Posted by

Do you Really Own your Website? (Pt1 – Your Domain)

In this series of two articles, I will walk through and address some of the most common website ownership issues that I encounter (far too often) with my clients in the hope that businesses can take ownership back and be able to control the destiny of their own websites.

Websites today are, and in my opinion should remain, the basic foundation for almost every aspect of online marketing – from SEO and PPC, to Content Marketing, to Social Media and Corporate Blogging and, of course, Newsletters and Press.

Irrespective of which of these particular programmes or campaigns we are managing for our clients, the stumbling block is always the website. And when we hit that almost inevitable brick wall, we more often than not unravel a whole hornet’s nest of ownership and control issues that leave our clients fairly powerless to effect the changes or the edits or the upgrades that are so vital for the success of their online marketing strategy.

Don’t Panic! Please note that while I will be talking about strange and wonderful things such as domain names, Domain Registrars, DNS or Name Server settings, Joomla, PHP and Magenta etc., I am not for a moment advocating that you need to become a techie in any way. All I am suggesting is that you start to take legal ownership of your online property and then hand it over to the web mechanics to do their job.

Don't underestimate the importance of taking legal ownership of your online property. Click To Tweet

Let’s start at the beginning: the ownership of your name.

It All Starts with your Domain Name

In many aspects of life, they say that it’s all in the name. On the internet, it is the ultimate asset – and the one that so many clients don’t own, while not even realising it.

I am referring to the domain name of your website – your URL, such as

When we talk about ownership of these domains, they are actually not purchased – they are rented for long periods of time, usually from one year up to 10 years, and you usually pay an annual fee to keep it in your name. If at any point you lapse on this payment, you could lose the right to keep using this domain name and someone else might take it over.

The Domain Registrar

There are certain organisations which are responsible for “renting out” domain names to those who want them. They are called Domain Registrars and there are many of them.

To register a domain name to yourself, you need to open an account with one of these Domain Registrars and then, from your account, you can purchase or “rent” as many domains as you wish (on condition that they are available and not taken by someone else).

Why is this Important?

The problem for most businesses when it comes to owning their own domain names is that they usually entrusted this to their original developer – the developer who built their first site 10 years ago and who has already moved on, with no forwarding address.

And what developers usually do (often for reasons of convenience to themselves rather than malicious ulterior motives) is have their own reseller account with a Domain Registrar (in their own name), which they use to buy domain names for all their clients.

This means that, very often, the domain name is registered in the name of the developer, not the name of the business, and the Domain Registrar account is in the name of the developer too.

And as you don’t own either the Domain Registrar account or the Domain Name, you legally do not have any control over your own site. If a developer is incompetent or if you get into a disagreement with them, they have full physical and legal control over the existence of your site. If they switch it off, you are gone!

Name Server Control

The other reason why ownership of the Domain Registrar account is so important, is that it is the ultimate command centre for where your site is hosted. Whoever controls it has full physical control over your site.

I will give you one example that I have worked on, unfortunately, more often than I would like. A client of mine needed new hosting urgently as their current host was failing too often and the site was not safe. However, the developer was extremely part time, and never answered any emails (and, no matter how big the client company is, I am always amazed at how many of their developers are the brother of the sister of the neighbour’s friend… and in some remote country on the other side of the world).

Anyway, we set up a new server to host the site (in a more secure and safe environment), but as we did not own the Domain Registrar account for the URL of the website, we could not tell the Domain Registrar that the new website was on a new server and so the move could not happen. It took a few months to find the developer and to persuade him to actually spend 10 seconds to give the instruction to the Domain Registrar.

Another scenario that has also occurred too often with my clients is that they are terribly disappointed with their current developer and want to move on, but he or she decides to hold the site hostage.

From the client’s point of view, it does not matter what the reason is or whether it’s justified or not – no one else should have this kind of control over a business website or hold the keys for any reason at all.

Own your Domain and Own your Domain Registrar

The first two important steps to controlling your own web assets are to ensure that both your domain and the Domain Registrar account are in your own name, or the name of your business – not in the name of the developer or your technical support!

Remember: you can give access to anyone you want… but at the end of the day, they are always YOUR accounts.

Part 2 of this Article

In the next part of this article, I will be looking at code and hosting, which are two other crucial elements of ownership and control of your website. Click here to read more.

Need Help Getting Control of your Website?

The secret to getting control is to take all the necessary steps as soon as possible, preferably while you and your developer are still working amicably together. And the first step is to commission a full Ownership Audit of your online properties to see what you actually own and what you actually control – and to see who owns those parts that you don’t.

I have helped a number of clients get a full understanding of the ownership issues and to take their websites back, so give me a call if you would like help in making such an assessment and help in getting full control over your site.


Enter your email and get our latest posts direct to your inbox: