EJM Designs Limited Blog

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Portability: Who Really Owns Your Website?

Don't be chained up

In the past couple months, with clients and potential clients and friends and some folks I'm just advising, I was both surprised and horrified that the topic I'm going to be addressing here actually needs to be addressed. But I guess there are those businesses out there that need to make the extra buck and/or need control and really don't have the client or end-user in their best interest.

The question is: Are you portable? In other words, if your registration or hosting or even development company folded, would you be able to switch without a complete crippling of your website?

Who really owns your website?

Here are 4 things you need to check.

1. Domain Name

What's your website domain name? You know, that WWW thing, that branding that you can recite in your sleep. Excellent, you're doing great so far.

Now: do you know exactly where it lives, how to access it, and who actually did the purchasing of that name?

Your domain name has a home. That home is a registry or hosting (or both) company. Through that account, you can renew the ownership of the name, control where the name points to go for the website files, or redirect it somewhere else.

I have seen very recently an instance where a non-profit group had an internal spat and the person who originally purchased the domain name logged into the registration site, renewed the site for 7 years in his name, and changed the password.

I've also heard tales of companies like AT&T doing the registering on the client's behalf but maintaining control to guarantee a service contract.

Take-Away: You need to guarantee from inception that you have control over your own site name, that either you or someone you trust registers that domain name - in your name - and can (they should immediately) provide you with login information.

2. Hosting

The hosting service is where the files for your website live. This can be the same company (like GoDaddy.com or namecheap.com) where the domain name lives and was registered. And that's fine. Problems arise in the same way as they do with the domain name issues.

I spoke with a client I'd just begun working with a few months ago when they forwarded me an email from their dual registry/hosting company. The dual company claimed that if my client did not renew their previous registration at some $50/yr that when it expired they would hold the website in default until a $200 fee was paid to them.

This is fraud. Quick 101: Domain registration can be found reasonably from $8 to $15 per year, depending on how many years you're renewing. If someone is threatening a hostage act like this, they fully intend to wait for the second of expiration and buy the domain name themselves, as any person in the world could do. Then they point it wherever they want. And when you pay, do you get control back? Or do they maintain ownership?

Take-Away: Often said is "Possession is 9/10ths of the law." That may not be fair, but it is true. Unless you have full copyright on your business and paperwork that you've purchased your own domain name and hosting through your company, fighting for control could be expensive in both time and dollars.

Do you have all hosting login information? The login to the hosting account and FTP information? Who else has it?

3. Programming

There is a city on the East Coast that I do some newsletter work for from time to time. They awarded their government contract for a website to a company that built their site in a proprietary content management system. The company also maintains the site. When discussion began about the city doing their own updates to the site through the CMS (which is - generally - the intent), the company said "Sure - as soon as you go through our 80+ hours of training on how to use the CMS."

Their website is being held hostage by this company and their only options are to continue paying the ridiculous monthly fee, paying a great deal more money to this company for training, or paying about an equal amount to go somewhere else and have the site reconstructed.

Take-Away: if something goes wrong with your service provider, are you able to walk away with those files? If you are, will another programmer be able to take those files and understand how to change or manipulate them?

4. Pay Per Click and Social Media

Pay Per Click campaigns, whether Adwords or Yahoo or Bing, can either be created separately and managed at a central location or created within one account. If you have someone create an ad campaign, do you have access to it? If you don't like the job someone is doing with that account, can you take it with you?

The same login issues exist with Social Media: Do you control the account? Did you create it? Was your Facebook fan page created and administered through your own Facebook account or someone else's?

This is the essence of portability when it comes to a website: regardless of who you have doing the design and build and programming and optimization and social media, you should have logins and administration ability for everything, even if you don't want to touch it.

That way, should anything negative happen, should anything unexpected happen, and you have the need to change service providers or just get rid of the one you have, you control all the assets.

As owner of EJM Designs Limited, that is one of the most important aspects of how we work, and a subtext of guarantee for any client we work with: we build on best practices and portability.

Make sure anyone you are currently or eventually going to work with does the same. It's good business.

As always, feel free to ask any questions in comments, or directly at eric (at) ejmdesigns dot com or any of the other connections you can make through the website.


  1. Good article and good information for business owners to know. I just saved a client $700 over two years; they were paying $400/yr for web hosting!

  2. Mark, Thanks for the comment - glad to know people have the same idea as well as having the client's best interest in mind!