I could hear the frustration in her voice as we talked. The head of a
non-profit, she was upset about her Website. It hadn't been updated in
a year, and she desperately needed to get control of it. She had
fundraising product to sell, supporters to keep updated, and
prospective member information to distribute.
Unfortunately, time and again, all of my questions were answered with, "I don't know." After twenty minutes, it became clear that she didn't know who owned her domain name, where it was registered, who was providing her hosting service, what platform her existing Website was using, or even how she was processing payments.
In short, we were going to have to spend days, maybe weeks, of frustrating effort to track all that information down, and then even more time trying to get control of it all. This would lengthen her project timeline, increase her internal costs, and frustrate everyone.
I don't think it would have concerned me that much, if it hadn't been at least the fifth time I'd dealt with just this same situation in less than three months. At this point, I'd have to say this is a trend, and one that needs to be stopped. A little education is in order, and this article is my attempt to help you as a business owner, ministry head, or non-profit administrator stay out of this situation.
The Two Components of Your Website
The first thing you need to know is that your Domain Name Registration is different from your Webhosting.
Domain Name Registration means the URL that people surfing the Net use to find you. For example: www.myocn.net
Webhosting is the service of providing you space on a server to house the files that constitute your actual Website.
Webhosting companies often want to register your domain name for you. In fact, they often offer free domain name registration.
Why? Because it locks you in as a customer.
If you register your domain name on your own through a service like Network Solutions or GoDaddy, then you control where that Domain Name is pointing. If you control your Domain Name, you can easily fire your existing Webhosting company. You simply log into your account with your Domain Name Registrar, change two settings, and then save the results. Within 24 to 72 hours, your Domain Name will be pointing to a new server with a new Webhost.
By registering your domain name for you, a Webhosting company or even a Website design firm, takes that option away from you. You can't just fire them and redirect your name elsewhere.
To get a new Webhosting agreement, you first have to transfer your domain name from the registrar used by the Webhosting company/design firm to a third party registrar like Network Solutions or GoDaddy. That adds complexity to the project, and adds an extra step that you just don't need.
Bottom line: It is usually better to register your Domain Name yourself, and own that account. If your Webdesigner/Webmaster does it for you, then insist on having the account in your name and under your control. You should own and control your own Domain Name, not anyone else. That way, if you need to fire your hosting company or your Webdesigner, it won't be a big deal.
Also, make sure that multiple resources inside your ministry or organization know how to access your account with your Domain Name Registrar. People move on. Don't be stuck trying to figure out where your Domain Name is located and how to get to it.
Things to Remember When Launching a Web Project
Now that these two concepts have been explained, let's go over some things to be concerned about when launching a new Web project.
- Register your own Domain Name with a Third Party Registrar. This protects you and keeps your options open later.
- Use third party Webhosting. Do not host with your Webdesigner/Webmaster, unless there is a compelling reason. You may need to get a new Webmaster at some point in the future. If your files are hosted on his or her server, then this gets complicated. You can't just take over control of your site. Firing the Webmaster will force you to move your site to a new host. It's okay to pay a company to design and maintain your site, but don't give them ownership of your files as well. There is nothing worse than trying to move your files to a new host while coping with an angry Webmaster who just got the boot.
- Make sure your Webhosting service can actually meet your needs. Content Management Systems and many other Web platforms require PHP and mySQL databases. Many, maybe even most, Webhosting companies can provide these. However, many bigname hosting companies can't. Find out what you need, before you sign a contract. And don't necessarily take a company's marketing literature for granted. Last year we allowed a customer to book Webhosting with a non-preferred vendor based on their marketing literature's claim that they provided SQL databases. Turns out, they didn't. The marketing literature was written with capabilities included that wouldn't be available for over a year. It cost the customer time and money to break the deal. If you don't know the hosting company, then research it thoroughly before you sign up.
- Deal with updates up front. Sites can't stay the same. Things change. Employees come and go. Events are scheduled. Articles needs to be written. Pages need to be added. Pictures need to be posted. Who is going to do the work? Time and again, non-profits get a Webmaster to do a job for free or a greatly reduced cost, who then says, "Don't worry about updates. I'll take care of them." Unfortunately, new projects come up, the Webmaster gets busy and a free gig falls to the bottom of his to-do list. Too much of that, and non-profits quickly find themselves with Websites that haven't been updated in years. Consider going with a Content Management System or some other platform that you can keep updated within your own organization. Or, consider paying a monthly maintenance fee to a Webmaster in exchange for a specified number of hours for updates. That way you know how much work you can expect and the Webmaster has a vested interest in keeping you happy.
These are just some things to keep in mind which frequently cause problems. There are other things to worry about as well, but if you avoid these major pitfalls, then your project is off to a much better start!