The Keys to the

Domain name registration is one of the first steps of the web development process, and like all first steps, it’s an important one. In an era when 50% of consumers say they research purchases online before buying, a functioning domain name is the lifeblood of any small business. If a potential customer calls up your website and it’s not there, it doesn’t matter what happened … you’re losing business.

Despite its significance, registering a domain has become a casual, even incidental part of the process. In a burst of enthusiasm, new small business owners often just register their domains with whomever’s Super Bowl ad they thought was funnier.

But there are worse things than mass-market web hosting companies with a penchant for race-car driver photo shoots.

This past week, I met with a client who was operating his business’ website under a “.org”, rather than a “.com”, despite the “.com” being prominently displayed on all his marketing collateral. It seems that after having cancelled his registrar/hosting company’s add-on website-building service, his site was taken down and a rather unpleasant “Forbidden” 404 screen came up. The client didn’t really know what had happened and said he had tried to resolve the situation with the company, but to no avail.

Despite the recent domain extension expansion, the “.com” is still the standard, especially in non-tech industries. I’m not one to leave a perfectly good top-level domain on the table, so I set out to track down the domain registrar account credentials.

I first called the company with whom the client had originally registered the site. After a bit of fun hold music and a few monotone menu trees, the phone rep informed me that he had no records for the account because I had the wrong department. I had reached the “Do It Myself” department (yes, DIM), the client had used the “Do It For Me” department.

They kindly transferred me.

At the DIFM department, they told me that there had been an account, but it had been cancelled. After I explained that they still held the registration according to various whois registries, the second phone rep was able to determine that the registration had transferred to their sister company.

They kindly transferred me again.

Now at the sister company, I started over. This time when they got the records pulled up, I got a reference number. I also got transferred again, because, wouldn’t you know it, that wasn’t her department either. In fact her company didn’t have the registration, and she would transfer me back to the first company, but definitely to the right department this time.

This went on for a while. Sometimes the reference number worked. Sometimes we had to start over.

I was transferred a total of 8 times.

The last time went like this:

Agent: I’m sorry ma’am, it looks like that record was transferred to our sister company.

Me: Yes, I’ve talked to them already.

Agent: No, our other sister company.

Me: Well, fine, put me through to them. Is it the same account number?

Agent: Yes, ma’am, the same reference number, but they’re not open now.

Me, noting the time: Okay, it’s 4:30, when should I call back?

Agent: They open at midnight.

Me: … midnight? On a Friday?

Agent: Yes.

Me: It is just me or does midnight on a Friday seem like an odd time for a domain registration company to open?

Agent: They’re a 24-hour company, ma’am.

Me: 24 hours. Except they are not open now. At 4:30. On a business day.


Over the course of two phone calls, I was on hold for more than 2 hours and 15 minutes. At one point, an agent told me it looked like his company was actually the registered owner of the domain, not my client. Given the run-around I got, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Incidentally, I had my client call back that evening. He sent me a follow-up email:

Senior tech told me he cannot access my info, I need to talk to [the original company] on Monday.

The moral of this story? If you’re gonna build a castle, make sure you’re the one with the keys.

Sé Reed
Sé Reed is a small business advocate and independent web developer, specializing in the development and implementation of comprehensive web strategies for small businesses. Sé teaches and speaks on topics including WordPress, SEO, and small business and the Internet, and is a regular contributor to the weekly webcast WPWatercooler. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Google+