Changing Your Name in Your Domain
Don’t Abandon the Old One


You’re changing your name, your organizational identity, maybe your personal name. You’re about to change your website’s domain. Do not discard the old one, even if it’s horrible and yucky and you’ll want to throw rotten tomatoes at anyone who’s still using it.

The problem is that someone will see that your old domain had traffic and will buy it, run ads on it or host their own site on it, and grab the visitors who should have come to you. The other site won’t even link to yours. And the ads can be angering, annoying, and depressing and won’t pay you a cent.

In some cases, you can sue, but not in as many cases as you might think. Besides, even if you would win, spending $12 a year to keep a domain compares rather nicely to paying a lawyer’s fee, court costs, your executives’ salaries for preparing for depositions, document photocopying at rates attorneys charge, and a few other bills. And, since the old domain stays in bad hands until the case is judged or settled, you can add a bill for your headaches till the domain finally comes back into your control.

If the domain is itself a trademark or service mark or contains one and you are not abandoning the mark, just not using it actively for marketing, a lawyer may want to keep one or two instances of the mark, just so they can sue other people for infringement. When Esso became Exxon and collected all the old gas station signs they could get their hands on, they didn’t want anyone offering gas and calling it Esso, so they probably kept the old trademark in their portfolio. But that meant keeping them in use somewhere, so maybe they had one barn in Nebraska and one factory on a side street in South Carolina painted with the old name on two obscure walls. Good luck finding them. Good luck proving Exxon is not still using the old name somewhere in a forest. Those two are probably enough for their legal purposes and maybe keeping your old domain can serve that purpose, too.

Meanwhile, someone’s bound to ask what to do with the old domain. What you do is you use it to keep attracting the traffic that has not gotten used to your new name. Ads don’t get much respect, so you could run ads on all the TV programs and a billboard every quarter mile across the country and there’d still be a bunch of people typing your old name. You don’t have to maintain separate websites. You can solve this at a very low cost.

Have your website hosting service accept your old domain as an alias for your new domain. That will send all of your traffic to one website, the one for your new domain.

If your host won’t do that, create a new website for the old domain and set it to permanently redirect all traffic to the website for your new domain. If your website is hosted using the Apache httpd Web server program, and maybe a majority of websites are, a one-line text file is all you’ll need in the website that redirects traffic. Because of the redirect, this redirecting website will never be seen by your visitors, so you don’t need to add any other content, not even your brand name, and you can run this redirection site for years with no maintenance and little cost (storage for the the text file is way under 100KB, bandwidth per visitor is low because they’re imnmediately redirected away, and you don’t need support for scripts or other fancy stuff). Because the redirect is marked as permanent, your visitors’ browsers will usually automatically update their bookmarks and favorites to your new Web address.

If you will want to get rid of the old domain eventually, like if keeping it involves a trademark downside (although it shouldn’t), try to spread the retirement out over a year or two.

You could redesign the redirection website into an educational website, saying something like, “We’re sorry, but we changed our name from . . . to . . ., and we have a new website at . . .. Please visit us there now, by clicking on the link.”

Some people would set that page to redirect after, say, ten seconds. That’s not a very good idea, since people with disabilities can find the page disappearing too fast for them. So don’t time it, but just make the link available.

Dead-ending the website is sometimes the best option. Anyone visiting gets a blank page with not a word on it. Someone hired people from Google and made a competing search engine. In my opinion, it was badly designed and useless. Regardless of what I thought, it folded. Either you can’t get there with your browser or you might see a blank page, at cuil.com. That domain had become the property of Google, which doesn’t even want redirection of traffic to Google and doesn’t want to run ads on it, even though you’d think they’d want searchers and they have plenty of ad inventory to post. It’s a dead end. That might be worth it to you.

Check the logs once in a while and see how many people came through the old domain in a recent month. Reading logs for that information can get complicated. What the logs include may depend on your hosting service’s configuration of their servers. If setting the old domain as an alias means the logs won’t show traffic through the alias, you may need to create the redirectional or educational website instead of the alias and check the logs at that site. If your traffic is heavily seasonal, compare new log data to the matching periods of a year earlier.

Eventually, hopefully, the traffic to the old domain will drop so low that you no longer care about it. See if that’s true for an entire year. Then, you can offer to sell it or you can simply stop renewing it.

If you want to try selling it, you can offer it to someone who has a large inventory of domain names at premium prices (I’ve heard of $69 and $155,000, each for one domain), although they probably won’t offer you much for just one name that you say has value but probably has little. Or, you can offer it directly to potential buyers. To do that, you’ll need either to have someone else promote it or to create a website for that domain and say something at the top like, “This domain may be for sale! Contact . . . [your office].” Don’t put any intellectual property (like trademarks or copyrighted content) on that domain’s website, in case you transfer it to a new owner too quickly for you to clean it up. Arrange in advance the transfer details with your domain registrar, domain reseller, or hosting service so that you can transfer it quickly (you may need a transfer code, transfer secret, auth info code, or EPP code). If you recently bought the domain, you can’t transfer it for 60 days, but you can afterwards, and I doubt the 60-day limit applies to renewals.