Your clients should have complete control over their web presence. That includes owning their domain, email and hosting accounts. It should also include any 3rd party services that you set up on their behalf, like web analytics, social media handles or SEO tools.
All of this diligence ensures that your client can run their business while avoiding needless concerns. Issues with account ownership are the last thing your client expects.
We’ve all heard of situations where a client and their web developer part ways. Then, when the client goes to make a change or hire a new developer, the client discovers that they have limited or no admin access to their accounts.
This can happen for different reasons, but the outcome is almost always the same: frustration. That frustration can snowball into burned bridges and a bad reputation for the previous developer who left the client stranded without control.
But that’s not all.
Professional, ethical, and legal concerns come into play when account ownership doesn’t sit with the actual business owner.
Why is it important to have domain ownership?
Domain ownership is especially critical. Everything relies on the domain name and its DNS records. The hosting and email won’t work if the domain isn’t configured properly.
If a business loses control of their domain, the implications can be significant.
- If the domain stops pointing to your client’s site, for example, they no longer have a primary online presence. Any search rankings they’ve built up over the years will disappear.
- If the domain expires, it could be picked up by someone else. A competitor could register the domain and point it to their own site.
- It’s even more dire for online stores and other businesses where all the revenue comes through the website. Every minute of downtime is a direct hit to the bottom line.
Additionally, consider all of the essential services that depend on email: government agencies, financial institutions, utilities, et cetera. Not to mention the confidential information and sensitive business communications that come through email. All of the behind-the-scenes routing for email relies on the domain’s DNS and MX records.
All of the behind-the-scenes routing for email relies on the domain’s DNS and MX records.
If a domain expires and someone else picks it up, they could easily recreate existing email addresses and continue receiving messages that they shouldn’t have access to. They could also use password recovery to access other accounts associated with those email addresses.
I’ve dealt with this first-hand.
I once had a client in the financial services sector. Their old developer let their domain expire. Someone else then claimed the domain. My client had to scramble and register a new domain; update their email address on all services; update all their marketing collateral; and notify all their customers of the change. It was an expensive nightmare.
Don’t forget about the privacy of your client’s customers.
Businesses need to have clear policies and procedures in place to protect their customers’ PII (personally identifiable information). Businesses also need to meet strict government and industry regulations and standards. Find out if your country has Data Privacy laws here.
Chances are you provide the service of building websites, not regulatory compliance. Your client should seek that guidance from legal professionals who specialize in this area.
You can help mitigate some risk by recommending the right hosting and security products, but ownership should always be in your client’s name. If your client collects PII through their website or email, they should be responsible for adhering to processes and regulations.
Set your clients up for success
As the web professional, you want to provide your clients with the best service, while avoiding potential pitfalls. You also want to mitigate unneeded risk and liabilities for everyone involved.
That’s why it’s a good business practice to plan for ownership in advance, versus figuring it out on the fly.
Here are a few recommendations for empowering your clients and keeping them in control:
1. Make product purchases one of your first steps.
Walk your clients through properly purchasing their domain, email, and hosting at the start of the project. This shows that you’re committed to a successful, long-term partnership and that you’re not “locking them in”.
A few tactics to consider:
- Create a Getting Started cheat sheet. Include clear, step-by-step directions on what products/services to consider; what to buy; and how to set things up.
- Walk them through the process. They’ll appreciate the encouragement and support. It’s also a potential starting point for ongoing training, maintenance and site management.
- Recommend the right products for their business, and then set everything up on their behalf.
This process is even easier if you’re a GoDaddy Pro member and your clients are buying GoDaddy products. With GoDaddy Pro, you can use one of the two delegated access options: Manage Products or Manage Products and Purchase.
These will allow you to securely purchase GoDaddy products within your client’s account, or to send them a pre-filled shopping cart of products to purchase.
If you’re not a GoDaddy Pro member, learn more and join the free program.
