These quick tips can help you manage your domain registration like a boss.
Many bloggers choose to make their web presence more personal by using their own custom domain (yourgroovydomain.com instead of example.wordpress.com, for example). If you’re thinking about registering a custom domain or already have one, there are a few important things you need to know that will help you successfully manage your domain registration.
Know the parties involved in domain registrations
When you purchase a domain via WordPress.com (or any other registrar), it might seem like a quick, click-the-button-and-it’s-done process. But several entities come together to make your registration happen smoothly:
- ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers): a nonprofit organization that sets and enforces rules designed to keep the Internet secure and stable. Each of the 3 parties listed below must comply with ICANN regulations.
What is a top level domain (TLD)? The easiest way to identify a TLD is to look at the part of domain that comes after the last dot. Examples of TLDs are .com, .net., .org, and .me. You can find a list of TLDs that WordPress.com offers here.
- Registry: an organization that manages top level domain (TLD) names. Each registry sets the rules and manages records for the TLD they own. Registries do not sell domain names to the public; instead, they work with registrars to do this. There is only one registry for each TLD.
- Registrar/reseller: an organization that is authorized to sell domains to the public (WordPress.com, for example). There can be many registrars for each TLD. Registrars can also set policies for how they handle domains, but they must comply with registry and ICANN rules.
- Registrant: the person or organization who registers a domain name. That’s you! 🙂
As you can see from this list, domain names are a little more involved than a simple purchase since they are subject to policies and regulations, most of which are set by ICANN and the registry.
Know who really owns your domain
What is WHOIS and what is it used for? WHOIS is a service that answers the question “who is responsible for this domain?”
Anyone can look a domain name up using WHOIS to learn information such as when the domain was registered and when it expires, the registrar of record, and contact information for the registrant (unless the registrant opts for privacy).
When you register a domain, the registrar is required to collect information from you, including registrant name and contact information. The name listed as the registrant owns the domain and has the right to manage it. This means that registrants can do things like point the domain to a different website, change settings that affect email delivery, or let the domain expire.
If you plan to register your own domain, you’re set! It’s not uncommon, however, for people to let someone else — an employee or web designer, for example — register their domain. If that person lists their name as the registrant, you might have trouble when you need to manage or renew the registration; what if that employee ever quits or if you can’t reach your web developer?
Not sure whose name is listed as the registrant? You can run a WHOIS search for most domains. If the domain has private registration, you’ll need to contact your registrar to find out who the registrant is. If you can access the account where the domain was registered, log in and verify the registrant name that way. Anyone who’s registered their domain through WordPress.com can simply head to the Domains page. If you have more than one site, you’ll need to select the site associated with your domain. Then select the domain and click on Contacts and Privacy.
Know who your registrar is and how to access the account
Registrar vs. web host — what’s the difference? A registrar sells domain registrations and maintains registration records. A web host (hosting service) sells space on a computer server that holds your website’s content and serves your content when someone visits your website.
Many registrars offer hosting service (and many hosts also register domains) but registration and hosting are two separate services.
In order to keep your domain registration current and manage your domain settings, you have to be able to access the account where the domain is registered (for example: if you registered your domain here at WordPress.com, you’ll need to be logged in to your account to manage your domain).
Don’t assume that your registrar and web host are the same. If you’re not sure who your registrar is, you can find this information by doing a WHOIS lookup. You should see results that look like this:
If you are not able to sign in, contact your registrar to see what you need to do to regain access to the account.
Know when your domain expires and how to renew it
Domains at WordPress.com are registered for a year at a time. Other registrars may allow you to register a domain for longer periods. In order to continue to use the domain, you must keep your registration current. Typically, this requires you to sign in to the account where you registered the domain and process a payment to renew it. Many registrars also allow you to set the domain to automatically renew. This is a good option — just don’t forget to keep your payment information up-to-date.
If your domain is registered through your WordPress.com account, make sure you’re logged in and head to the Domains page. You can then click on the domain to view expiration and renewal information. You can also click on Payment Settings to update your payment information.
Know what happens if you cancel a domain or let it expire
Important: Make sure the email address you have on file with your registrar is up-to-date, as they’ll use it to send you domain expiration warnings. If you have an email address associated with your domain, don’t use it in your contact info: if the domain stops working, so will the email address.
If you cancel a domain or let it expire, you risk losing it forever. Even if you’re able to get it back, it might involve additional costs.
Once a domain expires, there’s generally a brief grace period during which you can renew at the standard renewal price. Once the grace period passes, the domain enters redemption. During this phase, additional fees often apply to renew the domain. It’s also possible that your domain could be auctioned off. You can read more about the expiration process here.
If you cancel a registration, you are giving up ownership of the domain. Generally, there is a small window of time in which a registrar can re-activate a canceled domain if you made a mistake and want the domain back. Otherwise, depending on the TLD and when the domain is canceled, it might be released in a short period of time and be available again to register, or it might be held until the original expiration date. In some cases, the domain is not released and therefore, is not available to register again.
Know what your responsibilities are
A quick note about privacy: Once you register a domain, your contact information is available publicly. If you prefer to keep your information private, most registrars offer privacy protection, or private registration, using a proxy service. If you opt for privacy, only the proxy service’s info is displayed publicly.
ICANN requires you to provide accurate and up-to-date contact information. For new registrations, registrants are often required to verify their contact information within 15 days of registering a domain. If there is no response to a verification request, the domain can be suspended, which means you can’t use it until the contact information is verified. You may also not be able to renew the domain while it’s suspended.
Know how to get help
If you have questions about how to register, renew, or manage your domain, it’s best to contact your registrar directly. At WordPress.com, we have support documentation that can answer many common questions about domains. In addition, you can contact our Happiness Engineers, who are happy to help with any questions or problems you have with registering or using a custom domain with your WordPress.com site.