Your domain name is an important asset, in the online world it’s just as important as your logo. It’s what identifies you online, it’s the name that your customers use to find you.
As with any other business asset you should own it, you should be the legal registered owner of your domain name.
You can buy domain names from a domain registrar like Name Cheap or Go Daddy who both offer a range of .com, .co.uk, .biz, .net, .me, domains. You can even get domains ending in .info, .solutions .accountant and even .cafe (or my personal favourite .ninja.) But choosing the best domain name for your business is a whole other post, the point is that anyone can buy a domain on these sites, you don’t have to be a business, or have any special website knowledge.
However if you don’t have a clue when it comes to websites and don’t know where to start you will probably outsource the whole thing to a web designer or a marketing consultant. Or you might try a web builder package like those offered by 1&1, Weebly, Wix or Vista Print.
In these situations the domain name usually comes as part of a hosting and web design package (indeed I offer a similar web package myself) and you pay one bill for the combined service. You pay for your domain name, you host your website at that web address, so you own it right? … Not necessarily.
Just because you paid for it and use that domain as the address for your website, doesn’t mean you own it. It all depends on the person who registers it.
If you got a talented web designer to create a beautiful website for your business and they also registered the domain and hosted the site for you then you need to check which name they registered it under.
This explanation from Beyond Indigo sums it up perfectly
To explain this let’s say you gave a friend 10,000 dollars to go buy a car. Said friend puts the title of the car in his/her name. That car is now their property, EVEN THOUGH you paid for it. This is the same for your domain name.”
What if I used a website builder?
If you used a website builder you usually pay that company for the domain, quite often this is a standard fee – not the actual price of the domain (a domain name might be £5 if you buy direct but a on a web builder package could be a £20 fee) which indicates that the domain will be registered under the company not your name.
Who owns my domain name?
If you bought your domain name direct from Name Cheap or Go Daddy and registered it yourself in your name or your company name then you are the legal owner of your domain.
If you bought a web builder package then it is highly likely that the web builder company owns your domain.
If you hired a web designer or marketing consultant and you don’t want to ask them which name the domain is registered under can check out the WHOIS register for your domain name. Just note that some accounts may be privacy protected by Who Is Guard so you still might have to resort to asking.
What does it mean if I don’t own my domain?
If you used a web builder and that company legally owns your domain it means that if you want to redesign your website with another provider then you usually have to pay a fee to release the domain.
If your web designer owns the domain, you might not consider it to be a problem if you have a good relationship with them. But remember that as the legal owner they can change information relating to the account, or worse they could sell the domain on to your arch rival. Consider the implications if the relationship goes tits up further down the line and you want to move your website to another provider. They might hold your domain to ransom and charge you a fee to handover the domain. Or what if they go AWOL on a secret mission in Africa and you can’t get access to your domain account? (true story)
Now most people aren’t unscrupulous, and don’t have an ulterior motive in mind when they register your domain but you do need to protect your business from the few who see it as another way to make a few bucks.
So save yourself the cost and the heartache and ask for the domain to be registered in your name at the outset. Or if it’s already done then ask if they would mind changing the registered name and giving you the legal rights to your domain.
What if they say no?
If your web designer refuses to transfer the ownership of your domain you can register to buyback the domain when it comes up for renewal with the domain registrar or if necessary, resort to legal action. If you can prove it is your business and that you have paid the website vendor to maintain your domain name for you then you may be able to file a dispute with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).
I always register my clients’ domains in their name or in the name of their business, not mine, therefore they have full and complete ownership of the domain. I won’t make you buy the domain off me if you want to move to another marketing provider or website host.
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