2. Offer your own hosting services.
Some web designers & developers prefer to roll hosting, maintenance and support into a single monthly or annual retainer. It’s one less thing for your clients to worry about, and it’s a nice chunk of recurring revenue for you.
If you choose to go this route, your best bet is to either use Reseller Hosting, such as GoDaddy’s Reseller Hosting plans, or to become a member of a white-label reseller program, such as the GoDaddy Reseller program.
Reseller Hosting plans and Reseller programs have their pros and cons, so ensure that whatever you choose fits into your business model. In either case, your client will have their own account, even though they’re buying the hosting from you.
3. Transfer existing account ownership to your client.
What if you already have ownership of your client’s domain name? Transferring ownership is relatively easy. Refer to this Help article for the step-by-step process.
If your client’s site is on a hosting account that you own, you can migrate their site to a hosting account that they own.
If they don’t have a hosting account already, guide them through choosing and buying the right hosting plan, then help them set it up and migrate the site.
The migration process varies depending on how the site was built. If their site was built on WordPress, for example, you can do the site migration manually, or you could use a plugin like All-In-One WP Migration.
If you’re migrating to a WordPress Hosting plan on GoDaddy, you can use the automatic migration tool that’s built into our WordPress website setup wizard.
GoDaddy Pro members can also perform site migrations through the GoDaddy Pro dashboard.
Email migration is a trickier process. It depends on how the email accounts were initially configured, i.e. if it’s a G Suite, Office 365, or POP email hosting account.
To make email migration as painless as possible, you can get in touch with the support team for the email hosting provider that your clients are migrating to. These support teams are usually more than happy to bring a new customer onto their platform.
4. Help your client retake control from someone else.
If you have a client whose accounts are controlled by a previous (and possibly unresponsive) web designer or developer, the best thing you can do is provide guidance and support.
Start by reaching out to whoever currently controls the accounts. Explain the situation and that you’re migrating your client to a new service provider.
If the current account owner is not cooperative, your clients will need to contact the existing service providers. For domains, your clients need to contact their domain’s registrar. You can use GoDaddy’s Whois tool to look up registrar details for any domain.
For email or hosting, your clients need to contact the current service provider. If they’re not sure who the provider is, you can use GoDaddy’s Whois tool or a more advanced tool like MX Toolbox to investigate.
In either case, your client will need to have evidence proving that they’re the rightful owner of the domain name, website, or email accounts.
Note: If your client’s website and email is currently hosted on a shared account with limited access, you might have to get creative with your problem solving.
For example, you might have to rebuild the site from scratch. For email, you might have to manually migrate email archives or run an email migration wizard on whatever service your clients are moving to. It all depends on your client’s specific situation.
5. Bake ownership details into your contracts.
Be proactive by including details in your contract regarding your client’s ownership of their domain, hosting, and email accounts. Those points should clearly explain that your client owns, and is ultimately responsible, for all three.
If you decide to offer web and/or email hosting, include that as an additional service that’s separate from building or managing the website.
Then ensure your client should have the appropriate level of access to manage their own hosting and email accounts. (See the section above re: offering your own hosting services.)
Last but not least, include a cancellation policy that lays out what happens if you and your client part ways. This extra level of diligence shows your professionalism, while also setting clear expectations.
You can securely manage your client’s domain, email and hosting accounts without sharing login credentials.
Whatever your approach, don’t use your client’s login credentials to do your work. Therefore, you should have a separate user account, like your own login for WordPress, cPanel login or Office 365.
If you’re a GoDaddy Pro member, you can use the GoDaddy Pro dashboard to securely purchase and manage GoDaddy products on your clients’ behalf, including domains.
You can also use the GoDaddy Pro dashboard to securely access and manage your clients’ WordPress sites, no matter where they’re hosted. (And if you have clients who aren’t using WordPress, you can still use the GoDaddy Pro dashboard to monitor their sites.)
All without the confusion and concern of sharing credentials.
Another win for them, another win for you.
Try GoDaddy Pro for yourself — for free.