Who *Really* Owns Your Website?

You’re way too busy running your business and in a rush to get your website up. Since you’re not very tech savvy and you’re preoccupied with your own work, you trust your developer to get your domain registered and get your site set up on a good host. It’s a very normal to leave it to your web tech to handle these tasks. I’ve done it myself for many of my clients. Perhaps I even did it for you.

In the early days of the web (I remember them well), it might have made sense. The internet was as ethereal as space exploration and only a few people knew how to navigate. I remember creating websites for business owners who had never used email. I even helped a couple people learn how to use a mouse.

These days, we’re much more comfortable with computers and most have at least a fair idea of how the internet works. Still, many still don’t understand the basics of website ownership. If you’re one of them, I’m about to enlighten you. Why is it important that you learn a bit of geek? Because you may be in a highly vulnerable position and not actually own your website.

The “Title & Deed” to Your Website

  • Your domain. No one really owns domains. We just register them from an accredited registrar like GoDaddy or eNom. Your domain gets associated with an IP address on a web server so when someone types in your domain name, server computers will know to send that person to your website on that server. Whoever registers the domain essentially owns it. If you hire me or anyone else to register your domain, the registration technically belongs to us.
  • Your web host. Whoever sets up the account on the web host is the one with the power.  They’ll have the “credentials” or login info and most likely, the account will be billed to their credit card. Web hosting companies work hard to maintain tight security for their web clients. They will absolutely refuse to talk with you if you can’t provide authorization of credit card info, password and/or PIN access.

As personnel changes occur in companies and organizations, the domain and host login info (credentials) may get lost. I’ve seen it happen a lot. Of course, if we built your website we’ll have the original info in our records. I recommend that clients keep a hard copy of all their web credentials in a secure but easy-to-locate file.

But what happens if your developer never gave you the login credentials? What if you never knew to ask for them? In a perfect world, that might be okay. Last I checked…it’s not a perfect world. Stuff happens.

Your developer might move and never tell you nor provide updated contact info, or get hit by a bus, or have sudden health issues, or get arrested, or hit sudden fame and fortune, or forget to pay the electric bill, or get angry at you for any number of reasons. You get the idea. When only one person has such vital information, you’ve created a single point of failure that could have devastating results. I’ve had new clients (yes, plural) who came to me, begging for help because they didn’t have their website credentials and their website was held “hostage”. They didn’t understand the power of owning those credentials.

Eliminate Unnecessary Risk

How can you prevent losing control of your website from happening to you?

  1. Register your own domain and purchase your own web hosting service. If you’re unsure where or how, your developer can advise you and even give you the links to click through. You’ll have the confidence of knowing you have the rights to your own website. You will need to share the login info with your developer, of course, but you can rest assured that should you no longer choose to work with that developer (even in best scenarios), you’ll have access to your domain and web host.
  2. If you have a trusted relationship, allow your web tech to setup your domain and hosting service but insist on having all login credentials in your records, too. That way, if you choose to part ways or something tragic happened, you have the necessary information to talk with customer support or hire someone else.

What if your developer can’t share the domain registration login info because of other clients in the management account? You can request the domain be transferred to you or at least insist the domain registration include your name and contact info as the registrant.

It’s not really a matter of trust (or lack of) to insist you have access to your domain and website. It’s good business stewardship. Share the credentials when you need to but don’t keep yourself purposefully in the dark.

The vulnerability is huge and the fix is simple. Keep a record of your login credentials. 

 

Proper Care & Feeding of Your WordPress Website

Your website is like your pet—it needs continued care and maintenance. Website content updates (the new posts, text, photos, events, etc, that you do regularly) will help keep site visitors and search engines happy. Yet content updates aren’t the same as technical care and updates. Technical updates are essential for a healthy, fully functioning website. Your website is built on thousands (and thousands and thousands) of lines of code. Even with regular maintenance and updates, you may still experience glitches.

Even if you’re a technophobe, I beg you not to glaze over the following information. If you own a website, you need to be a responsible website owner.

 

Your WordPress Website Basics

There are four main layers that make up your WordPress website: the web server, the WordPress platform, the theme and optional plugins. Here’s a brief description of each of these layers and how they work together:

  • Web servers. These are the computers that host your website files. Your hosting company has the vault of web servers that keep your website files safe, in a temperature controlled, secure environment. The web servers are machines that require servicing, repairs and upgrades for the sake of function and security. These changes typically run in the background but on occasion can affect your website by conflicting with scripts on your site or forcing you to make site updates.
  • WordPress. WordPress is a pre-made platform that started years ago as a blogging platform and has evolved into a wonderful Content Management System (CMS). It has a Dashboard that allows non-techs to locate pages and posts on their site and make changes to the content. WordPress belongs to an open source community and allows you to freely use it’s products. WordPress also releases updates. These may be new features, bug fixes, or security related. These changes may create conflicts in the theme or plugins you are using.
  • Theme. The theme is what gives your website design and functions that aren’t a part of the rather sparse, default WordPress platform. Themes help determine the color and layout of your site and often provide extra features that help your website shine. Themes also require updates for new features, bug fixes and security. These changes may create conflicts with plugins. Not all themes have ongoing author support which means your theme may have conflicts with other system updates (web servers, WordPress, etc.) It’s nearly impossible to know which themes will have ongoing support however over time, nearly all themes will be discontinued as new themes emerge that are designed for more up-to-date user expectations.
  • Plugins. Plugins allow you to really amp up the capabilities of your website. Each plugin also has updates for features, bug fixes and security. Plugins are wonderful but they are also one of the easiest entry points for hacks and most common cause for bug issues or script conflicts. Free plugins should be used with care, because they often don’t have ongoing support. In general, don’t keep any plugins in your Dashboard that you aren’t actively using. Some common uses for plugins include:
    • Enhanced SEO capabilities
    • Site caching for faster page loads
    • Form editors that allow non-tech people to create and edit forms
    • Membership forums
    • Directories
    • Site analytics
    • Backups
    • Security
    • Special slider or portfolio effects
    • Shopping carts
    • Polls / Surveys
    • Social media feeds, etc.

