Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Business Website

photo by Erica Marshall/Muddyboots.org

The following post was written by a very smart woman (not me) and although it's long, I beg you to read it, bookmark it and pass it along. It will save you and your company lots of money and your sanity. With that, I give you Sadelle Wiltshire:

People usually end up in my office because of word of mouth, and because it's well known we're reliable. responsible web people who explain things in plain language. Often times folks come to us with a broken site... or they've lost access to their site and don't know what to do. I can't tell you how many times we've gotten a new client who came to us because their web developer/designer "disappeared" and left them with a either a broken or un-updated website.
Melissa brought up the topic of the web-developer-gone-missing on Twitter recently so I thought I'd write up some words of advice for business people, hard-learned from helping out clients who were abandoned by their former webmasters.

1. Who set up your Web and Domain accounts?: Make sure YOU are the admin contact on both your DOMAIN REGISTRATION and your WEB HOSTING ACCT. If the admin contact, registrant for your domain is your web developer... get it fixed NOW. Be insistent. Know WHO both your Domain Registrar and Web Hosting company are!

2. A Consistent Email address that you use and check: Make sure you know WHICH EMAIL ADDRESS your domain and your webhosting were registered with. If it's an old email address... CHANGE IT TO ONE YOU RELIABLY CHECK. (So many folks have lost their domain name because they never updated their account to their new email, or never checked their email, or didn't know WHO their registrar or host was and threw it out. If you miss your renewal, the domain name becomes fair game and often these days is snapped up by unscrupulous domain brokers, ready to sell it back to you for thousands of dollars.)

3. Passwords: This really ties into tips #1 and 2 Make sure you know, and have recorded somewhere safely: ALL USERNAMES and PASSWORDS associated with your website. This includes:

  • Domain Registrar account username and password
  • Web hosting account username and password
  • Web Control panel username and password if different from the first.
  • FTP webhost, username and password if different from above, and directory name where your web files are stored.
  • Any database names and passwords associated with your account.
  • All email account usernames and passwords associated with your account.
  • Blog (if your webmaster set this up for you) Admin Username and Password.
  • Shopping cart usernames and passwords, if more than one.
  • Online merchant gateway usernames and passwords. (See tip #2 and make sure your email address is up to date with your shopping cart and blog too!)
  • Google Local, Adwords, Analytics, etc accounts sign in email address and password.
  • Any other SEO service that the may have signed you up for.

4. Domain Names: Do you know ALL the domain names you've registered? When they expire? And if you registered them w/ different registrars or hosts.. where they are? And of course, refer to points 1. 2 & 3 for all of these!!

5. Custom Programming: You might have had custom programming or scripts done for your site. Ask your webmaster to detail the programming done to make your site function, and if they used an outside programmer, make sure you have their contact info as well. If the script breaks, and the webmaster isn't around, you can go directly to the programmer.

{Be aware that more programmers fly the coop than even webmasters. So check the reliability of the programmer your web designer works with. That's a good tip for web designers too!}

6. Do you know who your web developer IS?: This might seem silly, but when you contract to work with a web designer, GET THEIR FULL CONTACT INFO. Yes, that means you know where to find them: their address, their phone number, their IM or Twitter id. Ask if they're on LInkedIn and connect with them. Have multiple ways to find them if you need to!

7. Web Files: Ask who owns the files if you end your business relationship with your webmaster. Make sure you get a full copy of your website on cd. Some designers are picky about what they'll give you.

8. Copyright: Be in the know. If you don't provide your webmaster with photos for your site, find out what the source of the photos they use are, and make sure they prove to you that no copyright laws have been broken.

9. Safekeep your original photos and logo art: Make sure you have hi res versions of any logo or photo on the site that you might need to use for print purposes in the future. You never know when you'll need it.

10. Search Engines: Do not assume that your webmaster knows about optimizing your website for search engines. Most webmasters don't have the time to do full-on SEM (Search Engine Marketing) work, however they should at least be familiar with the basics of "Organic Search Engine Optimization". Depending on your site, and how much competition you have, you may have to dip in and get your hands/mind dirty a bit and read up on SEO stuff. Or find a firm/consultant to work with that you can afford. And if ANYONE promises you #1 rankings, run away quickly and do not hand over any money. Getting good search engine rankings will take a lot of hard work, and over time.
Get a book on the subject and do a little reading. Or read Jill Whalen's newsletters: http://www.highrankings.com
Just one more thing! My favorite site for reading about search engine doings is http://www.searchengineguide.com

Sadelle Anne Wiltshire, (@sadiavt on Twitter) currently of Bennington, VT, is a Web designer, developer, web manager, social media consultant (specializing in the arts), web and software instructor , tech teacher, fiber artist, spinner, knitter, and folk music lover who was dragged into the world of web authoring 15 years ago thanks to her textile art and jewelry. She landed a full-time web management and design job in 1998 with Spectrum Design when she told her soon to be boss how 'evil' frames were, and the rest was history.

She can be found via her arts website and blog, www.pumpkinspun.com/musings/ and at Spectrum Design http://www.spectrumwebworks.com


  1. From: Jonah Spivak

    I work with Sadelle and just wanted to elaborate on point #7 "who owns the files?" In order to ensure you OWN the files that are created for you by a designer, programmer, or web developer, ask that the work done for you be considered "Work for Hire" as specified under US copyright law. This gives you ownership of any/all electronic files created on your behalf. Be sure to get this IN WRITING (or via email) rather than just a verbal assurance. Most developers will honor work done for you as if it were specified as "work for hire" whether or not you have discussed it... but they don't HAVE to. Since this post is about worst case scenarios, it's good to be careful!

  2. Sadelle's lecture is right on. When I took over maintenance of our Friends of the Library web site it was out of date. Nobody could figure out how to access either the domain registration or the files on the web server. In fact nobody even knew who was hosting the web site.

    Finally, I got it straightened out, which involved going to somebody's house and having them sign a form and copying their driver's license. After everything was up to date and running smoothly, I forwarded all the relevant domain and hosting info to the Friends of the Library officers, but I fear they don't have a clue what to do with it. I just hope they can find it if I drop off the face of the earth.

  3. Diane, perhaps the time is now to check in with the Friends of the Library officers, and ask if they've made a physical file of what you sent them, to be kept in a safe place?

    Especially in large organizations, someone needs to be the 'keeper of the keys' and do it in a way that the next person in line can easily take over and know where the 'keys' are.


  4. I disagree actually, I am a developer. I take requirements, I develop requirements, I support during testing, I consider the project closed. That it. If you want something in future, I estimate again, and go through the process again.

    I dont have ex clients ringing me anytime they feel like it because a flaw in thier requirements (i.e. a datafeed changed, or they didnt provision for having an admin backoffice where they can change text etc)
    That is a new chargeable job, and If Im not contactable, my code is written well enough for another developer to make the adjustment.

    You signed it off as being tested and correct, and paid me... Website code doesnt suddenly start doing something different for no reason!

    I'm glad my ex clients do not think like this, how would I ever get any more work done!

    As far as having all your own details and domains.. you are welcome to them, why would I want it under my name! Do developers really do this? They deserve all the extra hassle and management!


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