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Step 8: Domain name purchase and protection

25th Dec 2005
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In the eighth in this series of articles Stewart Twynham of Bawden Quinn looks at the best way of buying a domain name and protecting that name from potential scams.

When it comes to buying Internet services, most businesses simply don't know where best to turn. Often, due to a lack of experience of making such purchases, they outsource the final decision to their IT department, IT company or perhaps their web designer. Whoever ends up making the purchase, the criteria for selection soon narrows to one thing: price.

Now we're not knocking the importance of price when it comes to decision making. It would be fiscally irresponsible not to find a good deal, but when price is the sole selection criteria ' particularly when it comes to Internet services, the results can be debilitating. Internet service providers, hosting companies, web designers, and domain name resellers all vary enormously in their abilities. Furthermore, changing provider ' particularly during a crisis, such as when your email or web site has completely stopped working ' is neither straightforward nor timely.

Here we talk about the most common mistakes and pitfalls relating to buying Domain Names, and how to avoid them. We also discuss some of the common scams used by unscrupulous resellers.

Myth: At least my web site is safe
It was reported in June this year, that around 3,000 customers of web hosting firm bargainhost.co.uk found their websites defaced by hackers for a second time in two months. Many customers lost their web site completely, and were surprised that backups were not routinely taken. Yet if you read the small print on most web hosting contracts you will discover that virtually no hosting companies backup their customers' data, and if they do they rarely make any guarantees that such backups will work.

The Domain Name
Your domain name is the most critical part of your on-line presence. Without it, your email address and web site will no longer function. Even a simple technical glitch or problem many thousands of miles away can knock your business off-line for an extended period of time.

There are typically five parts to a working domain name:

  • The Registry that holds the records for your domain. These are the on-line equivalent of Companies House or the land registry ' for .co.uk domains it's Nominet and for .com it's Internic. These record who owns what, and also your DNS servers (see below)
  • The people you bought the domain name from (the Reseller). These are the people that deal with the administration of your domain names, recording the domain name with the relevant registry on your behalf. The number of resellers out there is incredible and needless to say, some are good, some are bad, and a few are criminals.
  • The DNS (Domain Name Servers) are like a computerised yellow pages. When someone looks up your web site or sends you an email ' the DNS servers tell the browser or email software where on the Internet the requests should be sent. With terminology such as A records, CNAMEs, MX records, TTLs, etc ' DNS can catch out even the most technically aware, and will normally be left to your domain name Reseller to get right.
  • Your Web Server ' is the machine on the Internet which holds your web site.
  • Your Email Server ' is the machine on the Internet which holds your incoming emails.

Clearly, with so many parties involved ' it's easy to see why many businesses experience problems with their Internet presence, and why sometimes these problems remain unresolved. Any number of technical or administrative problems can occur relating to one or more of these five components ' resulting in extended periods of downtime whilst suppliers agree who is to blame and on resolution.

Two good ways to buy a domain name which will reduce the chances of downtime:

  • From a reputable UK based domain name reseller, such as Netnames (www.netnames.co.uk)
  • From your Internet Service Provider (the people that also provide your email / web site). Keeping everything under one roof is far simpler, and you only have one supplier to speak to when things go wrong.

Two things to AVOID when buying a domain name:

  • Very cheap (or free) domain names. Often these deals tie you in to a "hosting package" ' i.e. you get the domain name cheap, but then have to pay extra to be able to use it, often paying over the odds for something you already have through your existing Internet Service Provider.
  • Non-UK hosted domains. It is common for many low-cost deals to host the DNS, web and email services overseas, especially the US where there is massive competition and prices are low. Not only does your email have to travel the globe every time, you run the risk of technical support only being available in a different time zone. Losing all your email for six hours on a Monday because 'the US haven't woken up yet' could cost your business far more than the few pounds you saved buying a cheap domain name.

Three scams to watch out for
As we explained earlier, some resellers are nothing more than criminals. Here are just some of the tricks that we've experienced and that you should watch out for:

  • "Someone is trying to register a similar domain, and we thought you should know'"
    You get a cold call from someone claiming to work at the XYZ registry, and it has come to their attention that someone is trying to register a domain name very similar to yours. Under their code of conduct (perhaps something to do with the Data Protection Act) they cannot release the name of this someone, they may not even be able to tell you the domain name they are trying to register.
    Suffice to say, if you hand over your credit card details, they'll register the domain name on YOUR behalf instead, protecting your good name / brand / etc.

    This is a well documented scam, with plenty of variations. Don't fall for it. If you're really concerned, go on-line and register the name yourself with another reseller for less.

  • "Pre register your .eu domain name now".
    You can't pre-register many of the new domains that are due for launch. So when someone rings you up to tell you that you can' it's a scam.
  • The urgent renewal invoice
    All domain names require renewal ' usually annually or bi-annually. Normally, this will be handled by your existing reseller or ISP ' however many other resellers are after your business, and may send you renewal notices and even invoices through the post or by email. You are not renewing through another company, you are 'transferring' the domain to them, and not only do you risk paying twice for the same service, you may even lose all of your email / web site in the process.

Domain names are a minefield ' we seriously recommend that you use a reputable company to make all purchases, since putting things right after the event is extremely time consuming and expensive for all concerned!

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