The world of domain names is rapidly evolving, but you may have been so busy running your business that you didn’t notice. Small business owners often take an “I just need it to work” stance—they’ve paid their money and assume everything will work the way it always has. But before you dismiss new registration rules and other changes as something best relegated to your IT specialist, remember that your domain name is one of the most valuable assets your business has. Not only could you be missing opportunities, but you may even find yourself temporarily without a website, and having to turn away potential customers. Here are four things you need to know—and act upon—right now to protect your business domain.
Verify or Be Shut Down
A new ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) rule that came into effect on January 1, 2014, requires registrants to verify their email address and phone number—whether registering new contact info or updating the old. If the information is not verified within a 15-day window, your website could be shut down. This is not idle speculation; in early January, popular UK online betting site www.fixtures365.com was briefly shut down after failing to verify within the required window. To avoid this, registrants should pay attention to notifications or emails from their registrars seeking validation. Proactive registrars build the verification right into the update process.
Secure Your Domains
You may think that domain name theft and sabotage only happen to the likes of the New York Times, Huffington Post or Twitter, but think again. Even small companies are sometimes the targets of such attacks. Activities resulting from unauthorized or malicious changes to domain name contact information or DNS configuration (which can direct traffic to a domain other than yours) can not only disrupt business operations but can cause financial and reputational harm. As a first line of defense, make sure to utilize the lock feature at your registrar. Look for a registrar that offers two-factor authentication for your account. For more tips, go to the ICANN website, which provides in-depth information for both registrars and registrants that can help companies make their domain more secure.
Know Your Domain’s Rep
The last thing you want as a business owner is a domain that may have a negative reputation that could scare off potential customers. Before you register a domain name that was previously owned, make sure to fully vet it to ensure it is not associated with anything like SPAM, malware or gambling. Checking on websites like Archive.org can help you determine the whereabouts and activities associated with the domain name while under previous ownership. If you already own the domain and have recently discovered an unfavorable past, work with an SEO company to help downplay previous history or consider a fresh start by migrating to a new Top Level Domain.
ICANN recently approved a host of new top level domains (TLDs) – the part of the web address after the dot like “.com” – that can tell potential customers much more about what businesses do or where with extensions such as .shop, .technology or .nyc. Not only will this vastly widen the array of choices for precious web real estate—no more long, nonsensical names—it could also improve your company’s search rankings, according to eConsultancy. What’s more, these TLDs may in some cases be significantly less expensive than their premium .com counterparts, with the potential for significant cost-savings. So far .guru, photography and .tips are among the most popular.
Michael Ward is the Chief Operating Officer of Directnic.com, a leading domain registrar based in Louisiana. With over 17 years of experience in technology services and telecommunications, Michael is a domain name expert focusing on helping thousands of small businesses get online.