The final part in our series on the steps any organisation should take before they press delete focuses on what you could be giving away to opportunists and your competitors unwittingly. The cost of undoing an erroneous deletion is significantly more than the renewal cost and it is often wise to work with a corporate domain name management company or a consultant who is able to review domain names due for expiry/renew on a regular basis and make recommendations based on a holistic review rather than a cursory glance at just the name and the renewal cost.
Many organisations look at domains purely in the cost of registration or renewal, but there is an inherent cost that is hard to quantify. It is often the case that organisations look to cut budgets every year and will target domain names that appear to have little or no value without ever properly checking. Along with the previous steps, the following checks will determine the importance of a domain name to an organisation, as well as the potential value to a third party.
- Are there any trademarks that align to the domain name? The cost of registering and maintaining trademarks is normally a bigger concern to organisations than their domain names, although in most cases, renewals are for multiple years, rather than single ones for domain names. A combination of a matching trademark and a domain name registration within a specific jurisdiction provides comprehensive protection for an organisation’s intellectual property. In some geographies, a trademark is needed before a domain name can be registered, and within the new gTLD programme, the protection offered by the Trademark Clearinghouse is dependent on the validation of a trademark with active use. Allowing domain names to lapse that support trademark registrations could allow third parties to make conflicting trademark applications themselves and look at passing off abuse in the future. The cost of a domain name registration is normally a fraction of the trademark, yet when combined they provide an added layer of protection for the brand, so it is important to cross refer any domain names to the trademark database. If in doubt about the internal records, an organisation could carry out their own searches for trademarks – a simple database to start with is the Gov.uk one here.
- How would you feel is your biggest competitor acquired the domain name and started actively using it? This question is normally the one that organisations find the hardest to answer. Of course, they would hate to see anyone using their domain names actively, but on the other hand, don’t want to keep them themselves. This simple test is often enough to make organisations think twice about whether to delete a domain name or not. There is a big difference between a cyber squatter picking up a dropped domain and using it to try to extract cash out of an organisation and a competitor forwarding a domain name to their existing website. If there is any doubt about whether the organisation would be able to justify it, let alone be happy about it then the domain name shouldn’t be deleted.
- How has the domain name been used previously both internally and externally? Whilst a domain name may not appear to be live or have a valid DNS entry, it could have some hidden use internally. For instance, it could have some live MX records which support a whole email platform within an organisation, or even externally too as web forwards. Before you press the button to delete the domain name you may just want to ensure that it doesn’t somewhere support any other applications. Likewise, you may just want to check the backlinks to a domain name to see if you could potentially upset anyone else, or inadvertently send traffic someone else’s way by deleting the domain. One good tool to use for this is ahrefs.
- Is the domain name on any black list? Finally, it may just be worth checking to see if any domain names appear on any black lists before it is deleted. Whilst you will in theory be getting rid of an issue by deleting a domain name that appears on “bad domain” lists, previous ownership searches could reveal that the organisation was the last registrant and there may be some reputational issues. Using a tool such as MX Toolbox enables an organisation to quickly check if the domain name is listed anywhere and take the necessary corrective measures. This is especially important if you plan to try to sell the domain name, as it should be one of the measures that a prospective buyer takes.
Whilst there is an ongoing balance between ensuring that domain names both proactively and reactively add value to an organisations intellectual property, and reducing ongoing costs, it is vital to ensure that careful consideration is given to all decisions on the deletion of domain names. If an organisation doesn’t have the resources or the time to review their portfolios regularly, approach a corporate domain name management company or an experienced domain name consultant would could carry out the audit work and even create a domain name policy that will document the different categories of domain names they hold and set some parameters on which domains should be held, and which should be considered for deletion.
Should cost still be a major concern some corporate domain name management companies may be able to offer defensive domain registrations, where the DNS is set to a holding page or resolver without any ability to override it, similar to the .XXX blocks (www.bmw.xxx for instance) in exchange for a lower registration/renewal fee.
The final piece of advice is that if an organisation is in any doubt, just ask. It is far better to double and treble check that to have to explain away why a critical piece of IP has been allowed to lapse or be deleted.