Who’s Using Your Parked Domain?

Domain names are an essential resource for businesses. Protect your investment in online branding by adopting these best practices for controlling the use of your domain names.

If your business is a typical one, you probably own many iterations of your trade name as domain names. For example, you may own ABC Company, so you bought “abc-company.com” and “abc-company.biz” as well as “abc-company.net” and “abc-company.info”. Or you might have purchased domains filled with different punctuation or even typos, to ensure that no one owns a domain that is too close to your own. You may have even acquired certain domains in the course of an asset purchase from another company or after litigation and, while you dutifully renew their registrations annually, you are not actively using them.

Most businesses choose to “park” a large number of these extra domains, meaning that they do not assign a Domain Name Server (“DNS”) to that domain. For example, your company’s main website may be at “abc-company.com”, but you may have decided to “park” the “.biz”, “.net” and “.info” domains, even though you own them. In the past, it was not unusual to stumble across these “parked” domains and see either a “404 Error” message on a blank screen, or a plain “Under Construction” message.

Today, however, if you visit the parked domains that you own, you may be surprised to find them populated with third-party advertising. In some instances, the advertising can be harmful to your business image or, if you are particularly unlucky, even competitive with your own business.

This advertising is put on your page by the entity that hosts your domains. When you originally registered your domain, or during the course of a renewal of that domain, you signed an agreement with it that allows it to advertise on your parked domains due to some language buried in the agreement’s fine print. Buried in the Network Solutions agreement, for example, is this language:

You acknowledge and agree that any or all domain names that … do not otherwise resolve to an active Web site, may resolve to an “under construction” or similar temporary Web page (“Under Construction Page”), and that Network Solutions may place on any such Under Construction Page promotions and advertisements for, and links to, Network Solutions’ Web site, Network Solutions product and service offerings, third-party Web sites, third-party product and service offerings, and/or Internet search engines.

In other words, your domain host is making money through pay-per-click advertisements that it is running on a domain you paid to register. Some domain hosts have opt-out provisions, but they require choosing something other than the default settings and may not have been obvious to someone who did not carefully read the domain host’s policies and search for the appropriate settings.

We recommend that you get a list of the domain names you own and review each of them to make sure that there is no unwelcome content. If there is, and the domain name is one that is similar to your main domain, have the parked domain direct to the DNS for your main website. In other words, if you own both abc-business.com and abc-business.biz, you can have the “.biz” site programmed to direct hits straight to the “.com” site. Anyone then going to “abc-business.biz” will directly be transferred to the “abc-business.com” site without interruption.

If some of the domains are ones you don’t want to use actively, or that you may be prevented from using because of the conditions of your purchase of the domain from a competitor, or the terms in a litigation settlement agreement, consider setting up your own “Under Construction” page or simply a blank page that has no advertising content and can’t be manipulated by the domain host. This will ensure a continued “parked” look to anyone who visits the page, without the risk that consumers visiting that page will be driven to a competitor or associate a domain name similar to your corporate name with a pay-per-click advertising site.

Your review of the domains owned by your business is also a good opportunity to make sure that you have accurately calendared all of the renewal dates for the domains you value. With employee turnover, sometimes these long-term dates can get lost or forgotten. In order to avoid the unexpected suspension of your website and potentially serious business interruptions, make sure that you have reminders of the renewal dates set up on calendars that will not be deleted or purged.