A couple of experiences this week have prompted me to write about the often neglected need to protect your domain name(s).
Proving domain name ownership
We picked up a new client this month who was fed up of the poor service they were getting from their web host. Before the transfer of their site to Kent House could be processed, their supplier went bust. Luckily, we had just obtained a copy of their files and database, so it was easy for us to rebuild those on our servers. But, the domain name ownership was registered to the now liquidated supplier, and not to the client. It took nearly two weeks of time consuming effort and frustration to get the registrar (Fasthosts in this case) to recognise the client as the legitimate owner of the domain and then to transfer control to them. During that time, the client’s site couldn’t be seen by anybody. Wouldn’t you know it, that all happened just as the client was trying to promote itself to new funding bodies.
Remember to renew your domain name
Blue chip retailer, Halfords, suffered a major embarrassment this week as their site went down for at least a couple of days. In this case, the problem seems to have been that they or their agents had forgotten to renew the domain names (halfords.com and halfords.co.uk). So, instead of visitors seeing the Halfords website, they were presented with a generic holding page from the domain registrar (Network Solutions) which also contained adverts from competitors! I don’t know the financial impact in terms of lost sales for an operation like Halfords of 2 or 3 days downtime, but I think it safe to assume it was more than the £20 renewal cost of two domain names. I see that the domain names have now been renewed 10 years ahead!
Domain name registration and management lessons
If you invest time and money in an online presence, your domain name is a critical part of that. Domains may cost very little, but if your £10 domain name isn’t working neither is your £x,000 or £x,0000,0000 website or ecommerce operation.
Here at Kent House, we take great care to ensure that our clients’ investment is protected in order to support intellectual property rights, business continuity, and market position. Regardless of who you use to look after your domain names, here are some essential tips to avoid embarrassment and possible disaster.
- Make sure the domain name is registered to you or to your organisation – never to your web developer or some other agency. Unless that is the case, you will struggle to prove your ownership and will become a hostage to fortune. We have inherited clients who were told by their old developers that domain names could only be registered in the name of the developer. Such operators are either incompetent or untrustworthy (possibly both) – use them at your peril.
- Make sure that the email address on the domain ownership record is yours, that it works, and that the mailbox is monitored actively. Most domain management processes are automated or semi-automated and carried out through email. If you aren’t receiving those emails, you risk not being notified that the domain is expiring or that somebody is attempting to steal it (which is much a more common event than you might think).
- Demand that your supplier sets up an online management area (or control panel) specifically for your domain(s). Less diligent suppliers will just chuck all their clients’ domains into a single holding account. That’s easy for them but it means that they will never allow you direct access to online management of your own domains because that would mean you also having access to everybody else’s domains. If you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine the scenario if the supplier goes bust – how will you move your website and domains to restore service, especially bearing in mind that your email will also have stopped working if you’re using the same domain for that? Keep the URL, username, and password somewhere very safe.
- If your domain name permits it, ensure that it is ‘locked’ to prevent accidental or malicious changes being made. UK domains don’t have that facility, but it is available for most others.
- Check the public record (‘whois’) to ensure that your domain has been set up for you as described in this article. You can do that very easily online and for free using a tool like DomainTools.
- Consider registering your domain(s) for several years in one go. This reduces the likelihood of unintended expiry each year. Long-term registration is also an SEO tip as it slightly improves the performance of your website in search engine results.
There’s lots more to say about domain names, especially about strategies for choosing the right name or portfolio. But that can wait until the next article. For today, the key message is about risk management and disaster recovery. Choose your supplier wisely, and make sure you are covered against fraud, negligence, and supplier failure. In nearly a decade of operation at Kent House, we have never had a client suffer any loss of domain or domain-related service. That’s because we invest in quality processes, pay attention to detail, and pride ourselves on customer service. If you really have to use a different supplier, make sure they deliver the same!
You did it. You got yourself a website because prospects and customers kept asking for your web address. And you’d heard how much business small companies could generate from a website. So, you paid a Web developer handsomely for a beautiful site with the latest Flash animations, or had your brother-in-law build it on the cheap.
But your site’s been up for a while and it hasn’t brought you any business. What’s gone wrong? Here are the six things you can do for maximum results.
1 Make it part of your marketing strategy
Be clear what you want the website to do for you and then make sure it’s designed to do that well, whether reaching new customers, providing new services to improve customer relationships or improve cross-selling and repeat orders.
As with any marketing medium, your site must focus on your customers’ interests – not yours. Your site should be easy to use and tell customers exactly what they need to know.
2 Promote a positive image and user experience
Get the basics right so you don’t alienate users. Ensure the site looks professional, works properly, doesn’t oblige the user to install extra software and is user friendly. Websites that are too slow, crash in the middle of the transaction or ask for unnecessary information will alienate users.
3 Embrace Internet marketing
Google currently indexes billions of web pages. For your site to be found by customers and prospects you need to get your Internet marketing right.
The site itself should be optimised to get the best possible results in the search engines for your target keywords. A competent web developer can make sure the site is designed and built optimally. But, you also need to make sure that the text is well written for optimisation and is regularly updated. Use a web-savvy copywriter for best effect.
Get links to your website included on other relevant sites. Done correctly, this will improve your results in the search engines. You might even consider temporarily buying links on premium sites to get a quick initial boost.
Done properly, pay-per-click advertising is easily the most focused, cost-effective, and measurable marketing tool in history. You can easily dip a toe in the water through a small-budget Google AdWords campaign.
4 Reach out – use email
Websites only work when a user goes to them (the ‘pull’ effect). Get better results by combining the ‘push’ approach of using email to reach out to customers and prospects. It’s easy and cheap to reach people through email, and especially email newsletters.
5 Be sticky
'Stickiness’ is a measure of how well a website encourages users to keep coming back. There are some tried-and-tested ways of building stickiness:
- Regularly give things for free (maybe a downloadable briefing paper or promotional offer). The cost to you can be small with online delivery.
- Provide an online customer helpdesk
- Build an area for customers only where they can get access to premium resources
- Add new and relevant information
6 Stay fresh
Make sure you have good content management facilities so it is quick and easy to update the content and structure of your site without having to pay – and wait for – your web developer to do it for you. Then have a plan to ensure you make at least monthly updates.
Kent House offers a free no-strings appraisal of your site with recommendations for improvement. If you’d like some advice on how to get more from your web investment, give us a call on 0845 638 0700 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.