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Website Business Risk Management

Aug 18, 2007
Is placing all the eggs in one basket, in the form of 1-stop shop website design, maintenance & hosting the best option? In my opinion, it most definitely is not! Keeping all website elements separate is sound business risk management practice!

When you are setting out to establish a new venture on the web, its a daunting task. The terminology is complex and confusing. There are multiple aspects to consider - domain registration, website hosting, web site design, maintenance, search engine optimisation etc. There is a temptation to take the easy option of a one-stop shop, where someone else takes care of all the complicated items that you don't understand. That way, you get one all-inclusive bill per month. There is an old adage - Jack of all Trades, Master of None! A bigger web design company that does everything rarely does individual things as well as a carefully selected group of specialists in their own fields of expertise.

The relationship between you and your website design company will evolve over time. As you become more knowledgeable (and more demanding) the relationship might even deteriorate! It happens... If you are in a 1-Stop Shop environment, you may be unwittingly placing your web business in potential jeopardy.

Domain Registration

Do it yourself, and you ensure that you actually own the site. If you let your web designer do it for you, and he/she puts his/her name as the registrant, its not your site! Most website designers are aware of this, and take care to protect your interests. Some do not! For a company site, make sure the domain is registered in the company name, not an individuals name. If the office girl registers the site in her name, then leaves without a forwarding address, you've got a potential disaster in the making!

Website Hosting

Some web designers offer hosting as part of the package. Its usually 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 to shop around and find a hosting package that delivers the functionality you require in terms of site management and software. For example, a classic Apache server with cpanel management, and PHP and MySQL databases will meet most needs. Performance can be an issue - and its not in your best interests to be hosted on a server with 600 other sites.
If you've chosen a .com domain, make sure you have hosting in the country that your clients are located in... otherwise, you'll be excluded from country-specific searches!

Web Designers

Its best to develop a design brief - specify your goals and objectives, and give some examples of sites that appeal to you. Circulate the brief to a few designers you've selected after reviewing multiple web design sites. Build a chart that compares what each designer offers, 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 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 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 by the CEO... in the form of a legal and binding contract.

Make sure your potential designer is listening to you, and is trying to deliver what you require, rather than what is best for them.

Website Architecture

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 will always deliver the best results. If your potential designer is insistent on building the site in Frames, JavaScript, or Flash, or combination thereof, 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 JavaScript or Flash is fine but the search engines can neither read or index anything in either, so it is best to ensure at the outset that your site is not doomed to obscurity!

Website Management

Free-form editing of individual HTML pages is the best option from a search engine optimisation perspective. Its 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, its 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 own the site content, and 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.

Content Management Systems - 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 in to 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!

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 optimisation point of view.

In my opinion, a CMS system is 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, dating, 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.

Website Backups

This can be a simple as a monthly download to your PC of the site plus databases. Do not totally rely on your hosting company for site backups! Do not totally rely on your website designer for backups! 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, 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 your Mum's place should do it!

Business Resilience

Rule No.1: Do not put all your eggs in one basket! Basically, you need to ensure that you minimise your dependence on any one service supplier. If your web designer goes belly-up, 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.

- use the national domain registrar - more expensive, but they might still be in business next year!
- use open-source software, if you must use a Content Management System!
- use an independent web designer - if your relationship deteriorates, you can easily switch to another!
- use a independent hosting supplier - if it does not work out, you can change hosting companies!
- use an independent SEO supplier - if it does not work out, pick another!
- use a regular site backup regime - multiple copies in multiple locations!

Doing so substantially insulates you from other's failings, and ensures you can quickly respond to a change of circumstances. Even in cyberspace, an ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure!
About the Author
Ben Kemp is a free-lance search engine optimisation consultant and web designer. He offers free SEO articles & web design tips, see The SEO Guys Blog

Web: http://www.comauth.co.nz
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