Who Owns Your Website?

Are you married to your webmaster or hosting company? Do you really own your website? If you needed to make changes to your site or move it to a new hosting company, could you do it? Breaking up can get ugly.

If you don’t have access to -- and 100% control over -- all your websites and online assets, you need to read this blog post. We have worked with many companies that had no control over their own websites, and in some cases, they didn’t even own their websites. Here is what you need to know about owning and managing your online assets.

Your company should own all of its digital assets and online accounts, and maintain a complete list of all account details. It does not matter if you are well-established or a new business, your company must track and control its online content and accounts. From brand management and public relations to information security and business continuity, there are countless reasons why this is a critical issue for your business.

Over the years, I have heard many analogies that help the non-web savvy owners and managers understand how owning and operating a website works. We will break down the techno-babble into plain English for you.

Accounts & Logins
All your accounts should be registered to your company or a specific person within your organization. Most people use the terms account and login to mean the same thing, but they are not. You pay for an account and you use the login to access and manage your account information. Here is a list of accounts for which you should have logins documented:

  • Domain Registration
  • Hosting Account
  • Hosting Control Panel
  • FTP
  • CMS

This is not a complete list, but it is the minimum you should have documented. Let’s take a few minutes to explain what these are and what role they perform in managing your website.

Domain Registration (yourdomain.com)
Your domain name must be registered and the registration must be renewed on a regular basis. Domain registration is the first step in setting up a website. There are many registrars out there, such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy, 1and1, just to name a few. When registering a domain name, make sure you do it under an account with a reputable vendor where you are the account owner. Avoid using registration resellers.

NEVER register or renew a domain name using forms sent to you in the mail. These are almost always fraud, and you may be paying a company to steal your domain registration from you.

Your company must be listed as the Registrant or you do not own your domain.

Keep in mind that you do not own your domain name, you are leasing the right to use it by registering it. Many business owners make the mistake of hiring a third party to register a domain on their behalf, putting that third party in control of the domain name, and sometimes those vendors choose to register the domain name in their name instead of yours. Don’t outsource domain registration, because you could lose control of your domain name or lose all rights to using it.

Click here to check your domain registration

DNS (connects domain names to web hosting servers)
Connecting your domain name to your hosting account is done using DNS. DNS services are typically offered by both your domain registrar and hosting company. In general, we find it better to use the DNS provided by your website hosting company unless there is a compelling technical reason to use a different manager.

DNS management is a subject much too large to be addressed in this blog, but your registrar and host will have trained professionals available to help you get it setup.

Hosting Account/Control Panel (the place where your website lives)
Hosting is just a computer with an internet connection and hosting software installed. Uploading your website’s files to your hosting makes them visible to the world via a web browser. Hosting companies typically provide one login to manage your account with them and a hosting control panel login that is used to manage your website. For example, your bill information and credit card are stored in the hosting account while your website’s files are accessed through the file manager found on the hosting control panel.

In many cases, your hosting will include email, databases and many other features. You will be able to manage these in the hosting control panel. One of the industry standard hosting control panels is called cPanel, this is just a brand name. Many people will refer to any hosting control panel as “the cPanel,” so don’t get confused.

FTP (file transfer protocol)
Everything that you view on a website has to be placed on the hosting server using a file manager. File managers come in many forms, but the most common are the FTP (file transfer protocol) and the file manager located in your hosting control panel. In many cases, your website will use a special kind of software called a CMS (content management system/software), which will also let you upload files to the server. Typically, the FTP is used to upload a CMS and the CMS is used to upload and manage all the content on the website.

FTP accounts are managed in the hosting control panel. We recommend creating dedicated FTP accounts for different users and vendors. The hosting server keeps a log of all the FTP activity on the server, and it can be useful to know when and by whom a file was uploaded. It is also helpful to be able to terminate access for individual users.

CMS (Content Management System)
CMS software packages such as WordPress or Joomla are used to manage the content on websites. From uploading images to creating menus and pages, CMS software manages every aspect of your website. CMS software supports many types and levels of administrator logins. As a business owner, you should have at least one login that provides the highest level of administrator access to your website’s CMS.

Like with FTPs, unique CMS logins should be given to each person working on your website. This allows you to control who has access to the site and what content they are allowed to edit. Individual users can have their accounts turned on and off as needed by the website administrator, sometimes called a super administrator.

Avoid Proprietary CMS Solutions
There are MANY content management solutions out there and many of them will lock you into a relationship with a specific host or software package. When choosing a content management solution make sure to ask what happens when you want to move your site. Can you change hosts? Can you export the content in a way that makes it editable in any other CMS without losing functionality? If the software company goes out of business, will you still be able to access and update your website? If the answer is no to any of these questions, run, don't walk.