How to know if you own your domain & what to do if you do not own your domain
So, you are about to get a new website and you realize that you you have no clue how to get access to your website. What should you do at this point?
The first thing that you need to do is ascertain whether you or your previous web designer owns your domain. Unfortunately, many web designers buy the domains for their clients and try to hold it over their client’s heads as a bargaining chip to stay with them in the future. To determine who owns the domain, go to Whois.com and put in your web address and search for it. It will say that the web address is taken. Next to this statement there will be an option called “Whois”. Select this option and it will take you to a page that shows the registrant information for the domain. If your information is listed then you own your domain and if it is your previous web designer, then the designer owns it.
If indeed you own your domain, then it is fairly simple to get the login information for it. Just look at the Whois and determine who the domain was registered with. Call that company, let them know that you no longer have the login information and they should be able to verify your identity and get you set up with your username and a new password.
If you find that you do not own your domain, then you have a few options. The first thing you should do is look at the Whois report and see when the domain expires. This will give you an idea of when it may be available again. The next thing you need to do is consider the options that you have:
If you are on good terms with the previous web designer and they seem to be a reasonable person, then I would talk to them about transferring ownership. It is better to keep the domain that you have if possible. Your customers are already familiar with it, your company branding is already in full force with the existing URL, and it can be time consuming to switch everything over.
If you are not on good terms with the previous designer or you feel that there is a disconnect with that person, you may do better to not attempt to ask for the domain. Many designers do this to hold the client or make it difficult for them to move on to a new designer. If you call the designer and let them know that you want it, you may have trouble getting it later. If you express interest in the domain and they are a spiteful personality, they could hold on to the domain for an additional amount of time. If the registration is expiring soon, then that could mean that you will not have access to it for a year or even longer. I suggest just casually letting the designer know that you have a new domain name and that they should not bill you for the next year. It will be assumed that you are not interested in the old domain name and they will be more likely to let it go.
If you decide to get the same domain name with a different domain label (i.e. .net, .org, .us, etc.), then you can always switch back once you buy up the other domain. Because the domain is not that different, they will likely not take that much notice. Once you get the old one back, you can even have the new domain transfer to the old domain.
For those of you who are just setting up a website for the first time, I highly suggest that you specify to your designer that you will own the domain. Put this in writing and have them sign off on it as a part of your “Contractor Agreement” contract. Or the better thing to do is just go and buy your domain yourself and give the developer access to the account.
I hope this helps!