Registering an Internet domain: things to know before you start
February 3, 2023
When you decide to register an Internet domain, and have to choose its name, firstly bear in mind the purpose of the website, and secondly the practices that you must avoid by law. Let’s break down the do’s and don’ts of web domains.
Why register an Internet domain?
There are basically two big reasons why people decide to buy and register Internet domains. The first is to promote their business, be it a company or a freelance business. In this case, you can choose to only consider keeping the domain in the long term, or also leave open the possibility of one day reselling it in the most profitable way possible.
The second reason may instead be to resell it or to profit from it in some way.
Let’s therefore see the possibilities to consider before choosing a domain name to register.
1. The Top Level Domain (TLD)
The issuance of new top-level domains (TLDs) occurs periodically and continues to this day: it is something to look out for in order to seize the best opportunities, whatever the purpose of your domain.
Today, there are more than 1500 TLDs, and in choosing them, you need to consider both their meaning and the availability of domain names for each.
For example, it would be unfortunate and unprofitable to dedicate the domain ‘travel.pizza’ to a travel agency in Asia, on the other hand, the issuance of the .pizza TLD in 2013 gave some people the opportunity to obtain very convenient and coveted domain names in their sector.
If the choice of name is geared towards making a profit on the domain itself, there is also the possibility of entering the NFT domain market and attempting to make money by creating your own original TLD. In contrast to the traditional system, in fact, the Web3 system is not dependent on ICANN and also allows greater freedom on the management of top-level domains. This is particularly the case with Freename, an NFT domain service with which it is also possible to receive royalties from one’s registered TLD.
2. Dropcatching and warehousing
Ownership of Internet domains is subject to the payment of a subscription which, if not renewed, lapses. On expiry, anyone could register the domain as their own, a practice called domain sniping or dropcatching. This is a risk for those who want to retain ownership of the site and continue their business, so the subscription must be carefully managed, perhaps through an automated renewal functionality.
On the other hand, it can be an opportunity for those looking for a specific name that is not available. In this case dropcatching can be done independently by monitoring the market for drops, alternatively there are backordering services – you can get on their waiting lists to buy a domain when it drops back on the market.
Registrars, however, often do not return expired domains to the public: they take ownership of them, turning them into ‘premium domains‘, and may keep them for their own purposes, or organise auctions for resale. This activity, called domain warehousing, is not considered illegal by ICANN, but the public may consider it unfair, as it restricts access to domain names.
3. Domain parking
This strategy consists of profiting from an unused site by placing advertisements on it and thus earning money through clicks on the ads.
If, for instance, you want to register an Internet domain in advance to seize an opportunity, but you already know that your website will be empty for a while, you can consider optimising the name for domain parking as well.
Creating consistency between the name of the site, the ads and the content it will present in the future could be advantageous in this respect. This is also usually facilitated by the service of the major registrars.
4. Domain flipping or tasting
Registering Internet domains cheaply and then reselling them at much higher prices is called domain flipping. One technique to test profitability in this respect is to take advantage of the 5-day grace period granted by ICANN, whereby if after this time the domain does not acquire an attractive price or is not purchased, a full refund of the registration can be obtained. This is called domain tasting.
The search volumes for some very common words such as ‘business’, ‘sport’, ‘weather’ make such names particularly in demand and therefore expensive. In fact, being words that are highly sought after by Internet users, they guarantee many visits and thus profit from both domain parking and the use of the site for the marketing of a product or service.
These practices are usually of interest to those who make domain buying and selling their full-time job, since the market is very competitive today. However, it is useful for everyone to know that their domain may be the object of interest for these web traders and that they may use both licit and illicit means to exploit its potential. This is precisely what we discuss in the next section.
Registering an Internet domain safely
Even before the dotcom bubble, speculation on web domains spread unbridled, given the absence of regulation. Registration was open to all without a check on trademarks or homonymy, and competition was scarce. The first measure against fraudulent practices, however, soon came: ICANN issued the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) in 1999 to limit precisely the counterfeiting of domains, which at the time was the rule rather than the exception.
Since then, these practices became prosecutable: it is illegal to register a name that is the same as a registered trade mark, or that can be confused with it, in order to profit from its popularity. In other words, there is a ban on cybersquatting.
There are several cybersquatting techniques: the first is typosquatting, i.e. registering an Internet domain by replacing or reversing the order of a name’s letters. Typos on the Internet, in fact, are frequent and could be exploited to perpetrate online scams (more on this in the article on Social Engineering).
For example, registering the name wiikpedia.com would be typosquatting, because it is intentionally similar to wikipedia and generated by the inversion of the letters i and k.
Name hijacking, on the other hand, occurs when a fraudulent actor takes control of the management of a domain and changes its registration to their own name. This is why it is essential to choose registrars with stringent security regulations and to comply with them.
The practice of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking or RDNH is even more devious: it is a kind of identity theft aimed at pretending to be the real owners of a trade mark and attempting to ‘claim’ a domain as their own in bad faith.
How to protect yourself against these cybersquatting attempts? Some companies buy up all possible typos of their domains to prevent malicious attackers from doing so, however, the variables can be very numerous and require a substantial investment, as well as new typos returning to the market in an unpredictable manner. This is also a possibility to be taken into account by companies’ cybersecurity systems, which can also implement machine learning to anticipate typosquatting or name hijacking attempts.
Let’s summarise. Before choosing an Internet domain, it is good to check these aspects:
- That the names you are interested in are available for SLDs and TLDs;
- To be able to face a very competitive and high-risk market if you do it for speculation;
- That the name you choose is legally usable: today the regulations are stricter;
- To personally manage the domain with active security measures such as 2-factor authentication;
- To be able to manage the subscription efficiently to avoid dropcatching;
- To be able to face cybersquatting attempts if you have a valued domain;
If, after this analysis, you find that registering an Internet domain does not interest or suit you, consider the alternative of NFT domains: a whole new market.