Who Owns Your Website Design, Code, Domain, Blog and Traffic Analytics Data?



Recently we were asked to find out why a client had no traffic to a site (even after a seo campaign with another seo firm).

To identify all the issues, we had to pay a website development company thousands of pounds so I could just LOOK at the back-end of a content management system because the client “didn’t own the code”. The web company did.

After a golden handsake, I got access, and the result is we’re dumping a brand new content management system costing over £15k because the thing can’t even produce unique page titles on single pages. The CMS didn’t even have a function to delete pages.

At the moment, I can’t access another client’s analytics data because it’s not the client’s – it’s the web development company who installed it (yeah, that free thing you get from Google).

They same company added a @60 page blog to the client site as part of a seo campaign – now that’s over, they’ve deleted the blog and it’s content because it was, in simple terms, “theirs”.

I’ll not comment further, just to say if you are paying money for a website, ENSURE:

  1. You own the website
  2. You own the domain
  3. You own the copyright and code (if copyright is applicable)
  4. You own the analytics data
  5. You own all data, logins and subscriptions (like Google local business) and can access them via a email account YOU CONTROL
  6. You own the content
  7. You can safely move the contents to the website to another host

…in fact, just make sure you own everything and can access everything and can indeed transfer everything easily, and at no further cost to you, or you could end up thousands of pounds out of pocket for something you thought you owned… and don’t.

Just ask your web dev company – find out what you own‚  and get them to sign something saying so, too. Any reasonabe company (like Hobo) agrees to this.

Remember if it all goes belly up, you as the client will be held accountable for not getting these basic things agreed in the first place – leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, believe me.

PS – Everything set up to do with your website should be in your name. Give the web company strict instructions it’s YOU who are giving THEM access to this data, and you are paying them to do this for you.

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19 Responses

  1. Rob Hughes says:

    Hey Shaun, In the case of an Agency using custom analytics on a clients site how would you recommend this be handled if the client was to move on? Just wondering out of interest, I’ve not come across this. I would have thought that the stats belong to the client but any analysis on this or access to the tracking stays with the agency. So if the client was to move on they would remove all the agencies tags from their site and then they could request an export of ALL the data that has been tracked about their site… Would you agree with this or am I barking up the wrong tree? Rob :)

  2. Shaun Anderson (Hobo) says:

    In the case of an Agency using custom analytics on a clients site how would you recommend this be handled if the client was to move on?

    Great question. In the words of the great Issac Newton, I don’t have a clue. :)

  3. Ben says:

    Great post! You have no idea how many clients come to us and their domain is in their old web hosting companies name, and then we have to help them fight to get them back as a lot of small hosts hold that domain hostage. So please please please, make sure the domain is in your name!! Thanks, Ben

  4. Phil Smith says:

    It also seems to cause problems with Analytics if you don’t follow Google’s instructions about moving an account pretty well exactly, as I found out the hard way and lost 3 – 4 weeks analytics when moving an account! Can’t imagine this posse, I mean agency, would care too much for correct procedure! It’s amazing how many companies seem to get away with this stuff and that there’s no regulation. I had the question asked about regulation the other day, with a new client in a similar situation with a world of issues with her current web company. If I’d been given £1 for everytime I’d struggled to move a site from a current company, or a client had I would be a rich man!

  5. Kruse Internet Services says:

    It serves, yet again, to illustrate the deplorable lack of general education that the average businessman has on these and related subjects. This is where SEO needs a trade association to further that education in the interests of the business community in general and us in particular. Incidentally, you might like to see my thoughts on CMS in general, long ago established; http://www.kruse.co.uk/content-management-systems.htm BB

  6. Joseph says:

    Quote “we’re dumping a brand new content management system costing over £15k because the thing can’t even produce unique page titles” I’m extremely surprised that such a thing happened in U.K. I was asked to take a look at a similar system here. It could not produce unique titles. But these site owners were a step better – they owned the code. Finally I told them that they had to dump it. It had cost them the equivalent of £500 and they finally decided to give up the desire of optimizing their site. I think that it would be far better if people used standard CMS’ like Joomla.

  7. John says:

    Shaun, brilliant post as usual… I find it amazing that clients are being treated like this by a number of unscrupulous agencies. At the end of the day most of the clients (lambs) won’t know what the agency people (wolves) are talking about. Let’s face it most clients won’t know the difference between shared or dedicated hosting, let alone who owns the content being put on it! They just think it will get them on the ‘internet’ and they will get sales from anyone from any continent… and these extra sales may just help stop them going belly up. The reality is that without proper seo work about three people will look at the site and two of these ‘people’ will be looking to use stolen credit card details to steal your stuff. Tough times indeed and really these guys are no better than the mugger who attacks you after you’ve been the cash machine. Cheers for now, John

  8. David says:

    So, so bloody well true. I have seen so many companies screwed here. I have lost work, gained work and so on from people that have no ownership of their own back end as they are so excited to get a website and some mickey mouse seo they just sign away their rights. All it ends up with is a ripped off customer NOT GOOD! David Plymouth, England

  9. James says:

    To be honest I will actually hold my hands up and in the past have registered domains in my company name rather than the client name. This is out of pure laziness and I don’t do it now. I also ALWAYS transferred the domain at no cost if the client requested it. However holding a domain hostage is just criminal I think, I just don’t understand how they can get away with it nowadays either with all these review sites etc. One slightly unhappy client can cause you no end of trouble. It is frustrating when there are so many decent companies that seem to be just getting by with work, while there seems to be loads of questionable companies raking it in and damaging the industry reputation as a whole.

