Not too long ago I had a client (we’ll call her Sarah) who ended up in a pickle with her website and domain name. Long story short, Sarah originally set up her business website hosting and domain registration through a small company. After many years that company was going out of business. The guy that ran the company (we’ll call him Guy) wasn’t communicating with his clients nor was he offering any help in their migrations. Sarah really didn’t know how long she had till the servers went dark, so she called me and I set about reviewing her Internet assets to determine what steps were needed.
Moving her hosted services and content would be fairly routine. Sarah had WordPress and only a single email address . We just needed to select a hosting provider for her data and move it. After moving all website content, email address and mail spool, and testing the entire site, the next step would be changing DNS to point to the new servers.
Queue the sudden-realization-horror-movie-sound now
When I looked up the domain name (commonly referred to as a “whois” lookup) to determine DNS servers and ownership data, I saw that Sarah didn’t actually own her domain. When she employed Guy over a decade earlier to set up her domain and website, she, like most people, didn’t know to register her own domain name. She allowed the company to do it on her behalf. The result being that Guy, like many shady tech characters, used his own credentials for all contact information related to the domain name. This, in the eyes of the registrar (the company that manages the domain name registration), means the GUY owned the domain name and not Sarah. Sarah didn’t even know.
If Guy had wanted to, he could have done anything he wanted to with the domain. For example, a domain name that has been active and online for 10 years with legitimate content can often be sold for hundreds if not thousands for dollars (a racket that makes my blood boil.. but that’s a different blog). This would have severely set Sarah’s business back.
Luckily Sarah was able to find the decade old slip of paper that had the registrar log in credentials and we were able to update the domain name info to reflect her as the owner.
The take away from this story is to make sure that YOU, the business owner, are the owner of your domain name. Don’t trust the company or person setting everything up for you regardless of whether it’s a person in your own organization or an outside vendor. Domain name ownership is the keys to the kingdom.