Imagine losing your website and your email. Imagine having to pay a ransom to a mysterious hijacker to recover your prized URL. Both scenarios are almost unthinkable yet in recent months, our consultancy has had to deal with three separate instances of grief caused by simple ignorance of each property’s general manager.
In all cases, the issue could have been simply avoided, with no cost, by simply looking up the WHOIS for the respective properties’ websites. WHOIS is the quick search designation for who owns a particular site. To start, go to any WHOIS engine such as www.networksolutions.com or www.godaddy.com (there are many others by the way).
Enter your URL and see what the results are. The data shown will provide you with your expiration date (also your renewal date), the administrative and technical contacts, and importantly their email information. Screen capture this information and print.
Most of you now will want to simply pass the details on to your IT department and let them worry about it. But before you do, as an owner or senior level manager, you should make yourself aware of some basic web information so that you can at least appreciate any ensuing problems.
Start by asking yourself three questions:
- Who owns your website’s URL; your official ‘brand.com’?
- How would you personally access the back-end directories for this URL in the event that you had to make a change to, for example, a new web provider?
- What can you do to ensure that your URL does not expire; a totally separate from web site hosting.
Let’s examine each of these issues.
First, I’d pass the ownership of your URL to the lawyers. It is intellectual property and has value in the many thousands of clustered alphanumeric sequences. However, legal ownership has zero bearing on the registration of your URL on the internet. There are only two individuals or companies that are recorded for any address: the administrative contact and the technical contact.
The administrative contact is the individual who is able to make ownership changes to the domain — that is, moving it to another administrator — or technical changes, such as the host server (also called the DNS or domain name server). The technical contact only has the ability to control the secondary functions like DNS. The administrator can swap the technical contact but not the other way around.
This all makes total sense, and on a day-to-day basis, this information is typically never relevant. Problems arise, however, when a change is required. And here is where the ugly truth boils to the surface.
For most hotels, the first move onto cyberspace was seen as something of an afterthought — one likely made well over a decade ago. Accordingly, the GM typically delegated the initial web work to a sales or marketing assistant, the IT manager (often a contractor) or a local web developer. No questions were asked of who was the administrator or technical contact would be. And domain prospecting and hijacking were definitely not common knowledge.
Now, in present day, you decide you want to modify the website and the new web provider happens to have a different site hosting platform. And yet you can’t! Why? Because the administrator is listed as that junior marketing assistant who parted with your company four years ago. Worse still, the email he or she assigned to the administrative contact was her long-since-abandoned Hotmail account. A change can be made, but it’s complex, frustrating and time consuming.
Another potential nightmare: You find out that your site has ceased to operate and the URL is not functioning, or worse, has been assigned to another individual demanding a king’s ransom for its immediate return. How did this happen? The URL expired; the registry contacted the administrator at that long-abandoned Hotmail account. After the notice period, a cyber-squatter picked up the address. You would have gladly paid the $20 per year renewal fee, but now you have to pay $5,000 to an attorney representing the person who prospected your technically-defunct URL.
So what do you do?
First, do not delegate. Do this yourself. You can’t leave ownership issues to anyone but the owners.
Second, look at your renewal date. If it is less than 10 years out, renew it for another 10 years. The cost will be at most a few hundred bucks. But in doing so, you’ll eliminate at least one risk for the near future. If you do not know how to renew this, ask your web company or IT manager.
Third, examine the Administrative Contact name and email. Are they familiar to you? The decision as to who to designate the Administrative Contact is critical. Ideally, it should be someone very senior in your staff. The email address should be one to your property or management firm, not a private Gmail or Hotmail account, allowing you access to make changes if that person leaves your team.
Fourth, examine the Technical Contact name and email. This can be the same as the Administrative Contact. Ideally, however, it should be an individual with an email that is not a part of the same address as your own website. If the site goes down and you need to change IP addresses, this task will be difficult if you don’t have the technical access. Remember, the administrator can change the technical contact at any time.
Following these simple steps will avoid issues that can impede commerce on your website and cause havoc throughout the property. Why not do it today? Check your WHOIS information and save yourself a potentially tremendous headache.
(Article published in eHotelier on July 13, 2012)