We work with a lot of different agents that have many different and unique situations with their website, domain, hosting and more. There are so many details to building and keeping your online presence that everyone has a different set up it seems.
Something that we are running into more and more is domain ownership.
Do you actually own your domain, that is the www.mywebsite.com? You might own the website or think you do but there are three major components to a website: the domain (www), the site itself (content and design), and the hosting (where the information resides in the Interwebs). Consider it this way: the domain is the address of the property, the website is the house itself, and the hosting is the land on which the house sits. You have to have all three working together in order to create the right online presence.
There are numerous website providers out there that will offer you the website and the hosting and some that will offer all three including the domain. The problem with this is that the website is on their servers meaning it is hosted by them and they have control over whether or not the website stays active. If you leave that website provider your content will usually stay with them unless you manually export or copy and paste all of your content and information over to a new site.
Some of these website providers will also buy the domain for you. This is where it gets really tricky; a domain is personal property and if you purchased the domain, meaning the website address, through a website provider and not purchased it on your own paying for it monthly or annually through a Registrar such as Go Daddy.com or other similar sites, it means that the domain is their property, not yours. Even if you are using your own name as your domain, once purchased through a website provider and not through the actual domain provider, that domain is their property. Now, this is not to say that they would not give up the domain should you want to move the website but it can be more difficult than if you owned it yourself.
This is basically trying to tell someone to GIVE you their personal property. They own the domain, they can do whatever they want with it unless stated otherwise in their TOS. To check ownership of a domain you can visit WHOIS.NET and type in the domain. It will tell you who the Registrar is and how to contact them. If you are not the owner, it’s best to try and get ownership.
It’s not always easy and because it is another person’s property they are not required to legally give it to you. If you have a trademark name or copyright name you can sue but that’s a whole new can of worms. It’s best to FIRST set up an account with a Registrar. This would be any company that sells domains, Godaddy.com, Tucowsdomains.com, Networksolutions.com, etc… Once you have that set up, call the owner of the domain and ask nicely how to transfer ownership of the domain to your account. Many places will help but they are not legally obligated to do so. Try the nice approach first. You can also request transfer of ownership through your Registrar. Once the owner receives notification of the request then they can issue a code for you to complete the transfer. If they have helped out this far, they should complete the deal but they can take their sweet time about it too. Remember, they are not obligated to give this domain to you unless stated in their TOS.
If you don’t hear from them for a while, continue knocking and being the squeaky wheel until it gets done. Having it in your own possession is a much better feeling.
We recently had to deal with this with a new website and because the owner bought the domain through a company 10 years ago that is not longer in business we couldn't move the new website onto her domain. It has taken numerous phone calls and weeks to try and track down who actually owns the domain now and how to get it transfered to the proper owner.
So, check to see if you own your domain. If not, maybe seek out how you can so that no one can take it from you.