Web design is full of technical potholes, some of which are deeper than others. Some of them are giant sinkholes just waiting for the unwary. Today I watched someone benefit from following "best practices" when moving a website. I also spoke with someone who did not. Over my years working with websites, I've heard quite a few horror stories, but today's success made the others more upsetting to me. I have a friend who bought a domain name for their business and set up a site on a free server. Eventually, the hosting company and the customer parted ways...but the hosting company kept the domain name. They bought another domain name and the entire scenario was repeated. The last I heard, they'd bought a server and set it up in their house.
A domain name is the address you type into the header of a web browser to take you to a website. That domain name is not technically purchased -- it's leased. You own the name for the period of time that you register it for. Once you stop paying for it, it goes back to the name registration company that may or may not be associated with your web hosting company. So, you just get another name, right? You can, but in the meantime all of the improvements you made to the name are now gone.
Improvements? Yes. You see, that name existed while you owned it. Even if it pointed to a dead site, it pointed somewhere. It was building up "history." A 3 year old domain name is worth more than a 3 day old domain name.
Search engines (Google, Yahoo) use "robots" to scan the internet and record every website. These robots are called "spiders" because they crawl the web. In my home, a spider doesn't last long. With 3 cats and my wonderful men coming to my rescue, there is always someone to squish or eat them. On my websites, however, I want them. I want them wandering all over. I even leave maps for them so they can make sure to find every hidden nook and cranny. These spiders record the history and the changes that my domains have gone through over time. Like looking at an old photo, some of that history is good, some makes me cringe. I've lost weight, after all! But that history is priceless. I've used the example of creditcards.com elsewhere. Recently, I looked at buying a domain name that I thought would be interesting to own. The hosting company wanted a lot of money for it. I passed. They've since offered it to me at a lower cost...but still several digits beyond my price range.
You can save $10 by not renewing a domain name...but you may lose more than that in the value of the name.
I have a customer that we moved from an existing host to a new, improved host. I had to move the site with extreme care because I had to keep the page names the same. (Yep, right down to the little ".htm" at the end.) Doing that brought his history and all of his spiders with us to the new site. He had visitors and sales on his first day. I work with a lot of folks selling on the internet. This is the first time I've seen sales on day 1. Usually, we wait weeks and then get a sale...then a few more weeks, then get a couple of sales, and it gradually grows. We watch the statistics on a site and see the growth...sometimes it is rapid, sometimes painfully slow. The results on this site were immediate.
His old site was not bad...but it had a few technical problems. He could have let it go at any point, but he didn't.
If you're thinking of letting your domain name lapse, don't. I've had to go through battles lasting up to a year to get a domain name back for a customer...because that name has value. Know who you are leasing it from. Know when it expires and how to renew it. Don't let it go.