2014 presented a significant challenge for one of our customers. They let their primary domain registration expire and eventually lost the domain altogether. Without warning, they had no email and no website. Emails from clients and prospects were virtually lost in space and never received. To make things worse, a company from China registered the domain as soon as it was available and became the new defacto registrant, legitimately.
Losing control of your domain could essentially end your business. A lot of damage can be inflicted if the new registrant chooses to access external accounts like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, etc. All they have to do is know your email address and request a password reset.
Luckily, I don't believe our customer had any of their external accounts accessed but there were a slew of other issues like lost search engine rankings, communication confusion by customers, and more. A bad deal overall.
All this happened because renewal emails from the domain registrar were ignored. This is somewhat understandable considering the vast amounts of email we all get on a regular basis, especially if the registrar regularly sent other marketing messages. But it happened and caused substantial pain and loss for the customer. Had they operated an e-commerce site, they would have likely been out of business altogether.
What should you do?
The first thing you should do is make sure you know who has control and access to your domain registration. Go to http://whois.domaintools.com/ and type in your primary domain (e.g. "marketpath.com"). From the results you need to find out who the registrar and registrant are. The registrar is the organization responsible for registering and holding the domain. The registrant should be you, and if it's not, you should work to have that changed. Often the registrant details are private so you may have to do some more investigating.
The expiration date is also important. You should register your domain for as long as you can 5-10 years. This has a slight improvement on search rankings and will ensure you're safe for a while.
If you do not know who has control of your domain you need to find out immediately. Contact your technology provider or your website developer. They should be able to help out and guide you through the process of ensuring you have control of the domain. That's really the biggest thing, having control, and making sure the registrant of record is legitimate.
The registrant is the primary contact for the domain. This should be set to an email address used by your business that is not prone to turnover. We have seen countless times when the registrant of a domain is assigned to someone who hasn't worked there for years. Trying to reset login information and gain access becomes quite challenging.
The registrant should not be a 3rd party vendor. Vendors close doors and when this happens they're often not concerned with correcting WHOIS records.
At Marketpath, we use a generic email for all domain related registration, one that will not be deleted if an employee or vendor leaves. Using something like firstname.lastname@example.org could work. These types of generic emails can be mapped to multiple individuals in the organization so everyone is copied.
The bottom line is to know who controls your domain, know when it expires, make sure the registrant uses an internal email, and don't ignore email messages from the registrar.