Every website has a unique domain name. Usually, these names start with the traditional www. and end with ".com", ".org", ".net", or one of the vast array of suffixes that are available on the market these days. There are now literally hundreds of generic top-level domains (or gTLDs), the latest of which are suffixes like ".guru", ".wtf", and ".ninja", with substantially more in the pipeline.
Domain names are allocated through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - or more usually known as ICANN. Established on 18 September, 1998 and with headquarters in Los Angeles, California, United States, ICANN is a "not-for-profit" organization responsible for maintaining databases that record domain names and who has registered them. In addition, ICANN is responsible for awarding domains with particular suffixes to particular organizations who manage their marketing and sale.
To purchase a domain name, you need to visit as domain name registrar. Often, web hosts also provide domain name registration services. Generally, unless you purchase a domain in country and pay by bank transfer, domain names are paid for online using credit cards.
Depending on the domain name, you can pay up to 3 years in advance, and that means as far as your website is concerned, you don't need to do anything until the next payment is required. It is also possible to automatically renew a domain name payment, meaning that your credit card is charged automatically and you don't have to login to your account to make a payment.
All this sounds great, but what if you forget to tick the box for auto-renewal? Or the charge comes and your credit card is maxed out? And what if you were relying on yourself to make the payment but for some unknown reason the reminder emails went to spam and you didn't see them? All of these issues could lead to your forgetting to pay for your domain name.
Realizing that you have forgotten to pay for a domain name can be a heart stopping moment, not least because usually the first you are aware of it is seeing a parking page where your glorious website used to be. However, when this happens there are things that you can do.
There is a 'Grace Period' after a domain name expires when the previous owner is able to repurchase the domain at the standard cost. It is like a 'cooling off' period and, according to ICANN, depending on the domain the period could be between 30 to 90 days. However, it is dependent on the domain provider you chose to allow you to renew the name after it has expired, and that means the cooling off period is going to be unique for each provider.
I personally wouldn't trust the Grace Period to be valid beyond 5-7 days, just to be on the safe side. However, if your domain name has a specific and obscure extension that relates to a particular country (a country code or ccTLD) there might not be a Grace Period at all.
You need to find out what the Grace Period means for your domain registrar at the outset before you purchase it. If you didn't do it then, do it now. You might find that the period depends on your account - for instance, if you are a high frequency domain buyer you might have a 'VIP' account or something similar, and as a result your domains may have a longer Grace Period.
Immediately After the Grace Period
If you fail to notice that your domain name hasn't been paid for during the grace period, it still might be possible to retrieve your name and save your website. However, expect your domain name to cost more under these circumstances - in fact on average it may cost between 50 and 100 pounds to secure the name again. Again, check these details with your particular domain registrar.
A Long Time After the Grace Period
If you notice that your domain name hasn't been paid for soon after the Grace Period, it is less problematic than if you notice well after the expiration date. If it is at all valuable, it may have been chosen by someone who "backorders" the domain to buy when it becomes available.
Again, it may still be possible to secure the domain, but it may require you to pay the amount the person 'backordering' the domain is willing to pay for it - and this could be a lot of money depending on your domain name. But again, you are at the mercy of your domain registrar as far as this is concerned. If more people have backordered your name, you may find yourself in an auction where you have to bid against other people to secure your domain - not a nice scenario.
Once the 'Grace Period' has expired, and the domain has not been backordered, then it may enter a 'Pending' (or "Pending Delete") period. Once the domain has expired and after 76 days becomes available to the general market again. If you find yourself in this period, hopefully you can pick up your domain again at the same price as you paid for it initially.
Expired and Sold
If the domain has expired and been resold, then you really are at the mercy of the new owner. He or she might transfer the domain back to you if you explain the situation, but personally I would expect to pay much more under those circumstances, or even be prepared to waive the domain goodbye.
How can I ensure I don't forget to pay for my domain name?
Most people pay for domain names for as long a period as they can because there are SEO benefits to registering a domain name for longer than one year. However, that's a long time to remember to do something and most people rely on reminders from their domain name provider. For numerous reasons, these emails can go missing or never arrive, so if you are serious about renewing ensure you have a backup system. Set the calendar in your Gmail account, or even a number of calendars in a number of different accounts!
Losing a domain name, and therefore losing a website, can be very traumatic indeed, especially if it is something you invested a lot of time, effort and even money into it. Take renewal seriously - don't forget to renew! It is nobody's responsibility but your own not to forget!