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MEMBER BLOG: Website Tips

  January 8, 2019

Mark Hannon, Owner

Mark Hannon Web & Graphic Design

5 Tips to Avoid Losing Control of your Business Website

As a web and graphic designer working with many small businesses and non-profits, I encounter many issues which come up repeatedly.

One of the most common is the “missing-in-action” web guy.

15 years ago, the web guy was hired after being recommended by a customer (he was their nephew). The web guy set up all the accounts and built the website on servers running in his spare bedroom. The bill comes to $7,000.00 plus a $275 per month retainer.

At first the web guy was great. He was responsive, helpful and on top of all every edit and update. Jump to the present; no one has heard from the web guy in 6 months…or longer. The website is neglected and seriously out-of-date. The new web guy you brought in can’t fix the site because the old web guy has all the log-ins, and no one can reach him.

Non-profits also fall victim to the missing-in-action web guy, but in their case, it may be a volunteer. Many non-profits depend heavily on a dedicated small core of volunteers to drive their mission.

Non-profits whose members shun technology issues often rely on one volunteer with enough knowledge to be dangerous. This person handles all the website updates – including posting fundraising events announcements and donor appeals. They may also be out the e-blasts and probably has 5 other jobs. When that volunteer burns out…and they will...the organization will be left without anyone to keep their online message current.

These problems can be fixed – at a cost. But how do you, a small business owner or a non-profit avoid getting into this mess in the first place? Here are 5 tips on keeping control of your web presence.

  1. Don’t give away the keys to your web assets

Who has control of your domain (domain = “your-company-name.com”)?

Regardless of who registered your domain, whether it was an employee or outside vendor, you should have a copy of the domain log-in credentials, including the registrar’s website, the user name and password. You should be able to retrieve this information quickly in an emergency to allow a new web developer to hit the ground running and avoid interruptions.

Imagine the worst scenario and prepare for it. One of my non-profit clients was locked out of their website after their previous web guy died unexpectedly. As sad as this was, it was made worse because no one could locate his master list of account logins. This did get sorted out, but it took a while.

  1. If possible, assign more than one webmaster to your website

Business owners no longer need a specialist versed in complex code. Most modern websites are “Content Management Systems” (CMS). which adopt a WYSWYG (What You See is What You Get) interface.

With minimal training, you can learn to update and manage your website. Most CMS websites allow you to assign more than one webmaster their own login. In cases where an employee or consultant leaves or a relationship sours, their user account can be deleted, preventing any unauthorized re-entry.

Common CMS platforms are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

  1. You can’t just set it and forget it

If your business website is 5 years old or greater, chances are you need to review whether it meets current web standards. Two of these standards are:

  • Responsive (or mobile-friendly) design
  • SSL encryption

In 2013, Google changed its search algorithm to favor mobile-friendly websites in search results. What does this mean for you? If your closest competitor is equally out-of-date, you don’t have to worry. Both of you will likely end up on page 5, or worse, in the search results. When your competitor replaces their aging website with a more compliant one, they will likely perform better in searches than you. If customers find them first, chances are they won't keep looking for you.

SSL certificates have traditionally been for e-commerce websites. When purchases are made from a website, the SSL certificate encrypts the customers’ personal and payment information. Any third party attempting to intercept that transaction data will see nothing but gibberish. SSL certificates keep your customers safe.

Google decided that the web would be a lot safer if everyone has an SSL certificate. To add incentive, websites without SSL certificate are now displaying “Not secure” in the address bar in Google Chrome. Other browsers are sure to follow. Customers who see “Not secure” in the web address field, are less likely to trust that site to make purchases or even submit personal information.

  1. Don’t get trapped

Avoid free web providers like SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly.

When vendors and service providers stop meeting your expectations, they need to be replaced. Web services are no different. SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly are “free” sites that use a proprietary web-builder application to write proprietary code to create web content on proprietary servers. If at some point you find your business has outgrown these platforms, or you are otherwise unhappy with them, you’re stuck. You can’t move your website to a different web host. SquareSpace claims that their code will not work properly on any server other than their own. So, if you have to change hosting providers, you will have to rebuild your website from scratch.

Any service provider who tries to prevent you from leaving by holding your content hostage is not a vendor you should be working with.

Additionally, if your online marketing plan is reliant on a free web platform, your marketing plan and your budget for online marketing aren’t realistic. You ALWAYS get what you pay for.

You are better off working with a content management system, as described in tip #2, on a shared or dedicated server.

  1. Don’t go overboard with do-it-yourself

Your customers need your attention. Make sure the attention you give them is undivided.

You need to be involved in your online marketing, but that doesn’t mean you have to physically do every task yourself. All those web design, product photography, copywriting, etc., tasks steal time from what’s important; running your business.

There are plenty of vendors around who specialize in all those tasks and because they do these tasks so often, they can produce more professional work more efficiently than you can.

This doesn’t just apply to web design. If you have a product line, hire a professional photographer to take shots of your products for your online catalog. Professionally shot photos will be far superior to anything you try to capture with your smart phone. Need content for your website or blog? Hire a copywriter with a background in sales. Writing copy that persuades and converts is a skill.

  1. Conclusion

Your online presence is an important asset to protect. It may be the only way customers find you or become aware of your business. Don’t outsource your control of your web assets to people who may vanish or let you down.

If you don’t have all your web logins on file, now is the time to fix that.

Focus on your business – hire pros for the rest.

Mark Hannon is the owner of Mark Hannon Web & Graphic Design located in Stratford, CT. He is a proud BRBC and Stratford Chamber Member and he currently serves as the Chiarman of the BRBC's Business Referral Network.

For more information, email Mark Hannon via this link to BRBC Business Directory.   

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