3 months…

That’s how long it took us to reclaim the ownership of our client’s domain name. This is the time we could have spent building the website and generating new leads. Instead, the time was wasted on the back-and-forth emails and phone calls with the domain registrar and the former web designer who was holding the domain name hostage.

This story had a happy ending, but not all of them do. If you are not familiar with domain names and their purpose, read on to learn what they are and what to do if you lose your domain name ownership.

1. What is a domain name?

A domain name looks something like www.yourbusinessname.com. It consists of your business name (or some other descriptive phrase) and a domain extension, such as .com, .biz, .gov or something else. Before you can launch your website, a domain name must be purchased directly from a domain registrar or from a third party.

You will have to pay a small fee to renew your domain registration on an annual basis. If you fail to pay by the expiration date, your site will become inaccessible. And if you just stop paying, your domain will be repossessed by the registrar and placed back on the market.

2. It is not just a name.

Your website’s domain name is very important. The domain name itself doesn’t host any website files, but rather acts like a door. This door is one of a kind and it provides access to your website. Whoever owns your domain name holds the keys to your website. Except, in this case, if you lose the keys you often have to get a new door.

  • If you are forced to give up your old domain because you can’t prove ownership, you will lose the domain authority earned over the years and will have to start from scratch.
  • If your domain registration expires or gets canceled, your site goes down.
  • If you want to redesign your website, you will need access to your domain name.
  • Some third-party add-ons to your website, such as Google apps or email setup may require verification of domain ownership.

3. Who owns my domain name?

When you hire a web designer, they usually take the responsibility to purchase and register your domain name to save you the hassle. It is important to make sure that you are the person who appears as the registrant, administrative contact and technical contact for the domain. Sometimes, either on purpose or by accident, a designer may register your domain in their name. This might seem like no big deal at the moment, but when years later you decide to change hosting or hire a new web design company to do a redesign, this might cause problems.

To find out if you own your domain name, search for it in the WhoIs database. However, there are options to keep one’s personal data out of public directories like WhoIs, which is why you might come across a “private registrant.” Private registrations are common among individuals who run a home-based business and prefer not to release their home address and other contact information.

4. What if I don’t own my domain name?

Situation 1: Someone else’s name is on the WhoIs record

First, don’t panic and see if you recognize the name on the WhoIs record – it’s likely your former employee responsible for the web design project or your former web designer. Hopefully, you two parted on good terms and the company is still in business. In this case, simply contact your web designer (or employee) and ask them to transfer the domain name to your account (you will need to set up an account with the domain registrar first).  This is a rather straightforward process, so if the designer says they don’t know how to do this, don’t take no for an answer. Call the registrar’s tech support to get instruction for the designer to complete the domain name transfer.

The name on the record could also be that of your hosting company if your domain name and website hosting came in a bundle. In this case, you can simply log into your account and change the registration details if you have the logins. If not – call your hosting company to see if they can help.

Situation 2: Web designer refuses to transfer my domain name

If, however, the web designer refuses to surrender the ownership (or worse – requests a payment), you might have to fight to get your domain back. Contact your lawyer to draft a compelling letter and threaten legal action. This alone might be enough to make the designer comply. Before you proceed with legal action, contact the domain registrar and see if they can help. If there are multiple complaints about this particular unprofessional designer, they might transfer the ownership without his authorization.

Situation 3: I don’t know who owns my domain name

Let’s say the name on the WhoIs record doesn’t ring a bell. Google it. This could be another employee of the web design company you used or it could be a scammer who took advantage of your expired domain name and now wants to sell it back to you. (Yes, this can happen if you fail to renew in time.) Contact the person on the WhoIs record and request to transfer the domain name to your account. If they refuse, follow the procedure described in Situation #2.

Situation 4: I see “private registrant” on the WhoIs record – what can I do?

Once again, don’t panic just yet as this could be you. Call the registrar and explain your situation. You might have to take some verification steps to ensure that you are the true owner of the account. If it turns out you are the registrant, ask how you can regain access to your account. If you discover that you are not the owner, ask the registrar representative what is the process to regaining the ownership of your domain name.

Sometimes, even when you know the registrant’s name it might be difficult to get in touch. The company could have run out of business or failed to update their contact info. In this case, you are also at the mercy of the domain registrar.


  1. When you are getting your new website designed, ask your web designer to register the domain in your name and create an account with the domain registrar also in your name.
  2. Look at your domain name as an invaluable piece of your corporate identity.
  3. Make sure the contact and payment information on file with the registrar is updated as necessary.
  4. Write down login, password, email and the name and website of the domain registrar and keep this information in a safe place.
  5. Mark the domain expiration date on your calendar or assign an employee responsible for renewals.

Have your own domain ownership nightmares or success stories to share? Share your experience by commenting below.