An email from a slightly bemused client arrived in my inbox a couple of weeks ago…
“Not able to get on our website do you know if there’s a problem? Think I got couple of dodgy emails but ignored them!”
Oh dear. I pointed my browser to where the website ought to be and got nothing—just a slightly obtuse message in the middle of an empty window to the effect that the server in question was nowhere to be found. A quick WHOIS lookup confirmed my suspicion—the domain had expired two weeks previously.
At this point there was not much more I could do. This particular client was (supposed to be) managing their own domain. As the registered billing and administrative contact its renewal was their responsibility.
So what happens when your domain expires?
Firstly, try not to panic. There’s no need.
Any services associated with the domain will no longer work. As evidenced by my client’s enquiry, this typically means your website will disappear and your email will stop working. The domain registrar will have made several attempts to notify you of your domain’s imminent expiry. But that won’t help if the contact details registered against the domain are out of date or—like my client—you choose to ignore their emails.
Expiry of a .co.uk domain
In the case of a UK domain, the UK domain authority Nominet will send an email to the contact email address held against the domain name to say that it has expired. If no renewal request is received within 30 days of the expiry date, then the domain name is suspended. Nominet will send a warning seven days before this happens, and then another once the suspension takes place. At this point you can still renew your domain.
Once the domain has been suspended for 60 days Nominet will schedule it for cancellation. Seven days prior this Nominet will send one final renewal reminder. If no action is taken the domain is cancelled. This will be 90 days after its initial expiry date. At this point your domain is no longer yours and it becomes available to anyone who wishes to re-register it.
Expiry of .com domain
For other domains, the process depends on the relevant registery. In the case of generic top level domains (such as .com, .net and .org) it is a little different to a UK domain. If your domain is not renewed before its expiry date, the domain enters a ‘renewal grace’ period lasting 30 days. During this period it is possible for the registered owner to renew the domain without incurring additional charges. After the 30 day renewal grace period the domain’s status is changed to ‘registrar hold’ for a further 30 days. At this point the owner can still renew the domain but they may be required to pay an additional redemption fee.
During the registrar hold period, the domain registar may offer the domain for auction on the open market. If the domain sells then the highest bidder must wait until the 30 day registrar period ends before ownership of the domain is transferred. If the domain does not sell at auction then it is offered in a closeout sale for a low price. Even now, the domain can still be renewed by the original owner—in which case the new purchaser will be refunded.
Once the 30 day registrar period ends, if your domain has not been renewed or purchased then it enters a 30 day redemption period. During this time the original owner can still renew the domain with the additial redemption fee. At the end of the redemption period—90 days after is original expirty date—the domain is marked as pending deletion and will eventually be removed from the register. At this point it will be available for anyone to re-register.
In a nutshell, if you unintentinally allow your domain to expire, you will have at least 60 days in which you will be able to renew it. For a UK domain you actually have 90 days after which it is quite likely that you would be able to re-register anyway—unless your domain is highly desirable and sought after, in which case it might get snapped up.
With .com domains it is a different story. The fact that expiring .com domains are put up for auction—combined with their increasing scarcity—means that any semantically meaningful .com domain will almost certainly be bought up by domain prospectors and will never resurface on the open market. You may be able to purchase it from its new owner, but be prepared to pay well over the odds after a price negotiation.
It’s not unusual for domains to be undervalued by their owners, simply because the initial cost to acquire the domain was just a few pounds or dollars. But once you have an established online presence with a website, emails and a proliferation of backlinks—not to mention any investment you may have made in offline marketing, signage and print—then your domain’s true value as a business asset is incalculable.
So make sure you know who your registrar is, and check that they have the correct contact details registered against your domain.
How did it work out for my client? It turns out the payment details held on their account were no longer valid, so the domain registrar had been unable to take a renewal payment. Once the bank details were updated the domain was renewed and within 48 hours their website was back online.