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Who Owns A Website Once It's Designed? Not You.

Blog / Who Owns A Website Once It's Designed? Not You.
by Lance Cummins on

You paid for your website design. But, chances are, you don't own it.

When Bill (name changed to protect the downtrodden) called me, he was more than a little exasperated.

He needed to update one sentence on his website, but he didn't want to pay the minimum fee to his web designer to update it. That was just crazy. Plus, every time he asked for an update, it would take far too long for it to happen.

I tried to help him, but we ran into something that has gotten me more than a little upset. I decided that I could at least let others know about the pitfalls of hiring a web design company without checking out the terms of ownership.

Just like Bill, many clients that we help are stuck with a website that they can't update easily. Not only is it frustrating because you can't update just basic information. It's also one of the big killers when it comes to marketing your website. You can't add content. Your website is stale, crusty, and forgotten.

Pretty bleak, huh?

Up a Creek. No paddle in sight.

For these clients, I usually propose that we move their existing design to a WordPress framework, so they can easily change text, add and delete pages, changes menus, and most importantly, add fresh informative content to their website. (That's really important when it comes to using content marketing.) Their site would look the same, but it would work at least 127 times better. (That number is a slight exaggeration, to make a point.) That's what I did with Bill. WordPress is a great solution for lead-generating websites because you can create content easily, and can collect leads, build email lists, and other critical functions that are a bear with traditional websites.

One thing I asked Bill, and I ask it of all my clients before I'll convert it to WordPress, is to make sure that he actually owned his website design.

You might say, "That's a dumb question. Of course, he owns his website. He paid for it."

Not so fast, Mr. Quick-And-Clever.

The sad/scary truth is that most website design companies believe that they own your company's website. In fact, it's probably included in the fine print of their contract.

The minute you decide you want to host your site somewhere else, or have someone else make some modifications, you'll find out this crazy news pretty quickly.

Your website is being held for ransom.

You see, most web design companies don't just make money off of the design of your website. Nope.

They'd like to continue to make some money from you from now until eternity. In the biz, we call that "recurring revenue." And it's a pretty sweet gig.

Usually, they will require that you host your website with them, and only them. Plus, they want you to pay them to make updates. It's a win-win for them. And a lose-lose for you. If you ever decide to make your site actually effective for marketing, and go with a company that is most interested in your long-term success, you'll have to start over completely with a new website.

So, I guess my takeaway for you today is this: If you're about to get a new website created for your company, just ask the company up front, "Once I pay for this site, do I own the design? Can I move it to whatever host I want?"

If their answer sounds like Obama or Romney during any of these mind-numbing political debates from the last few months, run. Run like the wind.

Find a company that will let you claim ownership of your own digital property. If you find yourself already stuck in this situation, check the documents that you signed at the beginning of your project for the terms & conditions. If ownership is not spelled out, then don't be bullied by a website design company into yielding your right of ownership.

The argument is in your favor. You paid for it. You should own it. That's just common sense. (While it is common sense, it's not common practice...)

One side note to this, is that I'd also caution you to be aware of companies that build your site on their "special proprietary platform" for updating your site. Basically, they have you over a barrel. Your site can only exist on their platform, so even if you decided there was something different you wanted to do, you're stuck.

Forever is a long time.

That's Bill's situation. His site is built on a platform that specifically locks down his access. For him to get an effective website that allows him easy access and simple ways to add new content, he's going to have to start over completely. Oh boy. That's just too big of a commitment for him at this point, so Bill is going to have to let his website remain incarcerated forever. And that's a long time.

What are your thoughts about who owns a website? What is your recommendation for company's who are stuck in this situation? What have you experienced?

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Lance Cummins

Lance Cummins