A Practical Guide to Owning and Managing Domain Names

After helping several hundred law firms setup and manage their websites, I wanted to share what I’ve learned. – Jeremiah Thompson

Chances are, if you are looking for help related to domain names, you fit into one of these two categories:

I’m ready to buy a domain and need to know the basics

I already own a domain but am not sure:

Is .com the best domain name type?

When domain names first became available, the .com version was the only choice. If you wanted a domain name, you literally had to use the .com extension.

Nowadays there are more than a hundred different domain extensions. The .com extension is still the preferred choice as most brands are expected to own the .com version of their domain name.

As a small business owner, the reality is that it is very hard to acquire a short and memorable .com domain name.

If you have tried searching for a .com name but didn’t find a great option available, you can look at .net as a good second choice.

Other extensions are available that fit particular industry types. For example, attorneys could consider domain extensions like .law and .lawyer. But to be clear a .com domain is still the best if available — even for attorneys.

Not every profession has an extension that fits their profession. In fact most don’t. So if you are, for example, a plumber and are hoping for a .plumber extension, I’m sorry to say it does not exist.

Should I keyword stuff my domain name?
It’s absolutely true that search engines give some preference to domain names that have the targeted keywords in them. That being said, if you put keywords in your domain name you often lose the chance to brand your name. For example, I have a criminal defense attorney client in Santa Ana, CA that likes DUI cases. His domain name is: ViscoLaw.com. It’s short and easy to remember. But he doesn’t have any keywords in his domain name. If his top goal was to rank as high as possible, he might consider buying the domain: SantaAnaDUILawyer.com

Perhaps the most important factor when choosing your domain name is to choose something that can be easily remembered by your potential clients. Again, short is generally better: Acme.com is easier to remember than Acmecreamproducts.com

Which registrar is best?

When you buy your domain, you’ll be purchasing it through a domain registrar. If the domain is available, it will be available from ANY domain registrar. In other words, a single domain registrar has no control over making it available or not. The domain name will either already be bought by someone or if it is available you can buy it from any domain registrar. This is important to know because not every registrar will sell the domain for the same price.

Avoid this one:
Network Solutions is one of the oldest and worse domain registrars you could use. In fact, they are the only domain registrar who I won’t recommend. Aside from being expensive they are just a terrible company to work with, and the only registrar who I have seen give clients issues. So if you want my advice, please stay clear of buying your domain name through Network Solutions.

Some of the best:
Godaddy is far and away the world’s mostly widely used domain registrar, and it’s a great domain registrar. In case you are curious, they are also a good email company if you need one. But they are not a good website hosting company. So it’s important to remember that a good registrar is not always good at other things.

Another great registrar: www.NameCheap.com

Public versus private registration

When registering your domain, you will be asked if you want to make the domain ownership available to the public or kept private.

  • A private registration costs more. The upside is you won’t be contacted by vendors trying to sell you services.
  • A public registration costs less. The upside is you’ll also gain a little more credibility to the search engines if you keep your info public.

If you plan to promote your site online, I’d recommend sticking with the default public registration.

Should my registrar also be my web host?

Unfortunately most registrars are not the best options for hosting. I can tell you Godaddy is not a good choice for hosting. I’ve seen some clients wait two weeks for the Godaddy support team to respond on a ticket. When your website is down you want a reliable web host who will at least show that they are quickly working to solve the issue. An old favorite was HostGator, but in recent years I’ve seen a number of clients suffer issues and have their tickets get stuck in support for days or over a week. HostGator is no longer a recommended host. To be honest, I can’t say any of the well known web hosting companies are great at what they do. They’ve all battled it out to become the cheapest option and at a huge sacrifice to their support. We’ve self-hosted our sites for the last few years. This is also not a practical option for most small businesses. The company I’ve heard clients have the least amount of problems with is Inmotion Hosting (www.inmotionhosting.com). They fit into the cheap category, so if you want a low-cost website hosting solution that should hopefully be great — turn to them.

I should also mention that if you are a law firm and want to host with us, we offer website hosting for just $150 per year or $15 per month.

What about all those upsell offers they try to get me to buy?

The only upsell offer you might consider is adding the private registration. But if you plan to promote your site online, I’d recommend keeping your registration public info. Skip any other upsell offers.

When will it expire? When will it need to be renewed?
Most domains are bought with either a one or two year expiration date. You can check any domain’s expiration date through online services. Here is one: https://who.is/whois/expiry.com/

It’s important to realize that you own a domain name only up until its expiration date. You have the right to renew your domain prior to its expiration. I recommend renewing for five years at a time. But whatever length you currently own for, it’s absolutely vital that you remember to renew prior to expiration. If you don’t renew prior to expiration, it’s extremely possible that another person could registrar the domain in their name and essentially take the ownership of the domain away from you. I’ve seen law firms lose their domain names for this exact reason.

