Who controls your website?

Last week Computer Weekly reported on a worrying state of affairs amongst UK SMEs and their lack of control over their web presence. Do any of these apply to your business?

  • More than half of SMEs cannot make their own changes to their website
  • Two-thirds lack the contact details of their hosting company
  • Two-thirds do not have the passwords for their hosting account
  • Nearly three-quarters have not registered all their domain names in the name of the business owner

Most UK businesses do not have the in-house skills to create and host their own website and so it is natural that they should outsource this process. However, it is becoming clear that many businesses have let their lack of understanding of the process interfere with their control over their web presence.

Problems that can arise from these situations:

  • Unable to make your own changes means that you may be paying up to £50 an hour for simple changes to the text on your website.
  • Understandably, many companies baulk at paying to amend a website and so it's site becomes increasingly out of date and irrelevant. It may even harm the business if it seems to be lacking in awareness of new developments in its market.
  • If you cannot contact the hosting company what do you do if you check the Internet and your website doesn't appear? "error www.yourpreciousdomain.com cannot be found". Remember, your customers are seeing that message too.
  • Even if you have some employees who are Internet savvy they cannot help your company website if do not have the username or password for the hosting account.
  • If a domain name is not registered in the owner's name then there is no proof that they own the domain. It means it (and your email of course) can be controlled by the person in whose name it was registered... perhaps a now, disgruntled, ex-employee, a former business partner or even an angry ex-spouse! Many businesses discover their domain name is registered to the web designer who created their first website, a practice that has thankfully become rarer in recent years.

That last point brings us to the problems that can arise where the inexperienced SME owner left the "web thingy" in the hands of the confident local web designer who offered the "complete service". He did the design, development, implementation, uploaded the pages, provides the hosting and maintains the domain name.

For many SMEs this type of services proves to be a godsend and enables them to get their enterprise online with the minimum of fuss and at a reasonable price. But does the phrase "all your eggs in one basket" ring a bell?

From the point of view of the SME, its online presence has a SPOF - a single point of failure - the web designer. What if he drops dead tomorrow? How long would it take to get control of your domain if it's in his name? What happens to your web site in the mean time. Will the website still be hosted if he is not there to maintain the server or pay the contract with his hosting supplier? The problems are easily imagineable.

The solution? Well both SME owners and managers have to seize back control of their websites. The complexity of this will vary from SME to SME and the circumstances surrounding their exisiting web set-up.

  • Contact the designer and have a friendly chat, determine the answer to the questions raised above e.g. in whose name the domain is registered; ask about backup and emergency plans in the case of his illness or holiday.
  • Get the web site username and passwords, and ensure the info can be found in an emergency.
  • Transfer your domain into the business owner's name - we at Intrahost are happy to help our customer's do this - which means if all else fails you can point the domain's DNS (Domain Name Servers) to a new hosting company and get your website back online in an emergency.
  • Get a backup of your website saved regularly so you can upload it to a new host (see above) if necessary.

The best way to enable an SME to make minor alterations to a website, where they lack the in-house coding skills, is to either have the website moved to a CMS (content management system), like Joomla! or to attach a blog to the site (using WordPress) - both of which allow the relatively unskilled to make regular changes to the content of a web site - and the changes be free of charge and timely.