How to Plan a Website – Own it

No, I’m not talking about own it as in Point 7 – “Do your part”, I mean make sure that at the end of the project, you own the project, not your developer.

Own your domain name

The most important part of your web site is your domain name. It is an asset and you should make sure that your ownership of it is clear. I really struggled trying to find an analogy for this before I realized I just couldn’t think of any situation where you would walk in, ask someone to take your money, build you something but then allowed them to keep everything and rent it back to you. Before you talk to your developer, go out and register your domain name yourself. If you can’t figure it out, ask your pre-teen nephew or niece, they know how. (or, invest an hour or two and figure it out, it’s really not that difficult)

I am constantly amazed at how many clients come to me and want me to take over development on their site, only to find out that their previous host actually owns their domain name. If your split from them was a good one then it won’t be much of a problem to get them to change the DNS servers. If the split from your previous host wasn’t clean however, you’ve got problems. Make sure you own your domain name and that it is under your control. Your host should be the technical contact on your domain. This will allow them to make changes to the information like DNS server but keeps them from doing things like transferring domain ownership. As soon as they are no longer your host, change the technical contact information thus preventing any “accidental” information changes that could affect your site.

Have a clear understanding of any Intellectual Property issues with your site.

While your domain name is the heart of your site, the second most important thing is to know who owns the “intellectual property” rights to the code that runs your site. Many sites these days are built on top of open source projects like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress. Make sure you know what project your site was built on top of, if any, and what licenses the code was released under. Not all open source projects have the same licenses and some of the open source licenses could affect your rights to the code your site is built on. Make sure you know what software your site is built on and what licenses are in effect.

You should also have an agreement in place with your developer covering the ownership of any custom code written for your site. You are paying for it, it should be yours. Once the project is complete and on-line, all the code should be packaged up for you and delivered to you for safe keeping. This turnover should be part of every release cycle. There are times when your developer will use code that they wrote for other projects. This code is usually in the form of a “code library” or “framework”. If this is the case, make sure you have a license that allows you to use the code, even if you move it to another server. Don’t allow your developer to handcuff you to their company or server.

It’s your site or application; don’t let someone else own it. Make sure that once the site is live and the dust settles, you own everything and can move it when and where you see fit.



Want more helpful advice?

Are you looking for more helpful advice? Check out our book, Avoiding a Goat Rodeo. It was written to help non-programmers understand website development. It shows you how to get the website you want.

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