How to wrestle back control of your website

Recently I was asked to help re-develop a website.  No big deal there – The website looked very old and wasn’t easy to navigate, and the client was sure there was something better out there.  But when I looked further into it, I was truly staggered by the situation and how the web designer was fleecing this customer.  This was a small business with no technical support, and this particular web developer was taking full advantage of this customer’s lack of knowledge.

What came out of this actually helped me to formalise a number of things that I needed to do, to ensure that none of my customers ended up in the situation of this small business.  So here are my rules, if you want to save yourself pain and anguish in the future.

Rule Number 1 – Register your own domain names.

At the nub of many issues is the domain name.  Your domain name is reservoirdigital.co.uk or yourcompany.co.uk or yourcompany.com.  Practically, this means going to a Domain Name Registrar and setting up an account and registering your own domain names.  Any hosting company will do this, but if you want total freedom, register your domain names with ‘Nominet’, as this is the official registry of all UK names.

Just to be clear here, a domain name is not a website.  Once you have registered a domain name, you can then point the domain name to a set of pages you have created – this becomes a website.  But more importantly, in the future, you can point that domain name somewhere else, and thus you remain in control.

Web designers will often tell you to let them manage all this for you – don’t let them.  It’s easy and you can do it all yourself.

Rule Number 2 – Hosting etc

Make sure you know where your website is hosted (this could be with GoDaddy, or 1and1, or any number of web hosting companies).  Ensure you have administrative access to all of this, especially what is often referred to as the C-panel – where you can control much of what happens to your website.  Also ensure that you know all of the licenses, plugins and paid for add-ons on your website and take them over from the Web Design company.  This includes the ‘Theme’ that the web designer is using.

If some of these terms are unfamiliar then we’ll be right along with a short primer on all this.

Rule Number 3 – Content Management Systems

Do not under any circumstances fall for the web designer’s own, proprietary, Content Management System.  The Web Designer will tell you that their CMS is the best on the planet and you have to use it.  If you fall for this, then in all likelihood you will be paying through the nose for it, like my customer was – to the tune of £3-4000 per year.  My advice is use WordPress.  It’s easy to use, compared to anything else out there, plus, if you get brave you can do it yourself.  But even if you can’t there are hundreds of people out there who can.  WordPress is free, as are a great many fantastic themes, page builders and plugins.

We were able to save our customer around £4-5000 per year on the hosting, domains names and CMS.  For a small business this was a huge amount of money.

Rule Number 4 –  Analytics

Similar to the domain name and hosting, do this yourself.  Make sure you set up the Google Analytics under your own name and not the web designers, otherwise you will forever be locked out and dependant on the web designer for your website analytics.

Rule Number 5 – Back Up

Do your own backups.  Don’t trust the web designer, or the web hosting company to do it for you.   It’s so simple to do in something like WordPress – three clicks – Tools – Export – Download. Done.

Rule Number 6 – Contracts

Make sure you have a contract and read it very carefully.  It should cover the conditions of service and what you get for your money.  Watch out for some of the things we’ve talked about here, but also watch out for the costs of upgrades, add-ons, modifications and the like.  These can be very expensive – it’s how web agencies make their money after all, in order to pay for the Account Executives, Designers, Developers, company cars, flash offices etc.

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