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This is Your Website. But Do You Really Own It?

by Jason Unger, Founder

Photo by Samson Katt via Pexels

Who owns your website?

It’s not a loaded question.

You’re a marketing leader or small business owner working on a number of projects at any given time. You’ve found a creative team to partner with on your digital marketing efforts, so you’re probably not hands-on with every active initiative.

If your digital partner created or manages your website, it’s important that you know what (if anything) they’re limiting your access to.

It’s true: they could be tying your hands and preventing you from doing something on your own website.

Here’s what you need to know.

It Happens More Than You Think

This is a real soapbox issue for me, having worked in this space for nearly 20 years and having helped new clients get access to their own website on multiple occasions.

I’ve seen many instances where an organization can’t do the basic things they need to be able to do to update their website, move web hosts, or make simple changes.

It’s a terrible practice by some web development agencies.

They’ll often say they have good reasons for keeping you (their paying client) from having access to everything, such as:

  • We don’t want you to break your own website
  • We want to make sure all of the updates follow best practices
  • We don’t want our other hosting clients affected by your changes

Sometimes these are good-faith arguments, but more often they’re total red herrings.

This is Your Website – Not Theirs

In its simplest form, website designs are work-for-hire.

You pay us money, we build you a website. You now own that website.

If you don’t have the internal digital team to fully manage that website, then it obviously makes sense to continue a relationship with your designer or developer to support the site. As long as, at any point, you can pick up and take that website somewhere else.

Here’s what that means in practical terms.

You Need to Own the Web Hosting Account

Every website needs to be hosted somewhere. Usually, that involves a third-party vendor that focuses simply on hosting (hopefully not cheap web hosting).

When setting up a web hosting account make sure that:

  • Your name or your organization’s name is on the account and bill for the web hosting.
  • You own it completely, and can access everything within it.
  • Your website management company is added as a Technical Contact, who can manage the hosting account, troubleshoot issues, and talk to customer service as necessary. That gives them the ability to do everything they need to do without having to bother you every time there’s a hosting issue.

More importantly, this means that if you ever decide to move to a new web development agency, you can remove them as a Technical Contact and add your new team as necessary.

Similarly, you need to own your domain name in your own registrar account; your agency should not own it in their account.

You Need to Be Able to Add/Remove Plugins

We love WordPress for so many reasons, but its extensibility with plugins sits near the top.

You can build nearly anything, and find a WordPress plugin to do pretty much everything. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should simply install plugins left-and-right – you shouldn’t – but finding the right plugin can often save hours of time and effort.

Do not let your web development team restrict your access to installing plugins. It’s your website.

Here’s a slight caveat: you should 100% work with your web development team to make sure that the plugin you want to install will have no adverse effect on the site. Presumably, they know if there will be any incompatibilities or if there’s a way to achieve your goal without a plugin.

It’s a partnership, so use their expertise. At the end of the day, however, it’s your website and you get to make the call on what to do. Do not let them restrict access to plugins.

You Need to Have Access to Make Content Changes

Repeat after me: this is your website.

Not all of our clients want to be spending time in the backend of their website adding or updating content – they’ve got other tasks on their plate. They’d rather send over a Word document or a list of changes to make on the site – and that’s fine.

But that process may change, and they may want to create new pages, adjust menus, or add new blog posts on their own – and they need to be able to.

If you’re locked out from making basic content edits, or you’ve got some confusing page builder plugin with a high barrier to entry, or you don’t even have administrator access to your own site, ask for a change.

So, Do You Own Your Website?

The easiest way to figure out if you really own your website is to imagine the process of moving the site to a new host or to a new team.

Could you do it without your current agency’s sign-off?

If you don’t have access to everything, ask for it. Make sure you have it.

I tell all of our new clients that when we build a website for them, it is theirs to do with as they’d like. We obviously always appreciate the opportunity to manage that website and continue working with the client, but they own everything – we’re there to support them and complement what they can do internally.

Make sure your partner is telling you the same thing and not keeping you from your own website.

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About Jason Unger

Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink. He built his first website on Geocities, and hasn't looked back since. Digital Ink tells stories for forward-thinking businesses, mission-driven organizations, and marketing and technology agencies in need of a creative and digital partner.

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