You might ask how can you lose a domain name if the registrar is sending you a reminder email to renew. Well email is not 100% reliable. And the issues are: your domain registrars emails might be getting lost in your spam, you might not have the correct email marked as the domain administrator or they simply don’t email you ahead of the expiration. The point is: don’t put the responsibility on your registrar. Keep some kind of alert in your calendar to make sure you renew ahead of that expiration date.

What the heck is DNS? And how do I manage it?

Finally we have reached the most difficult part of managing a domain name – the DNS.

The main function of your domain DNS is to control where your website and email hosting takes place. Sometimes, the website host and the email host are the same company.

The DNS is a set of records that tell the servers where to go.

The DNS can be hosted by your registrar or you can point the DNS away from your registrar and host the DNS somewhere else.

DNS hosting is one of the rare services that is free 99% of the time. If someone is charging you for DNS hosting, you probably have hired the wrong company.

For practicality it’s best to keep your DNS with your registrar. This means you can log into your registrar and control where your domain points for things like website hosting and email hosting. Again this functionality should be included for free with your registrar. If you purchased your domain name from a company like Godaddy or Namecheap it is going to be free.

DNS changes are extremely technical. And while I recommend keeping the DNS hosted with your registrar, I don’t recommend making DNS changes on your own. If possible ask your registrar if they will update your DNS whenever you need a record changed. Or if you are comfortable you can pass your registrar login to someone you trust to make the changes from inside your account.

The danger with having the DNS moved away from your registrar is that you potentially lose control of it. That means whomever hosts your DNS also can control where your website is pointed for hosting and emails. If one day you decide to change your website or email host, it is going to be one step harder to make those changes if you don’t control your DNS. This is exactly why some companies you do business with will try to gain control of your DNS. It makes it harder to move away from them. There is absolutely no advantage to moving the DNS away from the registrar so my advice is to always keep it there. If someone asks to move it, tell them no.

How do I setup emails on my domain?
Your clients will likely expect you to use emails that are associated with your domain name. If you are currently using a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo, you should consider creating emails that are associated with your domain. You can even connect the two emails so you can use them interchangeably. If you happen to use Gmail, it will be very easy to connect your personal and business emails together. Here is a great article from Google about how to do that: https://apps.google.com/products/gmail/

Getting back to setting up emails on your domain, let’s say your domain name is: doelawfirm.com And let’s say your name is: John Doe. So maybe you want an email account like: john@doelawfirm.com But keep in mind it can be anything since you are in control of what goes in front: johnpdoe@doelawfirm.com, etc.

To create the emails, you’ll need a email host. Sometimes your website host can also be your email host. I’d personally recommend using Rackspace.com to host your emails and nothing else. That way if your website host ever changes your emails will not be affected. Changing email hosts is normally a huge pain in the you know what. You will pay a little extra to keep your emails with a company like Rackspace but in the long run it will potentially save you a lot of headaches.

The company I use for my own emails is FastMail.com. They are technically just as good as Rackspace, a little cheaper but setting your accounts up with them is more technical and their customer service is not nearly as good as Rackspace.

Finally, I do want to say we even offer email hosting. I only recommend our email services if you are comfortable working inside your own Cpanel and have experience with setting up emails on your own. Otherwise you are much better with a company like Rackspace, Fastmail or even Godaddy.

How do I change website hosts or email hosts?
It’s normal to change hosts for a variety of reasons. I’ve written a separate post specifically talking about hosting so I don’t want to go into much detail here but the way you change your website host is through your DNS record. Specifically, you can update your A record and it will change where your website is hosted. Most people make the mistake of thinking they need to update their nameservers. This is absolutely not true. If you update your nameservers you will be resetting where your DNS is hosted. And we already talked about how you should keep your DNS hosting with your registrar. So to reset your website host, simply update your A record to the IP address that has been assigned to your website hosting account. I mention “simply update” but again I would suggest that you use an experienced DNS expert to make this change for you.

If you are updating your email host a similar process is followed. But rather than updating a single record there is likely a combination of DNS records that need updated. I’d recommend allowing your new email host temporary access to your registrar account to make the required DNS changes. Once they have made the necessary DNS changes inside your account, you can reset your password.

Do I really own my domain name?
I’ve seen multiple website owners lose their domains simply because they did not realize they didn’t actually “own” their domain.

A common scenario is a company goes to a web design company to make their company website. The web designer purchases the domain name and puts the domain admin info in their control. At some point, the company decides they want a new web design but they no longer want to work with their original designer. They decide to move away but in doing so find out the sad fact that they never owned their domain name.

Ironically I’ve seen many law firms run into this scenario. You would think attorneys would know better, but it’s happened to many firms I’ve worked with.

To make sure you are indeed listed as the domain owner, look here: https://whois.icann.org/en

Even if your name and contact info is listed, be sure to check that your email address is listed as the admin email address. If any other email is listed there, it means you don’t control your domain. And whoever controls that email ultimately has control over your domain. Be sure that your email is listed as the admin email.

If you have a question about a domain name that I have not covered feel free to enter into contact with me here. I’ll be glad to try and help: jeremiah@firstpageattorney.com