts will look for domain registration patterns and publish stories about them to create speculation, e.g., a global music artist registering domain names for a new album.

Using anonymous registrations, or even spreading the registrations over a period of time, are options to avoid unnecessarily putting yourself in the spotlight.

Always understand the restrictions

Whilst many domain endings allow for unrestricted use, some have specific registration criteria and usage requirements. It’s always worth checking what those are before a new domain name is activated and promoted. Examples of such criteria include having a geographical presence within a certain region, or only publishing content related to a specific subject.

Thankfully, all seven of our domain name horror stories can be easily avoided through intelligent domain portfolio management, and ensuring you have a right-sized portfolio to meet the opportunities and threats that the digital future may bring. Learn from these seven stories to make sure you don’t fall foul of the trickery of domain registrations and brand launches, and ensure there are no ghosts or gremlins lurking in your portfolio that could lead to horror stories of their own.

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Glenn Hayward is CEO at Com Laude, specializing in creation and execution of growth strategies. He also has domain name industry experience at registry level, retail and corporate registrar level in both public and private companies.