Do You REALLY Own Your Website? How Not To Get Scammed.

Do You REALLY Own Your Website? How Not To Get Scammed.

One of the most common issues we see potential clients dealing with are ownership disputes about their website assets—raising the question: “Do you really own your website?”

It’s unfortunately a fact-of-life that not all of the people in our industry are committed to providing services ethically and responsibly. An uneducated consumer can find themselves in a real pickle if they don’t do their homework about the agency with which they choose to work.

The Commexis team has decades of experience in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and digital marketing. Some of us come from the agency world, others in-house, and still more have done a little of both. We all have our own war stories about the industry that we share around the water cooler, and we all have different ideas about them. But there’s one thing that can be guaranteed to raise our collective hackles: unethical web designers and agencies.

Your Business Held Hostage

Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a website only to find that you don’t actually own the rights to any of it? This can come as a huge shock to business people who haven’t fully read the terms and conditions of their contracts with digital service providers like SEO agencies and web developers.

For example, you’ve entered into a web design contract for your site and you are not given direct access to the CMS or the FTP (File Transfer Protocol) for the site. Many website design firms will bar you from accessing these areas citing the potential for you to “break” the site or even hiding behind an overpriced “maintenance package” that gives them exclusive license to make changes to the site.

A website is like a living thing. Content needs to be updated, pages added or pruned, blogs posted, etc. And let’s not forget the ever-evolving world of SEO. You may need to make wholesale changes to your site regularly to keep up with SEO trends (and your market competitors).

What happens if that web developer doesn’t have the manpower to provide timely responses to your requests or even worse, is completely unreachable? If you have a contract that specifies you are not the owner of your site’s assets, you have little recourse. You’re at their mercy.

And that scenario can escalate. Sometimes, business owners will realize that they are ultimately at a disadvantage with these types of contracts and attempt to terminate the relationship, only to find that the agency will not give them access to logins or assets for their site—effectively holding the assets hostage.

Our team at Commexis has helped dozens of business owners get out from under these types of unbalanced agreements by being both transparent about our practices and providing turn-key access to your site information should you decide to move on.

Don’t be caught by surprise. Here are some tips to make sure you’re not caught at the mercy of predatory and unethical digital marketing partners.

Read the Fine Print

If you engage the services of an independent website designer, you do not own exclusive rights to the website or certain separate elements of your site unless you have a written website development agreement stating this. – Philip Nicolosi, Esq.


Any contract that does not specify you own your site assets when the terms of the contract are met should be avoided.

Be wary of the lowest bidder. Some developers will purposefully make their estimates for the site build on the low side because they know they can tack on maintenance fees and other “extras” on the back end.

The Host with the Most

Be wary of any developer who insists you only use their own hosting.

If you push them for the logic behind this decision, they’ll often put the blame on the host.

Now, don’t get us wrong, there are some hosts that are better than others, but the agency should be willing to supply alternatives outside of their company to your hosting choice if they’re citing problems with the host you’ve chosen.

What’s in a (Domain) Name?

Register your own domain. This is nonnegotiable. If you do not, there’s a chance that the developer will put his own information on the registration, giving you zero recourse should there ever be a disagreement as to ownership. With the developer listed as the owner, the host and registrar’s hands will be tied because technically, he or she is their customer, not you.

You need direct login access not only to your web host but also to the domain registrar. Keep in mind that these can potentially be two different companies.

Platform Diving

Some companies will try to sell you on building your site on their own proprietary platform or CMS (Content Management System). This is an especially dangerous trap to fall into. Not only is your site’s architecture going to be completely incompatible with any other CMS you may choose to work with, you’ll also be trapped into a very limited set of designs or templates. Also, forget any customization or SEO-friendly updates without a protracted process of requesting changes from your developer.

Commexis works with a lot of legal clients. Some of the most common complaints we see from attorneys are about FindLaw, an “all-in-one” solution for legal marketing. FindLaw’s sites are built on proprietary frameworks and cannot be exported to another host. Many attorneys feel trapped by their FindLaw contracts and feel as though they’re being nickel-and-dimed by FindLaw when wanting to make changes to their sites. Some even complain that they are losing ground to other FindLaw clients because those clients choose to pay for services that they did not.

We recommend that all of our clients use WordPress for their CMS. It’s flexible, modular and scalable. What’s more there is a robust selection of plugins that can help your site do just about anything that you might want your site to do.

That said, when using WordPress, be sure that you get access to all the login data for any plugins your developer uses. Some of these may be subscription-based or have data that you can’t access without a subscription, and you want to make sure you ensure that continuity should you move the site to another host.

License to Kill

Finally, be sure that whatever contract you enter into with your developer includes language guarantees that you own the code and source elements for your site. If you don’t, you will almost certainly wind up in a situation where your site cannot be recreated from existing content and coding. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal now, think about what would happen if you wanted to move the site? You would need an entire design from scratch that uses original elements and code.

Wrap Up

The key to protecting your website and its assets is to understand exactly how the ownership process works and to take the initiative before you start working with a third-party developer or SEO shop.

Unfortunately, most clients don’t find this out until it’s too late. Luckily, we at Commexis have experience in extricating our clients from these situations with as little fuss as possible. We can help you.

Let Commexis help you create your new website (or recover your old one). Contact us by phone at +1 (856) 520-8218 or by email at to get us in your corner.

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