The first step in starting a website includes getting a domain name. There are a lot of articles about what you should use as a domain name, but we are not going to cover that here. What we are going to do is tell you how to check who owns the domain name.

When a domain name registration is paid for, that domain name is being registered, not permanently bought outright. The domain name may be used only as long as the registration fees and renewal fees are paid. Usually these are renewed once a year although the option is there for registration of the domain name in increments up to 10 years at a time.

Many times, when the domain name is registered, it is registered by a friend, a relative, a web designer, or a web design company, depending on how it was going to be paid for. It is estimated that fewer than 50% of the actual business owners are the ones who set up the registration.

Most web designers and companies will do the domain name and web hosting registration as part of their “web design package” or as a convenience service for their client. When they do this, they will register the domain name and include the cost in their charges to their customer.

Some web designers register the domain name in their name as a matter of practice. Why, you ask? Basically, to make sure the customer pays the web design charges they owe the designer. It is usually a matter of standard business practice and is almost always included in contracts or the company’s Terms & Conditions.

It is also standard business practice to have the domain name registration transferred over to the customer once the customer pays in full for the initial job. Even if the designer is going to continue doing maintenance for the same client, it still should be transferred over because the customer should own the website, the website content, and the domain name once the job is done. However, the transfer is not always being done. We won’t address reasons why, as they vary.

When the domain name is not transferred, the problems start. For all purposes, the website and domain name is owned by the person who is the registrant of record. That means if a registrant has not transferred over the domain name, the registrant can in fact argue ownership of the domain name as well as the website.

How to avoid this problem? Make sure transfer of ownership is spelled out in the contract you sign with a web designer. Contracts should always be used when setting up web design projects, if nothing else, to avoid these type of issues. But that is a future blog.

To check to see who owns a website, go to, enter in the domain name and look at the information carefully.

When the domain name is registered, and you look up the record of registration, the following is what you more than likely will see:

Registrant. The person or company listed here is the owner of the domain name.

Administrative Contact. The person designated to receive email, mail, phone calls, etc. from the registrar relating to the administration of the domain name. May be the same as the registrant or the company the registrant works for.

Billing Contact. The person who will receive email, mail, phone calls, etc. from the registrar about renewing the domain name by paying the renewal registration fee. May be the same as the registrant or it could be the company that the registrant works for.

Technical Contact. The person who is designated to receive contact from the registrar about technical matters dealing with the domain name.

Record Expiration Date. The date the domain name will terminate unless the renewal fee has been paid. This will usually be at 12:01am on that date.

Record Creation Date. This is the original date the domain name was registered either to the current registrant or his or her predecessor.

When looking at the registration record, sometimes most of this information will not be there. Carefully look near the bottom of what is listed and there will probably be a comment that “for further information” you need to go to another web address. Go to that web address and you should find the information you need.

Obviously being the owner is important – if someone else places himself as the owner, (such as your web designer), he can always decide to charge you for the use of the name later, and there is little you can do unless you have a written contract.

When the project is completed, most web designers will do the transfer automatically, but may simply forget. Just tactfully remind them if you need to and they will usually do it without any problems. It only takes about 24 hours for the transfer to take effect.

One last comment: Make sure you keep a record of your domain name and web hosting information, including the passwords to log onto the account. You  don’t want to miss renewing your domain name and web hosting thereby losing all of that time, money and effort.