A client recently decided to let an old domain name of theirs expire. It was not the domain name they were using on the e-mail, print materiel, etc. any longer, and saw no reason to keep paying the registration fee.
A few weeks later, this decision would turn out to be a big mistake. Their old domain name was purchased by a company selling adult products
When a domain name expires, there is a 30 day grace period during which nobody can register the domain, except for the original registrant (just in case you forgot to renew!) Your domain name will stop resolving (it can’t be used), but you can still renew the domain through your registrar.
After this period, the domain name is made available for registration by anyone who wants it. In the case of .ca domains, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) posts a list in advance of “to be released domains”, making the discovery of these soon to be available gems even easier. There are also many services online to discover expired domains.
In my client’s case, there were many websites out there containing links to their old website, which now, embarrassingly, took visitors to this adult content.
What To Do?!
There are several things that you should do before letting an old domain name expire that can help avoid embarrassment like this, or potential loss of business if, for example, a competitor were to register your old domain!
- Keep the domain nameDomain name registrations are (usually) cheap – anywhere from about $5 a year, to $30 a year, depending on your registrar. Some TLDs for foreign countries charge higher fees, the price range quoted here is for domains in Canada or the US. An expense of $150 over 5 years to keep your rights to an old domain may be worth it!
- Configure your domain to redirect users properly
If you’re planning on no longer using a domain name because you’re replacing it with a new one (maybe your company changed names?) then make sure users visiting the old domain are redirected to the new domain!There are tools that scan websites looking for links that don’t work, or that have changed. This is done by automatically visiting each link on the page and checking for the HTTP Response Code that comes back. There are many types of responses, but the important ones for this discussion are:
200 – OK. This link works, and it returned
301 – Permanent Redirect
404 – File Not Found
If you simply add your new domain name to your web server’s configuration, and don’t setup your old website to redirect to the new address (Response Code 301), tools that check links will see a response code of 200, everything OK. The owners of the sites will never be altered that they should update their links.
You could also notify users of your website that the address has changed so that they can update their bookmarks (favorites) in their browser.
- Use Google’s link: search to find websites that link to your domainThere’s a little known feature in the Google search engine that allows you to find web pages that link to your domain name. Simply Google for “link:<your domain>” to get the list.
Click here for a list of sites that link to my blog’s domain.
With this list, you can then work on contacting the owner of each website to request they update their links with the new domain name.
- Update content within your own siteHow many documents on your own website contain links to the old domain name? Don’t forget to check in files such as PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, Word Documents, etc. These could be links to web pages, to staff e-mail addresses, etc.
- E-Mail SignaturesMake sure the staff in your organization have updated their e-mail signature files to include the new link, and new e-mail addresses if appropriate. The same would be true for their business cards!
As you can see, there are steps you can take to help minimize the risk while changing domain names and letting the original one expire. It just requires a little planning beforehand.
If your domain name does get taken, the other possible route you could go is to dispute the domain name registration with the governing body for the domain name in question. For .com, .net and .org domain names, this would be the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). For .ca domain names, this would be the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). They both have domain name dispute resolution policies. I have never tried fighting a registration using these policies, but it may be worth a try. The policies can be found here:
- ICANN Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (.com, .net, .org)
- CIRA Dispute Resolution Policy (.ca domains)
Best of luck!