SEO Q&A: Domain Kidnapped by Hosting Company, Ranking for Your Name

October 23, 2008

My dad just emailed me as he is helping a friend who had a website that was ranking for a given keyword, but the friend’s sketchy web host is now holding the domain hostage. I imagine this is not the first time this has happened to someone, which is a shame. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my response, hoping it will benefit another person or two in a similar situation. I’ve left out a name or two, and also added a few sentences to my response versus what I sent via email, but its pretty much the same deal.


…Helping out a friend with a problem. Her website was suspended by an unethical webhost and they are holding her domain name for ransom. (name removed – google them, lots of issues) I set her up with .info and .org and we are going to try and work with ICAAN to get .net back.

She was well ranked in a google search on her name. Are there any [tactics] I can employ to get a search on her name to quickly offer up the .info and .org (points to .info) web pages?

Thanks for any advice you can offer.

My Response:

The domain is everything. If the web host is holding her domain for ransom than that tells me they probably technically own the domain, which means they have all the power unless she has something that can legally dispute that. ICANN is probably who you’d need to go through.

The only way to “get your rankings back” completely is to 301 redirect the old domain to the new domain. You’d need either be able to log in to the registrar or access the website via FTP (using the .htaccess file) to implement this. If they have the hosting account and domain on lockdown then you are basically helpless. Technically they control (own) the website… or at least the domain which is what Google uses as your unique ID.

Think of it as your website’s Social Security Number. You can dye your hair, buy new clothes, get a tan and change your accent to make yourself appear different – but you are still the same person with the same SSN. Once you change your SSN then you have no credit history, etc. You are basically a new person and start again from scratch. Such it is with domains.

How competitive of a search was she ranking for? If its just her name or her company’s name than its probably not very hard to rank for that search phrase even with a brand new site. I would definitely go with a .com, .net or .org version of the domain and avoid using a .info like the plague. .info is often associated with spam, and those domains fight an uphill battle in Google. This won’t help you rank for all sorts of other keywords, but the company or personal name shouldn’t be that tough. You can also try creating accounts on some other sites such as LinkedIn to get rankings for your name fairly quickly.

Example – Google search on “jon payne“. I am the guy featured on sites ranking #1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, and 15 out of the top 20. That changes all the time just a bit, in fact most days I have 3 or 4 in the top 5. My associate “tim staines” has sites 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 from the top 10. I’m bitter about that, so I’ll argue that his name is a bit less common and there isn’t a PhD at Stanford sharing his name.

Note: there are a few “black hat” types of tactics that could be implemented here, such as 302 domain hijacking. I’m a little too “white hat” in my approach to actually recommend that, and probably couldn’t even provide details on how to successfully execute that if I wanted to since I never have (I swear!). In this case though, if the objective is ranking for a person’s name that isn’t terribly common I think some basic white hat SEO techniques on a handful of sites should be able to meet the objective here without much difficulty. If the friend’s name happens to be something like “Sarah Palin” or “Britney Spears” or something than this could prove more difficult.

One Response to “SEO Q&A: Domain Kidnapped by Hosting Company, Ranking for Your Name”

  1. Tim Staines Says:

    Don’t be bitter, as far as I can tell, there’s only 4 or 5 of us in the whole world that have a web presence.

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