Last Thursday I was in the middle of a phone call with a client discussing their upcoming website design, and in the span of 3 minutes I received a text message, email and a voicemail all from a frantic Paul Von Rieter (pictured left), exclaiming that someone had bought his domain name out from underneath him. Now Paul, if you remember is one of the two photographers Flaunt Your Site now sponsors and manages all their website design, hosting and SEO. We were just starting to get into a new redesign for Paul when this happened, and the tires screeched to a halt.
When I called him back I found out that he had failed to respond to his expiring domain notice that he received back in February. Whether he missed it, or got busy and didn’t open it, wasn’t quite clear to him. So I asked him to call GoDaddy where he purchased his domain and to find out how to contact the people that purchased it. He went off and did that, and that led to a 10 day battle of wills, and Paul forking over $600 to get his domain back. It was stressful on both he and I, but we have the domain back, and his site is finally back up.
So let’s take a look at the “why” of this whole thing.
Why Jerkoffs buy Expiring Domains
Ok… They’re not all jerkoffs. There are plenty of people that legitimately want a domain that was not available at the time and got in line to purchase the domain when it became available.
But there are those jerkoffs that buy expiring domains with the worst of intentions. It’s called Cybersquatting. They get lists of expiring domains and seek out the domains with lots of links pointing to the site, and strong Domain Authority (similar to Page Rank). The purpose of this is two-fold.
- They could sell the domain back to the original owner if the owner forgot about the expiration and wanted it back (there are international laws against this, but we’ll get to that in a bit). This is what happened in Paul’s case.
- If that doesn’t pan out, the domain can be used in what I feel are shady SEO tactics of either creating a “micro-site” with that domain and linking to sites that in order to boost their rankings. Or simply redirecting the url to another site, which gives that site all the links and Domain Authority the expired domain used to have.
“You said there are laws against this?” You ask…
Well, yes. There is an international law against someone purchasing an expired domain with the intent to sell it back. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to prove intent. In this email (excuse the poor English – we believe our Cybersquatters hail from Germany – see photo for what we think he looks like), you can see their attempt at playing dumb, and allowing us to ask for the domain first.
We don’t want to have it necessarily. A lot of other domains to buy. I’ll ask our developer how many hrs he has been working with it and I guess it’s possible to auction it back to a reasonable price. Never happened before and we have never sold anything. Don’t know yet.
The Expiration Process
Based on some numbers I found from 2010, GoDaddy itself has about 20,000 domains expiring each week. This accounts for more than $1 Million weekly! Some of these are people intentionally ditching their domains, but some are bound to be accidents. Don’t be one of the people that forget and make GoDaddy richer, most of you know how I feel about GoDaddy.
Contrary to popular belief, domains do not expire when they say they do. If the owner of a domain does not renew by the expiration date of the domain, the domain goes into “expired” status. For 40 days, the domain is in a grace period where all services are shut off, but the domain owner may still renew the domain for a standard renewal fee. If a domain enters this period, it is a good first indicator that it may not be renewed, but since the owner can re-register without penalty, it can also just be a sign of laziness or procrastination.
After 40 days are up, the domain’s status changes to “redemption period”. During this phase, all WhoIs information begins disappearing, and more importantly, it now costs the owner an additional fee to re-activate and re-register the domain. The fee is currently around $100, depending on your registrar. When a domain enters its redemption period, it’s a good bet the owner has decided not to renew.
Finally, after the redemption period, the domain’s status will change to “locked” as it enters the deletion phase. The deletion phase is 5 days long, and on the last day between 11am and 2pm Pacific time, the name will officially drop from the ICANN database and will be available for registration by anybody.
The entire process ends exactly 75 days after the listed expiration date.
After that, the rats are all over the domains. Good domains can get swept up in minutes. So the good news is that if you miss the initial expiration date, you can get it back. Just don’t let it go too long or it’ll cost you to get it back.
So How Can You Protect Yourself
It seems to be a very simple task of renewing your domain every year, but as we’ve witnessed mistakes happen. Not only has it happened to Paul, but just ask Foursquare, their whole site went down after forgetting to renew their domain. Here are a few tips on how not to let this happen to you:
- Register for 10 years. The longest period you can register a domain for is 10 years. When it costs you ~$100, you may as well. (Please note, that this will NOT improve any SEO value to your site as some have been led to believe this by the Website Grader).
- If you are auto-renewing, make sure that you have a valid credit card or Paypal account hooked up to your domain registry account.
- Absolutely ensure that your domain registry companies email does not go to your SPAM folder.
- Do NOT buy the “Private Registration” add-on that most places will sell you. While this won’t help you with an expiring domain, it will make sure that your domain is not registered under GoDaddy’s name. It’s always best to have your name be the one that’s published with the domain publicly, so there is absolutely no doubt that you are the de facto owner.
The Wrap Up
$600 is a lot of cash, but it could have been much worse. So remember, don’t be like Paul, keep your domains renewed.
*This blog post has been approved by Paul Von Rieter to ensure that people learn from his stupid mistake.