Is your Domain Name business critical?

In the course (no pun intended) of running Internet Basics for Business last week, I ran into a situation with a participant, who we'll call "Joe", who had already registered their company domain name but didn't know who really controlled it. They weren't sure who had the registration and they weren't sure how they would go about making changes to it. This go me thinking on a couple of fronts:

  • How important is your domain name to your business?
  • Do you maintain direct control over it?

Honestly, I was a little concerned so I thought I'd give a rundown of the importance of Domain Names in a digital age.

What is a Domain Name?

Table Number

First things first. If you've ever been to "www.google.com" or "www.facebook.com" or sent an email to someone then you've already used a domain name. A domain name is the human readable name you use to access places on the Internet. It was created to make it easier for people to remember locations by the use of words rather than the numbers which computer systems use to find each other.

What does a Domain Name do for my business?

A domain name allows a business to register their "virtual street address". It gives you an address where your business can reside in the online world. More importantly, it gives you an address that you can control. As those in the retail business know, your address means everything. In the online world, your address is important no matter what industry you're in.

Why is a Domain Name important to businesses?

It's a bit difficult to continue the analogy of a street address here but what would you do if you arrived at the office or warehouse one day and your couldn't get in? If someone had locked the doors, blacked out the windows and taken down all your signage? When you try to find out what's going on you're informed that you haven't paid your rent.

There are a number of cases where companies have forgotten to renew their domain names. There are even some notable cases where big companies like Hotmail and flavour of the month Foursquare have let their domain registration slip.

Protecting yourself from administrative issues or potential errors is only part of what makes a domain name very important for businesses.

These days there are many places that your business may be able to have an online presence outside of your domain including Facebook and Twitter, however, as we've seen in the past, the Internet and technology move at a frightening pace that no one can predict what it will be like 3 years let alone 5 or 10. In this type of scenario, it is essential that your business have some continuity when the landscape around it changes. Having your own domain name provides this.

These are just two examples of why your business should make sure it knows what's happening with its domain name. There are also others that affect marketing but I wont get into those here. What I'm saying here is that no matter what type of business you are, if you have a domain name you should be in direct control of it. Given how easy it is to do, there's no excuse for the situations described above to occur.

What can I do to take control of my Domain Name?

Enough of the fear. There are some simple, but important steps you should take to make sure that you're comfortable you have the right control of the cornerstone of your business' online identity:

  • Make sure you know who your Domain Name registrar is and the details for managing it's details and getting support.
  • Make sure your contact details are your own for your domain to make sure you're contactable if anything to do with your domain name changes. In particular, so they can let you know when your renewals are due.
  • Sometimes you can register your domain name with your web hosting company. I would recommend making sure your domain is registered with registrar independent of your hosting company in case there is ever any problems with your web host. For example, if your web host went bust, it would be a lot more difficult to get your website running again if they owned your domain name as well.
  • If you're registering a new domain, do some research on reputable domain name registrars. If you've picked someone you think will meet your needs, Google their name with "complaints" or "problems" to see what type of track record they have. While you're at it, make sure your registrar is ICANN (central body tasked with governing domain names) accredited before using them.

Easy stuff.

What about "Joe"?

Well, Joe agrees with the above so he's trying to take control of his domain name now. We'll continue with Internet Basics for Business when he does and he'll be in control of his own online destiny. Such a happy ending.