  10. DazzlinDonna says:

    One other thing to remind businesses of: When you put all these things in your name (domain, etc.), don’t let your employee (the computer guy in your office) register these things in his name. I’ve seen that happen a million times, and when that employee quits, or gets fired, or has a grudge against the company, you’re toast.

  11. Roger Migently says:

    I’m a bit two-sided about this. On the one hand as a host, designer and small-time SEO I have – just once or twice – suspended a client’s hosting account for not paying after 2-3 months. I don’t like it but it’s the last – the only, really – weapon I had, to encourage payment. On the other hand, I don’t mind designing a site but I really don’t want them calling me on a Saturday to do a rush update by Sunday night. I’ve got other stuff Id rather do. I want to just build the site, show them how to look after it, set up some SEO to get them started and explain how to do a lot of it themselves. I can manage it somewhat after that at a time that suits me. If I do the domain name purchase I do it in their name, sometimes with their CC number (I’m trustworthy, see). I’ll host it for them for cheap, or they can choose another host as long as it has the technology that’s needed. (I don’t care; there’s no money in hosting unless you host thousands of sites.) Doing it this way means I can hand the site over to them and they own everything about it and I don’t get (or rarely) urgent calls at inopportune moments. Of course I get continuity from clients who want major site-wide updates and want me to do it all over again, or who want additional sites built. My technique is to suggest a WordPress site (with their own domain name) with an appropriate theme. It takes only a few hours to set it up and customise the theme. WordPress gives you a running start on SEO anyway and then you can add free SEO plugins and tweak everything up for them before handing it over. They can pay me to do additional off-page SEO. Because I can do it quickly and don’t have to fight code etc. – or not very much – I can charge them much less than they were expecting which makes them very happy and I can build a lot more sites, which makes me happy. This solves most of the problem with people not paying up.

  12. Hulya says:

    Small biz customers usually just want their site up with the smallest cost possible and this leads to many problems in the future.

  13. Rob says:

    Really good post. Would be interested to know what people think about the custom analytics question above. I have come across a client’s CMS whereby I wasn’t allowed access to the source code (to add better description tags of all things) due to the client signing an agreement. Basically they had signed away their right to move from their current host and their right to look at the source – they were totally locked. As this was a fairly big ecommerce store they were knackared :) Whenever I’m in a meeting with a client, asking questions like who owns your domain, do have acess to the source files, are you aware your site doesnt do xxxxxx – they are always alarmed. It just proves that customers are being mis sold on a number of levels. Best one a came across recently – client had a very small website (5 pages) with a mini CMS to update a list of news headlines. They were paying £580 per yer (and had a signed a 2 year contract) for SQL Server hosting – absolute insanity! - Rob

  14. Business Logos says:

    We used a third party for filehosting and they were flagged as hosting malware, which impacted our downloads. Becareful of the control you give up with third party services and systems.

  15. Alok says:

    One of our first client also had the same problem. The earlier company which designed the site as well as hosted it didn’t wanted to transfer the domain name as well as hosting details to the clients. Fortunately the client wasn’t doing much business though the site and we purchased another domain name. Later on the earlier company didn’t renewed the domain and I have told the client to purchase it again if he still wants to use it. For the time being I am purchasing the domain name on client’s behalf as they don’t have much idea about internet but later on we may let them do it themselve to avoid any such possibility down the road.

  16. PoLR says:

    Hi Shaun, Good post – the more of these posts that go up the more clients will hopefully become aware of what to look for. We had one client who had his domain ‘held hostage’ from one company despite him having bought it to begin with. He eventually got it back a year or so later and without paying the £2k that was demanded but it had been pointing to dead space for a year or so and I think it’s safe to say it would have cost him sales during this period. We’ve had several others who have had difficulty getting ther domains back as they were originally registered in this particular companies name (and yes, it’s been from the same ‘web company’ each time!) Various clients have spent months proving through contracts and emails to Nominet etc that they are the true owners. I see it as an incredibly vindictive thing to do with the sole intention of causing trouble. I don’t understand the mentality that would drive a person to do this either, if we had annoyed a client enough to make them want to leave then we would do everything to salvage our reputation by making the transition as smooth as possible and certainly wouldn’t stoop to selling them back their own domain! Guess it takes all sorts though!

  17. kumar says:

    Thanks for the information, this will really help novice users (business owner) who are very new in www. I have seen many small business owner doesn’t even have access to the control panel (domain and hosting) and once they want to shift their website with other company then they have to pay a huge amount in order to transfer their website.

  18. Tracy says:

    Really like this post we take this view with our clients but we have come across some very tested situations whereby the client did not realise that the agency owned the site and the effectively were renting it. We also come across a lot of situations where client is paying for non existent SEO services and poor seo reports with no substance at all. I think this kind of post will really help to highlight the issues. Thanks again.

  19. Khaleel says:

    Great post man. Really – everything was spot on. Our company always use this blog for tips and I subscribe via Outlook – had to comment on this one.



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