I have been in business a long time now. I have seen and heard a lot of different situations and worked through many challenges. But I was shocked by a couple of stories in the past month from business people located here on Kauai. In both cases, they had learned that their domain name registration and Kauai web design were not owned by them. Do you know who owns your domain and web design? Is it you or someone else?
Two Stories of Unclear Ownership
One of my clients was recently telling me how she used a web designer in the past who also registered her domain name and set up web hosting for her. When she wanted to change the web design, web designer, and hosting, the original web designer refused to transfer her domain name to an account in her name. He told her that he “owned” her domain. Eventually she got him to change the name servers so that she could create a new site and use a different hosting company. And she created her new web design without him. But she is still beholden to him to pay her domain registration to him each year and hope that he will continue to update name servers when needed.
Another local business manager told me the story of why they had to change their domain name a few years ago. Today when you type in the name of their business with a .com, you are redirected to the blog of someone who no longer lives on Kauai or focuses on web design. When they wanted to create a new website a few years ago with a different web designer, the original web designer told them he “owned” their domain name. He also refused to transfer the domain registration to an account in their name. He did offer to sell them their own domain name for several tens of thousands of dollars. Rather than pay ransom for their own domain name they made the hard decision to change it and use a longer name. He still maintains the domain registration of their name and has it redirecting traffic to his personal blog. How is that for vindictive?!
Business Components of Setting Up a Website
You may recall that there are three major components to having a website for your business. First, you need a domain name registered. This is your URL, your brand on the Internet, and the way people access your web site. You have to find an available domain name and pay a yearly registration fee for you to “own” and use it.
Second, you need a company to host your website. This is the company running the computers and network for your web site. You want a hosting company that has stable, secure, and high performing servers that are optimized for serving website content.
Third, you want a web designer or web design company that has both the graphic and marketing skills to develop a web site look, feel, plus the content that creates a great user experience for your customers and prospects. It also provides the navigation to support your customers and prospects wherever they are in their purchase decision making process.
These three things may be supplied by one, two, or three different companies. Or one person or company may arrange all three on your behalf using other vendors for one or more of the three major components.
There are lot of free lance graphics people who offer web design. They may or may not be good business and marketing partners to help you grow your particular business. And they may or may not be advising you and looking out for your business interests in addition to their own.
How to Protect Your Brand
There are a couple of things you can do:
- Set up your own domain registration and web hosting accounts in your company name and separately from engaging your web designer. Many companies offer both domain registration and web hosting. You may not run into a problem with that if you are dealing with a large company with ethical leadership and well defined contract terms. But to really protect yourself it is a recommended best practice to have your domain registration and web hosting with two different companies. If you find you need to change web hosting, then you have the control instead of the company you are trying to sever ties with.
- Make sure you have a written contract with your web designer or web design company that outlines not only the scope of work to be done but also who owns what. The time to ensure you will maintain ownership of your domain, hosting relationship, and website content is before you sign an agreement and begin work. I would not set up a domain or web host on a client’s behalf and then tell them I own it. But obviously there are people out there who do. They may not even give you access to the content in your website if you decide to terminate the relationship with them. A written contract will protect you if in the future something goes wrong in your relationship with your web design company.
On the beautiful island of Kaui it seems that the spirit of Aloha doesn’t always hold true in business relationships that fail. Your domain, your website security and performance, and your website look and content are all part of your brand. They determine the experience of your customers and prospects. They either help or hinder your ability to gain new customers or maintain your existing customers. It is critical that you ensure these elements of your brand are owned and controlled by you.
Have you run into difficulties with domain or website content ownership? Do you know who owns your domain, hosting relationships, and web design?