Who has control over "your" web site?

People often think they control their web site, until it comes time to hire someone new to work on it.

Domain Name
A domain name is purchased from a domain name registrar.  A domain name is registered to a particular person at a particular email address, physical address and phone number.

If your domain name is not registered to you, you might have an issue.  Having control of your domain name is probably the single most important aspect of your internet presence.  As long as you have control of your domain name, you can point your web and email traffic wherever you want.  

Think about the costs and consequences if your domain were turned off and you lost access to those email accounts.  You would need to reprint all your business cards, contact all clients and change all of your advertising to show your new domain name.  It could be a disaster for any kind of business.  Even worse, a competitor could get control of your domain and all of a sudden they are getting all of your web traffic and email.

Often people will register domain names for others, whether maliciously or just as part of a project.  If you hire a person to build you a site, they may register the domain name in their own name.  You want to make sure that domain names are registered to you or someone in your organization.  You also want them registered to the business, not just to an individual.

You can see who owns your domain name by doing a WHOIS.  You can do a lookup through a web browser by visiting http://whois.icann.org/en

Many domains are registered with privacy, “private registration”, “whois privacy” or a similar service which hides the owner information.  This is a good service and helps lower the amount of spam/scams you would receive by having your information publicly available.  While it has benefits, it can also make it harder to find out who actually owns a domain.

Are you or someone in your organization paying yearly for domain name registration?  Do you have a username and password associated with your domain name registration?

If not, you might want to figure out who is in control of your domain name and get it transferred into your name.

Web Site
Do you have the ability to make changes to your site?  Most sites these days are made with a content management system, like Wordpress or Drupal or a site building tool, like Wix or Squarespace.

Do you have usernames and passwords to get in and make changes to your site?  Often web site companies will restrict your access to sites in order to make sure you have to pay them when it is time to make changes.

You want to make sure that you have the usernames and passwords to control your site.  Why would you pay to have someone build you a site only to lock you out of part of it?

You want to avoid vendor lock-in.  If you build your site on Wix or Squarespace, you can’t cancel service with them and still keep your site.  If you have a site built with a content management system like Drupal or Wordpress, you can move your site anywhere and change hosting companies and web developers as long as you have the proper usernames and passwords.  How much time and money are you willing to invest in a site that can “go away” or is not yours?

Web Hosting
Do you pay your web hosting bill each month or year?  Is someone else paying it for you?

Do you have FTP access to your site?  Can you get a copy of your site files if you need them?

The account should be in your business name and paid for by your business.  If your web developer or designer will not give you access to your site files, that is often indicative of a potential issue.

Intellectual Property
While only lawyers can give out legal advice, it is important to have some understanding of intellectual property.  Some people, often graphic designers or photographers, will provide you with the work they perform but retain the rights to it.  For example, a wedding photographer can charge you some ridiculous rate to shoot and edit a bunch of photos, and then force you to keep their watermark on them or buy all of your prints through them.  The issue is the ownership of the intellectual property.

You want to make sure that you actually own your web site.  When it comes time to make changes or to bring in a new person to work on it, companies can claim they own your site and make things difficult.

Situations often occur where a company will say something along the lines of “oh, you don’t want to work with us anymore you need to pay us if you want access to your site”.  There are many companies that engage in shady business practices.  If you are going to have a site built, ask those kinds of questions up front and make sure you know what you are getting.

Did you hire someone to design a logo for you?  Do you own your logo, or are you just licensing it?  Will they provide you with the original Photoshop or Illustrator files so you can make changes if necessary, or will they only give you a JPEG or some other “output” file?

These issues all relate to control of your site.

Any business should make sure that they are in control of their internet presence.  If you are unsure about who controls your site, it is worth trying to find out sooner rather than later.  

You want usernames and passwords for all services and accounts related to your business, and to preferably have them stored in one place under the control of the person who should have them.

You want to make sure that bills are paid by your company for your domain name, web hosting and email hosting and that you have access to those accounts.

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

If you are interested in talking about a potential project, use the contact form on www.boblindquist.com