Who Owns My Website? Website Ownership Fundamentals

Aug 30, 2017 | Domains, Hosting, & Email, Small Business | 0 comments

Who Owns A Website

I get asked this question all the time when I’m talking to prospects considering having me build their website.


“Will I own my website?”


It caught me off guard for a while, but I’ve become accustomed to answering this critical question. It’s not an easy answer, but it’s super important. If you don’t understand the answers to this crucial question, you can end up losing your website entirely. Believe me – I’ve seen it happen many times.

Let’s talk about the main assets when it comes to website ownership:


Domain Ownership & Control – The Main Asset of Your Website

My first response when asked the website ownership question is to point out the importance of owning and controlling your domain name. The domain name is your web address for your website – you know… something something .com.

BUT – many website owners aren’t really “website owners” per se because they have no control over their domain name and often don’t even know who does!


ZZZ Accountants Hires Joe Schmo’s Web Design

Let’s take a fictitious company ZZZ Accountants for example. They hire Joe Schmo’s Web Design to build a website for them and as part of the package, Joe Schmo’s Web Design logs into their own GoDaddy account and purchases the domain name ZZZaccountants.net. That is music to the ears of the management team at ZZZ Accountants because they don’t need to worry about figuring out how to buy the domain. A few weeks go by and ZZZ Accountants has a brand new website live on their new domain and their digital future looks bright.


FAST FORWARD three years down the road…

Cindy in the sales department at ZZZ Accountants realizes their website isn’t working. After some research and performing a WHOIS search on the domain, they realize the domain is expired. They try to contact Joe Schmo’s Web Design but their site is down too, and Joe isn’t responding to emails or phone calls.

So what do they do? Unfortunately, they have no options. Since Joe Schmo owns the domain in his own account, ZZZ Accountants can’t renew it themselves although they would gladly do so for the $15 that it would take!

If they have the website files, they can buy a new domain name and make the new site live on the new domain. But I’ll get into that in the next section.

What are the proper steps to take so you don’t get into this situation of losing your domain name or never having it in the first place? It’s simple really – buy the domain yourself. Buying a domain is cheap. It’s usually $10-20 per year with some really good discounts typically available if you pay for multiple years up front.

Then, you are in control of the domain. As long as you have access to your GoDaddy account or wherever your domain is managed, you’ll be able to control the domain and the website.

If you’re worried about the technical side of buying a domain, check out my video on searching and buying a domain name on Godaddy.

If you’re wondering who has control over your domain, you can look at the public registry info for your domain or read my post on the topic here.


Website Files – A Backup Plan

Website Backup Plan

In our example above, it’s possibly that ZZZ Accountants had a copy of their website files even though they lost their domain. The website files may be in the form of a backup or maybe they own the hosting account where the website was hosted.

In either case, ZZZ Accountants can then use those website files to activate the site on a new domain. So the website would look the same, but it would have a new address. This may seem like no problem, but keep in mind there is a lot of value attached to the original domain…

  • Your customers probably know it. You’ll have to educate them on your new domain name
  • You may have printed it on business cards, letterheads, t-shirts, and more
  • It may have established rankings in search engines that produce valuable traffic


KEY QUESTION: Do you have a copy of your website files?

If you have your own hosting account with a company like Bluehost, Hostgator, or GoDaddy, you can login and download a full backup of your hosting account. Store this backup on your computer and you’ll have the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, you have another copy.

Most hosts use a control panel called cPanel or they utilize something very similar. If you do have access to cPanel for your website account, login and find “Backup” or “Backup Wizard” shown below:

cpanel website backup

I usually just click on “Backup”, which takes me to the screen below where you can download a Full Backup or, depending on your configuration, you may be able to download backups from previous dates under “Account Backups”

Full Cpanel Backup

Set a calendar reminder to do this once a week, once a month, or once a quarter depending on how often your website changes. Then – sleep easy knowing you have a backup copy of your website files on hand.

If someone else hosts your site for you, like I do for my clients, make sure you trust them AND ask them for a full backup of your website files!


So Who Owns A Website?

I guess it’s time to actually answer the question posed as the subject of this post. The reality is that there are TWO principal assets to website ownership.

ASSET #1 – Domain Name

ASSET #2 – Website Files

Which do you think is more important? Comment below and let me know.

There are certainly times when one of the assets is more valuable than the other but it depends on the individual situation. The BEST method to protect yourself is to make sure you have control over both assets. Then you truly are the owner of your website!

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