Who controls your domain name?

Who controls your domain name?

Over the last few months, we’ve had several new clients approach us having had issues with their previous web designers. These designers have then chosen to use their domain name as leverage to extract money from the client.

A house shaped safe representing a home page that's being held to ransomI’m not going to name any names for obvious reasons, but let me give you an example; last year, one of my new clients had received a cold call from a web designer. He offered to build her a new website and manage her Google MyBusiness profile. The upfront cost was just £200 which she thought was very cheap. She agreed, paid the fee and was generally happy with the website.

A year later, the web designer called her again and told her that it was time to renew her services. This is normal – there are obviously server costs to pay, domain renewals, etc. However, the designer had not mentioned any further fees to her. The amount that he quoted made her jaw drop – £1,000. Five times more than the initial setup fee and obviously not a reasonable price at all for maintaining a three page, basic website.

Being a sole trader who had recently started up, she wasn’t able to afford this and told him so. He said that he wouldn’t hand her domain name or Google MyBusiness profile back until she paid up. Effectively, he was holding her entire online business profile to ransom. Fortunately, I was able to pull the domain name back from the previous web designer as my client was listed as the registrant on the domain name.

Lesson 1 – if something’s too good to be true…

I’ve covered this before but if you’re paying peanuts, there’s probably a catch. There will either be a sting in the tail with more fees or you’ll be getting poor quality.

Lesson 2 – always discuss fees upfront

This is particularly important when you’re dealing with a company that offers a ridiculously good price up front and fails to mention any future extras. It takes time and money to host and manage a website and you’ll want to find out the costs involved before signing any sort of contract to avoid nasty surprises in the future.

Lesson 3 – keep control of your domain name

It’s usually best to keep hold of your own domain name unless you have a previous relationship with your web designer and trust them. If your chosen web designer goes rogue, you’re at their mercy! If you are going to give over control of your domain name to your web designer (and this may be preferable if you’re not very technical) then make sure that control of your domain name is written into your contract so that any disputes can be cleared up quickly.

My domain name is being held to ransom – what can I do?

Is your domain name a .co.uk? Check your E-Mail to see if you have an E-Mail from an organisation called Nominet from when you registered the domain name. You can pay a fee of £10+VAT to transfer the domain name away from the current registrar and regain control. If you don’t have this E-Mail then try going to the Nominet online portal and using the Forgotten Password link.

If your domain name isn’t a .co.uk (or you’re not listed as the registrant on the domain name) then there’s the option of filing a dispute. For .co.uk addresses, you would open a dispute with Nominet. For all other domain TLDs, you would open your dispute with ICANN. However, these processes are usually very costly and are very much a last resort.

What about my Google MyBusiness profile?

Your profile on Google MyBusiness is very important – it’s the infobox that appears on Google Search results when people search directly for your business name and it’s also what appears on Google Maps. Losing control of it can be a major setback. Fortunately, it’s very easy to claim your profile back. Either log into Google MyBusiness if you have an account or register for one if you don’t. Click “Add Location” and type in your business name.

Google will tell you that someone already has control of your business and will ask if you want to request access. Say yes to this, even if the person who controls it won’t allow it. They’ll then have 7 days to accept or decline your request.

If they choose to decline your request then don’t worry – you’ll now be able to appeal this directly with Google. If you have a phone number listed on your profile then Google will call this and give you a PIN. Enter this PIN into the correct box and Google will give you access to your business.

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