Help! The Web Designer Stole My Domain!

It starts out something like this …

At BlueSpottedFishTails Web Design, our policy is to have the client transfer his domain over to us. It minimizes the frustrations we once experienced when the client retained his domain. Setting up a domain to work with the new website we’re designing is an extremely complicated matter. In order to have email and a properly functioning website, you definitely have to grant us full control of the domain. And, you can be assured that we’ll take excellent care of your precious domain once it’s in our vault – er, hands.

The web design company rep then walks you ever so kindly through the brief maze of steps to transfer your domain over to their domain holding account. And then it’s done, and any headaches threatened are over with because you’ve fully entrusted just a simple domain into the hands of your quite trustworthy and quite capable web development company.

But maybe things aren’t really quite that simple …

What is a domain?

The answer to that question is going to vary greatly. A domain is essentially an address on a street. That address might place you in the middle of downtown NYC or on a rural farm in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania (hey, I live in PA – though I’m a New Yorker – and, believe me, whenever I leave populated areas around here it feels like I’m in the middle of nowhere). As physical addresses can vary in value, so can virtual addresses. Just imagine the difference in value between computers.com and blue-spotted-fish-tails-web-design-company.com. With some domains, it really is no big deal to hand over the reigns of them to a 3rd party while with others, that domain is closely tied to your business’ identity as well as your income (just look at Google.com, for instance).

On a given street address, you can build (from a virtual sense, at least) any building that you want. If your address is located in the middle of lovely South Dakota, where our client CFgear is based, you could build a farm or even a 100 floor skyscraper. If your address is located in the heart of bustling Atlanta, where our client College Connecting is based, you could build a rundown shack or another 100 floor skyscraper. In the world of domains, your website is your construction. You could pay a million for a snazzy, much sought after prime domain but then go cheap on the web design and hire your nephew for $50 to throw up a couple pages he made during his high school graphic design class. Or, you could buy a cheap domain from a registrar like 1and1.com for less than $10 and spend a cool million on a snazzy, bells and whistles website.

And, now we’re heading full circle back to the point of this post: When you own a prime address in downtown New York City, and you hire a construction firm to build you a mansion, do you hand over to the construction company your title/deed for the land? Hey, they look trustworthy, they’ve built many other buildings in downtown NYC, they know their stuff! But even if they ask (or demand) that you give them ownership of the parcel of land on which you are paying them to build the 57.6 million dollar mansion, you’re not going to just hand over the property. I don’t care how trustworthy they are – you own the address, and you’re not just going to give it up for nothing (especially not to the company building your mansion).

The domain is your highly valued address which you have quite possibly been investing years and years into. You’ve developed a solid, strong reputation for it online. Many other reputable websites are linking to your domain because they have found it to be a valuable resource worth recommending to others. Your domain becomes your business, your nonprofit organization, you. The building you build upon your domain will change greatly over the years. It may start off small and unappealing, but down through the years it gradually improves. Organizations frequently go through major website designs every 1 1/2 years (give or take). You’ll use many companies to take part in the construction.

Your domain is your reputation and your investment. Don’t so lightly pass it off onto someone else. A web development company may hem and haw and gripe and complain, but they don’t need to have your domain in their domain portfolio just to build and manage your website. Yes, they might be trustworthy. Yes, they might come with high recommendations from your high school buddy. Yes, your son might even work for the web design company. But don’t give away your online name.

Why do some web designers want clients to transfer their domains?

Well, this is a loaded question, and one that I’m pondering over this morning as I write this in regards to a current client’s domain crisis. First, let’s give the web development company the benefit of the doubt. Admittedly, sometimes it can be a headache if the client has the domain in his or her domain portfolio and they are not domain tech savvy at all. The web designer might want to just bypass all the aches and pain by having full and complete control over the domain. They can make sure the domain renews, they’ll manage the settings, etc. My response to this is that it is still highly risky behavior with the client in danger of a lose-lose situation. With our clients, we recommend they set up their own domain holding accounts. They, in turn, give us the login information to access their domain accounts, but they are free to change the login information at any time. There are a few clients that want us to hold their domains in our domain holding accounts; that’s not really my preference, but there’s usually an individual, exceptional story behind each situation (and the situations are few and far between; of the dozen or so non Sozo domains we hold, half are owned by employees or family members).

It’s the second scenario which I’m getting to that troubles me. And this is the scenario that I fear the client I earlier referred to is facing. This is when the web designer requires domain transfer to their domain holding account because they want to retain the client’s business. When it comes time for the client to redesign the building on his virtual property, they want to make sure that they will be the ones responsible. It becomes a security blanket for the web design company: if they “own” the client’s domain, then the client can’t leave – or not leave very easily. With this particular client, the web design company has, sadly, developed a reputation for making it very difficult for clients to get their domains back. What I have seen repeatedly with them is that their former clients end up having to purchase new street addresses while losing the domain reputation and backlinks that they spent several years developing.

A web design company that was once your best friend and catered to your every whims and wishes can suddenly rear its ugly head and bite you in the back. In our world today it’s difficult to really trust anyone. In the virtual world of domains and websites, don’t risk your business, your online reputation, or your prime location. Retain full control and ownership of your domain name. And, if the web designer argues otherwise, contact me, and I’d be glad to help “mediate” as a neutral third party so you don’t risk losing your name online.

