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.
CEO of Sozo Firm Inc