While it’s tempting to hand technical tasks over to the person working on a website for you, please be careful that you’re not unintentionally losing control of your own services. We’ve worked with clients who had a hard time updating their website, because they’d given over the reins to a developer and didn’t have access to the accounts needed to move or update the website.
What to keep in your control
Here are the web services you should sign up for yourself, and keep up to date info for:
- Your domain registration. If you allow someone else to register a domain for you, they will ultimately be in control of your website and your email. Purchase your domain yourself, know when it’s set to expire, and be sure to renew it on time.
- Your web hosting account. This should be in your name so you’re able to renew it and make adjustments to it without waiting for a third party to help. Often, if your web developer offers you hosting, they are just reselling an existing hosting service that you’d be better off signing up for yourself. Tip: if your host is “a guy” instead of a company, you’re going to have a hard time getting things taken care of as needed.
- Website software. If you’re paying a monthly fee for ecommerce software, content management software, or any other tool needed to run your website, it’s best to have this in your name, so that an unpaid bill doesn’t take your site down.
Even if your “web guy” is a trusted family friend, you don’t know that he won’t get hit by a bus – better to have control of your website from the start. We’ve had a few clients express concern to us that their old “web guy” might get mad that we were redesigning the site, and do something malicious with their domain – scary!
How to check who owns your website
You can do a “whois” on your domain name. This will tell you what name it is registered under, what domain registrar controls it, where it’s hosted, and when it will expire. This is the site I’ve been using for years:
Enter the spam-prevention code in the “key box” and enter your domain name with no http:// or www in the “whois” box. For instance, google.com, rather than http://www.google.com/
When you submit this form, the domain information will show up below. Here are some example results, with explanations in red.
Checking server [whois.crsnic.net] Checking server [whois.enom.com] <- your domain registrar Results: =-=-=-= Domain name: examplesite.com <- your domain name Registrant Contact: Janey Joe <- hopefully you! if not, your web guy 32 Elm St. Wichita, KS 67037 US Administrative Contact: Janey Joe (firstname.lastname@example.org) +1.5555555555 32 Elm St. Wichita, KS 67037 US Technical Contact: Possibly Your Web Host (email@example.com) +1.5555555556 123 Web Host Drive Santa Fe, NM 87501 US Status: Locked <- means it can't be transferred Name Servers: dns1.name-services.com <- your web host dns2.name-services.com dns3.name-services.com Creation date: 06 Jan 2000 19:55:00 Expiration date: 06 Jan 2014 19:55:00 <- must be renewed by this date!
How to gain control of your website
If you look up your whois info and find that you don’t have complete control over your site, here are some steps to take. First, check the expiration date – that will tell you how long you have until the site needs to be renewed. If it’s soon, and you can’t rely on your web guy to renew for you, you’ll need to take action right away.
See if you show up as any of the contacts in the whois info. If you do, there is a good chance you’ll be able to log into your domain registrar and edit the info so that it’s only in your hands. Go to the registrar listed (in this case, enom.com) and attempt to log in with the email address listed in the whois info. You can request to reset your password, if you don’t remember it.
If you’re unable to log in, email customer support from an email address at your domain (firstname.lastname@example.org). This will show them that you’re likely the legitimate owner of the site, and they may be able to help.
If you are unable to get into your domain registration account by your own means, you’ll need to contact the person who does have access to see if they will give you the password. Once you’re in, change the password, make sure there are no unwanted users that can access the account, and adjust the domain’s contact info to contain only your information.
Unsure where you’re hosted? If it doesn’t say explicitly who your host is in the whois info, you can sleuth it out. Under “name servers,” you’ll see a list of domain names, likely with “ns1” or “dns1” or similar before them. Copy just the domain name (in this case, name-services.com, not dns1.name-services.com), and paste it into your web browser. Sometimes this will take you straight to the web host’s site, and you’ll have your answer. In this case, it doesn’t – it takes you to an advertising page. For this less straightforward result, what you’ll do is now google the domain name to see if you can find more info. For this one, I googled “name-services.com dns server” and found out that it is Enom.
You’ll want to follow the same steps for gaining access to your hosting as you did for your domain registration.
If you control your hosting and domain, but not your website software, this should be easier to get back under your control. If you are unable to log in, it will be fairly simple to prove to customer support who you are and get the account restored back to you.
Keeping things under control
Besides having login access to all your services, you need to be sure that your billing information is up to date. Know when services will need to be renewed, and check to see if they will auto-renew, or if you will need to make a payment. Make sure your email address is current with all services so that you will get notifications when things need your attention. Add the email addresses for your domain registrar, web host, and other services to your contact list, or set up a filter in Gmail so that their messages never go into your spam folder.
It would be a good idea to check this for all of your online services. We are surprised by how often a shop owner will let their SSL certificate expire, which causes scary errors for their customers! Or sometimes a domain will expire, and suddenly the website is going to a “coming soon” page instead of the shop. Most domain registrars offer a grace period where you can get first dibs at renewing your domain, but with the possibility of someone being able to snap your domain up with no recourse for you, I’d recommend keeping on top of this!
We do what we can to keep things simple for our clients, but always insist that they sign up for these type of accounts themselves.
If you have questions about your own account access situation, or cautionary tales to share, please let us know in the comments!