Andrew Jensen

CEO of Sozo Firm Inc

Comments

  1. Hi,
    Several years ago, a buddy of mine had his daughter do my website for my birthday. I had nor have any idea on how they are run. Anyway, I agreed, and for several years, she took care of the site, adding gigs, and also had my hotmail account. grantfullerton @ hotmail.com. I would ask my buddy how much I owe for the month, year, etc. He would say don’t worry about it, I have taken care of it. Last year my buddy and his wife split up, and they demanded back money from previous years saying that my buddy never paid them. She refuse to give me back either hotmail, or domain name unless I pay big bucks. I am a former musician of Lighthouse, Madcats, Fullerton Dam, etc. I have had much problems since losing this site, also making it very dificult for fans trying to find out where I am playing. Any suggestions? I have backordered grantfullerton.com through name jet as it comes up tomorrow for renewal, short of that if she keeps it, then what?

    Thanks for your help
    Grant Fullerton

    • Sozo Firm Staff says:

      Grant,

      I feel your pain. Sadly, what you’ve experienced happens all too frequently with domain names. You have a couple options. (1) You can wait to see if she renews grantfullerton.com (though you won’t be able to have a chance at grabbing it for up to 60 days from now due to the holding period expired domains have to go through). (2) When a person Googles you in the States, you’re already showing up fairly well on other sites (i.e. through the grantfullerton.net and grant-fullerton.com domains and elsewhere). Probably your easiest route is just going to be strengthening your alternate presence on those sites as well as making a very strong Facebook public page. Out of spite, she very well may keep a firm grasp on the grantfullerton.com domain indefinitely. Going the legal route to try to get that domain back would be time consuming and quite expensive. I would work on alternate methods of making sure that, at least, you rank well for your domain when people search for you. Yes, the .com gem might be out of reach, but don’t let that frustrate your ability to still connect successfully with your audience.

      Good luck!
      Andrew

  2. Hello,

    my web designer half way through a build decided this domain was better than the domain we originally agreed upon which was multicolorsapphire.com in which i purchased all variations for 10 years on the name. Subsequent to the site being finished and 60 days after purchase of the domain i still cant get an idea as to when he will surrender the domain over to me.

    I rang the domain company and they said theres nothing they can do without a court order. Well I have my girls in the office today contact a lawyer to see the costs involved to get back my domain. Any advice to avoid this from happening would be helpful

    Trent
    rainbowsapphirejewelers.com

  3. Nick Green says:

    “A web design company that was once your best friend and catered to your every whims and wishes can suddenly rear its ugly head and bite you in the back”

    I think this statement hit the nail on the head from the other perspective though, how can you expect a web design company who goes above and beyond to not be irked when a client chooses to leave? That is very much their decision, but time and money have been invested into the relationship on the developer’s side too, hoping for a reciprocation of value.

  4. trenton says:

    aguainn.com belongs to me .A friends lover did some work and improved my site then I had a falling out with my friend and the lover is delaying giving me back the control of the site Help! what can I do? I need the user name and pass word to move the host

  5. The website design company isnt always the bad guy – we commonly request that a domain and hosting is transferred to us as its a total nightmare to maintain (in our case) over 500 domain logins / cpanels and hosting for domains that now commonly need regular updates and databases maintenance. We use premium hosting and this makes our website design / owning experience smooth / reliable and secure but using cheap and nasty hosting that is hard to access (1and1 / fasthosts) is not a good start to the day.

    Additionally (for .co.uk domains here in the UK with Nominet) we have found on more than one occasion that clients have transferred their domain away before they pay their final invoice purely to avoid the cost (using Nominet in the UK) that has caused us lots of stress and hassle. They have copied the full (unpaid for site) which is currently with our solicitors.

  6. Hello, four years ago, I contacted a web designer to create a simple website for my business. At the time I had no idea about domain names etc, all these words were alien to me. I told the web designer my company name and he contacted me straight away saying ‘it’s available and he has the name’. I was happy with that.
    Now I have decided I do not want to carry on with the services he provided and sent him an email to which I had no response. Instead, he took my website offline and now I am unable to received any email. I contacted him and he was so rude, he said I need to pay him £50 for my domain name, which I think is unfair as I am the one who paid for it. I am very upset and don’t know what I can do.
    Please please can someone give me some advice, the web designer is totally ruining my business :(

  7. Elaine Noland-Sepko says:

    I worked with a website design and hosting company, my husband was one of the partners. We had created a site and purchased our domain through Intuit. When we started the website company we transferred our domain over to godaddy for hosting. However now that the company has split, we have found that one of our other partners hacked in and took me off as the registered owner and replaced it with his name. I contacted godaddy and they cannot do anything even if I provide proof that I am the initial registered owner. He wants to ‘resell’ the domain to me. Newsflash, he stole it and now wants to sell it…I’m pretty sure that in all areas of the world…THAT IS ILLEGAL”…isn’t it possession of stolen property?

    • Yep. My Webmaster billed me tens of thousands of dollars over many years while I parked my Domain profile with him. He promised in writing many times to ” be glad to transfer them at any time, at no cost, just let me know.” Now I’m forced to litigate for a profile estimated at 200k – meanwhile he keeps trying to sell me other things in order to extort even more money, holding them hostage. And these are just parked domains- not websites! He went from being a internet entrepreneur but turned into a sleazy white collar criminal when I asked to allow a transfer. Luckily I have good documentation for the courts.

Share Your Thoughts

*