Who Owns Your Website?

Who Owns Your Website?

Sounds like a silly question.  But we work with new clients time and again who do not have the username or password to access their own site.  To make it easy for the owner, a web developer or marketing company had set up the site and handled the registration and hosting for them.

This is fine until the developer moves to a sandy beach in the Pacific, gets hit by the proverbial bus or makes a sudden career change.  You need to make sure you have the keys to your website, just as you wouldn’t buy a house without getting the keys from the realtor.

Let’s talk about the key elements surrounding your website that you absolutely need to control.


Domain Registrar and Web Host

Some people get confused about the difference between your site’s domain registration and its web host. A domain registrar is the place where your site’s URL is reserved and managed.

The web host is where your actual web site files are located.

In some cases, they could be the same company. But in many cases, your domain will be registered with one company (such as Network Solutions) and the website hosted by a different company (such as GoDaddy). You need access to both of these accounts (username and password).

If you are not sure who your site’s domain registrar or web host is, there are websites that provide free searches to look up domain ownership records.  You can go to http://whois.domaintools.com and type in your domain name.

The Registrar listed is the company that holds your domain name for you.

The Registrant is the owner of the domain – that should be YOU. Make sure you or your company is the name and address listed, not your web developer, an employee or any other person or organization. (Note that if your site is Private so that no one can see the ownership details, you may see  something like @domainsbyproxy.)

If you or your company name is not listed, get in touch with the person currently listed and ask them to change it. Most will do so with no hesitation.


If this is not an option, your next step would be to contact the registrar and let them know that you are the rightful owner of the domain and need to change the contact information. Registrars will often ask you to fill out some paperwork and ask for verification documentation, such as a utility bill and a driver’s license before reassigning ownership to you.


Social Media Accounts

Even if someone else is helping you out with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and all the other ways you can communicate with potential customers, set up the accounts under your own name and an e-mail account you own.


Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

Your site should be set up with both of these. They are free and they give you so much information about who is coming to your site and what they are doing. 

If your web designer or SEO company has set these up for you, make sure that they have added your Google account as an Administrator. That will allow you to change the ownership to yourself.  If you don’t have a Google account, it only takes a couple of minutes to set one up.


Some Others to Check

Here are a few other behind-the-scenes logins that you may not have thought of and should check on:

  • WordPress or another content management or e-commerce platform.

    If your site or any part of your site is built with WordPress or another content management system like Drupal, you will also need the user name and login to access the backend. 

    And you need ADMIN privileges if you don’t have them already.

    Also, WordPress and similar platforms store your site’s content in a database. Make sure you also have the database name, user name and password.

  • E-commerce platform — If your shopping cart uses Magento, Big Commerce or another system, check that it is set up in your name and you have the login details.
  • FTP login – FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. This is another way to retrieve or upload site files besides the host’s control panel. For FTP you need a host name, user name and password.

Of course you need control over your own online world.  It takes a bit more time, but your Future Self will thank you for it.   This is why we always walk site owners through setting up their own accounts.

Did I leave you with some questions?  Post a comment and I’ll explain. This Is Important.

Image: “Locked Heart” courtesy of Jose Manuel Rios Valiente creative commons license


  1. This is so helpful. We find this problem frequently and it can take hours (or days) to untangle the mess. Best to prevent it before it happens!

    • It’s so sad and frustrating when it happens!

  2. Very helpful Lori. I seem to be good on most but I’ve no clue where to find the following:
    “Also, WordPress and similar platforms store your site’s content in a database. Make sure you also have the database name, user name and password.”
    “E-commerce platform — If your shopping cart uses Magento, Big Commerce or another system, check that it is set up in your name and you have the login details.” Mine is woo-commerce, and it came with my template (X) So I’ve only ever accessed it through my admin in wordpress. Does this mean they have the same login info?


    • Thanks for the questions, Col.

      Q1: If you are running a WP plugin like BackupBuddy, you are OK — it is backing up your database at the same time. If not, you can retrieve the database name, user name and password from the wp-config.php file. This is a core WordPress file that essentially connects the database to your site. wp-config sits in the root of your WordPress installation and can be downloaded either via FTP or through a cPanel.

      Q2: Woo Commerce is a free e-commerce toolkit/plugin for WordPress that’s sometimes included in premium themes, so it’s a little different than all-in-one shopping cart sites like Magento or BigCommerce. It’s good that you have your WordPress login to access it – that’s the main one you need. Just make sure you also have the login to the site that you bought the theme from, just in case you need support or need to recover core theme files.

      • Thanks so much Lori! I just passed along this post to a friend who is graduating from dreamweaver 🙂
        One more question…
        I have actually used ftp once, a couple month ago (following explicit instructions). So if I were to “retrieve/downloaded either via FTP or through a cPanel” where would I be saving it to?

        • You’ll be saving to YOUR computer, Col. Where on your computer is up to you — your desktop, your downloads folder, a new folder you create — wherever is easiest for you to find the file later.



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