Who *Really* Owns Your Website?

You’re way too busy running your business and in a rush to get your website up. Since you’re not very tech savvy and you’re preoccupied with your own work, you trust your developer to get your domain registered and get your site set up on a good host. It’s a very normal to leave it to your web tech to handle these tasks. I’ve done it myself for many of my clients. Perhaps I even did it for you.

In the early days of the web (I remember them well), it might have made sense. The internet was as ethereal as space exploration and only a few people knew how to navigate. I remember creating websites for business owners who had never used email. I even helped a couple people learn how to use a mouse.

These days, we’re much more comfortable with computers and most have at least a fair idea of how the internet works. Still, many still don’t understand the basics of website ownership. If you’re one of them, I’m about to enlighten you. Why is it important that you learn a bit of geek? Because you may be in a highly vulnerable position and not actually own your website.

The “Title & Deed” to Your Website

  • Your domain. No one really owns domains. We just register them from an accredited registrar like GoDaddy or eNom. Your domain gets associated with an IP address on a web server so when someone types in your domain name, server computers will know to send that person to your website on that server. Whoever registers the domain essentially owns it. If you hire me or anyone else to register your domain, the registration technically belongs to us.
  • Your web host. Whoever sets up the account on the web host is the one with the power.  They’ll have the “credentials” or login info and most likely, the account will be billed to their credit card. Web hosting companies work hard to maintain tight security for their web clients. They will absolutely refuse to talk with you if you can’t provide authorization of credit card info, password and/or PIN access.

As personnel changes occur in companies and organizations, the domain and host login info (credentials) may get lost. I’ve seen it happen a lot. Of course, if we built your website we’ll have the original info in our records. I recommend that clients keep a hard copy of all their web credentials in a secure but easy-to-locate file.

But what happens if your developer never gave you the login credentials? What if you never knew to ask for them? In a perfect world, that might be okay. Last I checked…it’s not a perfect world. Stuff happens.

Your developer might move and never tell you nor provide updated contact info, or get hit by a bus, or have sudden health issues, or get arrested, or hit sudden fame and fortune, or forget to pay the electric bill, or get angry at you for any number of reasons. You get the idea. When only one person has such vital information, you’ve created a single point of failure that could have devastating results. I’ve had new clients (yes, plural) who came to me, begging for help because they didn’t have their website credentials and their website was held “hostage”. They didn’t understand the power of owning those credentials.

Eliminate Unnecessary Risk

How can you prevent losing control of your website from happening to you?

  1. Register your own domain and purchase your own web hosting service. If you’re unsure where or how, your developer can advise you and even give you the links to click through. You’ll have the confidence of knowing you have the rights to your own website. You will need to share the login info with your developer, of course, but you can rest assured that should you no longer choose to work with that developer (even in best scenarios), you’ll have access to your domain and web host.
  2. If you have a trusted relationship, allow your web tech to setup your domain and hosting service but insist on having all login credentials in your records, too. That way, if you choose to part ways or something tragic happened, you have the necessary information to talk with customer support or hire someone else.

What if your developer can’t share the domain registration login info because of other clients in the management account? You can request the domain be transferred to you or at least insist the domain registration include your name and contact info as the registrant.

It’s not really a matter of trust (or lack of) to insist you have access to your domain and website. It’s good business stewardship. Share the credentials when you need to but don’t keep yourself purposefully in the dark.

The vulnerability is huge and the fix is simple. Keep a record of your login credentials.