Bill Grunau

How to Lose a Brand in 43 Days and Rebuild from the Ashes

Trusted-Established BrandImagine spending over 10 years building a brand with a solid website and excellent search rankings for competitive keywords in your market niche from years of SEO; then suddenly one morning your website is gone!  This actually happened to one of our clients, here’s what happened and how you can avoid it.  

What Happened 

Our client’s domain expired, not a big deal normally, but her credit card on file had expired also.  The domain registrar sent emails notifying her of her domain expiring and that the credit card had expired, but alas, the email on file was not one she regularly checked.  

Fast forward 43 days later… our client’s website is gone and someone has put up a temporary page! 

After the client called us we did some fast and furious checking, discovered the domain had expired, the grace period for renewal had also expired, and the domain had been purchased that morning at midnight immediately after the grace period expired.  

We contacted the domain registrar, but since the domain expired and the grace period had lapsed the domain was gone and there was nothing they could do.  We contacted the Drop Catcher (see below for explanation) that bought the domain and yes they were willing to sell it back, the cost… $8,500!  That’s right, $8,500 to buy back your own domain that this person had bought just hours ago!  We explain Domain Drop Catching below and also steps to protect your domain, but first let’s talk  about how we helped this client rebuild their brand.  

 How we Rebuilt the Brand Fast and Security Precautions! 

At this point the client has no website, customers are going to the old domain name only to find a very spammy temporary landing page, and the domain is being held hostage for $8,500.  We worked with the client to get a new domain name, restored the website to the new domain name, did as many 301 redirects as possible, and then started a SEO and SEM/PPC campaign.  

By the way, in losing the domain they also lost their email domain so we also had to set up the new email, post on the new email domain on Facebook and the client sent several mass emails out to their mail list explaining the change. What is really scary about this is that the Drop Catcher could actually set up a catch all email account under their newly acquired domain and grab all emails going to the clients old domain.  This meant that the client had to change login emails on all of their bank accounts, social media accounts, and anything that had an email associated with it.  Lot’s of work that had to be done quickly.  

The new website hit the ground running with a lot of highly relevant content and an excellent information architecture along with solid on-site SEO.  We immediately started an aggressive SEO campaign that focused on quality link building.  Rankings started off at zero, but within a few weeks were climbing quickly and are on track to perhaps surpass the old site.  

We certainly don’t recommend losing your domain or starting from scratch, but this illustrates that if you must for whatever reason all is not lost, you can rebuild from the ashes.  

Domain Drop Catching 

When your domain expires there is a mandated Redemption Grace Period for the domain owner to renew it.  The grace period varies from 30 to as long as 90 days, the registrar for our client it was 43 days.  When a popular or well ranking domain expires there is a long list of opportunistic people called Drop Catchers in line to buy it so they can profit from the domain you have built or hold it ransom and sell it back to you at an exorbitant price.  The moment your domain expires and the grace period has lapsed your domain will be instantly snapped up by a Drop Catcher this is what they do for a living, while some may be legitimate many are essentially domain kidnappers waiting for their next victim.  

There are serious questions about whether this violates the Cyber Squatting/Domain Squatting law passed by Congress.  Attorneys advised our client that she could take them to arbitration and would likely win as this was an established brand name, however, it would take 60 to 90 days and the cost would be in the $5,000 to $10,000 range with no guarantees of the outcome.  No wonder these guys get away with this.  

Drop Catching is big business now, with automated software competing to see who can snatch up a newly expired domain first, milliseconds can be the difference between wining and losing.  Website Magazine published an article Drop Cacthing Domains – Big Business summarizing a CADNA (Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse) study on the fate of expired domains.  The short story; 100% of expiring Dot Coms and Dot Nets are instantly registered after they expire.  87% are used for PPC (Pay Per Click) sites.  They have no interest in the domain other than to turn a quick and short term profit by creating a temporary landing pages for PPC ads and if they are lucky selling the well established and aged domain to someone for thousands of dollars, maybe even the original owner.  

There have been discussions at ICANN and other agencies about the abuses and outright scams surrounding Drop Catching.  The initial intentions were good, set up a way to reserve domains when they legitimately expire and the Cyber Squatting law clearly prohibits snatching up a domain for the purpose of holding it hostage, but regardless, it is being abused.  This had been debated since around 2004 or 2005 and there seems to be very little progress being made and frankly it just does not appear to be a priority for any agency or the gov to address. 

How to Protect Your Domain and Brand

  1. Domain Renewal: make sure you domain always has at least 3 years until expiration.  This is a good precaution to avoid an unexpected expiration and also helps for SEO.  Domains with long term renewals count as a positive factor for search rankings along with domain age.  
  2. Domain Registrar Contact Info: keep your contact information up to date with your domain registrar including phone (although they probably won’t call you), email (vital), credit card information, and most certainly set it for auto-renewal.  Remember that auto-renewal is useless if you don’t update your records. 
  3. Consider having your webmaster or SEO firm manage your domain: your webmaster or SEO firm can manage your domain registration for you.  We manage dozens of domains for clients (unfortunately in retrospect not this one until now) and consequently we constantly monitor domain registration status and managed domains are on automatic update.  In a sense it is easier to manage dozens of domains when it is part of your business than it is to manage your own single domain that comes up for renewal every few years (easy to lose track of this).