Are You Being Held Hostage?

Controlling the ownership of your website and domain name

Every once in awhile we get a new client who asks us to give their website a facelift or do some SEO (search engine optimization) work for them. Unfortunately, an alarming number of these companies don’t have control of their own domain name or website. Oftentimes this occurs as a result of a relationship they have with a previous web designer. Sometimes the company will have previously had another web designer create their site and handle all the administrative functions of registering the domain name and obtaining web hosting for the website. This is all very normal and usual except for the fact that the company doing business with the web designer needs to make it crystal clear who has ownership of the website and domain name.

We recommend that the company has control of its own website and domain name, not the web designer. We also recommend that you have this understanding when a website design project is first commenced. This vital and often overlooked detail can wreak havoc later on. You may find your website or domain name held hostage at some future date if you decide to change web designers. This may also occur if you want to move the website to a new web hosting provider or make changes to the domain registration.

Domain Registration

In the domain registration record there is the registrar, and the registrant. The registrar is the entity where the name is registered (such as GoDaddy or Network Solutions). This is where the domain record is. The registrant is the owner of the domain name. Make sure your domain record lists your name or company name as the registrant. The registrant has control over where the name is registered. The registrant can decide to change the registrar. You may want to move your domain name from Network Solutions to GoDaddy. If you are the registrant, you can do that.

The domain record also has a technical contact and an admin contact as well as a billing contact. You can make the web designer the technical contact. That is perfectly normal. You, as the registrant, can change the admin, technical and billing contacts. Make the billing contact someone who will be responsible for paying the bill to renew the domain name. Choose someone with a good email address that won’t lose the important emails the registrar sends and who will make sure your domain name will not expire. If you neglect to pay the bill to renew your domain name, you can lose it.

Web Hosting Account

Make sure you have control over your web hosting account and all the files, email accounts and databases. This sounds just too elementary on the surface, but this gets overlooked, too. Here’s one way. Let’s say you have a shopping cart at your website. There are many web hosting providers who offer a free or low-cost shopping cart with your hosting account. Where are the files? Can you back them up via FTP? (FTP = file transfer protocol – a means to upload and download files from your website.) Where is the cart database? Is it in MySQL or other SQL format? Can you backup your data and restore it to a different hosting provider should you decide to move it? Where are the scripts? (the programs that run the cart) Is it a commercially available program or is it a custom program that is solely owned by the hosting company? Can you obtain a license for your own copy? Your shopping cart can be married to that hosting provider if the hosting provider owns the program and you cannot obtain a license for your own copy. You may not be able to relocate to a different hosting provider or make modifications. Your shopping cart might be a dead end in this situation.

Website Content

We recommend that the company of the website owns the website content. We have seen copyright notices at some websites where the copyrights are owned by the web design firm. We believe that this is not a good idea. Again, what if the company wants to dissolve their relationship with the designer and move the website to a new hosting provider and establish a relationship with a new design firm or SEO firm? It may be that the design firm creates the content. This can be a substantial amount of work. Still, we recommend that the company work out the necessary financial arrangements with the design firm so that they get paid for their work, but that ultimately the company owns the content. We feel that this is a much cleaner way to do business.

Your Relationship with The Web Design Firm

If you currently have a good relationship with your web design firm and conditions exist that are similar to those described in this article, we recommend you sort them out while your relationship is still good. It is better to be in a position of cause rather than effect. If you own your domain name, website and content you are in the controlling position and can move swiftly should you need to make modifications or design changes or be able to make SEO decisions for better search engine positions.


Sue Doughty is the Marketing Director of Studio 1 Design and Hosting and has over 15 years experience in her field. Her advice in the area of search engine optimization has helped businesses achieve high search engine placement and success on the Internet. Visit Studio1 Design and Hosting on the Web at http://www.studio1webdesign.com, email email hidden; JavaScript is required.