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Do you know if you have full control over your digital assets?

On occasion we have clients who are restricted to what changes they can make on their website because of limitations placed by their web developer or web host.

We feel the frustration our clients have towards being stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In this article we will discuss some of the most common ways you can be held hostage by a web developer or host so that you avoid getting into the situation yourself.

How Can You Be Held Hostage?

There are three major areas where you can be held hostage:

  1. The Website – all the content, coding, images, design etc. that make up your website are important digital assets that you need to have full rights and access to. Some web design agreements designate rights to these assets to the web designer – and not you – which means you pay for a website that you don’t own! It’s like buying a car that someone else has to drive for you.
  2. Website Hosting – all of the components of your website are stored on a computer and connected to the internet through a web server or host. If you are not in charge of the hosting setup you can be taken hostage by someone else controlling hosting settings such as down time, page load time etc. … all which can have a negative impact on your Search Engine rankings.
  3. Domain Name – whoever controls the domain name controls your website. If the domain name is not registered to your business you risk operating your website at the discretion of the domain owner and have ultimately having no control over its ownership. What would happen to your business if you website was taken away by the domain owner?

Let’s go deeper in each of these areas.

#1 – Held Hostage by your Web Designer

Unless you own all the content and source code for your website and have the ability to quickly implement changes to your website risk being held captive by a web designer.

Here are just a few examples of ways we have seen some of our clients “trapped” with no easy or cheap way out.

A. Licensed Websites

There are web designers or developers that use a licensing model where they own the code for your site and you pay a monthly or yearly fee to use it. This is somewhat like renting a house – you can make very few changes to the place and when you choose to move you don’t have any equity to show for your monthly rent cheques.

There are very few instances where the licensed website model works in your favor such as when the code or design required to power your site is so complex that it would be near impossible to build it on your own in the first place.

However for most companies paying upfront for a web design that you own is much more cost effective than licensing a website. Even though the licensing model may seem affordable to start you should always plan to keep full control over all your source code and files.

Does SEO Work on a Licensed Website?

Often licensed websites have very little flexibility to make any changes. We recently had a customer who came to us with a brand new licensed website. The site looked as if it were 10 years old with its uncustomized and stiff cookie cutter design. When we needed to make very basic changes, such as changing the titles in the navigation, we couldn’t! A lot of the time these licensed or “do-it-yourself” template designs restrict your ability to only change meta tags and prevent a lot of SEO best practices from being implemented on your site.

It can be very hard to walk away from a licensed website especially if it is large or complex since you don’t get to take anything with you. Often web designers will offer an expensive buy out clause where you have to pay to purchase the site you have already invested in.

B. Stuck with an Unresponsive or Expensive Web Designer

Another way a web designer can hold you hostage is by providing very poor customer service. Have you ever wanted to make changes to your website and called up your web designer, only to:

  • Have the web designer not answer your call or ever respond
  • Have the web designer agree to do the work but never actually do it
  • Have the web designer make your changes and charge an arm and a leg to do so

If this has happened to you before you probably wish someone inside your company could just make the changes. You know exactly what you want but just don’t know how to make the changes happen on the website.

If you don’t own your website it is nearly impossible to take your website to anyone else either – you are stuck with the status quo of your web designer’s poor response times, high fees and lack of initiative.

Does SEO Work Without the Co-operation of My Web Designer?

Because SEO can take between 3 and 6 months for the Search Engines to fully recognize the changes made, an unresponsive web designer can greatly slow down the process.

If the web designer is unwilling to make any changes it can bring your SEO campaign to a near halt because there is nothing you can implement on site. You are limited to building an extensive backlink profile (which can be like building a table with a missing leg) or starting a blog to keep fresh content on your site.

C. Stuck with Bad Web Code That No One Understands

We also come across websites that are built with very little regard to SEO best practices. Whether the designer is ignorant or knowingly chooses appearance over functionality it is very disheartening to tell a client their new website they just spent thousands of dollars on will never rank in the Search Engines.

What can hold your website back from ranking? The list is extensive but major considerations are coding issues, flash (image) based design and poorly structured URLs and link flow through the navigation.

Should you choose to go with the aesthetically pleasing web design that requires complicated back end coding you need to accept that fact you could be held hostage to your web designer. On your own or with the help of other web designers it can be near impossible to figure out how to make changes.

We advise choosing functionality first and aesthetics second. Yes you want your website to look good, but it can look good and be easy to use and update. Most sites designed using the popular SEO Friendly WordPress platform will let you make your own changes to content. If you can use your email or Facebook page you can probably handle making your own updates or adding your own blog posts.

How Do I Fix the Bad Coding on My Website?

We can help redesign your website using WordPress so that it will look and function much the same as it does now but have cleaner coding that is Search Engine friendly. By incorporating best practices into the design of any web developer you will ensure that more web designers and even some in house staff can help maintain and update your website.

# 2 – Held Hostage by your Web Host

Understanding a web host can be difficult and if you don’t understand the importance of a good web host you are forced to trust your web designer’s recommendations.

A web host puts your website “online” and available for everyone to find. All of the files that make up your website are stored on the host’s servers (computers) and when a person does a search for your website the browser travels across the internet and connects to the files for your webpage stored on the server.

Any problems with your host can affect the speed at which potential visitors can access your site, as well as Search Engine spiders.

For convenience, a web developer may offer to host your website on one of their servers. This gives them easy access to do any maintenance and repairs and lets you off the hook for not knowing anything about Web server management.

Letting your web developer host your site is okay as long as you:

  1. Choose the host together
  2. Create your own account within the hosting service
  3. Pay the hosting fees with your own credit card
  4. Maintain administrative privileges to add and remove users and access files

#3 – Held Hostage by the Domain Owner

Your domain name is a critical piece of equity for your company especially if your website has been on the domain for several years and has built up credibility in the Search Engines. For these reasons you should maintain full ownership of your domain by registering it in your own name. By owning the domain you can change contact information, move the site to a new hosting service, reconfigure the DNS and use the domain for whatever email address you want.

Smart Tips to Avoid Being Taken Hostage

In light of this discussion and if it isn’t too late for you, we highly recommend that you follow these tips before building a new website:

  • Buy your domain names in your own account with your own credit card
  • Avoid building your website on proprietary software. If something were to go wrong with your relationship with the web developer and they lock you out you may not have a way to access your website to move the content or access your database. You risk having to start from scratch to rebuild your site.
  • Choose a web developer who can train someone in-house to update, manage and add content to you website. This gives you much more freedom to keep your website current and updated. Most content management sites are as easy to update as logging in to check your email.
  • Make sure you that have all the passwords, log in information and FTP information so that even if you don’t understand it you have the information if you have to hire a new web developer.
  • Ask for a CD back up of your website once a year or when major updates occur so that you have it on file should something happen.
  • Read all the fine print in your contract carefully. Watch for stipulations that state the source code will belong to the web developer. Some fine print defines the source code as all project files, executable code, source files and other materials used to create the website. You may be required to pay a fee to get access to these should your developer no longer be able to provide services.

For more information about being held hostage by your web designer or web host, please contact us directly at 1st on the List by calling 1-888-262-6687.

Carissa Krause

Carissa Krause is currently a marketing and project specialist at 1st on the List. Over the years she has worked with clients on a wide range of projects that include areas like local SEO, backlink profile review, content development, social media, and more. Whatever the project may be Carissa focuses on achieving greater efficiencies and putting plans into action.