Your domain name is one of the most important parts of your online presence. It is your "address" on the Internet, and points to your digital home base: your company website.
The domain name system is not terribly complex, but it's just complex enough that not everyone understands how it all works. For this reason, many organizations turn over all control of their domain name to an agency or web firm to manage. This has some pros and cons and I'd like to offer a brief overview of how domain names work and then offer some perspective on who should control your domain.
A domain name (like "spinweb.net") is an address that defines a "realm of authority" on the Internet. It can be thought of like a physical address for your office. Your address is where mail is sent and where people drive if they want to visit your office. A domain is similar. If someone wants to visit your website, that person will use your domain name to access it. Your domain name "points" to your website just as your physical address "points" to your office.
Yes, very basic stuff. Just setting the stage.
So how do domain names work? Well, a domain must be registered with an entity called a "registrar". A registrar is a company that issues and manages domain names. Examples include Network Solutions, GoDaddy, and Register.com.
Now, your website lives on a web server and has a specific address assigned to it, called an "IP address", which stands for "Internet protocol address" and is made up of four segments separated by a period, like 123.456.789.123. This IP address points to your website.
Now, the final step is to get your domain to point to this IP address, which in turn points to your website. This is done by delegating your domain name to a set of name servers.
Name servers are machines that are set up specifically for the purpose of routing domain names to the proper IP address. When a domain name is delegated to a set of name servers, that gives authority to those name servers to point the domain name anywhere. So the whole sequence of events looks like this: registrar points the domain name to name servers, name servers point the domain name to an IP address, and IP address points the domain name to a website.
Name servers are usually set up by the company that hosts your website. For example, SpinWeb's name servers are identified with the names "ns1.spinweb.net" and ns2.spinweb.net". This means that if a domain name is delegated to our name servers, we can point the domain anywhere we need to. So who should control your domain name registration?
Many organizations turn over control of their domain names over an agency simply because they don't understand how it all works. Or if they need a new domain registered, they will ask an agency to do it for them. In most cases, I am heavily in favor of outsourcing many things to a digital agency. However, when it comes to domain names, my preference is always for our clients to retain control over their own domains.
Why? Your domain is the most critical component of your online presence. It controls who can get to your website, your email, your blog, and any other online properties that you own. Aside from that, it's not difficult to control. Most registrars have a pretty easy-to-use control panel that will allow you to make updates to your domain name, specify who in your company is in control of it, and what name servers it points to.
Once it is pointed to the right name servers, your agency can do everything it needs to handle your account. However, something as sensitive and significant as your domain should be under your control - not an agency's.
I would encourage you to become familiar with registering and managing domain names so that you are comfortable retaining control. If you have questions about this, please feel free to comment below.
So what do you think... should you retain control of your domain name or should it be controlled by an agency?