As a website owner, the first thing I would recommend is that you start thinking about your website as if it was your car, your home or your business premises, I’m sure you go to great lengths to ensure that everything is in your name, that you are the legal owner of those properties and only you or someone you trust have the keys to it.
There seems to be plenty of freelancers and companies around that are otherwise doing reasonable work in terms of design and development, using hostage customer retention tactics, which are a sure lose lose way to start a business relationship.
If you are a web agency or freelance using that kind of approach to your clients, think about it for a minute, the first time your trust is put into question for not being upfront with something like who owns the domain name for that website, you begun a journey into a downhill slope from which there’s no getting back up.
I would highly recommend the opposite, not only I make sure that my clients have control of every aspect of their sites, domain ownership, hosting access and content management as I make every single document created for the production, maintenance and marketing of that site available at all times in a Google Docs folder. If a client is set to leave you, it’s not a couple of cheap tricks that will change their mind.
So whether you’re a site owner, designer or developer ask these questions.
- Domain Ownership
This is something I come across often when doing quotes for SEO, a small web design company or freelance designed the site and offered the domain as part of the deal, the only problem is that the web design company registered the domain name in their own name rather than the client’s. So in effect they own the site despite the client having paid for it.
You can check any domain registered name here http://whois.domaintools.com this is public information and if you are kin, in the UK you can control and update any .uk domains you own at http://www.nominet.org.uk.
- Access To The Site
A large proportion of small businesses websites I audit have left their owners with little or no access to the root of the site, these range from the one man show type of site to small organisations that outsourced the site to web design companies.
In the past couple of years I have had many SEO enquiries and quote requests that got stopped in the early stages of an audit simply due to the fact that the site owner does not have access to the root of the site and without that is not easy to do good SEO, unless of course you think that good SEO is about links and keyword density or rich anchor text links pointing at your pages.
- Hosting Company
A temptation to go with large companies such as Godaddy and other similar ones can seem natural as they offer some assurance due to popularity, but investing time in finding a good small hosting company can pay, it can in fact be the difference between a site’s success and failure, some common problems with large companies such as the one above is that support is often poor and for shared hosting the page loading times are mind numbingly slow, this often happens due to US based servers for UK sites.
Even a one click task such as installing WordPress that should in effect take no more than a few minutes, can go on a queue and be delayed four or six hours, that has been my experience with Godaddy, so for me they’re more like a NoGo.
- Server Location
In short the closer your server (where the site actually lives) is to where your users are the faster the pages will be served, which in turn increases the chance of your content being viewed and your visitors making contact or buying your stuff or whatever the goal of your site is. Server location is also a factor in SEO as of course Google would prefer to recommend a fast page than a slow one all things being equal.
- Who Manages The Site
Small business owners tend to look at a website more like a brochure, you design and build then launch and voila, time to seat back resting on your loros. Not so I’m afraid, in order to maximise returns careful management, planning and execution are a must, big companies have these processes down to clock work precision and seasonal campaigns to match customer demands and expectations, or better still to dictate them.
- Does The Site Run On A CMS
Unless you want a brochure static site that will change very little you want to be able to manage your content easily and ideally without technical knowledge. In order to do that you will need a CMS (content management system), some of the most popular and open source (free to use), are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, there’s also Magento and a few others specifically for Ecommerce.
Web agencies may also have proprietary CMSs and they will attempt to
give it way free as port of the deal, sale it to you on features such as security and so on, but in reality that is most likely just part of their own customer retention strategy as referenced above.
Using one such proprietary system is putting the work of a small team (one to ten programmers work over a five to ten year period) against; for example WordPress’s world wide community of developers and contributors. The math(s) is pretty simple. You’re more than likely paying good money for something inferior than what you could have for free.
- Who Are Your Visitors/Clients
Defining your target audience from the beginning, possibly well before starting any design or development, should inform what your site looks like, what functions should have and so on, but in my experience that’s just not how a large number of sites are built, the most common approach still, “we make it up as we go along”.
Ideally you would have a business plan with in-depth market research, failing that some artifacts that could help you with establishing your ideal target visitors are in no particular order, customer journey design, user personas and use cases. You can just Google those.
- Your Website Is Not Your Business – Have A Strategy
Starting a business following a process such as, have an idea, build a site, hurray you are in business, is an almost 100% sure way to fail, a website may be an important part of most businesses today, but having a website and a business are two very different things.
So short of having a business plan with spreadsheets, financial targets and KPIs, a simple one or two A4 page document with your vision, goals, target audience and how you’re going to attract those to your site, keep them there until they get in touch or buy your products would do wonders for your site.
- How Are You Going To Be Found
That brings us nicely to the point of; where from are your site visitors going to come? If you’re not clear on what types of web traffic there are, you can go and find out What Website Traffic Types Can You Get from one of my earlier posts.
Again the sooner you consider not just who your ideal site visitors are but also where they’re going to come from, the better are your chances of achieving your goals for the least amount of effort, in other words more visitors and conversions with the least amount of investment.
- Google Must Be A Partner Get Over It – SEO, PPC, Google+ And Beyond
In way of conclusion if you understand the state of the web in 2013, you know it is virtually impossible to succeed online without Google, (whatever your personal feelings about the big Elephant in the room, businesses aren’t run on feelings they’re run on hard cash, must frame that and put it on my wall).
Now that we cleared that up, you maybe asking What Is Best SEO or PPC? My answer is both and as many others as you can afford to invest time and money on.
For the one person show type of business if you want to stay ahead of the game and know anything about Elephants, I couldn’t recommend Google+ (Google+ is Google itself) any more strongly, that you implement what they call Authorship and in conjunction with a variety of other services begin to manage your and your small business identity as a means to distinguish yourself from your competitors.
Have thoughts, insights or even >strong< feelings >/strong< to add, be my guest add them below.