seo, Technology

This SEO company has spent more than $100,000 fighting a threat to have its website deregistered

Emma Koehn /

An Australian SEO business says it has outlaid well over $100,000 fighting to keep its domain name alive, after a complaint lodged against it to domain registry authority auDA threatened to delete its company website.

Founder of StewArt Media, Jim Stewart, says an unknown individual lodged a complaint about his website one week after he spoke out at a public forum discussing auDA’s possible implementation of direct “.au” domain addresses. 

Individuals are able to lodge complaints to have a web domain deregistered if the ownership data lodged for the address is incorrect, or if there’s a belief a business and a domain name are not actually connected.

On February 20, Stewart’s company received notice of the complaint. The company was initially told its primary domain, stewartmedia.com.au, would be deleted after auDA’s chief executive conducted an internal review of the complaint.

Unfortunately for the business, Stewart tells SmartCompany a “stupid” error was uncovered: the company had not updated the Australian Business Number details lodged against its domain name when it had moved to a new structure five years ago.

“Yes, I was stupid, I should have had this updated,” Stewart tells SmartCompany.

He says he was “pretty devastated by the news”, which would have big implications for the huge volume of emails, accounts and cloud-based platforms that were linked to his company’s web address.

The company had no choice but to prepare for a hearing of auDA’s registrant review panel, where it would be forced to provide proof that it did genuinely own the website in order to save it.

Stewart says he and his team spent 250 hours and significant cost engaging law firm Gadens to prepare for all possible outcomes of the case. This involved redirecting all email accounts and other services to a new address in the event that the website was shut down, as well as coming up with a contingency in case staff lost access to the site and all accounts associated with it.

StewArt Media has used the same domain name since 1999, meaning there was 20 years’ worth of information connected with the domain.

We have hundreds of accounts using “stewartmedia.com.au emails”. Google, software, cloud services. If we didn’t change all of these logins, someone could have reset them and had access to all of that,” Stewart says. 

In a blog post on the experience, he admits “I was a dickhead” when it came to managing his company’s web domains.

“I leave my domains on auto renew. Which is great as I don’t have to worry about them, however it meant I wasn’t checking them and had forgotten to update them,” he writes.

Speaking to SmartCompany, he says the experience drives home how important it is for companies to keep track of their domain registration details and all elements of their business that might be linked to their website.

This is not an uncommon thing for people to get details wrong on their domain name. I would say to everyone: check them,” he says.  

An expensive ordeal

After providing a range of details proving the company’s continued investment in the domain address, on April 22 auDA’s domain registrant review panel decided StewArt Media did in fact own its company web address and that it would not be deleted.

In responding to the company’s objection, the auDA panel outlined that the company had proved its ownership, and suggested that in future, web domain registrant agreements contain more explicit reminders to people to update their details, for example by having an upper-case reminder on the documents.

Despite the relief of this result, Stewart says it’s still unclear exactly what the experience has cost him.

“We’re still working the exact cost out — there’s legal fees, and the 250 hours of work put into it, plus other costs,” he says.

“It’s significant, it will be well over $100,000.”

Stewart suspects the complaint against the domain came from a stakeholder who supported the policy idea of direct “.au” registrations. Last week, auDA announced it will putting discussions of these plans on hold until next year at the earliest.

However, StewArt Media’s situation should be a warning to all businesses to make sure their details are correct when it comes to domain registration, Stewart says. Being an SEO-focused business, the company easily understood the potential security fallouts of losing its domain and could act swiftly.

“I’d hate to think what would happen if you didn’t know these things,” he says.

NOW READ: “Really unfair”: Businesses argue consultation on .au domains ignored them, auDA says it wants SME views

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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