Do you own your website? It may sound like a counter-intuitive question. After all, the website is for your business and you paid for it. It follows that with an exchange of currency for services comes ownership. The rules of buy and sell are very much black and white when it comes to goods and services. However, the area of ownership gets grayer when it comes to website design.
Digital Trap: Why Website Ownership Is Very Important
It is a story we have heard narrated by clients who came to us for website design. They signed up with a freelance web designer, web development or digital marketing agency.
They are given a powerful presentation of how investing in a website and digital marketing can increase sales conversions by a hundred-fold. Encouraged and inspired, they issue payment and begin to hear an imaginary cash register ringing over and over again.
Then the unthinkable happens. Results aren’t coming in as expected. The agency starts billing you for add-on services that were not part of the original plan. The relationship starts to turn sour. The cash registers have not rung and have gathered virtual cobwebs. You want out but can’t.
In fact, you can’t even claim your website. Unless you continue to pay the monthly fees, you risk losing your website and all of its contents. You try to negotiate for the release of your website but the agency hits you with a gigantic fee.
Your website has turned into a hostage situation.
Unfortunately for you, there is nothing you can do because you didn’t read through the fine print of your contract. Upon close review with your attorney, you realized you signed away your website for full control and ownership of the agency.
Has this happened to you? If so, don’t be discouraged. As we shared in our article, “What Type Of Website Does Your Business Need?”, having a website is crucial for business success in this day and age of the Internet and digital mobile technology.
We have helped dozens of clients get back on the digital path to business success by building websites they have full control over.
Trust and transparency are two very important business values for us at Mountaintop Web Design. This is why we are writing this article advising why you need to claim full ownership of your website.
Website Ownership: What You Need To Know
Paying for design services does not automatically give you full ownership of your website. The principle of buy and sell takes different turns when it comes to web design. In ways it is similar to buying a house.
Before the title is turned over, you have to make sure the property is clear of any liens and the contract does not have legal loopholes. There have been cases whereby a homeowner loses his house because as it turns out, someone else owns the property.
In our article, “How To Choose Your Web Host”, we discussed the process of web hosting. You need a web host to connect your website to the Internet. Essentially, a web host agreement allows you to rent space on their servers for your website. Your website files will be stored on these servers.
If your web host provides the leased premises, your domain name is your address which is given as an IP address. Therefore, technically, you don’t own your domain name. You pay the web host an annual fee so you can use it. If you stop paying, you lose exclusive rights to your domain name. It may not sound fair, but that is the reality of the situation.
What you do own are the content and materials that are posted or used on the website. These materials include text, image and video content. You also have ownership over its design and programming code.
However, you have to make sure these components are indicated in your contract and that you have full ownership and control over them.
Remember you are protected by the Copyright Law which states that the creator (you) of the website has full and complete ownership of its assets: the content, design and programming code.
If you are not happy with your current web host services provider, you can terminate the arrangement or simply choose not to renew your contract. Then you can transfer your website to a new location.
By getting your contracts squared out from the start, you get to bring all of your website assets with you to the new home.
So let us recap:
What You Don’t Really Own:
- Domain Name
- Website Platform
What You Should Own:
- All content – text, images and videos
- Design – text and visuals
- Source Code
2 Risks Of Losing Website Ownership Rights
When you lose ownership of your website, starting all over again is not as simple as it seems. You don’t just pick up where you left off because there is nothing for you to pick up on.
1. SEO Rankings –
How much time and effort did you put into your search rankings? After so many years you may have finally made it to the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Unfortunately, your website has had technical issues. Visitors complain your website is hard to access or that its download speed is very slow. Then one morning you find out your website was hacked.
You contact customer support who advised you there was no automatic backup of files. Disappointed and frustrated, you decide to terminate the agreement.
The web host service provider refuses to release your content, code and domain name because it was not stated in your contract. What happens now?
You could file a case versus the web host services provider but the reality is, you’ve lost everything you’ve worked for. You have to start again from ground zero.
2. Loss of Analytics –
Believe it or not, an agency may withhold your historical data from you even if this was not stated in the agreement. The agency will resort to these unscrupulous tactics to get you to stay.
There are agencies that may just decide to wipe out your data once they find out about your plan to terminate their services. It is nothing but harassment, plain and simple.
Losing your historical data will deal a huge blow to your efforts to start all over again.
3 Tips On How To Protect Your Website’s Assets
With all of these scenarios in mind, is it still worthwhile to build a website? Of course! If you want to capitalize on all the opportunities available on the Internet, your business must have a website.
It all comes down to making sure your assets: text, image and video content, the source code and domain name are adequately protected. The best way to secure your assets is to address the terms and condition of the agreement with the agency before any type of work is undertaken:
1. Clarify The Conditions Right Away –
During the preliminary meeting with the agency or website designer, ask them about ownership of the website.
Before signing any document, find out how ownership is determined and the status of your proprietary assets. The response of the web designer or agency representative should be one and the same.
If the representative gives a vague answer, end the meeting right away and look for another web design agency.
2. Get Details On The Hosting Arrangement –
Did you agree to have the hosting included? If you weren’t consulted and yet it was included, you might end up with your website hosted on the proprietary platform.
This means that when you decide to say “Goodbye”, you will not be able to bring your proprietary content and the source code with you.
3. Ask The Agency To Break Down The Cost Of Their Services –
You may not be aware of it, but you could be charged with various fees in addition to web hosting services.
Again, trust and transparency are the keys to business success. It is not uncommon for agencies to add other fees and charges to their services.
Every time you purchase products or engage services, the transaction has to be covered by a contract.
When you buy a physical good, the invoice details the conditions of the sale. For services, these are usually covered by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
These contracts can appear tedious to read. You will have to go through a multitude of provisions which may contain correlations and/or addenda. Sometimes the fine print is as small as a size 8 font.
However, for your peace of mind, you have to go through the contract with a fine tooth comb. You can hire the services of an attorney. They have experience in reviewing contracts. An attorney can identify provisions which may appear onerous. You can hire the attorney to negotiate the contract on your behalf.
The bottom-line is don’t sign a contract unless you are 100% clear on what you are getting into. Once you affix your signature on a legal document, you are bound to honor it during its term.
Are you interested in setting up a website for your business? Give us a call or send us an email. We will take you through the entire process and we will uncover every stone to make sure you fully understand our web design agreement.