How 123reg Almost Crippled My Business!

Check out my Google Analytics traffic for this website for the past 2 months. Notice anything?

Disastrous traffic loss due to 123reg error

If you’re a regular follower of this website, you may have noticed the dip in traffic between February 20th and March 11th (2013).

Let me be the first to apologise!

Looking back over the past few weeks, I can feel relieved. Yes, my website was down for two weeks, but it could have been much worse!

The problem: 123Reg!

There was actually nothing I could do to prevent this severe downtime. It wasn’t an issue with hosting, or DNS… I could have fixed that.

No, the problem was that my domain registration company, 123reg, lost my domain name and failed to get it back for more than two weeks.

Here’s a screenshot of my 123-reg control panel, showing my domain as having renewed for another 3 years.

123reg showing domain renewed for 3 years

Update: I had a call with the head of support from 123-reg last week, who told me:

“It’s the customer’s responsibility to manage their own domains.”

… and went on to say that I could have been checking the WHOIS record for this domain around the renewal time, so that I could have spotted when it didn’t work.

Needless to say, this is an unacceptable excuse. I paid 123-reg to manage the registration — and renewal — of my domain name. Why else would I pay? And to suggest that it’s my fault is literally adding insult to injury!

Here’s the support ticket chat from March 1st (after the site had been offline for about 10 days).

123reg failure to respond

That request for reassurance went unanswered! My top comment above was the last comment on the thread.

What’s more, they could not reassure me that my domain name would actually come back online until March 4th — when my site had been down for an incredible 18 days!

123-reg took 18 days to respond

What Went Wrong with 123-reg?

This was the first time anyone had told me what was actually happening. The problem was, as I understand it, that 123reg were changing registrars, and that resulted in a huge administrative mess-up.

You may not know that the company you buy your domain names from is probably not actually a registrar. The true registrars, who can actually directly register a domain name, license their services to multiple other agencies, who compete for your domain name business.

That is part of the problem here. The company whose client I am could not really control my domains. They depend on APIs and relationships with other companies.

I have tried to figure out whether there are any direct registrars out there, from whom we can manage our domains directly, but I haven’t found many so far. (See the comments for readers’ input.)

123reg by Łukasz Bogaczek

Funny graphic sent to me by Łukasz Bogaczek

The Scale of the Catastrophe

Let me outline what I actually lost, to put this into some perspective.

  • First, I estimated that my business lost £200 ($300) in direct revenue for every 24 hours the website was offline. That’s a total of about £3600 ($5200) in lost income!
  • Potentially more damaging is the loss in Google’s trust in my domain. Who lets their website disappear for over 2 weeks!? Traffic to my site last week was 20,251. In the previous full week before 123reg’s failure, I got 27,216 visits. That’s a clear drop of 25 percent! Will that come back? How long will it take to recover? Who knows.
  • The worst-case scenario was that I could potentially have lost my domain name entirely! Because I could not get a direct answer from 123-reg, I turned to one of my other registration companies (thanks Namesco!) who very kindly cleared up what was going on for me. But, as far as they could tell, my domain was at risk of going into “pending delete” status, at which point it would not have been recoverable. That means someone else could have bagged it on a back-order, and I would have lost an asset worth (at the very least), $100,000! It is no exaggeration to say that that would have crippled my business!
  • Plus, there’s the hit that my mailing list took. I depends on my mailing list to keep in touch with my followers, and to tell them about any new products or developments. Check out the monthly sign-up rates (bearing in mind that the global average value to a business of one name on a mailing list is about $15 — which would mean this loss of about 500 sign-ups two months running would be worth — on average — $15,000 to me in the long-term).
123-reg slashed my email list subscribers

My mailing list has missed out on about 1,000 new sign-ups, worth at least another $15,000 in lost long-term revenues.

Unfortunately, it took 123reg an incredible 18 days to reassure me that that would not happen.

Appalling Customer Service

Now, I know shit happens! Even the most well-meaning companies can mess up from time to time. That’s normal, and acceptable.

If 123reg had done what was in their power to reassure me that my business wasn’t about to go down the pan, I would not be writing this now, and I would still be their customer.

However, it is totally unacceptable to leave your customers in the dark, panicking that their business might go up in smoke.

It’s unacceptable to fail to deliver a full apology, and to offer even a token compensation.

I have requested nominal compensation from 123reg, and this is all the response I have received so far.

123 reg no compensation

Update

Here’s an update from last week. As I mentioned above, I finally got a direct phone call from someone at 123-reg: the head of their support team.

He was friendly, and did express regret for the impact on my business of their mess-up, but also said they don’t provide compensation, because “It’s the customer’s responsibility to manage their domain name” (!!).

Although they do not offer compensation, he said he was in a position to offer me ten of their “unlimited” web hosting packages. When I checked online, these were worth £6.29 per month (about $9.50 today). So ten packages is worth $95 per month. Considering I have probably lost somewhere between $5000 and $20,000 in revenue from this disaster, that sweetener would take between 52 and 210 months — between 4 and 17 years — to begin to compensate for my loss. Pretty pathetic huh?

I have received no formal response to the letter I sent to 123-reg’s legal department.

(April 18th) Here’s what has happened with my website’s traffic, 5 weeks after I got the domain back!

Before 123-Reg messed up, I was getting 27,000 – 30,000 visits per week. Since I got my site back up, that has dropped to 18,000 – 20,000. In other words they’ve destroyed 1/3 of my marketing reach, with no offer of compensation. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what that says about this company’s attitude to their small business customers.

123 reg traffic not recovering

123 reg traffic not recovering

My Advice

Here’s what I’ve learned from this scary episode…

  1. Don’t use 123reg. This company has lost my trust completely, and I am now moving all my domains across to another provider.
  2. Don’t shop on price alone. Just like hosting, any domain registration company that tries to compete in price (what we call in marketing “a race to the bottom”) is likely to be cutting corners, unless they’re very big and very efficient.
  3. Try to use a direct/root registrar. I’ll put together a list of these at the end of this post, as I discover who they are.

I hope this is helpful for you, and may serve to prevent just one business from going through the torment I suffered over the past few weeks.

More Information on 123 Reg’s Service

What You Can Do

First, please share this post, to help get the word out to everyone who might be affected. (Just scroll down for social sharing buttons.)

Also, I would love to hear if anyone else has had similar experiences — with this company or others. Please add your comments below.

Thank you!
Ben

About the author

Ben Hunt

Ben has over 20 years' experience in web design and marketing, and is one of the most influential figures on the subject of effective web design. He has written a bunch of books and spoken at multiple conferences internationally. In 2015, Ben created Open-Source Marketing, which promises to turn the practice of marketing upside down.. Find out more at http://opensourcemarketingproject.org

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