Domain Names: Do you own yours?

Digital

One of the most common problems we come across when we are asked to provide online services for a new client, is the issue of domain name ownership. The majority of the time, the client doesn’t own their own domain name – it’s not registered to them, it’s not administered by them and in fact, other than the actual URL, there is very little to indicate it has anything to do with the client.

This is a particular bugbear of mine. A client will, in all good faith, ask an agency to purchase a domain name for them, and through no fault of their own, automatically assume that it is then their property. Yes, if a purchase order has been issued and an invoice received, you would have some recourse against the agency; yet, this doesn’t mean that it’s that straight forward.

You might have the best designed website with the most interesting content ever, but if you can’t point the domain name to the right server, then no-one will see your website. It might as well not exist. This is how important your domain name is: it’s like having a really expensive, super cool Ferrari but with no keys. What’s the point? You can’t sell it because the logbook doesn’t have your name on it, and you certainly can’t drive it!

It is vitally important that whenever you commission an agency to develop a new website, that you make sure your domain name is registered to your organisation. This legally places the domain name in your control. The developers will need access to the name in order to point it at the server, but you and they are aware of the login details and the passwords so if something untoward were to happen, another person could step in and have access (if given permission). Once a domain name (especially a ‘.co.uk’ name) is registered to an organisation - and if you need it to be registered in your name - the organisation, would have to setup a Nominet Account and then make a request for the name to be transferred to them. The existing owner (the agency) then has to agree to the transfer. As you can imagine, if this is not agreed by the agency, a very long and drawn out process has to be undertaken in order to determine the rightful owner, and for them to take control. Overall, this isn’t very helpful, particularly as the Internet moves so quickly.

The reason why ownership is so important (aside from the fact that if you bought it, it should be yours anyway), is if ever you encounter trouble with your agency – let’s say they go bankrupt, or you have an acrimonious split with them - you should be in control of your project. A domain name is very important and it comes with intrinsic value. If a brand has spent a long time building up it’s awareness in the marketplace, changing to a different name can have a large impact on the organisation. So, where you could argue, ‘we’ll could just buy another URL and point that at the server’, I would argue that it is better to keep the name and replicate the site (as you should always have a backup) on another server. After all, the URL is the virtual shop front for your company.

Why not go and have a look to see whom your domain name is registered to (go to http://www.whois.sc). If it’s not you, you might want to contact your supplier and ask for it to be transferred.

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