Website Ownership

Website Ownership: Why you need to retain access

Our contracts explicitly say that any work we create for our clients, once paid for, is completely owned by our clients. This is just how business should be done—if the work is paid for, we no longer own it, our clients do. This applies to all creative work as well as websites, even if they are hosted with us. Website ownership is by far the most complicated hurdle that we run into with new clients.

I bring this topic up because I have had more nightmare client stories than I would like to admit. Why are service providers using this shady method as a way to “steal” funds from their past clients? If you are doing your job right, you shouldn’t have past clients to begin with, you should have repeat clients. This happened to a new client of ours very recently, and I wanted to share how you can remain in control of your website and feel knowledgeable on how to do so.

Domain Names

When a website is created you need a domain name, like, for users to navigate to in order to get to your website. This domain name will be very important, especially once you have marketed your new website and it’s out for the world to find it. Domain names are registered on an annual basis, you can choose more than 1 year, but they all renew at a year-mark (1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, etc.) and they need to be renewed in order to retain access to them. Domain names can also be transferred to other providers or individuals, so long as they are unlocked and the approval process is completed—this varies from registrar to registrar.

How to remain in control of your domain name

  • Own your domain name
    If someone else registered the domain for you, ask that they transfer it into your name to retain ownership in the future.
  • Keep your information up-to-date
    When someone tries to transfer a domain name, the registrar will confirm the transfer with the current email address on file under the domain’s contact information. If this isn’t you then you are allowing someone else the ability to give away your domain name. If your domain name information is public, you can do a search here:
  • Lock your domain name
    Each registrar is different, but your domain names should remain locked unless you are initiating a transfer yourself.
  • Frequently change your login credentials
    Even if you do trust your service provider, change your registrar login credentials once they have completed their work. If future changes are needed, they can request access again. This keeps everyone safe in case your records or their records are compromised.

Website Hosting

In order for your website to be live on the internet, the files & database for your website need to be stored somewhere. This is where website hosting comes in. They are the server that stores and delivers those files to your users’ web browser. For a website to function, you need to have a domain name that points to your website hosting provider and then wallah, a website exists! Website hosting has a few ways that you can access it and remain in control.

How to remain in control of your website hosting

  • Be in the know
    It’s a great thing when you can trust your service provider, however, we are all human and sometimes things happen to us. Be sure that you know exactly where your websites are hosted and who the provider is.
  • Login access
    We primarily build our websites in WordPress, but no matter how your website is created, it needs hosting. If you are using a managed host, like we prefer, then you will have the ability to have access to your website hosting through a nice UI. You may also be able to ask for access to cPanel, Plesk or a control panel of some type, depending on your server infrastructure.
  • Connection access
    If you are not using a managed host that has dashboard access, you will want connection access. Connection access can be in a variety of forms, one is SFTP/FTP (File Transfer Protocol) another could be access to the Git repository.
  • Site backup
    When you launch your new project, or if you are stumbling upon this content post-project and trying to do some recon, ask your provider for a full backup of your complete website, including the database, to have for safe-keeping.

Just because your sites are hosted with someone does not mean that they own your web properties. They should, by no means, be asking for a termination or migration payment when you end your services with them, unless they are actually doing the migration work for you. Some providers may have a cancellation policy, so be sure to be aware of that when you are signing up and canceling.

Website Access

As I previously stated, we prefer to build our websites in WordPress, however, we have, and do work with a few other platforms when necessary. Most of these platforms have an admin side to the website where you can login and make content changes as well as other changes to your website. Not all websites have a place to go and edit copy and content. A good way to know how your website is built is by checking the source code. You can do this by right-clicking on any webpage and going to inspect, view source, etc. Once you are in there, you are going to see what will appear as either HTML, CSS or Javascript (the front-end languages that the web browsers can read). This will feel intimidating, but you can usually read between the lines and find the human readable text to find out what your website is built in. If you do this right now, on this page, you will notice a snippet of code in the source code, stating that we are on WordPress version 5.2.2.

<meta name="generator" content="WordPress 5.2.2" />

How to retain website ownership

  • Possess editing access
    Make sure that you have an account on the website, preferably at an admin level, so you can access the website or create a new account should you need to hire a new provider.
  • Know who has user accounts
    With the access mentioned above, make sure that if someone has a user account, they still need it. Remove old service provider accounts so they can not access after they are terminated. If you have a company who is responsible for keeping your website up-to-date, do not remove their access, but do ask them to change their passwords every few months.
  • Control your site backups
    Whether your hosting or service provider completes automated backups or you are using a plugin or tool, have access to these backups somewhere in your possession in the event that your website is hacked, removed or manipulated in ways that you did not approve.
  • Admin email and settings
    There is usually an admin email that receives notifications when various things happen on your website, like password changes, form submissions, etc. Make sure that this email is always an email address that you have access to.
  • Frequently change your login credentials
    Just like I shared under the domain name section, you should frequently change your login credentials. If your website is WordPress or something similar, your old service provider could have a backup of your database and they can pull your login credentials from that database (it takes a little work, but it can be done), so changing your credentials frequently is very important.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

If you are in a situation where you feel like you may be losing control, seek a new service provider out who can educate you and look into your current situation before you terminate with your current provider. They might be able to swoop in and get backups of all your sites before your current provider can shut you out.

If you are using WordPress, I recommend that you install a plugin like BackupBuddy OR sign-up for a free/trial hosting account at Pantheon or Flywheel and utilize their quick migration process to at least bring your site somewhere else (no coding knowledge required), then you have control and can move it or go live with it there if you’d like.

We are always here to help if you ever feel stuck or if you just want a brief consult on your website ownership. Just navigate over to Work With Us and complete our quick contact form.

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