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Why you might regret allowing a domain name to lapse

As the internet has grown up the number of different domain name extensions have proliferated to include just about anything you can imagine. ‘Back in the day’ when there a rush to buy up domain names in the .com boom, it wasn’t uncommon to register,, net and maybe even .org. Next on the list were closely matched domain names that could be the result of a misspelling or a best guess from people you hoped were wanting to visit your site.

The idea of wide scale registrations was of course to stop a competitor from registering a similar domain name and you’d be safeguarding your corner of the internet, possibly even protecting a trademark. These additional domain names would often be rarely used for a separate website, but could be used to forward traffic to your primary website. In effect, they were sat silently in the background somewhere, easily gathering dust.

As each domain name renewal comes around, you might find yourself thinking you no longer need some of these additional domain names. There are so many other extensions now available, it’s impossible to register them all, and eventually you let them go and never give them a second thought - happy to be reducing a little bit of admin and perhaps around £100 a year on the extra domains.

But could that turn out to be a costly mistake?

There’s a worrying trend I’ve seen with a few recent examples where domain names have been re-registered. No harm in that you might think - they return to the open market eventually so that’s what you’d expect. But when they return with a website that uses large swathes of familiar looking copy and your carefully chosen keywords, it comes as a bit of a shock.

This is most likely to be a scam and the objective is obvious. You allow a domain to lapse and someone jumps on it to increase the value and importance to you of getting it back. If you can.

Not only have you lost a hold on that domain name, but the new site that mysteriously appears starts to cannibalise the search engine visibility of your other website(s). Beyond that, it can create confusion among your customers, and in the worst case scenario, risks defrauding them of personal information or cash. Then you realise it's either impossible to trace the ownership of this new site or you’re lured into a costly domain transfer tussle - all alongside damage to your brand.

In the examples I’ve seen, these sites that pop up are keyword stuffed, content heavy sites that cloud the legitimacy of your business. A robot has ‘back-ordered’ your domain and the moment it expires, it's re-registered - all for a few quid. The risk isn’t so much with unregistered domains (although it could happen), but those which were deemed to once have value to you. The groups behind this kind of scam don’t know or care how you’ve used that domain name before, but it could still be linked online somewhere, or may be listed on a business card (if they’re such a thing these days) and therefore attract traffic. Traffic creates data, which can lead to other types of scams.

All that adds up to lost traffic, rankings and potential brand damage, so given the chance, you’re probably going to want that domain back somehow. Of course that comes at a much greater cost with the inconvenience to go with it.

It may well have been worth the extra renewal burden after all.

Tips for Managing your Domain Names

Here are 5 tips for managing your company's domain names.

  1. Make sure your domains are set to auto-renew. Consider using a PayPal account that can’t expire to ensure your domains can’t lapse accidentally.

  2. Hold multiple domains with the same registrar for simplicity.

  3. Review your domains, how they’re used and which services are attached to them every year.

  4. Ensure your registration and email account details are valid to receive renewal notifications or payment failures. Some domain names can be suspended if the registration details can’t be verified against a public source (such as Companies House). Also, formal notifications from some domain registrars can look a bit like spam and risk being overlooked.

  5. Consider using domain privacy on .com and other top level domain (TLD) names ( domains have this built in from Nominet).

What if this happens to you?

Your best bet in this instance is initially to hope the new website that's appeared has been hosted by a respectable hosting company. Alerting them to the presence of the site and the duplicate copy will likely rouse their own suspicions. The best outcome here is they simply close the site down, probably citing violation of their terms of service. That may take the site down, but it doesn't get your domain name back. That's likely to be a bigger challenge.

There is an established process for domain disputes which you can find at Nominet for and .uk domains, and at ICANN for other domains such as .com or .org. It's worth capturing screenshots of your domain being used on another 'mystery' website - it may come in helpful if you end up in a cat and mouse game where a new site keeps reappearing and it's not feasible to keep chasing it from one hosting company to another.

There are sites like Netcraft that can help you identify the hosting company, but if you need help, then get in touch. It can be like going down a rabbit warren if someone is really trying to hide their identity and it becomes a thorn in your side trying to get it resolved.

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Andrew profile

Andrew is the founder of multi-award winning A Digital and believes that technology should be an enabler, making a positive impact on the way people live and work.

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