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What Is An Expiring Domain? And How You Can Avoid It

What is an expiring domain featured image
After time, your domain name will expire. Image credit: Fotis Fotopoulos

When you buy a domain from your site, you’re usually only really renting it. An expiring domain is one where this rental agreement is coming to an end. At this point, the site owner can no longer use their domain name.

Of course, if this happens to you it can create a number of problems.

To avoid this, it’s important to understand why domain expiration matters, what’s at risk, and what you can do to protect yourself.

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What Is An Expiring Domain: Why do Domains Expire?

When you register a domain name, you’re reserving a temporary home for yourself on the internet. It’s not permanent; you can’t truly own a set of words that the net agrees upon.

This is a vastly oversimplified explanation, but your domain name is essentially controlled by a single industry of domain name registrars. These companies work with each other to register names, check databases to find out if a name is in use, and handle renewals.

For the most part, domain names are on a first come, first served basis. If you get to the domain name first, register it, and maintain your registration, the name is yours for a set amount of time.

Renewing your Domain

If you forget to renew your domain, it expires and can be picked up by anyone. What about copyright? If a big company such as Apple or Google loses their name, shouldn’t they be able to get the name back through legal procedures?

Not quite.

While Apple is a famous brand, it uses the name of a well-known fruit. Whether the domain name is a lucky registration of a common word or something truly unique, no one has direct control over a name if their registration expires.

Why not?

Copyright issues are important, and lawsuits about something in the copyright world seem to happen on a daily basis. Unfortunately for copyright owners, copyright laws are limited to nations and specific legal systems.

There is no international law regarding copyright with regards to domain names.

For example, American and Canadian copyright laws are quite similar, but they remain different jurisdictions. The same applies to every other legal jurisdiction in the world. Copyright laws can even vary internally within one country.

International copyright can get very complex very quickly, but the core matter is simple.

Domain names are international, but there is no international protection for them. Essentially, this is because no single country can control what happens on the internet – as much as they would like to.

There is a dispute process for certain situations of malicious domain impersonation, dishonest registration practices, and other major situations. However, if even the biggest brands simply forget their registration, it’s the brand against anyone else who wants the name.

What Happens When A Domain Name Expires?

After your domain expires, it’s up for grabs by anyone. Before getting too deep into what happens after expiration, it’s time to discuss what happens just before expiration. After all, prevention is always better than a cure.

When you register a domain, it’s your responsibility to renew the domain name. This usually means paying your registration renewal on time. If you’re working with a reputable registrar, you should be getting reminders about the expiration.

Domain Expiration Warnings

As your domain’s expiration date comes closer, you won’t notice any changes in your services. Aside from specific registrars also managing your website or other web assets, there won’t be any kind of warning that shows up for people visiting your domain.

After all, why would it?

Most domain owners don’t want their visitors knowing that the registration bill hasn’t been paid, and that warning could tip off a lot of unsavoury attempts at stealing your domain if you’re not paying attention.

If they’re desperate up, hackers may even make it as hard as possible for you to register. It doesn’t make much sense to advertise to potential competitors that your domain is expiring either.

How Long After Domain Expires Can I Register It?

There are a set of grace periods connected to registration that you may or may not see. After official expiration visible by domain registrars, there is a 0-45-day auto renewal grace period and a 30-day redemption grace period.

The first grace period may be baked-into your registrar’s service plan.

This date may be when urgent emails from your registrar start filling your inbox, and if you have an in-house professional that works specifically with registrations, their warnings should have already begun.

Recognition

Once the second grace period ends, your domain name is up for grabs. For random, unpopular websites, you may be able to simply re-register the address later on if you feel like it—assuming no one else thinks of the name first.

For brand domains with recognition, you need to worry about domain hunters while figuring out how to get it back.

Expired Domain Hunting Is A Real Threat

Domain names were an easy way to make money in the early days of the internet. Some people would “camp” or claim domain names and sell the domain names to the highest bidder.

In the more risky scenarios, web-savvy users would wait for major companies to lose their domain registration. Despite the assumptions of the general public, even the biggest companies have always—and likely will always—had the chance of forgetting to renew.

Why would huge companies with a lot of vital recognition at stake allow their brand to expire? Well, internet technology is still new to many people. It’s also easy for these things to fall between the cracks.

Even smart people make mistakes from time to time. You only have to forget to renew your domain once for an opportunist to strike.

Professionals

Major companies need to hire specific professionals to handle domain registration. It could be a server engineer, web designer, or some other specific tech services professional who keeps registration as one of their major reminders.

What happens when that person leaves the company?

Hopefully, others in their department will know about the issue and be able to pick up the slack. What if the company or brand has huge recognition, but hardly any staff, and the only tech-savvy person is suddenly out of the picture?

Or maybe everyone in the team assumes someone else is taking care of it.

There are too many scenarios to cover, but the main point is that people are watching. If you have a domain name that is catchy, recognizable, or otherwise known, there’s probably someone who has your domain information on an automated timer, and can check very easily when the registration timer comes up.

Domain Hunting Tools

Hunting popular domains can be done with tools available to everyone. It’s as simple as jotting down names in a spreadsheet and setting up email reminders.

A tool called WHOIS can be used to query or ask a public domain about its public, basic information that can be viewed by anyone.

What is an expired domain - WHOIS screenshot
WHOIS is a popular domain hunting tool. Image credit: WHOIS

WHOIS

WHOIS information includes the domain name, registration date, the owner, and most importantly, the expiration date.

Like anything else involved with tech, checking WHOIS information can be automated, and domain hunters can be more vigilant about expirations than the current domain owners.

A domain expiration check is fairly common, and anyone from a domain hunter to a curious visitor who simply has a hobby or career in web design may look at your WHOIS information.

What Is An Expiring Domain? How To Get Your Domain Back

If you’ve recently lost a domain, you can try to register it again before someone else gets to it. If someone else has already registered the name, you can either offer to buy the name back or wait for their registration to expire.

Obviously neither of these are ideal. In fact, most domain hunters are simply out to squeeze money out of you to get your domain back.

There are ways to subtly request a domain name, which may be better than asking the new owner outright. If an owner knows that you want the domain–whether they’re a career domain hunter or not–they may hold out for a higher price before giving you the name back.

Of course, this is extortion. However, pursuing legal action may be tricky, depending on where the hunter is based. Additionally, your legal fees could easily cost more than the ransom.

Expiring Domains: Vigilance and Organisation

The businesses which fall foul of domain hunters are the ones which fail to take the threats involved in domain expiration seriously. To prevent damage to your business, it’s crucial that you don’t fall into this trap.

Losing your domain can cause massive financial harm. If you can’t get your domain back, consider the effort you will have to go to in order to regrow your brand awareness and SEO profile.

However, by following the above advice, you can easily avoid this situation.

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