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Thursday, April 14, 2016

WHOIS Records: The Advertising that Isn't.

By Duane J. Higgins, ceo and 

Ever wonder how much information is garnered from your domain name WHOIS records by other parties who are potential strategic partners? Information that probably inadvertently ends up promoting and reinforcing positive information about you or your business? (or reflecting negatively?)  I don't market or advertise my business through the WHOIS directory. In fact you can't. That's against ICANN regulations. See an excerpt from the ICANN website below:

From the Whois Marketing Restriction Policy (from ICANN Website)

1) Section will be replaced with the following language:

"Registrar's access agreement shall require the third party to agree not to use the data to allow, enable, or otherwise support any marketing activities, regardless of the medium used. Such media include but are not limited to e-mail, telephone, facsimile, postal mail, SMS, and wireless alerts."
That's all fine and good. In fact, I've never heard of anyone violating that policy and I'm sure if they did that it was corrected fairly rapidly. If a domain owner were called on using the WHOIS improperly all they would have to do is to change the improper data (through the registry). Something that takes I'd say between 10 seconds and one minute on a bad day.  Also, if the registrar or ICANN didn't like the entry I believe it wouldnt be allowed from the start (due to improper format) or it would be taken down. Not a big deal. Everyone knows that the WHOIS records do serve many valuable purposes and one of them is not for advertising.

However, as is often the case. Something funny happened along the path of good intentions. What happened is that many domain name owners are able to garner a tremendous amount of benefit from their WHOIS records. 

First of all, let me say a few things about WHOIS  privacy protection services. They are great services and quite valuable in certain circumstances. However, most of the parties who use them probably shouldn't. These services are largely overused and many parties could be garnering significant benefits from disclosing their WHOIS information for that particular domain name. They may be trying to be secretive, defensive or strategic. However, generally all they are accomplishing is  sacrificing  potential gains and strategic advantages that they could get from disclosing the records or providing information about them or their company that may benefit them in numerous ways.

What advantages could they gain from disclosing the records?

Without getting into the individual minutia of each WHOIS record detail. I'll elaborate on a few key pieces of standard/required WHOIS data/records:

Your Domain Name: If your company name is not Google, Facebook or Yahoo you might consider getting a great domain name. (i.e. sought after, interesting etc.) You will find that many, many people will end up finding your business by looking up your domain name WHOIS records first- or looking up the domain name/site and then seeking out the WHOIS record. It's easy to overlook that your domain name is such a critical aspect of the WHOIS record. However it is through the domain name that the WHOIS records is found. It is through the WHOIS record that information about the domain name and ownership records is found.  In my book, that's free advertising.  Much of the information garnered from the WHOIS records is used for further inquiry into your company, business and you. There are many tools around the Internet that allow for example to find how many domain names your company does own and what they are, how many domain names do you personally own, and what additional business enterprises, services or legal issues you or your company have been involved with?

Your Name: Whether you use your name, an employees name, full name, initials, administrators name, nickname etc. What you put here for data reflects strongly on you. Professional "Name Analysts" could go on for days here regarding what you put here and what it means to who. I'll leave that analysis to you and just suggest that you think carefully what you put here.

Address: Same considerations here. Do you use a PO box, physical address, home address, corporate address or whatever. What you put here reflects on how you go about doing business.

Phone Number: Make sure it works. Make sure it doesnt go to a funky voicemail. What image does the voicemail portray? Maybe generic (electronic), professional or personal. Whatever you want.

Email address: Same standards apply here. Make sure its active. Is it a corporate address, work address, personal address, domain name address (if it is, what is the username?) or Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook address. Each says something about you and your business. As you username does as well.

None of that sounds like much. However, the point I'm making is that people do get information from your WHOIS records. Many more people than you probably think. (unless of course you track that- as some do and there are tools readily available to do that). Much of the information can be used in some fashion for strategic purposes.  Much of the data is used to do research on you, your company, and your history etc. What do you want people to find out about you- and how will that information benefit your business or you strategically? It's something to think about.

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