Web design is a career with almost no barrier to entry. With no licensing or certification requirements, anyone can start a web design or development agency. Sometimes we think there should be (okay, I’m kidding…), because trusting something as important as your web presence to anyone but a professional can seriously harm your marketing efforts and even jeopardize your business.
It’s a call we get all too often. A new client has hired a freelancer, friend or acquaintance to build a web site for their business, the person vanished, and now their web site and even their domain name is in limbo. First, I’d like to clarify a very important point. People often refer to a web site as a “piece of internet real estate”, but that’s a little misleading. The real estate, in web terms, is really your domain name.
Why Is a Domain Name So Important?
A web site can always be rebuilt. It’s often even archived frequently on sites such as The Wayback Machine, and at worst may have to be rebuilt from scratch based on the original content or archived copies. The domain name, however, is a registered piece of property. It’s the web address that is legally registered to you and is how your customers, prospects and partners locate your web site on the internet. If a domain name’s owner vanishes, the domain could be irretrievable, or in the very best case, may be obtainable through a UDRP court action at the cost of thousands of dollars, IF you have a strong trademark claim to the domain name in question. If the domain name drops, because the legal registrant allows the registration to expire or loses their registrar account, the domain will often be picked up on what’s called the drop-catch market by a domain investor, and listed for sale for a thousand dollars to several thousand or more, depending on the quality of the name.
Most reputable agencies have strong controls and guidelines to protect their customers’ valuable domains. Your agency should also have a contingency or continuity plan in place to protect your domain name in the event the company dissolves. We manage hundreds of domains on behalf of our clients, and even more in our own portfolio. Being in the domain business for over a decade, we know what it takes to protect domains and digital assets.
Back to the Scary Part
Besides some of the obvious, such as poor brand implementation and just plain bad design, let’s look at some of the other pitfalls of shade-tree web design.
- When web security is not handled properly, web sites can become infected with viruses and malware, spreading them to your visitors and getting your site de-listed from the search engines. We recently found a startup agency whose very own site was infected with a virus! Fortunately, our antivirus software caught it before we were infected. Trust me, you do not want alarms going off on your visitors’ computers when they visit your site.
- The Department of Justice recently issued a statement that Section 508 accessibility requirements will start being enforced for web sites. Section 508 requires that all web site content be accessible to visitors with disabilities. If you have a business web site, you must ensure it’s accessible in the same way the front door to your building is accessible to disabled people. You definitely don’t want to leave this in the hands of an amateur and risk financial liability.
- Google images are not your friend. Almost every web site uses stock imagery, from commercial photographs to vector illustrations such as infographics and icons. If these digital assets aren’t properly licensed, you may find yourself receiving a cease-and-desist attached to a hefty demand for legal fees (five-figures is common) for using unlicensed images on your site. Think it won’t get noticed? Think again. Stock image companies such as Adobe and Getty scan the web for unlicensed copies that people have downloaded and used, and fire off thousands of demand letters to small businesses all over the country. Make sure your web designer has properly obtained a license to use any commercial images on your site.
- Who’s watching your web site? Web sites are no longer static. Most are built using a content management system and are highly dynamic. Because of this, things can happen that impact the usability, availability and security of your site while no one is watching. Automatic updates can break sites. Mail server issues can impact “Contact-Us” form deliverability, causing you to miss important messages from customers or prospects. SSL expiration issues can cause your site to be replaced with a big, scary warning when users visit. We have seen all these scenarios, and they all render your investment useless.
What does all this mean? It’s 2020 and your online presence is more important than ever. Your web site is the central hub of your branding and marketing efforts and if you want your business to survive the next decade, you should pay close attention to how it is presented on the internet. It has become just as important, if not more important, than your brick-and-mortar storefront. If you are serious about your business, you should make sure a reputable, reliable and accessible agency handles your web design, hosting and domain registration.
We are here to help. If you have questions about your domain name registration, your web site, business e-mail, or anything digital, get in touch with us and we will be glad to help.