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3 Questions Every Small Business Should Answer About Their Web Site

Dear Reader,

I help a lot of small business owners with a variety of projects.  One thing that is true with most small businesses is that do not have a full time IT staff member and therefore rely on contractors and vendors for IT advice, especially when it comes to their web site. If you are not careful though, you can quickly find yourself in a bad situation, even when everyone’s intentions were good. Take 5 minutes and find the answer to these three questions.

Do I own my domain?

The Number one mistake I see companies make these days is letting someone else register their domain name for them. No matter how well meaning your web development company is, letting them own this crucial piece is dangerous.  Eventually, you will get tot the point where you want to change companies, if they own your domain then at best you have to ask them for the transfer before you can leave, usually tipping them off that you want to leave. The worst case scenario though is that they don’t want to give it up.  Yes, you can take it away from them but they can also trash your website in the interim. Don’t get yourself into this situation to begin with.  Registering a domain with godaddy.com or enom.com is easy. (If you get stuck, drop me a email, I’m happy to help)  If you are not sure the answer to this question, it’s easy to find out, go to http://www.whois.sc/ and enter your domain name. (i.e. calevans.com, NOT www.calevans.com) Once the page comes back, scroll down to the part labeled “Whois Record” and look at the registrant. If it’s anyone other than you and your current address, you need to correct that immediately.

Is the company that designed my website committed to my success or their own?

First, if your answer to this is, “I don’t have a web design company, my next door neighbor’s niece designed my site”, please stop reading now. You have bigger problems than this blog post can solve. Good web sites don’t have to be overly expensive but a professional is always worth the extra expense over an amateur. Don’t turn the success of your company on the web over to someone who does not work 100% on helping companies with their web presence.

On to the point though; yes, every company is committed to their own success but the best web development companies know that their success depends on the success of their clients. Do they contact you with ideas on how to leverage new technologies to your benefit, even if it means that taking their advice isn’t going to make them any money? A good web development company will help a small business leverage the Internet to grow and in doing so, get a higher ROI for their web site. If they haven’t contacted you lately about how to use this new idea or that new concept to help market your site then you really need to move to a company more committed to helping their customers.

Do I own the hosting agreement?

Finally, another critical mistake that companies make, don’t let your web development company decide where your site will be hosted. Most web development companies, especially small ones, farm out their hosting to hosting companies.  For the most part, this is fine but the agreement should be in your name not your web development company’s. Part of the logic is the same as for point #1, don’t let your web development company have control over your site. Beyond that however, if the company you chose for development decides to fold up and do something else, you could be stuck with the fact that you don’t know anything about your domain or hosting agreement. This could be disastrous. Make sure that you are the one paying the monthly hosting bills and that you have the login and password for any control panel or ftp accounts. One of the important reasons that you want to own the web hosting account is that if things do go sour between you and your web development company, if you own the  hosting account, it’s much harder for them to lock you out or cause any damage. No professional web hosting company would allow anyone other than the account holder to make changes to the account and even if things are changed, since you are the contact, you can call the web host and get things put back together.
That’s it, simple and to the point, just 3 questions you need to ask about your current web development company. If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to correct that immediately.Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=

Tags: webdevelopment, web site, small business, web hosting, advice

5 thoughts on “3 Questions Every Small Business Should Answer About Their Web Site

  1. All great points… I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had to dig through docs and info for a new customer just to clean up this stuff. I had one customer where their server was *off* for upwards of 12 hours until I got it straightened out.

    Domain names are even worse… because if that expires, then most people (and often systems) can’t even get in touch with you.

  2. Hi Cal

    Very sound advice, we have seen these issues cause so many problems. Once the ground rules are established, there is another area business owners should investigate, what do their web designers believe their job is?

    If they think their prime role is to build a good looking website and fail to discuss much beyond this, that’s another good reason to walk away. A website is primarily a business tool, every effort must be made to ensure this brings vistors and they become customers. The design is in a sense secondary.

    Any business owner should read all they can about search engine compliance and achieving a good ranking. They should also expect this to be at the forefront of any conversation with a potential developer. Let them explain why they are taking certain decisions to ensure you succeed with search engines

    Many of those offering website development are in reality simply designers and may not have a grasp of website optimisation and marketing. We have just completed a survey of small business sites in Surrey UK and the figures about matched those often quoted. Around four fifths of new small business sites never see page 1 or 2 for any useful term.

    By all means adopt an attractive site but don’t forget the real objective.

  3. I certainly agree with points 1 and 2. Dealing with domain names that are in the wrong name cause more problems than anything else when taking on a new client.

    Hosting gets slightly more complicated for us as we lease our own servers for our customers’ websites. We provide monthly CD backups for our clients though to mitigate their exposure to us.

    I don’t like dealing with shared hosting accounts as they always seem to be used when the customer is trying to do it on the cheap. Our servers have backup systems I know work as they are tested regularly and we have build and deployment scripts for our servers that make maintenance and upgrading simple.

    Rob…

  4. Good web sites don’t have to be overly expensive but a processional is always worth the extra expense over an amateur

    I assume you wanted to say”professional” ?

    Beyond that, good points. The problem is that #3 (and to a lesser extent #1) is complicated for people who don’t know the field.
    To me it all seems extremely obvious. To my boss it’s not very far from black magic. It’s realistic to say that pretty much every business needs a website. But to then go and say that every business owner needs to understand domain registration, and web hosting, is taking it far.

    Yes, it helps a lot to know that. But at some point a small business owner can’t know everything, and have to trust some professional to do their job for them. The web site is important, but so are a great many other things…

  5. @Rob,
    Leasing servers, managed or unmanaged, is the best way to go. However, it’s not always economically feasible. Yes, there are a lot of options in hosting and a lot of people muddying the water. I’m hoping to write a post on what I think are the important factors that people can use to compare hosts.

    @Yaron,
    Thanks for the correction. Yes, I meant professional. :)

    You are correct that #1 and #3 seem daunting for the uninitiated, however, my goal in the next several months is to demystify the processes so that anyone can understand them AND anyone can do it.

    I can remember “back in the day” when it was difficult to buy and manage domain names and hosting. However, these days, it’s really not difficult. Look for more posts in December discussing both domain name registration AND hosting. Feel free to contact me if you’ve got specific issues that you think need to be covered.

    =C=

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