If you don’t keep up with the tech updates, your site may become vulnerable to hacks or conflicts with any of the advancing tech layers that support them. Certain features may quit working, including the ability to edit your site at all!

 

But first, backup!

Before you do any updates, it’s strongly advised that you create a backup of your site in the event that the updates create a conflict with other scripts on your site and “break” the site, thus requiring a developer’s repair. You should be running backups of your site regularly anyway, because “stuff” happens (server failures, hacks, etc.)

There are plugins that you can use for backups. Most web hosts also offer backup services, too. Some are free, some aren’t. While it’s easier to backup your website to the same server that hosts your website, you need to be aware that if the server fails, you’ve lost your backup copy as well. It’s best to save your backup to your own computer. If that’s not a possibility, then save it to a location on your web host that’s different from the place you keep your regular website files.

Most backup services allow you to schedule backups. This is very helpful but be sure to check every now and then to be sure backups are indeed happening.

When Your Site Breaks

If an update causes a script conflict, you then have a choice to:

  • revert back to the previous version of whatever was updated (if you have been saving your backups)
  • have the developer find the conflict and write a custom repair
  • work with the author of the theme/plugin to issue a repair (if they’re still offering support for what you’re using)
  • find another theme or plugin and convert your content over to it

Your choice will depend on the severity of the issue, of course. While WordPress, themes, and plugins make amazing websites tangible (both financially and feature-wise) for the average person, each layer comes with its own vulnerabilities. On the tech side, responsible website ownership requires three things: website maintenance, backups and security. In order to avoid as many problems as possible, you need an experienced web technologist that’s up to date with WordPress and (best case scenario) your website.

Speaking of Security

When it comes to security, you have a few options. You may wish to use a plugin to amp up security within WordPress. Your web host may also offer extra security (for an additional cost, naturally). Many web hosts are setting up servers especially designed for WordPress websites which includes security to address issues common to WordPress. Keep in mind, there is no such thing as an un-hackable website.  Big budgets can use mirrored hosts and a plethora of security layers. As a small business, you may simply need to make your choices based on the level of budget and effort you want to contribute.

Web Vets: For the Health of Your Website

Be sure to keep a good relationship with your web technologist. Quite often, staff changes overlook passing on website information. I can’t count how many clients we’ve helped over the years by keeping records of their website credentials and other key details related to their websites. If you change any web-related passwords, let your technologist know as well. Familiarity with your website and current credentials will save time and stress if an “event” happens.

The New Popular Kids: Retailers with a Plan

There is good news for retail store owners. A 2014 survey by Accenture shows that 21% of U.S. shoppers plan to increase their in-store purchasing! This has more than doubled from the previous year. After years of being declined as the outcasts, retailers can finally re-take their vital place in the community. That is, if they are prepared.

As traditional and new media continue rapidly evolving, the retail environment becomes more and more important. As a retail owner, you need to laser in on the solution to, “How do we convert passive shoppers into active buyers?” Before the shopper steps through your doorway, you’ll want a Shopper Marketing strategy as a first step.

Presentation is the next step.  Does your retail environment provide an atmosphere the shopper can relate or aspire to? What about the presentation of the products on the shelves or kiosks? Does the presentation support your brand as an independent shop? Does it appeal to the shopper, drawing him in to understand how that product can make his life better?

As the shopper stares at your products, does her experience in your store surround her with the support she needs to say “Yes! I want that!” Be aware, that today’s shopper is also likely to use a smartphone in-store when considering a purchase.  When doing so, only 19% of shoppers actually complete the purchase in-store. What are you doing to meet that behavior? Are you leveraging it to develop loyal customers?

Your sales and floor staff are also key. We’ve all had the experience of shopping in a store where the sales staff made us feel like we were interrupting their day. They couldn’t have cared less if we made a purchase or not. The flip side of this, equally as off putting, is an over-eager staff. No one wants to feel pushed or bugged.

Staff needs to understand your brand and how it translates into the way they engage the shopper. This knowledge combined with adequate self-awareness empowers your staff to genuinely assist the shopper and will lead to more purchases and greater customer satisfaction.

If you need help with your Shopper Marketing Strategy, Customer Experience or Brand / Culture Development, Big Vision Media Group can help. We are qualified and committed to independent businesses and the communities that support them.