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“No” to abandoning domain names!

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A .fr domain name is abandoned every minute

Summer’s here, a season when everyone takes time out for themselves to switch off as much as possible. I wanted to take advantage of this period to raise awareness among all registrars of a cause that is close to my heart and that drives what I do at Afnic on a day-to-day basis – fighting the abandonment of domain names by their holders.

Over 500,000 .fr domain names are sadly abandoned (read “deleted”) by their holders every year. This is, of course, still less than the almost 800,000 adoptions (understood as “creations of .fr domain names”) we see annually, but such abandonments are still heart-breaking for me, and I imagine it’s the same for many of the holders.

If we analyse the abandonments we find instances of the following:

  • Voluntary abandonment: “I don’t want to renew my domain name”
  • Involuntary abandonment: “Argh! I forgot to renew my domain name” or “the person who was supposed to renew it didn’t do it” or “I wasn’t eligible to register a .fr domain name and got caught out”

Let’s start with the second category. These sorts of involuntary abandonments concern all holders, registrars and registries and can have tragic consequences. If the domain name was in use and still gets deleted, the holder runs the risk of a third party (on a first come, first served basis) registering and using the newly available domain name. This presents a significant risk from a cybersecurity perspective since the new holder can recreate the old email addresses and consequently try to access the previous holder’s old online accounts. It can also undo all the SEO work done on the previous website (natural SEO experts are big users of expired domain names). Finally, the new holder can simply benefit from the brand equity associated with the domain name. The abandoned domain name will direct all of its power and “love” towards its new holder.

Yes, forgetting to renew your domain name is a (sometimes disastrous) mistake.

Generally speaking, domain names that have been (carelessly) abandoned voluntarily held no value in the eyes of their dear holders, despite all of the advantages they offered in terms of image, redirection, professional emails, etc. This represents a failure on multiple levels. The holder may simply have registered the domain name but failed to get their project or company off the ground, or the company may have closed down, or the holder may simply not have used the domain name because “it’s too complicated to build a website” or “my site isn’t giving anything back, so why should I maintain it?”. Such abandonments are bad news for everyone: the registrar, who loses a client, and the holder, who is not convinced by the “domain name” product.

By helping companies to make good use of digital products we can help them to improve their management and their prospecting and consequently improve their economic outlook.

My proposals for eradicating the abandonment of domain names by holders:

1 - Usage, usage, usage

“No usage, no renewal”: that’s the principle I work from at Afnic. If a client pays for a product, it’s for the added value that it brings them. If the domain name (often sold alone) is not linked to an email address or website, then the likelihood of it being deleted is much higher. Let’s be honest: I can create an email with Gmail or my ISP in just a few clicks. After 9 years at Afnic (and the same length of time working for a telecoms operator), it took me 30 minutes to create a domain name with a registrar, then create a personalised email address and configure it on the smartphone of a friend who’s a tradesman. We must (at least try to) do EVERYTHING in our power to make using domain names more accessible to holders. When I speak at conferences about domain names, the title of my workshops is often “How do you choose your website address?”. The aim is for artisan florists in Besançon to be able to register their domain name independently, set up a redirect (to start with) and then create an email account that they can configure on their mobile phone. This will give them a really professional-looking business card and enable them to print stickers for their shop window or van. They can be proud of their email address and will keep their domain name for the lifetime of the business.

What if we joined forces to produce a series of short, simple video tutorials to help new holders get to grips with these basic steps?

Given the cost of acquiring new clients (advertising, affiliation, SEO, SEA, etc.), we all need to focus on renewing domain names. The customary renewal period is 4 years

Read my article  Link to my article “6 secrets on how to improve the renewal of domain names”

2 - Combating forgetfulness

Holders do sometimes forget to renew their domain names.

Here is some advice to be shared with holders:

  • “Register your domain name for a long period (up to 10 years for .fr!)
  • Make sure your contact details and email address are correct. Over and above the risk of losing your domain name due to inaccurate and therefore potentially ineligible details, your registrar will not be able to warn you of the impending expiry of your domain name.
  • Provide your registrar with a generic email address for an account you or a person you trust will always have access to, including in the event of force majeure.
  • Enable automatic renewal: this is the best way to make sure you don’t forget. The registrar will renew the name every year, provided that the registered bank card is still valid.
  • Last but not least, the best advice is: always register the domain name yourself, in the name of your company (which you own) or in your personal name if the domain name is for personal use. Your domain name is an intangible asset; it is not a trap to force you to stay with a third-party company”. 

3 - Training and above all coaching

The vast majority of our tradespersons/retailers will simply say “I want a website”. In most cases, they will have an Instagram account, a Facebook page and a Gmail account. Suggesting that they create their own WordPress site with a 1-click installation module on a shared hosting plan, with Anycast and DNSSEC signature options, would be like giving a car to someone who doesn’t have a driving licence and has never seen a car being driven in their life. Between the legal notices, choosing a theme, setting up a payment module, product delivery methods, review management, natural SEO and the fear of crashing everything, it’s easy to see why training, and coaching in particular for VSEs are vital to helping them make the most of our tools.

Registrars have seen an impressive number of domain name creations over the past year. I know that behind most newly registered domain names there are clients who bought their domain names while watching a tutorial on YouTube (think “How to Make a WordPress Website in 2023”, “Build a Website in One Hour”, etc.). I’ve met clients like these, who were proud to have “done it all ourselves, with the help of a few tutorials”. They’ve got it all under control.

How can we help holders to maintain their domain names?

Here are a few ideas:

  • We can work together to introduce commercial initiatives that promote usage alone, such as “1 month’s free hosting when you sign up for hosting with a .fr domain name”. Nine years ago, in my article entitled “Stop selling domain names!”,I urged you to do everything possible to encourage people to use them. I’m sticking by that today. While the domain name is a loss leader when it comes to selling other services, it has to be said that the usefulness of the domain alone is very limited and that promotions such as “your domain free* or for €1” have never really stimulated the creation of .fr domain names, even with the help of TV, radio, press and poster campaigns. Let’s sell websites, online sales accessible to all, online visibility, and let’s finally stop distributing .fr domain names for €1 that pay out €10 for every click on a search engine ad.
  • We can work together to guide clients to where they need to be. A good “How to create your email account and configure it on your iPhone or Android” tutorial sent out with your welcome emails would be a good way to help my florist in Besançon.
  • We can change how we communicate. We’re operating in a field dominated by geeks (myself included) and we love emails sent by robots. I’ve seen registrars boost their renewal rate by sending customers an SMS on D-7, for example. As an almost anonymous tester of your services, I’ve also had calls from some of your departments that go something like, “Mr Vigreux, it’s been a month since you registered your domain name and you’re still not using it. Would you like some help?”. 12 months after registration is already too late; it’s when they first adopt the domain that the new holder will be the most motivated or have an idea for a project in mind.
  • We can train new domain name holders! We can create coaching sessions dedicated entirely to your clients. In fact, we’ve already tried this with some of you. Not only does it result in excellent satisfaction levels, but it also helps clients to use your products (and often to use others, too).

Of course, Afnic, as the registry for .fr domain names, has its own role to play in fighting the abandonment of domain names— a role it embraces more and more every year with www.ré, the Foliweb workshops and the TV show Connecte ta boîte (“Connect Your Company”).