Emergency Guide for Lost Websites

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[Photo credit: London Underground Emergency Response Unit (WX07 NWJ) by policeblue999, on Flickr]

One of our loveliest, sweetest clients contacted us a few weeks ago with a sad story we hear too often. She'd lost her website. Actually, she knew it was going to happen, because every year at the same time, the site went down like clockwork, and it took precious time and effort to resurrect.

This happens from time to time, especially to people looking to save some money by registering with a bargain basement Web host. As a confirmed cheapskate, I'm not blaming. But sometimes you really get what you paid for. Web hosting is hardly ever very expensive, and it's worth spending a couple hundred dollars a year on a service you can trust.

But that doesn't help if your website is caught in some netherworld where you can't reach it, and you can't reclaim control of the web address. Here's a checklist of things you can do if something like this happens to you:

Call the Web hosting accounting department.

Maybe it's an accounting error, and your payment went through late or not at all. Check with the billing department at the Web hosting company to make sure you're paid up.

Make sure your domain name is still registered.

You have registered your domain name (i.e., yoursite.org) for one or more years, but you have to renew the registration when it expires. You'll usually get a tickler e-mail that you need to pay, but you might have missed that message or it was sent to an old e-mail address.

We recommend our clients register their domain names for 10 years.

Your domain name is registered through a registrar for a certain number of years. 30 days before your registration is up, you should receive a bill by email. If you have changed emails, of course, you won't receive that bill! If you don't pay that bill by the due date, your web site disappears from the public view. If you wait 30 days longer, it's no longer your domain name.

The bad news is that domain name might have already been picked up by what I think of as the slum lords of the Internet. People and companies that troll around for high-traffic domain names and snap them up if they expire. Your options in this case are limited.

Sign up for ICANN Arbitration.

You may have some hope of getting the domain name back if you have a trademark on it, thanks to ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). To win the arbitration, you need to prove that

  1. your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and
  2. you have no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
  3. your domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

You don't need legal counsel, but it helps, and you can count on paying $1000 for it. Usually what happens is whomever registered your domain will sell it for just shy of that amount.

Buy it back.

You might have to suck it up and buy it back from the company that snatched it from you. It's probably cheaper than fighting.

Get another, similar name.

If it's a small enough site, you're better off just getting a new domain name and updating all your contact information.

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