Recently, I have taken over the role of the webmaster for a local community group. Initially, my job was just to keep the website up and running smoothly as well as upload new content once and a while. I never expected to learn that no one in my group knew where the domain name was registered or who had access to manage the domain. Do you know who owns your domain name?
After being given administrator credentials to the site, I realized it was a really old version of WordPress 2.2 from 2007 which was extremely difficult to update and had many security risks. At this time, I decided it was probably best to upgrade the website to the latest WordPress and make the site theme responsive. The people from the community group were ecstatic at the changes that were made and the benefits of it now working on mobile devices, however, I started getting complaints about the website not working for hours at a time. I contacted the hosting provider about the problem and it was soon fixed, but I was never told why that happened.
When the site went down a second time without any response, I decided we should switch to a stable hosting provider. Since I work for Webnames.ca, I knew that our hosting platform was very stable and I was tired of chasing down support for this old hosting provider. However, in order to switch, I needed access to the domain and this was when the real adventure started...
The Adventure Begins
The first mistake that the community group did was to register a domain at one company and then buy hosting at a different company. This is always possible, but it creates the problem of the "blame game". The "blame game" is when the hosting company is blaming the domain registrar about name server issues or DNS issue and the domain registrar blames the hosting provider for an unstable hosting platform. It is always best to consolidate your domains and hosting at the same company since the products work best that way and there is only one company to contact when there is an issue.
The second mistake was that no one at the group knew where the domain name was registered or how to access the account or who owns the domain name. My concern is that if this could not be figured out, we might lose the domain on renewal and not get the good domain name back.
Finding the Domain
In order to move the website to Webnames.ca's stable hosting platform, I needed to access the domain.
I first asked the original web master who was maintaining the website for years, how they were renewing the domain each year. He told me they had set a renewal reminder in their paper calendar and would use the emergency renewal feature of the registrar to pay for one more year. The old web master couldn't remember the name of the domain registrar either. I was horrified to find out that not only did we not know who the registrar was, but that no one had access to the account to manage the domain. The worst part was that this was going on for years.
After talking to the old webmaster, I wanted to find the mystery domain registrar and I did a WHOIS lookup on the domain name to find out the registrar of record (the company that is managing the domain). When you do a WHOIS lookup, you enter the domain name and a captcha (security check to ensure you are human and not a bot) and the website will tell you who the registrar is, when the domain will expire and the state of the domain. If the domain does not have "domain privacy" enabled, it will also give the name and address of the person who owns the domain. In the case of the community group domain, it was a .CA domain which offers free domain privacy on domains belonging to individuals, not companies.
However, this meant that I was able to determine the registrar on record for the domain, but not who owned the domain.
Contacting the domain registrar
In order to move the domain, I needed to update the domain contacts at the registrar for the community group. I contacted the domain registrar and told them that I belong to the group and that the old member who had originally registered the domain was no longer available and that we did not have access to the account.
I then had to provide proof of my relationship to the local group, so I had the president of the group write an official letter to the domain registrar requesting that I be granted access to the account as the webmaster. After they received the letter, they contacted me for additional security questions which I answered and they gave me access to the account.
Doing the switch
Once I was granted access to the domain, I was able to access the contact details and update them to be myself. The only saving grace was that the person who did the original registration put the domain name in their name but listed the group as the organization. All too often, the domain is registered in a person, not the company or organization's name and when that employee or person leaves the group, so does the ownership of the domain.
However, lucky for me, the domain was in the organization's name and I was able to switch the website and domain over to Webnames.ca.
Important to know who owns your domain name
The most important step to take when registering a domain name is to ensure that you register it under the company or person who is the "owner" of the domain. The second most important step is to always keep this contact information up to date when employees leave or people move or roles change in the organization. When the domain comes up for renewal, you want to make sure you know about it, otherwise, trying to get it back will either cost thousands of dollars or you might not be able to get it back at all.
In the end, it is always good to know who owns your domain name, especially if it should be you.