A website represents a massive investment of time and resources from its user(s) and the worst thing that could happen is for an owner to lose access to their website because the ownership of their site’s domain is in question. Every domain has a registered owner, even if the domain is currently for sale. Knowing who owns your domain is an important part of properly managing, altering, and ultimately leveraging your personal and professional web content.
Unless you or your hosting provider utilizes WHOIS privacy systems, then a search of the WHOIS database will display who currently owns your domain. Most likely you are the legal owner. If you purchased your domain through a third party such as an employed web technician, a hosting service, or a business then you are technically not the legal owner. In short, the legal owner of the domain is the person or entity that completed the purchase of the domain from the domain registrar that it was purchased from.
Much of the value in a domain is built through two aspects of the associated website: the traffic moving to and through it and the amount of proprietary data stored on it. If you were to lose access to a popular web domain with a large amount of personal and/or professional data stored on it, the loss could be quite serious in terms of personal and monetary value. Simply purchasing another domain and trying to recreate the website would not solve the problem as web traffic is still going to your old site and much of your content would likely need to be recreated from scratch. Direct ownership of your domain is one of the best ways to ensure that your work, content, and site popularity remain in your portfolio even if your relationship with related third parties like technicians or businesses would change.
A domain can change hands numerous times just like any other product. Domains can be moved from one hosting service to another and owners can sell their domains through their domain registrar at any time, provided their hosting service doesn’t require a minimum commitment duration. The transfer of domains between parties is dependent on the domain registrar and whatever hosting services are used, but it is the responsibility of the domain’s previous owner to retrieve their data or any other assets they might wish to keep from their domain and any associated websites.
Numerous factors can affect the value of a domain. One of the most common ingredients for value is popularity; the more traffic a domain receives, the higher its value in the eyes of online businesses and entrepreneurs. Identical domains with different extensions can also gain value purely through perceived association. Short domain names are highly valued in general as they are more likely to be located by search bots; domain names that include commonly used terms, or buzzwords, are often considered valuable for similar reasons.
Some domain registrars like godaddy.com offer services that can calculate the potential value of a domain. Obviously these can be somewhat arbitrary but with some market research is usually a solid indication of how much a domain might be worth. There’s also no limit to how much a domain can grow in value. If you have a product, service, or even blog content that people want to see then your domain name can exponentially increase in value with the proper design and exposure.