The internet really is the weird world of the geek. From DNS to WYSIWYG there is a unique language that only geeks seem to understand. Unfortunately for the small business owner, they have to exist in that space... and it is not a normal environment for regular humans. We pride ourselves at Your-Web-Guys in being a bridge between the weird world of the geek and the otherwise normal world of the average human. So in that pursuit, I give you the 5 most important questions you should ask your web designer, but probably did not.
Question 1: Do I own my website?
Seems like a pretty straight forward question, doesn't it? I mean, it is your website, right? RIGHT?!? Unfortunately it is not always a straightforward answer. Many design firms will retain copyrights to your website or the intellectual property that it consists of. Some will own your domain and you don't even know it. For the small business owner, a website just works... the details are for the geeks to deal with. That's fine... for a while. But when you need to move or try to sell your company or any of the myriad things that need to happen during the lifetime of a small business it can bite you in the rear end. Take a few moments to ask your web people if you own the website that they made for you. It might surprise you to find out.
Question 2: Who owns my domain?
Something that many small business owners don't understand is that their website (the files, data, and email) and their domain (the .com or .net etc) are different. Not only are they different, but they have different parts that can be provided by different vendors. For instance, the website and the email can be on different servers so your website is hosted by XYZ Hosting Ltd and your email is through ABC Exchange Servers Inc. There are lots of other parts that can be done through different companies, but the most important is the registrar. The registrar is who has to be paid to continue to use the domain. Godaddy and Network Solutions are a couple of the larger registrars currently, but there are literally thousands of others. If you cannot login to a control panel and pay for additional time to own your domain, don't worry, you still might own it. The actual owner of a domain is in what is called the whois data. You can search for your whois data many places but this is the website we use. Just click that link and enter your domain name to find out what is in your whois data. One of the whois listings is the Registry Admin info. If that has your email address in it then you own it, no matter what the registrar info says. With that being said, it might take some effort to get access to it, but it is yours and yours alone... at least until whoever is paying for it currently stops doing so.
Question 3: Where is my website hosted?
Keep in mind, I am not a geek - even though I play one on TV. But it still surprises me how many small business owners don't know that their website exists on an actual, tangible machine connected to the internet, much less where that machine is physically located. Most of the time it is not important information, but it is a good idea to know something about the hosting company that manages the server your website is on. Things to know include where it is, who is running it, what other websites are hosted on it (do they host online gambling sites or other things you might not want your company associated with), what are their terms of service, and a whole lot of other information that is important to at least be familiar with. You don't want to be caught wondering why your website is down if there is a massive earthquake or other disaster near your data center.
Question 4: How long is the contract?
You would think this is a no-brainer, but most of our new clients do not ask about the term of the contract or how long they are committed to being with us. Keep in mind that the internet is the wild wild west. There are no standards or industry leaders. In fact there isn't much case law for lawyers to fall back on if things get hairy. Because of this, it is very VERY important for the buyer to beware. I have seen 10 year terms on maintenance fees. I have seen contracts that lock the client into paying but does not limit the amount they have to pay. In other words the company can raise their rates at any time and you would still have to pay it. I have seen contracts that have such convoluted cancellation procedures that there is no way you could cancel without planning a year in advance if ever at all. These techniques are in place because the small business owner does not understand the internet much less the company that is providing their website to them and too many companies take advantage of that fact. In this day and age when your website is absolutely mandatory, take a few minutes to read the contract. It will always be a good idea to do so before you sign... especially in the wild west world of the geek.
Question 5: Are there any surprise fees?
I recently had a prospective client tell me that he got lured into doing business with a company because their initial setup fee was so low. A couple of years later when he needed his logo updated and a few other modifications done he got an invoice for almost twice what the initial fee was for creating the website in the first place. No warning, just the invoice came in a few weeks after the work was done. He was stuck. The work had been done so he couldn't tell them not to do it, but if he had known there would be a fee at all, much less a huge one, he would have gotten someone else to do it. This is just one example. From overage fees (yup, just like your cell phone provider) to upgrades to normal maintenance, if they can charge for it, some companies will and many times will over charge for it too.
If you don't know some or any of this information about your website, ask your provider to explain. If you can't get a straight answer out of them, give us a call. We can figure it out for you and we wont even send you an invoice for doing so.