Why You Should Keep Hosting and Domain Name Registration Providers Separate

By: Stéphane Bergeron

Web Servers

Here’s another short article about Web hosting that I wrote following several instances in the last few months where I had to help clients take back control of their domain names. The reason this was necessary in the first place is because they were using the same provider for Web hosting and domain name registration services and these providers had registered my clients’ domains in their own name…

While the idea of using the same provider for both services can look attractive at first (to lower cost for example), I can tell you that the drawbacks of this practice are real and can be quite significant. Web hosting companies usually handle domain name registration through bulk domain name registrars to keep costs down. This in itself is not a bad thing but it can complicate the administration of your domain name.

At best, the Web hosting provider will offer a Web interface to modify the details of your domain name in its control panel or you might have access to the data at the registrar directly. But this is rare. It is more common to have to open a support ticket with your host to get anything changed in your domain name’s record. In both cases, everything will still be fine (if more complicated in the second case) if the domain is really registered to you with your contact information, including the most important part, an email address you own. But this is not always the case and this is where things can get really complicated…

In the worse case scenario, hosting companies may register the domain names of their clients in their own names with their own contact information. They do this for all kinds of reasons. Again, at best, they do it out of ignorance and a misguided view that this is “helping” their clients by shielding them from “complex technical stuff”. In fact, they usually do it to make things easier for themselves, not to help their clients. At worst, they do it to force their clients to stay in business with them as the client has absolutely no control over the domain to be able to move it to a new host whenever they want. Moving a domain to a new host may become necessary if the business relationship with the current host turns sour for some reason or the quality of their sevices degrades to unacceptable levels. Believe me when I tell you that both can and do happen more often than you’d think.

But no matter the reason, I consider this practice to be highly unethical. It just should not be done, for any reason. My opinions are rarely this black and white but, recently, I’ve helped too many of my clients get out of bad relationships with hosts that had control over my clients’ domain names. It was never for the worst reasons but the hassle and time cost of rectifying the situation and move the domains and my clients’ sites were significant in all cases.

How to Keep Full Control of your Domain Names

To have full control of your domain name(s), the registrant of a domain name should always be the person it belongs to, or if it is a company, one of its legal representatives. Same thing with the administrative contact information that is tied to the domain. Under no circumstances should the registrant and administrative contact of a domain be the hosting provider or any other third party.

Domain names are not protected the same way that company names are copyrighted or the way they have clear legal ownership. But I’m sure you can imagine that they are just as crucial for the branding of an organization, product, service or individual on the Web. That’s why it’s key to keep control over your domain names because they will always be with you and are part of your branding. On the other hand, your hosting needs will evolve with time and you will probably change Web hosting provider at some point, probably more than once. My experience proves that the quality of the services of a once great host can go downhill fast. Providers go out of business or foreclose.  You absolutely must have the flexibility to point your domain to a new host if something happens so that your Web site is always available to your potential or existing audience or clients.

To be able to do that, the domain must be registered to your name with your email address. You could always use the same provider for both and not all hosts use the unethical practices describe above, but you need to make sure beforehand that the domain will be registered to your name. Ideally, I really think you should register a domain name with a specialized provider before you open a hosting account. That way, you just point the existing domain there when you open the hosting account and you can leave quickly if anything goes wrong later. Believe me, you’ll be making your life a lot simpler down the road if you do that.

There are of course other things you need to be doing to move a site to a new host quickly (like regular files and database backups which I do for all my clients), but these are subjects for future articles 🙂

This article reflects my personal opinions so your comments or stories are welcome!

4 thoughts on “Why You Should Keep Hosting and Domain Name Registration Providers Separate”

    • Hello Gerard,

      Thank you for your comment.

      No, I mean changing the actual nameservers in your domain account at your domain registrar (Godaddy, NameCheap, etc). Nameservers are the actual addresses “pointing” your domain to your hosting provider’s servers where your Web site’s files reside.

      They look like this:

      Registrars usually have clear instructions on how to change these in their client’s accounts.

  1. I am currently dealing with a client that have already paid just over £1000 for a website which was 6 pages, with 3 pages under construction. The original web designer, stopped all work and was seeking the domain name to be transferred to them, on the basis that without full control over the domain name, it would hamper their work.

    The client approached me to see if this was normal practice, and I had to advise that there is no reason to give full control over the domain name, and that since they are already being held to ransom with an incomplete site, what would happen when the domain is fully transferred across?

    The original designer kept trying to get full control, so I offered the client to rebuild their website from scratch on a voluntary basis, and asked the client to update the nameservers to point to my hosting.

    Site is now built, the client retains full control over their domain, the way it should be. If I hadn’t stepped in, the client would have most likely have lost their domain name.

    The original designer is now making threats because the domain name was pointed at a new host. They are claiming that the charity ‘hijacked the domain’, the domain that they legally owned, which the designer tried to take ownership of (pot calling the kettle black?).

    Imagine what would have happened if they had transferred control of the domain name to the original designer?

    Morale of the story, if you manage an online presence, whether business or personal, always retain full control over your domain name. There is wolves out there that prey on lack of technical understanding of the issues of web hosting, domain management, etc. for profit.

    Very useful article, I am sure the author has their fair share of horror stories regarding domain names. Most web designers can add a few.

    • Hello Alex,

      Thank you very much for your comment. Indeed I have seen my fair share of horror stories. Your client was lucky in that they controled the domain in the first place. Many people or organizations don’t and that is when real problems arise. That’s why it’s so important to keep control of one’s domain names even if you give access to people who work on your site.


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