Ok – this may sound like a rant, but I am writing this because it is important for you to read it…

Does this scenario sound familiar? You are launching a new business or new product and have your assistant purchase the perfect domain name for you.  Or maybe you have your spouse buy it, or you business partner.  No big deal, right?

Wrong! Depending on how the account was set up, you may have no legal access to your own domain name.

As a website designer, I run into these scenarios constantly.  It happened again this week.  A client contacted me to let me know that their website was down (one I designed) and they didn’t know why.  They have two domain names pointing to their site and had ensured that Domain A was paid for (it had expired) as well as the hosting account.

What was the problem?  The second domain.  It was purchased by an ex-business partner and had expired.  What is worse is that the domain is in the ex-business partner’s GoDaddy account and we have no legal access to that account.  Now the website is down, the domain is expired and if it isn’t paid for soon, it will be sold to the next available person who wants it.

Why You Need To Register Your Own Domain

If you have an existing account with GoDaddy, Bluehost or another domain registration company and you purchase an additional domain, that new domain gets added to your account.  You are then listed as the administrative owner of the domain and have complete control over the domain.

If someone else purchases a domain for you – while they are logged into their account – the domain is “attached” to their account and they are listed as the administrative owner of the domain.  That means they have 100% control over that domain… including whether the renewal fee is paid, what website the domain points to or even selling the domain to a third party!

Now you may be thinking that this is no big deal… you completely trust the person who purchased the domain for you and you are totally safe.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, as marriages fail and divorces happen.  Business partnerships dissolve.  And even if you have the best relationship with someone, emergencies happen and people can die unexpectedly.  Sadly, I have seen domain names lost for each of these examples… yes – even death.

How to Transfer a Domain to Your Own Account

If you are not the administrative owner of your own domain, then you need to contact the person who is and request they transfer the domain to you.  Each domain registration company has their own process for this and you will need to contact the appropriate company to determine the steps that are needed.  Transferring domains from accounts held by the same registration company is always easier than two different companies, but it is possible in either scenario.

How Do I Know Who is the Legal Owner of My Site?

Not sure if you own your domain name?  Go to WhoIs.com, type in your domain name and see who is listed as the owner. Not you?! Now you know who is being listed as owner and that tells you who to contact next. This listing will also show when the domain expires. This date should be noted on your calendar.

Questions?  Share them in the comments below.