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Why (and how) to keep full control over your website
There was a time when all you needed to be on the cutting edge of internet presence was a company web page – any kind of web page at all. Unfortunately for a great many of us, that was more than fifteen years ago. To compete on any scale now even a small business needs a modern, full-feature website, with effective SEO and on your own domain. The following article will explore some of the right and wrong ways to ‘have a website’, and how a ‘free’ website can end up costing you quite a bit.

The danger inherent in free websites
There are quite a few places that offer free websites, and free hosting. Everybody loves the word ‘free’ but on the web, like almost anywhere else, you really get what you pay for.

One of the biggest problems with a free website is that you generally do not actually own, or control, your own website. As an example, two of the more popular sites –WordPress.com and Blogger – have the right to advertise on your site of you let them host it for free. You have no control of the content or nature of these ads. You certainly don’t get any income from them. Due to the nature of internet advertising, many will be for your direct competitors. