You may not own your domain name…really! Just because a domain name has your website hooked up to it, does not mean that you are the legal owner. Having the wrong name on your domain registration can be cause frustrating and sometimes expensive problems. The registered domain name owner has complete control including what website it points to, what domain name registrar maintains it, and they can even sell it.
Since domain names are intangible items, it can be difficult to understand how this can happen…but here is an example. If you give a friend $5,000 to buy a car and the friend puts the title of the car in his or her name, then s/he owns the car. You have no power to claim it or sell it. The car is their property even though you paid for it. This is the same for your domain name.
Several times a year we come across a business owner who is shocked when I tell them they do not own their domain name. Most often, their website developer owns it. This can be a really bad situation especially if you are thinking of moving to a new website provider. The developer can hold the domain name hostage, remove your website from it, or do whatever they he or she wants to do with it. The only way you can force someone to change domain owner to you is if your business name is trademarked and the domain is your business name. In that case, the domain owner must sell it to you at cost.
How to Figure Out If You Own Your Domain
The name that appears in the domain registration is the legal owner. To find out who owns your domain name:
- Visit www.whois.org.
- Enter your domain name and click search.
- Scroll down to the bottom of the page and look under the Whois Record.
- If your name or an entity owned by you is registered as the owner, then you have no worries. Note it is important that both the “Registrant” and “Administrator” fields are in your name, if both are listed.
If your name is not shown as the registered owner, it is likely because of one of the below scenarios:
If you see something like “Domains by Proxy” in the registration record, then the domain has a private listing which is an extra feature paid for that protects your privacy by not displaying your contact information. Contact your domain registrar or if you have it, log into the domain account or privacy provider account to find out what contact information is behind the private registration. Make sure it is your information.
Website Developer Ownership
Most often website developers register a domain in their name out of ignorance, but often it is purposely intended to enable them to hold your domain name hostage should your relationship go sour or you decide not to pay for your website services. Perhaps a business savvy move on their part, but you should request that they put the domain in your name under a domain registration account that you have access to. And change the password so that only you have access to it once the new account is set up for you.
Host Company Ownership
Sometimes when you get a free domain name when signing up for a hosting account, the host company will put its information as the registrant and administrative contacts. Usually you have the ability to change this information by logging into your domain registrar account. If not, go to bat for yourself and do not let the hosting company convince you that it should stay as it is…you should own your domain.
What if I Don’t Own My Domain?
If the domain name is in another person’s or company’s name, like your current website vendor, ask them to change it into your name and contact information IMMEDIATELY. A domain name is a company asset. You would not want another person’s name on your checking account and you don’t want it on your domain. Remember: only the person or company whose name is on the domain registration has control over that domain name.
Another Domain Control Problem You May Have
Sometimes the domain registration is created by a website vendor who uses a bulk domain name service totransfer a domain. In this case, even if the domain name is in your name, you cannot access it because you do not have the username and password to the bulk account. So in essence only the website developer has access to the name. If you want to use a different website developer to create a new website, you cannot put the new website on your domain because your previous developer holds the domain name in a bulk account. If this is the case, request that the developer transfer the domain to your name and domain registrar. Sometimes they will make the switch and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes the website developer you are leaving will take down your current website since you are no longer using their services. This could happen before you are ready for your website to be taken down.
So it is important that:
- Your name appears as the owner in the domain registration.
- You have the username and password to access the domain registration account.
- OR it is a privately registered site and you have access to the private registration account.
Verify that you have access to the domain’s account at the domain registrar by logging in. While you are logged into your domain registration account, check a few more things:
- Registrant name is
- Your name,
- Someone with legal responsibility within your company (director or officer),
- Full legal name of your business
- or full legal name of another entity you control.(Tip: Do not use an employee name. Employees leave companies sometimes not on good terms. Or an employee can become incapacitated through illness or accident. Either way, using and employee name on the domain registration can complicate issues down the road.)
- Address and phone numbers are correct.
- All contact names are correct and their eMail addresses are valid and working.
- Consider setting up an email account such as gmail to use for these contacts. (Tip: If your domain has stopped working, then it is likely email to your domain will not be working either. To ensure you receive these emails, POP/IMAP them to a non-company email address you use frequently such as your personal email address or a trusted staff member’s email address. Using an email account specifically for domain registration makes it possible to arrange for emails to go to the appropriate staff member without changing the domain registration information.)
- If you use a privacy protection service then also check that account to ensure correct information. Most often you can access this privacy protection account by logging into your domain registration account.
- Check the expiration date of your domain and create a reminder to renew it well before expiration. Do not rely on notification from your domain registrar. (Tip: One of the many domain authority factors Google uses is domain expiration period. The longer the more “stable” the domain is assumed to be. We recommend 2-3 years.)
- Change the password to the domain registrar account (and the privacy protection account if it is separate) and keep it in a secure place.
- Make a list of all account logins and passwords (SEO Buzz provides such a list in a password-protected file for all its clients). Store the list and a backup copy in 2 different secure locations. Ensure at least two trusted people know where the password information is stored.
- Send a test mail to all addresses listened in the domain registration. Verify each test message is received by the intended recipient.
- If you need to give someone access to your registration or any other business-related account, change the password after the work is completed. Remember to update the backup copies with the new passwords.
Your domain name is one of your business’ most important assets. Take time to ensure you are in control of it. Still not sure what to do? Give us a call, we’ll be happy to help.