Businesses of all kinds increasingly rely on their websites to bring in new customers, sell their products and even manage their finances. But do companies really understand who owns their website?

A very common scenario.

We build websites for very large and very small businesses and it never fails to amaze us how many of them are blissfully unaware of who 'owns' their website – it frequently isn't the business, but the company who made their original website.

At some point, towards the end of a website build, we'll need to put the new website onto a web server and the logical place is to put it in the same place as the existing website. This is how the conversation with our client often goes –

"... so what we need are the login details of the web hosting package where your current website is, then we can just upload the new one and make sure everything is working on there."

This is often followed by a short pause and then a reply something like -

"Ah, right. Well, if I remember correctly, the people who did our first website just sorted all of that 'technical' stuff out for us...".

The thing is, what people don't normally understand is the implication of this statement – that they have no control over their website - that if the company who built their website originally (sometimes many years ago) doesn't exist anymore, then their website probably won't (because if they've gone bust, it's likely they aren't going to pay the bill for the account where your website is hosted). Oh, and that also probably means that you'll not be getting any new emails either, or access to the emails you used to have. And if that wasn't bad enough, if the original website company also registered the domain name on your behalf, under their account, it's going to be somewhere between difficult and impossible to get control over your own domain name...

What you should do.

We're not suggesting for one minute that any reputable web design company would do any of this to trip you up, they'll probably 'sort everything out' to try and make your life easier – but please, please make sure you understand what they're doing for you!!

As an absolute minimum, you must have your domain name registered in your own name with a separate 'registrar' – this means if everything else goes wrong (web designer stops trading and website disappears), you've always got access to point your domain name to a different hosting provider. If your designer is going to host the website for you, they will need you to change a few settings, but your registrar should have plenty of documentation to help you (or ask your web designer, they should be happy to help).

On that note of your designer hosting the website for you, it's a very common thing and should be fine. But do ask your web designer for a copy of the finished website (and an updated copy now and again if you're adding content often) – at least if they disappear, you can put it onto your own hosting account and be up and running again quickly.

In an ideal world, you'd have your own hosting account and ask your developer to put your website on there – this way, you're in complete control of everything, not reliant on them still existing two years down the line and you know your website will always be there - as long as you remember to pay the bill!!

Do be concerned.

We're not trying to spread panic, but the scenario we've outlined above is frighteningly common. Think of it like this, if you owned a shop, you wouldn't give the manager a key and not have a copy yourself – but by letting someone else 'look after' every aspect of your website (domain name, website hosting and emails), that's exactly what you're doing.

In actual fact, it's quite unlikely that it will all go wrong, but it can – and we've been asked for help by more than one client who's spent months with no website trying to resolve the 'ownership' issues.

If your website is essential to your business – you might want to check who actually owns it...

Article by Mick Johnson of inSquare Media Ltd.

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