You’ve forgotten to renew your domain.
Regardless of whether you were too busy or didn’t check your emails, it’s now expired.
Caput, vanished into thin air, gone back into the wild. And it might never come back.
Sure, you messed up, but it could be worse. In 2012, Indian online travel retailer Yatra forgot to renew their domain. The $5 billion company never fully recovered.
But worry not. You probably won’t go bankrupt and you might even be able to get it back.
Let’s take a look at domain ownership, why they expire, and what happens next.
Can I Own a Domain?
No matter how rich or important you are, you can’t actually own a domain. The best you can do is lease one for a period of time. If you forget or fail to renew it, you’ll eventually lose it.
Even Microsoft has fallen afoul of the rules by failing to renew a crucial domain in 1999 and again in 2003.
Where Do Domains Come From?
At the top of the hierarchy is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This non-profit organization coordinates the procedures and databases required to distribute domain names throughout the world.
Each top-level domain extension, such as .com and .org, have their own registries. These for-profit organizations maintain their own specific extensions. The popular .com domain extension, for example, is run by an American group called VeriSign, who work closely with ICANN to run their business operations.
Beneath them are the registrars, smaller companies who have obtained the necessary authorizations to register domain names and sell them to resellers or directly to the end user.
Think of them as kind of like a domain name wholesaler. The most well-known example is GoDaddy.
Next, we have the resellers. These groups are kind of like retailers in that they exclusively sell domain names to the end user.
Resellers can be dedicated companies that deal solely with domains. But sometimes they’re actually web hosting providers, such as SiteGround or 1&1, that offer domain names as part of a wider range of services.
Finally, there’s the registrant; an individual or organization that rents a domain and has full control over it for the duration of the lease period. That’s you.
Why Has My Domain Expired and What Happens Next?
Put simply, you’ve reached the end of the lease period and you haven’t paid your bills.
But not all hope is lost. Depending on how long ago it expired, you might be able to get it back.
Expiry Grace Period
Resellers and registrars both provide a grace period to their customers as a gesture of goodwill (or more likely to retain customers).
Each reseller has a different policy, but they’re typically somewhere between 30 and 45 days. For example, Hostinger provides their clients with a grace period of 36 days while Bluehost offers 30 days.
As a side note, most resellers and registrars will give you advance notice before your domain expires, usually through email. But sometimes they fail to do so — or the email goes into spam — so it might be worthwhile sticking a note on your calendar to remind you just before your domain expires.
Redemption Grace Period
Even if your grace period has come and gone, you’ve still got a chance. ICANN stipulates all resellers and registrars must provide an additional 30-day Redemption Grace Period on top of their existing grace period.
After all, domain names expire all the time and if no such period were to exist, the internet would be a chaotic mess of revolving domains.
During this time, the Registrant must pay a $175 fee in addition to normal renewal costs to regain control of their domain.
Back into the Wild
Once both grace periods have passed, a domain will go back into the wild. Essentially, it’ll return to the open market and become available for anyone to snatch up.
What Happens When It Goes Back Into the Wild?
Some domain names are extremely profitable and therefore highly sought-after. If someone has their eye on yours, they’ll likely try and snatch it up through a backorder service.
What is a Backorder Service?
Think of these as like a waiting list. Potential new owners place a bid on a domain in the hopes the original owner won’t renew it. The backorder service uses “drop-catching technology” in an attempt to automatically register a domain the nanosecond it becomes available.
Depending on how many competing backorder services are vying for the same domain, this attempt may or may not be successful.
Many prospective registrants, or drop-catchers, simultaneously sign up with multiple backorder services to better their chances of snapping up a domain.
Sometimes, the drop-catcher will use the domain themselves. More often than not, however, they’ll sell it back to the original owner or a competitor for an inflated price.
This is big business. In fact, a legendary drop-catcher known as Yun Ye reportedly made US$165 million from the practice.
Numerous backorder services compete for the best domains. Popular examples include:
Has my Domain Disappeared Forever?
If your domain is desirable, it’ll almost certainly be snapped up in a flash by an entrepreneurial drop-catcher. You may be able to purchase it back from the new owner, but you’ll likely have to pay a hefty fee for the privilege.
If you’ve got an obscure domain name which isn’t particularly profitable, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to register it again. Do so ASAP before somebody else decides they like the look of it.
How Can I Prevent This From Happening?
As the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure.”
You’re much better off stopping your domain name from expiring in the first place than frantically trying to recuperate it once it’s gone back into the wild.
It’s simple enough really.
All resellers and registrars offer an automatic renewal option. As long as you’ve got this enabled and have enough money to make the payments, you’ll never lose control of your domain.
Speaking of money, take great care to ensure your payment details are up to date. If your credit card has expired, for example, the automatic renewal function obviously won’t work.
The best website hosting services, resellers, and registrars will send multiple email alerts to inform you that your domain is in danger of expiring. Keep an eye out on the email address you used to register the domain — and make sure your vendor’s emails aren’t being sent to your junk folder.
Hanging On to Your Domain
As you can see, taking the necessary precautions to maintain ownership of your domain is crucial. Otherwise, it may wander off back into the wild, never to be seen again.
Opt for auto-renewal, monitor the email address you used to register the domain, and ensure your payment details are up-to-date to prevent this nightmare scenario from occurring.
If it’s already too late, the best you can do is purchase the domain back from the new owner or, if you’re lucky, off the open market.
“Indian online travel retailer Yatra forgot to renew their domain” –
“Microsoft has fallen afoul of the rules by failing to renew a crucial domain” – https://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/11/06/microsoft_forgets_to_renew_hotmail/
“Yun Ye reportedly made US$165 million” –