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So you want to start a company? (part 3)

You’re setting up a company (or a new division or maybe even a new brand) and you’d like to use email to communicate with your customers. In this series of posts I’m going to touch on some of the things you can do today to make email life easier for you in the future. Today, domain registration.

3. Not all registrars are created equal

Each domain suffix (.com, .co.uk, .org, .biz, etc.) is run by a single company (the domain registry) but there are dozens or hundreds of different companies (the domain registrars) who contract with the registries to sell domain names, and they in turn can have dozens or hundreds of resellers.
Some companies specialize in selling domain names, and maybe a few related services, other companies are primarily web hosts or web designers who do domain registration as a sideline. How do you choose?
Maintenance of your domain is critical to your business, so you want to purchase from a company that’s unlikely to make mistakes and is going to be helpful if something goes wrong. That means you might not want to buy it from your web designer or hosting company, rather from an accredited registrar.For gTLDs ICANN maintain a list of accredited registrars which can sometimes help you tell whether someone is a real registrar or a reseller.
Some registrars are unsuitable for registering domains that may be used for email due to poor policies in responding to spam reports. Godaddy, for example, may not be a good choice if you’re intending to use the domain for anything business or email related. You should do a little research rather than just going with the registrar with the most memorable advertising.
(We – Word to the Wise – have used a variety of registrars over the years and have finally settled on using OpenSRS, tucows bulk reseller programme. They’ve always been rock-solid and helpful. Their consumer arm is Hover, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.)
One last issue to be wary of is having another company register a domain on your behalf – this is something some web designers and a few web hosts will do. When you do that, you don’t own the domain, the other company does. If there’s any dispute, or if the other company goes out of business, you may well lose access to the domain. If your contact information isn’t associated with the domain (something you can check with a whois lookup) then you don’t own the domain at all. More subtly, anyone with access to any of the email addresses included in the domain contact data can likely unilaterally take control over the domain and lock everyone else out of it.

4. Who is behind the mask?

Registering a domain is a very public activity. You’re claiming ownership of a small piece of internet real estate. As part of that you provide contact information that will be published as part of the public records for the domain. There’s nothing to stop you providing fake contact information – and many domain registrars will offer you a “domain privacy” service to provide that fake contact information on your behalf – but you really should use your real address and a working email address and phone number there. Spammers, online scams, phishers and companies with dubious business practices always use fake or “privacy protected” contact information in their domain registrations – so if someone is trying to decide whether you, and the email you’re sending, is legitimate or not one of the first things they’ll do is look at your domain registration information.
If someone has received an abuse complaint about your mail, or if they’re blocking your email and you’re contacting them to resolve the issue, how legitimate you appear, and how transparent you are about who you are are critical to how you’re going to be perceived by them, and how they’ll treat you. Always, always have real contact information for any domain that you use for email.
That openness has a downside, though, which is that spammers will take the email address in your domain registration data and spam it. That’s one of several reasons you probably shouldn’t use a personal email address there – rather you should create a role address that forwards to you and use that. As your company evolves and the person who handles domain related issues changes you can keep the same role address and forward it to the new person.
Tomorrow, DNS.

1 comment

  1. Jona Fieggen says

    When picking a brand name and its associated domains, be sure to check whether the ‘.com’ version is available. Even if you are going for a local top level domain such as the country domain for the target market, most browsers will autocomplete the .com version, iOS devices have the .com button on the browser keyboard, and so on.
    Registrations are cheap, so don’t skimp on them. Register .com/.net/.org versions of your brand name if possible, plus any other TLDs that are relevant in your target market; .eu for example for the European market, country level TLDs such as ‘.co.uk’, ‘.de’, and so on.
    Pick up the .info and .biz if they are available, but do not use them to send e-mail if at all possible. Stick to the tried and true domains.
    Consider possible misspellings of your brand name, and evaluate whether it’s worth it to register the .com versions of those, plus any other TLDs you actively communicate out in the world, like on the back of that bus.
    Remember that you are competing in a global market place. At the very least, search for your intended brand name in trademark registries, and make sure there aren’t any obvious ‘alternate’ explanations in foreign languages, for example.
    Also, understand the business risks of using a ‘.com’ a the primary domain for a company outside the US; legislation, either in place or proposed, might not work out in your favor should there be a dispute with a US company, and a legal battle against corporations with deep pockets is one you might not win. One ounce of prevention, etcetera.
    Of course, IANAL. Consider consulting a lawyer if possible.

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