You want your own domain, it’s cheap isn’t it? One extreme case I got hired to help out with had purchased over 20 for a brand new initiative. It had sunk a lot of money into the new initiative, so maybe they thought this domain acquisition spree was an incidental cost and protected their brand. I suggested that they do not use them, at all, at the time because it would be utterly confusing and over time add unnecessary cost for no benefit. But, here is some new advice.

Many businesses and projects invest in cheap domains perhaps without thinking things through. How long is the project/business for, and importantly, what happens after the project/business is wound up? A typical case has a project up and running for a few years, but a marketing campaign could be for as little as a few months. Once the project is complete the manager moves on and in a year or 2 the domain expires. No one really notices as no one is paying attention and the domain is lost. The website at this point stops working, though it can be reverted easily to its placeholder domain in many setups such as https://ourlocality.rog/mybeautifulsite/.

Nobody cares though, until an unsuspecting individual finds a reference to the expired website in an official document. The link is on an authoritative one and trusted, like a Local Council or the project sponsor/donor/funder or perhaps a newspaper article, that covered your story. The unsuspecting user discovers that there is a completely different website at the other end! Moreover, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the original project, but is a shopping website, selling high value fashion.

The first time I saw this, I couldn’t figure it out. Why would someone buy an expired domain about some community initiative to sell their wares? Could it be that the community project had a bit of traction and loads of people linked to it? Well yes, it seems that is the starting point for some projects of greater longevity (private blog networks are run by black hat SEO snake Oil Sales people), but there is a curious and cruel twist.

Some of these websites don’t sell anything at all, but are fake e-commerce portals, with high value consumer goods for sale at ridiculously competitive prices. Whether or not they deliver anything I don’t know, but they can easily harvest credit card information from unsuspecting punters drawn in by the cheap prices. It takes literally minutes to crank up a clone website on that expired domain. A few configurations later the new owner can grab a free SSL certificate for greater authenticity and the trap is laid. Repeat 10s or 100s or 1000s of times, from the safety of your bedroom. Thankfully we’ve not heard of anyone who has come to harm, but it is just a matter of time, the internet is not and never was a safe place.

[Edit 16:48 Sunday 14 June 2020]  As well as domains, old instagram and twitter accounts are also sought after, especially if they’ve got a bit of a track record and can be used by bad actors to propagate misinformation or just add spurious credibility to  an account which is up to no good. [Edit 16:48 Sunday 14 June 2020]

Our recommendations:

1. Don’t buy more domains than you need – 1 will do

Unless you plan to go global in one great big step, it is a waste of time and money. You don’t need the .this version and the .that version – just pick the one that first your sector and localises it. Avoid premium (aka exotic) domains, at a discount – it’ll cost you dear in later years.

2. Don’t let your domain expire

There’s a bit of control freakery in all of us, but if you really trust your web host let them handle the domain side, make sure they set the domain to auto-renew. I would recommend that you buy a domain for 5 or even 10 years, something which may not be available on all platforms or for the exotic ones. Even if it is a short term project, this minimises the risk of reputation damage to your organisation.

3. Don’t buy another domain just because you need to create a new website

In this scenario, perhaps the old website simply has one or more links to the new website. No harm done, surely? In time, however, the new website owner forgets or fails to pay for the old domain and you hope the SEO hawks pounce on it before the fake ecommerce scammers do. Transfer the old domain to your new provider or link the DNS to your new website.

4. Always ask before you buy.

Ask OurLocality to reroute your domain properly to your new domain/website. Ask for the domain to be transferred into your ownership if you are leaving us. Don’t forget to say goodbye.

We can probably help you with a lot more than websites and domains, including other arcane internet things, like email, cloud services, and so on.