In this article we discuss risks that any business will have, be they big or small, if they have a website. We take a look at some underlying risks to your business domain(s) and how you should protect it (them), we look at your hosting service and your relationship with a web developer and give you some recommendations on how to manage the relationship.
This is one area of serious concern. Your business domain name has the same value as your Title Deed of your house. It is the "Title Deed" of your business on the web. It is your web "street address".
So, our recommendation is that you do this registration yourself, and in the process you ensure that you actually own your website. If you let your website designer do it for you, and he/she puts his/her name as the registrant, its not your site! It is their site.
But if you are just assisted by your website developer/designer through the registration process, and he/she is just guiding you through the process, then it is OK.
Many website designers are aware of this, and take great care to protect your interests, because they follow good ethical processes. But there are also those that do not do that, and they in fact end up "owning" your web domain and often even your website content!
For a company's site, make sure the domain is registered in the company's name, not an individual's name. Alternatively, you could register the domain in the founder's name.
If for example, you get your secretary (or anyone else in your organization) to register the site, and she does it in her name, and then leaves the company, without amending or updating the registration details of your domain, you could have a potential disaster in the making, because, she would in fact "own" your domain!
The registration of your domain has to be typically renewed on an annual basis. When the time comes for renewal, the registrar will inform the registrant's administrative representative by e-mail. If this email address does not exist any more, or if it gets ignored, the registration of your domain will lapse and so will your website. In most cases, the registration of the domain is included in the Web Hosting package and since the hosting fees are recurring on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, the good hosting providers typically ensure that the domain registration is up to date. But do not rely on that alone.
If your Web Hosting management application does not report the status of your domain and does not give you have access to it online, insist that your hosting provider report on the status of your domain and when the renewal is due. So if you are using an "all-in-one" service provider, just insure that you regularly monitor the status of your domain registration, by getting your service provider to report on the status in writing and with supporting documentation as proof.
We have talked about the domains. But domains need to be hosted somewhere, and now we going to look at that in more detail. As you probably are already aware, some web designers offer hosting services as part of their package and service offerings. But what does that mean in layman's terms? It means that the web designer has a re-seller arrangement, where the designer gets a commission on the monthly hosting fees –as opposed to a server owned and operated by the website designer.
Realistically, you are better off shopping around and finding a hosting package that delivers the functionality you require at a reasonable fee.
For example, a hosting package with an Apache server with cpanel management, PHP and MySQL databases will meet most business needs. Performance can be an issue – and its not in your best interests to be hosted on a server with thousands of other sites.
Now that we have addressed the web hosting part of it, how do you choose the right Website Designer?
Our recommendation is that you start by drafting a design brief – specify your goals and objectives, and give some examples of sites that appeal to you. Then circulate your brief to a few designers, that you have selected and review samples of their work. Once you receive their proposals, we suggest that you build a chart that compares what each designer offers, and at what costs. Engage in dialogue with a short list of 2-3 designers and resolve any issues you did not understand in their responses to your brief. Finally, pick someone who can talk to you on your level and without being condescending.
Be firm about separating components such as domain registration, hosting, and design. If the designer is insistent on combining all elements, move them to the bottom of the pile.
If they have a particular CMS (Customer Management System) that they want you to use, ask them if its an open-source system. If not, ask them what happens in the future, if you become unsatisfied with them or the product. All promises should be made in writing, and signed … in the form of a legal and binding contract, don't just take their word for it. Make sure that your potential designer is listening to you, and is trying to deliver what you require, rather than what is best for them. If you not sure of anything, then ask.
When choosing a Website Architecture, be careful which one you choose, because it can make or break you. In terms of good search engine rankings, the simpler you can make the site, the better. HTML based sites, which allow total control over all page elements, and will always deliver the best results. So don't get blinded by flashing images or aggressive sales talk.
If your potential designer is insistent on building the site in Flash, remove them from your list immediately. The rule is “form follows function.” It won’t matter a bit how wonderful your site looks, if no one can find it.
