Why it’s best not to let your domain name expire

19 November 2019

It is actually a very smart move to extend your domain name even if you really do not need it any longer. In this way, you prevent hackers and vandals from picking up your domain name and causing all sorts of havoc. A world of explanation. …

When does a domain name expire?

Quite simple: when you do not pay the annual registration costs for your domain name within the foreseeable period to your registrar, the company with which your domain name is registered. After a grace period, which varies per domain extension such as  .com, .be, .biz, .guru…, the domain name is released. Everyone who so wishes can then register that domain name. You can read more about this grace period in our Article on domain drop catching.

Why would you not extend your domain name?

You are now carrying out your business activities under another corporate name as a result of a merger, change of business plan or reorganisation. Your old domain name is replaced by a new one. After a temporary campaign, you no longer need the campaign site that was used to conduct it. Or as a governmental authority, you registered a domain name which refers to a certain action plan, issue, or measure  of the general governmental website (FOD or municipality). 

    This action is completed after a certain time. So you would be mad to continue to pay in order to retain your old domain name. Sounds logical, doesn’t it?  But it isn’t, in fact.

    Your old domain name can now be registered by anyone – including hackers and pranksters. And that can have serious consequences. Your domain name refers not only to your website, but also to all your e-mail correspondence. Some practical examples:

    • Ethical hacker Inti De Ceukelaire purchased the domain name in 2017. This is mentioned in a tweet from 2012 in which Donald Trump announced that he would be speaking at the National Achievers Congress. The hacker placed an anti-Trump YouTube clip on the nac2012 website. Consequence: the original Trump tweet now refers to that clip, and no longer to the congress.
    • In the Netherlands, ethical hacker Wouter Slotboom was able to intercept e-mails intended for police officers for a year and a half. Not by using super-sophisticated hacking methods, but simply by registering the old domain names that the police used to use.
    • Again in the Netherlands, thousands of files of children and young people wound up in the hands of two whistle-blowers, who were able to register the previous domain name of the Utrecht Youth Welfare Centre.

    The misery that others can cause when they register your expired domain name cannot be overlooked. A competitor can steal your customers or vilify you on your domain.

    In the case of the Utrecht Youth Welfare Centre, there was even a data breach, and then the GDPR rules entered into force, with possible stiff fines as a result – not to mention the reputational damage!

    Best practices for an expired domain name

    You can thus decide that the cost of maintaining your superfluous domain name is peanuts by comparison with the possible damage. But does that mean that you must keep all domain names you no longer need forever? Just follow these tips:

    For your website:  

    1. Place an automatic re-direct on your old domain name, which refers visitors to your new domain name and website.  
    2. Monitor the traffic on your old domain name, to see how many people still go to your old website.
    3. Look through the referrals how they wound up there. Your old domain name may still be mentioned by third parties, for example on websites with opening hours, tips or reviews of your products, etc. Write to these websites and ask them to correct your domain name.
    4. Now check in your own back office (online and offline) whether all references to your old domain name have been replaced by the correct address, e.g. letterhead, standard forms, etc.
    5. As soon as you notice that the traffic to your old domain name has dried up, you can consider whether you want to extend this name any longer. This could take a few years.
    6. Consider: the registration costs for a domain name usually come to some dozen euros per year: such a cost is negligible compared to the damage you can suffer!

    Do not forget your e-mail addresses either:

    It is also very important that you apprise your correspondents also of your new domain name and related e-mail addresses. The old domain name can keep popping up persistently in your e-mail addresses. When a correspondent wants to send you an e-mail, and starts typing your name in the “To” field, your e-mail programme will fill in the address automatically with the data already known, in this case your old domain name. That issue can also be solved when your correspondent removes the obsolete e-mail address manually. Follow these steps:

    1. Create an automatic reply for e-mails sent to your old address. Indicate clearly to your correspondent that the e-mail address is no longer in use. Ask him or her to send e-mails only to the new e-mail address, but also to remove the old address from his or her e-mail programme and webmail.
    2. You can also have your e-mails forwarded automatically to your new address, so you will not miss any e-mails. Depending on your e-mail address, you can ask your e-mail provider to do it, or you can do it yourself with the setting in your webmail (at gmail, for instance).
    3. Mention the new address as much as possible in all  communication. Create a signature in your e-mail programme and include your new e-mail address, for instance.
    4. Check regularly to see whether you are still receiving e-mails at the old e-mail address.  As long as that is the case, it is still worth keeping your domain name.

    Prevent reputational damage and fines for data breaches by keeping your old domain name for a number of years still. The registration will cost you at most a few dozen euros a year, but can spare you a great deal of misery!

    With this article, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.