Your website is the front door to your business. It’s the first impression people get when looking up your business hours, the virtual shop buyers visit in the middle of the night to place an online order, and the central hub for resources your customers need access to. We’d all agree that a good online presence can be a tremendous asset, but if your website is truly the front door, do you know who holds the keys?

I was chatting with a friend earlier this week about starting to care for their website needs as they faced mounting struggles with their current provider, and the conversation slowly turned to a big question: What if they won’t let me out? Can they hold my website hostage?

The truth is that many business owners have accidentally given the “keys to the kingdom” to their website provider, marketing team, or IT provider without even knowing what they’ve done. While it is natural to give these providers access to the resources they need to manage your technology needs, it’s important to know who has what, what they’re doing with it, and what your options are if you choose to go another direction.

For any given website, there are three primary keys you should be aware of.

Domain Registration

Your domain registration is the master key. It’s the registration of your “dot com” address that gives you the ability to route web traffic, email, and other internet services wherever you choose. Many domain registrations have accidentally found their way into being owned by the marketing agency or IT provider without any actual business acknowledgement, and if a relationship breaks down, wrestling control of your registration can become a burdensome and expensive endeavor.

DNS Records

Second to your domain registration, knowing who controls the records comprising your Domain Name System (DNS) is vital to your online presence. DNS records tell computers on the internet where to go to find your website, where to route your email, and what sites are authorized to act on your domain’s behalf. These records often are stored alongside the domain registration, but they don’t have to be. If your marketing provider, web host, or IT provider wants to move these to their control, be aware that while you’re making everyone’s life easier in the moment, you’re also giving away a bit more control.

Website Hosting

The final key to your website kingdom is the actual hosting of your site. Somewhere in this world is a server with a folder containing files that make your website function. It could be in a server farm operated by Google, a local data center managed by your IT provider, or the bedroom closet of “that friend who makes websites.” Where your website lives is obviously important when it comes to security and scalability, but you should also know who has rights and access to the content, data, plugins, and services that reside on it.

These three components of your website – domain registration, DNS, and hosting, are each a key to the proper management of your online presence. Each level provides a different level of authority and control over your business’ online presence, and I’d encourage you to take fifteen minutes to chat with your provider about who owns each one of them and your rights to them should you ever need to make changes.

As always, if you’d like any help in this endeavor or advice about your online properties, we’d love to hear from you.