It is hard to believe, but as recently as ten years ago, most small businesses did not have a website online. Between 2000 and 2010, thousands of new small business websites were being launched online each and every week. Business owners contracted with everyone from local web design firms to yellow page style directories to the 17 year old neighbor kid in an effort to carve out their little slice of the online revolution. During this time, unfortunately, a ton of small business owners were taken advantage of, generally for not having read the fine print. The craziest thing is that in 2015, we are still hearing horror stories of business owners who do not own their own website and/or do not own their own domain name.

Release of Copyright

Often, a business will pay a marketing or web design firm to fully design a website from scratch. This might include text, images, graphs and the whole nine yards. Business owners often end up with a rude awakening when they go to transfer hosting of that website to a different hosting company. Their existing web designer quickly lets them know that this will not be permitted as the business owner does not own the text, images, etc. associated with the website.

When paying for web design be sure to be upfront with a vendor and find out who owns the copyright to the site. It is not uncommon that certain images may be purchased from stock photo outlets, but a fee would have been paid initially by the designer for their perpetual use. This means that conceivably one may see those images used elsewhere on the internet. Likewise, a business owner will want to know who owns the text copy. We have seen instances in which business owners were told that 50 pages of text content were not their own and were they to reuse any of that content they would be subject to a lawsuit.

Phone directory style companies and industry specific web marketers (businesses that only create websites for Lawyers, HVAC Contractors, etc.) are notorious for creating contracts in which clients do not own their own content.

Owning Your Domain Name

Owning the domain name is arguably more important than owning the content of the website. Once a site is launched, it will be indexed and listed all over the internet on directory sites, chamber of commerce sites and multitudes of other places. This creates a record of active links that all point back at the site’s domain name or sub pages of the site. If one were ever to have to change the domain name of a website, the aftermath would be very time consuming because all of that link building would have to be reestablished according to the new domain name which could take months and even years in some cases.

When launching a new site, business owners should make very sure that they are listed as the registrant of the domain. There are still dozens of companies that will promise a free domain name with the purchase of web design or hosting. Only later, do folks find out that the reason that the domain name was free was because the web design firm has owned it the entire time…and now they refuse to part with it. Unfortunately, many web firms use this tactic to make it difficult for clients to take business elsewhere.

It is always best to ask questions and even demand to see the answers in writing. And just like with anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.