Modest use of Flash is fine… but the search engines can neither read nor index anything in it – so it is best to ensure at the outset that your site is not doomed to obscurity!
Many designers in the Algarve are very pro Flash, and will tell you how wonderful it is. But the fact, is that it is not the best solution for anyone that wants an effective business website with good search visibility.
Another thing to watch out for from your website designer, are guaranty's of being number one (1) on Google searches, or being on the first page in very short time spans. No-one can give you that. What they do, is give you a number one position with specific key words, the most common one being your own site name. Or they "sell" you Google ads, which you will find the moment you stop paying for them, your website goes to the bottom of the lists. (in our opinion, this is a business trick to keep you hooked for life on Google ads)
If you have a brand new site, plan for at least 12 months for Google and other search engines to notice you. In fact, Google has an unwritten moratorium of 6-months on all new websites even with very good optimization using traditional SEO features.
Free form editing of individual HTML pages is the best option from a search engine optimization perspective. It’s not much more complicated than using a word processor, and uploading the page amendments to the live site is not particularly difficult. However, if you are going to use a Content Management System for maintenance instead, it’s in your best interests to opt for an Open-Source CMS!
With “open source” the software is free, no license fees apply, and anyone can work on it. You will ensure that you own the site content, and thus, can more readily export it to another CMS platform if you don’t like the current one.
With an open -source platform, you are not limited to a single designer or developer. If things don’t go the way you want, changing designers or developers is relatively simple.
CMS Proprietary Content Management Systems (CMS) present a real threat if you become dissatisfied with the developer’s service / performance. “They” own the site, not you, and you are effectively locked into the package, which usually includes web design, development and hosting. If you want to change suppliers, you may have to abandon your entire development investment and start again from scratch! One way to overcame this, is to sign a contract that states that "copyright and ownership" of the website technology and its content is and will remain your property long after you terminate a relationship with them.
Keep in mind, that such an environment usually involves shared hosting on the CMS supplier’s server. This places your site in the midst of multiple other sites, all running exactly the same software platform, and often all of the same site type – e.g. e-commerce. This is undesirable from a search engine optimization point of view.
In our opinion, a CMS system is a complete overkill for a site of less than 100 pages – which is most small business sites. This comment applies equally to any totally database-driven solution. Overall, content changes very little – for many pages, it might be an annual revision. Using an HTML editor to make minor page changes requires minimal technical ability, and publishing amended pages via FTP is a trivial exercise. Exceptions to this are e-commerce, a portal or similar special purpose site, where you require a pre-designed application such as a shopping cart solution. Even then, combining HTML informational pages with the open-source application is still the best option.
This can be a simple as a monthly download to your PC of the site plus databases.
In the event of a total systems failure, or unresolved dispute, you may be left relying on what data you have at your disposal. As a minimum safety tool, you want multiple copies of the site, stored at multiple locations -the live site on your hosting companies server, plus a local copy on your PC, plus a backup copy on your external hard drive, plus a monthly copy on CD or DVD and stored at one of your friend’s or family's place!
Rule No.1: Do not put all your eggs in one basket! Basically, you need to ensure that you minimize your dependence on any one-service supplier. If your web designer goes bust, what becomes of your proprietary CMS system? If the hosting company goes out of business, you need to be able to quickly change hosts and servers. Using the national domain registrar – may be more expensive, but they will in all probability still be in business next year! Use open-source software as much as possible, if you must use a Content Management System - use an independent web designer – if your relationship deteriorates, you can easily switch to another! Use an independent hosting supplier – if it does not work out, you can change hosting companies!
Now that you have identified and understand the potential risks you and your business is facing when it comes to your website and your domain, it is up to you how to manage that risk. This process can be conducted in a number of ways. You can manage each aspect yourself, or you can outsource parts or even all of it. The most important thing is that you have to manage and control the various tasks.
First published in empowerment gateway website (10 february 2007 - updated 1 August 2017)
Author: Laurinda Seabra (strategic management consultant)