"Buying" a domain name is a bit of a misnomer. When you pay for a domain, you're really just renting the domain for a set period of time. While some domains can be rented up for as long as a decade, but many are held to limits of as short a period as two years. Luckily, by regularly renewing your website, you can hold it into perpetuity. Remaining vigilant and following some sensible rules can ensure that you come as close as possible to owning a website domain, even if it's a popular commodity.
Track Your Domain's Registration
Maintaining strong bookkeeping is the best way to make sure you hold onto your domain's name. Regardless of the term length of your domain lease, renewals will occur on the exact anniversary of your purchase. Determining the length of your contract is largely a matter of personal preference. Registering your domain for 10 years eliminates the hassle of having to renew it on a regular basis, but getting into the regular routine of updating your domain every year can make it easier to not miss your registration date.
Although renewing domain names can be done automatically by deducing from your credit card, you should regularly check it at least once a year. Sometimes, your credit card is expired without knowing. The cost of domain names rarely changes in a significant way, so the length of your registration should be predicated on your personal preferences.
Find the Right Registrar
Finding the right registrar to work with is also important. If your domain isn't taken, you can usually choose to rent your domain through any number of registrar companies. A "master list" keeps track of all available domains and makes them publicly available to anyone who wants them. Find a reliable registrar who offers a strong customer service experience. Many registrars will send you email alerts when your domain is about to expire.
Particularly if you're managing multiple domains, make sure that any messages from the registrar go into your inbox or a specialized folder rather than being directed to your junk mail. Personal calendar alerts can also provide good safeguards to let you know when your domain is at risk of expiring.
If you aren’t sure which one to use, check out our registrars list.
Know the Rules of the Business
If you're worried about your domain lapsing, there are a number of criteria that can help you win back your domain in case it gets registered by another customer and bolster your ownership of it. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers handles the policy for domain ownership and has three provisions for rightful ownership disputes.
If the domain is protected by trademark or similar to a protected trademark that you own, then you can argue in favor of rightful ownership on your behalf. Similarly, if you can prove that the new owner has no legitimate interests or has purchased the domain in bad faith, you may be able to reclaim ownership rights.
Create and Maintain Your Personal Brand
The best way to protect your domain name even in a case of lapsed ownership is to secure a name trademarked strongly to your brand. Maintaining a domain that's named after a product, company, or organization that you claim ownership of it can strengthen your claim. If none are openly available, you may want to consider negotiating with someone who already owns a domain that suits you. Getting the right domain for your needs can strongly effect your brand's value and the traffic to your site.
Most of all, be vigilant. Be sure to partner with a registrar that has a reputation such as Godaddy for protecting the interests of their customers. Establish personal alerts, and keep substantive records of your ownership rights and payments. Providing a paper or email trail can mean the difference between holding onto the domain you want and losing it due to negligent bookkeeping.