Don’t pay for a website you don’t own.

We are seeing a growing number of people who don’t have control of their own website. What I mean is that there are a lot of companies who have paid good money to have a website developed, and now they’re paying $50 a month or more to have it hosted and updated. The only problem is, it’s not being updated, or the hosting is unreliable, or they can’t get answers when they have a server crash or email problems.

In this article, I’m going to discuss this problem a little bit, and show you how to avoid it.

If you’re familiar with how the Internet works, skip down a few of paragraphs to learn how to protect yourself. If you’re not sure what domains, servers, and hosts are, keep reading.

The Internet runs on “IP addresses.” This is the unique address of a computer that is receiving information, just as your postal address is how mail carriers know where to find you. IP addresses are numeric, and would be very difficult to remember. Therefore, a central registry was created that redirects “domain names” to a certain IP address.

So, let’s say your business owns a domain name, You pay a company to host your site. What they are doing is providing a “server,” which is a computer that holds all the files for your website. The server has a unique IP address. As long as you are using that particular company, your domain name will point users to the server’s IP address, and your hosting company’s server will display your site.

Anyone can go to your server and view your page, but they can’t make changes to the files. If you want to update, add, or remove content, you will need FTP access. This is a user name and password that lets you log in to the server and access your website’s files. If you don’t have this information, you don’t have access to the server you are paying for. It’s like having a computer in your office that no one can log on to.

In many cases, companies choose to let the person who designed their site do all the updating. That’s fine, but be sure you have FTP login information for your server in case your designer falls off the face of the earth or goes out of business.

What’s even more critical is that you have access to your own domain name’s settings in case your hosting company stops giving you the level of service you expect. If you have access to your domain’s settings, you can switch to another hosting provider without any help from your current host. This is also a way to get around the problem of not having FTP access to your site.

I highly recommend registering your own domain, which has become extremely inexpensive. For more information, check out my article on selecting and obtaining a domain name. If you let someone else register it for you, insist on having them register the domain in your name, with your contact information, and having the necessary login information to change your “nameservers” if necessary.

This simple step could save you a lot of frustration, and puts you, not another company, firmly in control of your own domain.

A third point is definitely worth mentioning. Many hosts offer a “control panel,” which is basically an interface you can log in to that allows you to modify all kinds of settings, such as adding email addresses for your domain. We use the very popular and efficient cPanel 11. Some companies use Plesk or other control panels. If a company doesn’t offer one, they’re probably not worth the money. Ask if you will have a control panel, and if so, how to access it. By doing so, you won’t have to rely on a (possibly slow or unresponsive) third party to do things for you. Also, cPanel has a powerful file editor that allows you to easily make changes to your site.

OK, here’s a recap:

  • Ask for a copy of all files after your initial web design is completed. This is especially important if the site is interactive or database driven. This way, if your host goes MIA, you can at least have a starting point.
  • Get FTP login information. There is no legitimate reason why a designer or host shouldn’t give it to you.
  • Insist on knowing where your domain is registered and how you can access the domain settings. It’s critical that you are able to change your nameservers if your relationship with your hosting provider goes south.
  • If your hosting provider uses a control panel like cPanel or Plesk, get the login information (optional, but highly recommended). If they don’t offer a control panel, they’re probably not a quality host.

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