Web Site Hostage Situations

I haven’t addressed this topic in a while, but it is critically important. Who controls your web site – you or someone else? Are you even sure? I’m reminded now, as I am working with several clients to reclaim control of their domains and web sites, just how important this issue is… You must be in control of your web properties, period.

What do I mean by this? When you have a web site, there are several components that you should control – the domain(s), the hosting account and the web site itself (design & content). Let’s look at each of these elements and why they need to be under your control.

Your Domains

A domain is a web site address, such as www.neptunemoon.com. Are you or your organization the registered owner of your domain(s)? Do you know how to find out? At the most basic level, you should make sure that your organization, not an outside provider, is the registered owner of your company’s domains. Only the registered owner can make changes to the account. Only the registered owner gets the renewal notices. You spend lots of time and money building your web site and brand online – make sure you control the domain.

How can you tell if you own the domain? If you don’t have your domain registration account information on file, a quick search at Network Solutions’ WHOIS tool will show you who is the registered owner of the domain. If you are not the registered owner, contact your provider who is listed as the registered owner and ask them to transfer the account to you. They will need to authorize the transfer as the account holder. Do this now, while relations are good between you and the provider. It is your brand, you should own it and control access to it, not an outside party.

Web Site Hosting Account

Every web site has to be hosted somewhere. Do you know who your hosting company is? Do you control the hosting account? Many web design and development firms insist on setting up and managing the hosting for their clients. I could not disagree with this policy more! Again, your web site is mission critical to YOUR organization, not the design firm’s. The hosting account should be in your or your company’s name. You should control access and grant it to your chosen providers, not the other way around.

When you let an outsider control your hosting, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary potential problems. If you don’t control your hosting account, you could find yourself in any of the following situations, with little recourse:

  1. Your web site could be taken offline at any time and not be accessible to customers or clients
  2. Your vendor could fail to pay the hosting bill and your site could be suspended
  3. You cannot end your relationship with an unsatisfactory provider because they won’t relinquish control of your site to you
  4. Your provider could cease to exist and it is very difficult to get control of an account set up by someone else without their cooperation

What can you do? If you don’t know where your web site is hosted, find out now. Ask your provider for all hosting account access credentials. Ask them to work with you to transfer the hosting account ownership to you or your organization ASAP. You should have control of the account and make sure you keep the access credentials on file. If your provider refuses to transfer the account to you – you might be in trouble. If you followed our advice about the domain, you can always set up a new hosting account and copy the site to the new account.

Your Web Site – Design & Content

Who owns your actual web site – both the visual design and the content? Don’t assume that the answer is you. Your original web site project contract should clearly spell out who owns what. In general, most reputable firms will transfer ownership rights to you, the client, after the project has been approved and its invoices fully paid. Not all firms do this, so make sure that you have a clear understanding of what you own and what you don’t.

Assuming that you own the site, design and content, you should be free to move it wherever you want. Sometimes firms make it difficult for you to move a site – that should be a warning that they are not putting their customers first. I’ve worked on projects where the previous firm made it really difficult for the client to get access to their web site components. I don’t understand this behavior. I understand wanting to make sure that the hosting environment is a good one and that it has all of the technical components that the site will need to run smoothly. I don’t understand locking a site down so that a client cannot access it or move it away from you.

If you need to lock your clients in that tightly so that you retain them, perhaps you want to take a look at your business model and customer service practices? Clients should be free to do whatever they want with a site once they have paid for it. Be wary of a firm that insists on total control and refuses to allow you access to the actual site files. You could find yourself in a hostage situation.

Web Site Common Sense

No one likes to go into a new relationship planning for it to fall apart. And, I’m not suggesting that you have that pessimistic of a view. I am, however, suggesting, that you make sure that you and your organization are fully in control of your web properties so that the choice of where you host your site and who works on the site is always yours. It’s your business – protect it!

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