Who is the Owner of my Website’s Domain?

If my web designer also hosts my site, what happens to my site if that designer goes out of business? Do I own the domain and the pages? What is the first step to take in this situation?

domain-website-ownershipBusiness Risk Management 101 – make sure that YOU or your company are the domain_registrant. Whoever is listed as the Domain Registrant is the legal owner of the domain. There are numerous WHOIS websites that allow you to search for that information, providing domain privacy is not applied.

Know where you stand! Do a search now on whois.domaintools.com

– checking ownership is an important element in my Website SEO Audits…

Domains & Hosting Accounts

Many people don’t understand the processes involved in Domain Registration and Hosting Accounts, and leave it all to their designer to sort it out. If the relationship with the website designer deteriorates for any reason, that can create a nightmare scenario… I once worked with a newly-purchased motel business where the new owners discovered that the domain registrant for their website was a receptionist who’d left years earlier and had emigrated to Australia… Once a private detective had tracked her down at great expense, she kindly signed over domain ownership without a ransom attempt… However, similar circumstances have cost other companies dearly!

Website Admin Documentation

In my view, its crucial that website clients have a full Website Administration Manual that includes;

  • Website access details, system settings and a basic ‘How to’ editing guide
  • Domain Registration  account details
  • Hosting account details

If you are getting a website built or redesigned, insist on documentation that covers these basics! Beware of ‘el cheapo’ shared hosting accounts where you don’t get access to your own Hosting Control Panel. Some designers use a single hosting account with add-on domains for each client.  That drastically limits your access, and makes it much harder to migrate  your website in the event of a dispute.

Proving Domain Ownership

In terms of establishing ownership in a dispute scenario, you are much safer if;

  • you’ve got a contract that specifies the design brief
  • you have all your invoices and receipts for payment;

If it was all done on a verbal agreement, ownership is much harder to prove or enforce…

My advice to all my clients is that they register their own domain under their own account on reputable Domain Registrar. In doing so, they have secured the crucial ownership issue. My advice is also to use a separate hosting company, and keep a full record in a safe place…

Hosting Account Issues

Treat hosting as a separate issue, its almost a commodity item and you should ensure you are not locked into any situation you can’t readily get out of. All sorts of problems that are outside your control can occur. Here are several examples of outages I’ve seen happen…

  • Example 1:  your hosting company rents their server space from a large USA data centre. The data centre falls behind in their building lease payments, and the building owner locks them out until all fee are paid… That can affect multiple hosting companies… Your site goes off-line…
  • Example 2: your website designer goes into receivership without warning and their hosting company closes their account… Your website goes off-line!
  • Example 3: the data centre that houses your server catches fire, and is severely damaged. Your website goes off-line…
  • Example 4: your website traffic grows sharply ,and your hosting company suspends your shared hosting account because you are consuming too much bandwidth and too many server resources.
  • Example 5: your website is hacked and malware or phishing software is installed. Your hosting company suspends your account without warning.

Are you confident that in any of these scenarios, you relocate your website within 24 hours???

Website Risk Management

When disaster strikes, at the very least, you would immediately need;

  • access to your domain registration account to amend the DNS (domain name server) records to point to a new hosting location
  • a new hosting account
  • a full website backup
  • technical support to re-install the site in a new location and get emails up and running

All things considered, if your website is your business, you would be well advised to consider the consequences of extended downtime… How prepared are you, in the event of a crisis? Do you have comprehensive backups, stored off-site and readily accessible? Do you have fast access to professional website troubleshooting services?

Select Hosting on Service, not Price

Most sites are hosted on budget accounts, chosen on price, not on service… When things go bad, you are often left all on your own to figure it all out!

For a business website, it makes sense to pay for premium managed hosting. In this case, the supplier of the service usually provides an assurance that there are Tech Support staff available to assist you in the event of any hosting-related issues.