SEO company holding your domain hostage

How to Respond When Your Domain Is Held Hostage

From time to time, our team is reminded of a very depressing truth: Many SEO providers out there do scummy things.

The latest reminder? Just the other day, we were talking to a small business owner, and he told us how skeptical he was of the SEO industry. At first, we couldn’t understand why he was so mistrusting of us. But after some prodding, he revealed where his trust issues came from…

As it turns out, his last SEO provider registered his domain for him, and then held it hostage when he tried to quit. Since his whole online presence had been tied to that URL, his traffic and calls plummeted.

And the worst part? This didn’t even surprise us. We’ve heard versions of this same story dozens of times before.

In fact, we’ve even seen some SEO companies demand thousands of dollars in payment (a.k.a. ransom) before they give the domain back!

But instead of getting down about the slimy state of SEO, we’ve decided to turn our angst into action. In this blog post, we’re going to help you fight back against these bad guys by giving you advice on how to proceed when they hold your domain (and/or associated phone number) hostage.

What you’re about to find out will save you a ton of headaches and money going forward. Keep reading!

When You Can’t Get Your Domain Back

Unfortunately, as we mentioned, this scenario is not uncommon. But the good news is, you’re not powerless. There’s a solution. We’ve helped countless business owners in the same jam reclaim domains that were rightfully theirs to begin with.

The process involves working closely with GoDaddy (or whatever registrar you originally used) to prove you are, in fact, the business owner and that the domain is yours. This process is more successful when your business name is in the URL that was used in your SEO campaign, but it’s not a requirement.

In the past, we’ve helped business owners work with their registrar and obtain sufficient evidence that the domain belongs to them. The steps involved in obtaining access to your domain vary from business to business and will depend on the extent of your current online footprint.

However, in rare instances where there isn’t enough concrete proof that you own your website, you might have to rebuild your web presence from scratch. This means getting a whole new domain, wiping the slate clean on your web presence, and starting your SEO from scratch. This is not ideal, but it does sometimes happen.

Keep in mind, though, that starting over with a clean slate and a consistent URL is far more effective than clinging to a patchwork web presence with conflicting details.

Need help building your case? The specialists at Prospect Genius are happy to listen to your story and advise you on the next best steps. Give us a call!

When They Keep Your Phone Number From You

Along a similar vein, unscrupulous vendors and SEO providers have tarnished our industry’s reputation by withholding metered phone lines from former clients. It’s the same as what they’re doing with domains: They set up a metered phone line for your campaign, and once you quit, they refuse to give you access to that line.

This issue is critical because your metered phone number (alongside your URL) was probably the primary contact detail in all of your online advertising. By not giving you access to it, they’re essentially tying your hands behind your back.

Thankfully, the law is on your side here. FCC regulations forbid this practice. In fact, the FCC stipulates that if a phone number ever rings to your phone, it’s yours. So if you have a metered line out there that was ringing to your business at one point in time, then your old vendor or advertiser cannot withhold it from you without violating federal law. They are legally required to port your number when you request it.

Again, if you’re having difficulty communicating with them or convincing them they’re in the wrong, let us know. We can point you towards some information and resources that may help.

Simple Ways to Protect Yourself

Before we wrap things up, let’s make one thing very clear: It’s not your fault that a sleazy SEO company took advantage of your trust and acted spitefully against your interests.

Furthermore, it’s a natural response to mistrust other advertising teams after this kind of experience. We know how you feel. Nonetheless, SEO campaigns and metered phone lines remain critical marketing tools. If you want to bring in new customers and keep track of incoming leads, then you can’t avoid using them.

So, instead of forgoing online marketing altogether out of fear, you can take a few simple measures to protect yourself the next time around:

  • Ask your prospective marketer what their standard cancellation procedures are.
    • If you own the website content and domain, how will they return these assets to you upon cancellation?
    • If you purchase a metered phone line, how will they port the number back to your phone?
  • Make sure you have a contract with your marketer that clearly states you have ownership of all website assets (domain, images, content, etc.) upon final payment.
  • Ask your marketer which company will be hosting your website and get that company’s contact information.
  • Ideally, you should buy your own domain in your name so it’s 100% yours from the beginning. (GoDaddy is a popular domain registrar for this purpose.)
    • Note: Some SEO companies prefer to register your domain under their own account so they can monitor your website and receive alerts. This is usually done as a service that you purchase so you don’t have to monitor everything yourself. In this situation, being 100% clear about cancellation procedures (including how you can transfer domain ownership) and having a signed contract are crucial.

Prospect Genius Is Here to Help

Of course, even your best efforts sometimes aren’t enough to protect you from a particularly nasty or vindictive agency. If you find yourself stuck dealing with such an agency, call Prospect Genius for help right away. We’ve been working in this field for more than a decade, and we’re very familiar with the laws around these topics.

Keeping our industry honest is something we’re passionate about. We’ll be more than happy to help you protect your rights however we can.

And, hey—if you want to work with a company that won’t hold your web presence hostage, you know where to find us.