If you market your business online, chances are you've bought more than one domain name over the years. It's important to periodically review all your domains, even the old ones pointing to a microsite promotion you ran eons ago. If you don't, you may be losing out on traffic or money—or, even worse, you may be facilitating a brand catastrophe.
What's the worst that could happen?
1. Your website could go down
It's obvious that visitors can't access your website when your website goes down, but most people don't consider the "collateral damage" of letting a domain-name registration lapse: You stop receiving email.
If all email (and that includes business-critical email) communication has been severed, customers can't find the company phone number prominently displayed on your website, and so chances are your phone has stopped ringing, too.
If you have an e-commerce site, you'll have no orders coming in. Imagine if your domain were to expire on a Friday or while you were on an extended vacation!
Failure to spend 10 minutes and 10 bucks on a domain registration could result in hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost revenue and productivity—and compromise your reputation and that of your company.
2. Someone "steals" your customers
Those old domains you used in the past have traffic and value. They've more than likely been spidered by search engines and have old links from websites pointed to them, and I guarantee that there are folks who haven't updated their bookmarks.
Those domain names might even contain one of your trademarks—your name, a product name, or a proprietary process term. Call me paranoid, but your competition could grab that old domain and, in the process, all the incoming traffic.
Consider the damage that an unscrupulous competitor could cause by reestablishing old email addresses, ruining relationships with current clients, or intercepting new business leads that are meant for you.
An article in The Financial Brand describes how financial-services company TIAA-CREF allowed an old microsite domain registration to expire.
A pornographer who was paying attention picked up the domain. Those who thought they were going to the TIAA-CREF site were presented with online sex chat. TIAA-CREF faced a whole new set of brand-management challenges that could have been avoided for $10.
3. You may have less "trust" with the search engines
It's been debated whether search providers such as Yahoo and Google look at the length of your domain registration when calculating your search ranking.
A one-year domain registration may save you a few bucks, but consider a search engine's perspective: Does this domain (your company) appear to be a long-term viable website (your business) or just a spammer with a keyword-crammed landing page?
Aside from relieving you of the issues described above, a long-term registration demonstrates you are in business for the long haul. And if it is definitively revealed later that there is an advantage with the Yahoo and Google algorithms, you've got it covered. Check one more thing off your search-engine optimization checklist.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Usually, getting audited is considered a bad thing, but in this case it's perfectly fine. Keep a spreadsheet of all the domains and subdomains that you use and what you use them for. Review your list periodically and make sure the domains are still in your control.
If you keep your domains registered, you can reuse them later. If you aren't going to reuse them, properly redirect them to other domains or create landing pages to inform your visitors where they should go next.
You can check your domain's expiration date by using a "Who-Is" tool (www.network-tools.com) or by logging in to your registrar's website.
Pencil yourself in
Online services such as Google Calendar and offline programs such as iCal and Outlook make it easy to track your domain registrations. First, create a separate calendar just for domains, and put all your domain-name expiration dates in the calendar.
Set reminders to notify you before your domain expires. For instance, set an alarm one month before your domain expires, and you'll be reminded to extend your registration. Creating a separate calendar allows you to hide the calendar from view but still be alerted when the reminders go off.
Register for the long-term
It's a bit more expensive, but if you register all your domains for multiple years, you then set one day a year to extend the registrations for all your domains. That way you can extend each domain name by just one year, always staying ahead of the curve.
For instance, a domain originally registered for three years and then extended every year for a single year would always have an expiration date at least two years in the future.
* * *
Considering the negative things that can happen to your brand's reputation, it makes sense to go ahead and pull the trigger on that long-term domain-name registration.
We advise all our clients to renew their domain for at least three years. It costs a few bucks more, but it saves everyone involved a lot of heartache down the road.