Just whose domain name is it?

I first posted this article more than 10 years ago, but as the issue continues to come up its worth a re-post.

If you have a domain name (ex. www.mycompany.com), make sure you’re listed on the contact record and you have access to the site where it is registered.

It’s not uncommon for us work with clients who don’t know where their name is registered and don’t have the username or password to access it.  If we’ll be working together to bring up a new site or move the site to a new server the domain name may need to be updated.

Sometimes domains are even registered entirely in the name of the person who first set up the site: possibly a long-gone web designer, hosting company, or someone else!

Domain names expire too – registration is typically between 2 and 5 years (though they can be as long as 10), and if you don’t have access to the domain name and it expires it will shut down your website and email.

Make Sure Your Domain Name Belongs to You

A name registration record has four contact fields:

  • the registrant name (which should be the name of the company or person using the domain),
  • an admin contact,
  • a technical contact,
  • and a billing contact.

Minimally, the registrant field should be the name of the business or business owner’s name, and we usually suggest the admin contact as well.

If your domain is registered in some else’s name, and they decide to be awkward (we’ve run into this more than once or twice) it can be difficult to get control of the domain: difficult, costly, and sometimes not possible.

If you don’t have access to the registration site, but your name is on the record, there is usually a process to get control of the domain if needed.  It can be lengthy, but it can be done.


I want a website – www.mywidgets.com

I hire Bob Smith to design it and look after all of that for me. He does the work and in the process registers www.mywidgets.com in his name.

As long as we have a relationship, everything is fine.

But what if the relationship falls apart; Bob disappears; or Bob moves on to something else?

If I want to move my website to another company and Bob is the only one with access to the domain name, I have to go through Bob to do so. If the relationship is bad, Bob can make that difficult, costly, or time consuming.

Sometimes it’s unintentional.  In the spirit of getting work done and helping out the client the designer will handle the registration, and forget or not think to update the contact record.

Sometimes it is intentional.   The person who does the registering keeps it in their name so they have some leverage over the client.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Your domain name no longer works, taking out your website and your email. What kind of impact will that have on your business?

Thats not the only bad thing that can happen though; two particularly nasty situations we’ve run into were:

  1. a small businesses owner’s domain name was registered by the ‘web guy’.  The relationship went bad, and the ‘web guy’ pointed the domain name at a competitor’s website
  2. a national not-for-profit’s domain name was registered by someone they knew who did websites and built their first one. When they decided to move to a design agency the ‘tech guy’ demanded a large sum of money to relinquish control of  the domain or else it would be disabled.

The bottom line: if you’ve got a domain name, make sure you have access to the registration account and you’re listed on the contact record – most certainly as the registrant, ideally as one of the other contacts as well.

Look it up:  Domain records that are not private (all .ca domains are by default ) can be looked up with a “whois” lookup (click that link to look yours up now).

One more thing – Just how much are you paying for your domain name? We’ve encountered clients paying $60 or more per year for their domain name. Domain names through our services usually start around $20/year.

Need help?  Assisting clients with their domains is just one of the things we do as a part of our website maintenance services.