Thursday, August 23, 2012

Have a domain name and website but don’t know who’s hosting them? You could be in big trouble, baby!

You could lose control of your domain name and your website if you don’t heed the advice I’m sharing in this post.

While I don’t offer the service any more, I’ve built a several websites for individuals, small businesses, churches, and organizations over the years, and helped refresh and maintain others.

It was sadly amazing the number of situations, when the site already existed or a domain name had been purchased, where the client did not know with whom their domain name or site was being hosted!

They had no or very incomplete written records and only a few generic emails that could provide clues. This has been true even for larger companies and organizations!

In fact, it was not unusual for a website to do go “down” only to discover the client had either not renewed their domain name or had failed to pay their web hosting fees.

Tracking down the necessary information and getting online accounts restored can take hours on the phone and days of investigation. And you may not be successful.

Based on conversations with others who build or manage websites for clients, this is all too common.

Can you imagine the magnitude of losing your domain name and website data that you’ve worked for years to build up? I’ve had to console those who went through exactly this experience. It’s not fun and starting from scratch is costly.
WARNING!
  • If you fail to manage your domain name properly or renew it on time, you could lose it forever!
  • If you fail to manage your webhosting service or pay your fees on time, you could lose your site files forever!
Clearing up some terminology confusion

Part of the issue is a failure to understand some basic terminology around the types of services that it takes to get a website up and running. If you’re going to be online you MUST understand these basic terms; no excuses, amigos and amigas!

If you already have a website or are thinking of getting one developed, you need three services: ISP, domain host/registrar, and web host:
  • Internet service provider (ISP). This is the service that will connect you to the Internet using dial-up (not a good way to go), DSL, cable, or a wireless solution. All of the major phone companies and cable companies offer ISP services, but there are other options.

    Every ISP offers several levels of service that relate primarily to the upload and download speeds. Dial-up is slow and can be as little as $10 a month. DSL is fast, cable is a little faster, and either can run anywhere from $20 to $100 or more per month.
  • Domain registrar/host. You will need a domain name/URL for your website; those providing these are called domain hosts or domain registrars. A domain name (aka URL or universal resource locator, also called a web address) looks like this: www.DOMAINNAME.com.

    When you sign up with a domain host, you will need to check to see if the name you want is available. You will also be able to choose what kind of domain you want, such as .com, .net, .info, .org, .biz, etc. You may want to obtain your domain name with several of the available suffixes as a way to protect your brand.

    You will also be able to use your domain for your email address, such as YourName@DOMAINNAME.com. You shouldn’t be paying more than around $10 or so per year for a domain name; avoid services that want to charge you $25 or more a year for a domain name.
  • Web host. Once you’ve chosen a domain name/URL, you’re ready to select a web host where your website will actually reside. Most web host providers offer several levels of hosting, each level including different kinds of features. Only buy what you need; you can always add features later if the need arises. Webhosting runs as little as $4 a month and up from there, all based on a wide variety of factors. (Caveat: You get what you pay for.)
Some ISPs also offer domain and/or web hosting. Many companies provide both domain registration and web hosting services, but not ISP services. It’s okay to use two or three companies to get the kind of service you want. Shop around and put together the best package that fits your needs and wallet.

Anyone who is online will have their opinions as to who offers the best services. Ask around for suggestions and then visit company websites to get a better handle on what they offer and their pricing.

And now, the most important pieces of advice you need to heed, and I’m not kidding!

Once you’ve chosen your service providers, there are two very critical things you need to do:

1. Keep written – printed out on paper – records!

This is a biggie. Once you’ve signed up for your ISP, domain, and web hosting services, print out important information about each.

Here is the minimum information you want to put into your file folder for EACH service:
  • The name, mailing address, email address, and phone contacts for the provider, including their web address/URL.
  • Your account number.
  • Your login and password for each account.
  • Your email address and other contact information that you have used for that account.
Create a file folder for all of your online accounts. Print out receipts and instructions you receive via email and place them in these folders. Write down the login and passwords associated with each account, including the date you created them.

Yes, save your emails as well, but also print them out and put them in a file folder where you can find the information easily!

2. Keep your online accounts up to date!

Whenever you move and get a new address, change ISPs and get a new email address, get a new phone number, etc. you MUST update all of this information online for each of your accounts.

And then update the information in your written, printed out files.

And if you change the password to one or more of your accounts, write and date it in your written, printed out files.

Trying to access an account or transfer a domain name with lapsed and outdated information in the online account is an arduous ordeal that you want to avoid. No matter who your service providers are, the phone support agents are seldom particularly helpful or empathetic with your plight.

Keep written records and keep your online account information in synch and up to date.

A couple of good bonus tips

Now that you’ve obtained your basic services for getting your website up and running, and have your file folders all up-to-date with your printed out information for each service, here are a couple of additional tips to keep in mind:

1. Pay attention to those renewal requests!


When you obtain/register a domain name, unless you choose the option to register privately, your personal information will be visible online.

To get an idea of what can be seen, go to http://whois.domaintools.com and type in any website URL. In fact, most domain/webhost providers will have a WHOIS search link usually located at the bottom of their homepage.

Once your information is out there, unscrupulous companies will try to trick you into “renewing” your domain with them, usually at outrageous prices. They will send you very official looking letters telling you that you must renew now or lose your domain name!

Don’t fall for these!

Simply compare the name of the service in the letters to the name of the service you have in your files; if they don’t match, toss the letter. If you have any doubts, call your service provider whose number you have in your files.

Most providers will only send you renewal reminders via email. Pay attention!

If you don’t pay attention you’ll end up paying exorbitant fees and having your domain switched to a different provider without even realizing it. If you receive a renewal request, make sure it’s coming from your provider; check your paper records!

2. Get professional help! 

Many web host providers also include do-it-yourself web building apps and a variety of templates. Unless you know what you’re doing and have a true sense of design, don’t use these!

You’ll most likely end up with a bland, generic site that looks like a hundred other sites. Or, worse, you’ll just make a mess of things and have no idea how to fix it.

Hire someone who can put together a decent website at a reasonable cost and who will be around to help you maintain the site. Look at websites you like and find out who built them; contact those companies and learn more about their services.

If you do want to do it yourself, take the time to learn how to do it right!

Perhaps you want to use Dreamweaver or WordPress or something else; that’s great! Just take the time to learn the tools before you invest in a webhost service, and then go with the service that best fits your needs and that will work with the tools you’ve chosen.

Again, anyone who is already online can offer tips, suggestions, and cautions. Ask around and carefully vet the various options available.

Finally, one more time, keep up-to-date written (printed out) records, for crying out loud! Don’t make me say it again.

Oh, and by the way, while I don't design websites any longer, I can help you with your content. After all, a good website must have good, well-written content to be successful! Contact me.

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Thoughts?
FYI: My blog posts have fallen off over the summer due to "life happening." I'm hoping to get back in the full swing of things over the next few weeks as we move into fall. Thanks for your patience!

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