Many of us at MakeUseOf are very firm believers in the Web of Trust browser extension. Though no solution goes without false positives and certain loopholes, it’s a great way to gauge if a website is helpful or harmful.
Without WoT, a lot of people would feel up in the air about unfamiliar websites. You don’t have to. In this post, I’d like to show you one of the easiest and most effective ways for the average internet user to make their own call on the legitimacy of a website. The best part is that it requires no real technical skill and should take you a maximum of about two minutes per website. The only piece of information that you’ll need is the website’s URL, and that’s as easy as copy and paste. Interesed? Let’s look into it.
On an internet where free web hosting has been laid to rest for years, practically every website has their own dedicated domain name. The domain name for MakeUseOf is makeuseof.com. A domain name basically consists of two parts (if we leave out subdomains, which are irrelevant in this situation): the top-level domain and second-level domain.
In our example, the top level is com and second level is makeuseof. As you know, there are plenty of top-level domains, such as com, net, and org. A second-level domain is not limited in that same respect. When purchasing a domain (which costs roughly $10), you’re able to specify any alphanumeric second-level name. I could register craig4president.com today if I pleased.
It’s important to note that during the registration of a domain name, you are required to enter truthful registration information or you can face some pretty harsh fines and punishments. That leads us into our next section.
As defined by Wikipedia:
WHOIS (pronounced as the phrase who is) is a query and response protocol that is widely used for querying databases that store the registered users or assignees of an Internet resource, such as a domain name, an IP address block, or an autonomous system, but is also used for a wider range of other information. The protocol stores and delivers database content in a human-readable format.
In layman’s terms, WHOIS is like the Yellow Pages of domain names. When you register a domain name, the information you use (be it personal or of a business) is listed publicly and is available to anyone unless you use some sort of privacy service (which generally comes with an additional cost).
There are plenty of WHOIS lookup websites, but here are three of my favorites:
To look up the registration information of any domain name, just enter the domain and go. Here’s a screenshot of the WHOIS query for one of my favorite websites, Reddit:
As you can see, there’s a wealth of information. The information available is dependent on what registrar (such as GoDaddy) a domain name has been registered with.
So how does knowing the registration information of a domain name help you be more confident about a website? Well, in many ways. Here are just a few that I can think of on the spot:
- You can verify that the registrant is in a country that the website reflects, or at least not in a suspicious location where there is a high rate of internet fraud.
- You can see if a domain’s registration information is set as private.
- You can see how long a domain name has existed.
If you’re looking online for a website that is selling handbags, are you sure that you want to make your purchase from a website whose registration info comes from a company based in an area where common replicas and counterfeits are made?
If you’re already a little uncertain about a website, seeing that their WHOIS information is private could completely put you off. Keep in mind though that private registration information does not mean that a website is fraudulent or “bad” in any way. It just means that the domain registrant wants to hide their information, and that could simply be for their own privacy. A great example is our own domain at MakeUseOf. It is registered privately.
When you’re looking at a website that is offering free gifts for certain participation, are you sure you want to trust a website that was made just two months ago? You’re able to see that through a WHOIS query, and that’s understandably suspicious.
WHOIS is incredibly useful when doing research on websites that smell funny. If you’re suspicious and feeling uncertain, that option is always available to you. It’s just another resource to help you remain safe on the internet and passing judgment is completely in your hands. Do you find this tip useful? Let me know in the comments!