Don't Assume You Have Legal Rights to Your Domain
To the website owner, the domain name is THE most important item you own. And it's amazing how many people don't actually officially have rights to theirs.
In many cases, business owners let their web developers set up their domain name. The developer (usually without bad intent) just takes the default settings when they order the domain and they are then listed as the "Registrant."
Being the Registrant Is Your Key to Access
It's a story as old as the popularity of the Internet. A client comes to me and has me build a new website for them. When I ask them for access to their domain name, they say "my old developer has it." I ask them how their relationship is with the old developer. In some cases, there is a strained relationship. If that old developer set themselves up as the registrant of the client's domain, the old developer could try to hold the domain hostage or request extra payments be made to hand over ownership In worst case scenarios, the developer is out of business or can't be tracked down. This leads to a lot of faxing of legal documents to show your ownership of a business with a similar name. And if your longtime domain name is built on keywords and not your business name, you may not be able to get it back.
So it is critical that you make sure you are set as your domain "registrant" (not registrar...this is the company you bought the domain through).
How to Find Out Who the Registrant of Your Domain Is
Simple enough. I like to use GoDaddy's "whois" look up. It seems to give the most and best information.
Look for Registrant:
Note: Unfortunately, if you put privacy settings on your domain name, this method won't work and you may have to ask your developer or go into your registrant's website to see this information.
Here is a sample of what you'll see.
Here is the information you'll see:
- Registrar: This is the company that oversees the domain name. If you bought it, this is the company you'll deal with in most cases. If your developer bought it, this is probably who they purchased it through (sometimes this isn't as clear or accurate as it should be)
- Dates: These dates can be very helpful in showing you the age of the domain name, when it was last renewed and when it should be renewed again.
- Registrar Contact: More registrar information, including contact info for that company, hopefully! This is who you contact when you've lost touch with your developer or they are not giving you access to it.
- Registrant Info: This is the information that should be all about your business and email. If it's not, it's time to contact your developer or go into your registrar's website and make the changes. This tells the registrar who owns the rights to the domain name.
- Admin Name: This can be important also, as this contact is the person that will verify your business if you try to install an advanced SSL Encryption Certificate. It is considered the main contact. This should be your developer (if you're technically challenged), your hosting company or you.
- Billing and Technical Name: these are additional fields that should be filled out too. Billing may mean the person that gets the renewal notices. Technical is less important (as I've found Admin usually gets all the technical stuff).
If the Information Is Incorrect...
Don't fly off the handle on this. As I said, many times developers are busy and they don't take the time to fill this in accurately (guilty as charged). Just get in touch with them, give them the information you want listed and they should be able to change it.
If you've set your information to private (which I think is just a money making scheme for domain registrars and makes investigating your domain issues harder) or you bought your domain name, you'll most likely have to go in and change this information with your registrar.
Your Domain Name Is Your Website's #1 Asset
I emphasize this as one of my 3 most important items a website owner should have, because all the money you spend building up a domain name is lost if you lose that domain name. In other words, you start out with no search engine power and you create a ton of broken links to your business on the web if you lose that domain name. So protect it. And being the registrant is the first and most important step to take.