Our phones at Optima Automotive were recently ringing off the hook with body shop owners asking questions about domain names and who owns them. I’ve covered this before, but it warrants another column because this issue can cause major headaches, especially if you don’t own the rights to your own business domain name. Obviously, the people calling us didn’t read my column last time or they wouldn’t be crying out for help now, so I encourage everyone to stay abreast of the latest SEO information by reading me every month in BodyShop Business
First, what is a domain name? The domain is what is used to assign Web addresses to servers. Your “URL,” or Web address, uses your domain name. For example, yourbodyshopname.com. No one actually “owns” their domain name; in reality, you own the “rights” to use that domain name or someone does, and that’s a problem. If you don’t own the rights to your domain, you could be setting yourself up for trouble. Here are three examples from last month’s phone calls:
A shop in Knoxville called to say they wanted us to build them a website. They told their former developer that they were moving on with a new developer (us) and would like information about their domain registration. Turns out the original developer purchased the rights to this shop’s domain name when they set up their site a few years ago. And now that the shop plans to move on, this developer was refusing to transfer the ownership rights to this shop that is, unless the shop wanted to pay an exorbitant fee for it.
Registering and owning the rights to a domain name costs about $10 to $12 per year. That’s it. But we’ve heard stories like these where developers penalize you to the tune of $1,000 or more, or even offer to “rent” the rights to you for a ridiculous fee. In this case, the former developer will shut down access to the site simply by telling the domain registration company that there is no website associated with that domain name. That’s bad news for this shop that not only has their website under that domain name, but also their email addresses. I’ll bet a lot of you do, too. It’s a bummer if you don’t own the rights to your own domain and have an unethical developer.
A shop called us to say their website was down and asked if we could fix it. We host the website on our servers, so we jumped right in to see what was wrong. The site was on the server and all was fine, so we dug a little deeper and found that the shop’s domain registration had expired. That’s different than website hosting, where the files that contain the actual website are housed. We brought this to their attention, researched who the site was registered to and gave them the person’s name. Turns out this individual had passed away two years ago, so the renewal notices were emailed to a deceased person. The deadline came and went, and the domain registration lapsed. When that happens, the domain registration company (through their domain name servers) no longer tells computers where a website is hosted. As a result, it appears that the website is down. So we’re working with this shop to communicate these facts with the registration company so we can try and get the rights transferred to the shop owner. But tick, tick, tick… each day that passes, the website isn’t online and their emails aren’t working either. These are missed opportunities to fix cars.
A panicked shop owner called and said their website was down. They found this out when they got a notice in the mail that their business domain name was for sale. We see lots of those notices, and you should disregard them when you receive them unless they’re from your actual domain registration service. But in this case, the shop checked to see if their site was in fact down, and it was. There’s a 30-day grace period to get things right after this happens, and after that the domain goes up for sale. And that’s what happened. A domain broker (vultures, in my opinion) picked it up and paid only $12 for it. The shop went into their junk email file and found at least 10 notices about their domain registration renewal, realizing they missed it. Now, this broker would be happy to sell the domain back to the shop for $2,000!
Keys to Your Castle
You need to have ownership rights to your own business domain unless you completely trust the person or company that registers it for you. Even then, it would be better if you owned it. It’s your castle, and you should have all the keys to it. Chalk this up to what you don’t know that you don’t know if you find yourself in this situation. Who owns the rights to your domain? When does it expire? Scan this QR code with your smartphone to find out.
BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, apprenticeships, marketing and Web presence management with SkillsUSA, the I-CAR Education Foundation, Mentors at Work, VeriFacts Automotive and the NABC. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, SEO services and social media management services.