Do you actually own your business domain name?
There is quite a worrying trend emerging from a few of the businesses we provide IT support for. It is about the question of domain name ownership and how your business domain name was registered when you had your website developed.
'Do you own your domain name?' may seem like a daft question, of course you do, your business website has been using it for years, your emails are all @yourdomain.co.uk and the web development company you hired to create your website registered it for you. And there lies the problem!
It turns out that a lot of web development companies out there are in the habit of registering your precious company domain name in their own name. You may have paid the renewal fees for years but you have never actually owned your company domain name at all. And, in the eyes of the law, this is all above board.
The situation may have arisen through ignorance, perhaps you hired an inexperienced web developer and they just didn't think about it or maybe your web development company wants to make sure they retain your business - by fair means or foul! But not owning your domain name is a massive problem. It threatens your online presence and provision of services such as email as the plug could be pulled at any time.
One of the main reasons we have become aware of this situation is when we have investigated the possibility of implementing Google Apps for Business or a Hosted Exchange option for growing companies. A simple search on Whois Domain Tools will soon tell you if your domain name is registered to you or your business. This is the first search we carry out when a customer asks about migrating to one of these services. Far too many times the answer is a massive shock to the customer when they thought their domain name was theirs to do with as they please. In some cases this makes the migration procedure a bit of a minefield and it can increase the costs and timescales because of the extra communication needed with the third-party web development company. In extreme cases it can prevent a migration from happening at all.
What can you do if you discover your domain name isn't registered to you?
So you've probably already used the helpful link to Whois Domain Tools to check on your domain registration status. If you got a nasty surprise then what are your options?
Firstly speak to your web development company and see what they have to say. It may be an honest mistake or they may 'bulk-register' domain names to reduce costs. With a few simple steps they should be able to remedy the mistake for you. Do check they have done what you asked though!
If that doesn't work then you can try speaking to the registrar the company has used. This information can also be found through the Whois Domain Tools search. Their hands may be tied but - if they are reputable and customer service is good - they may be able to offer some practical advice.
From here, and assuming your domain name has a .co.uk TLD (Top Level Domain), your next port of call should be Nominet (Nominet is the internet registry services provider for all .uk domain names).
Contact Nominet and explain your situation. You should be prepared to present some documentation as evidence for your claim. Such as;
- Proof of business and trading name registration
- Invoices that show you paid for the web design and paid for the domain name
- Any contracts supporting that the domain name is for you and your business
- Any correspondence that might show that the web developer was registering the domain on your behalf
Nominet operates the Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) to help people and organisations settle domain name disputes. The service is based on free, confidential mediation, with decisions made by experts used to break any deadlock. The DRS can usually provide a quicker and cheaper resolution to disputes than going through the courts.
Of course all of this will consume both time and resources from your business so clearly the best thing is to avoid this situation in the first place. If you are looking to start a business and have a website developed then always read the contract terms and conditions from your chosen development company and make it clear that your domain name is to be registered to you or your business. Even better than that? Register it yourself through a good quality domain name registrar, it could just be the best £12 you ever spent!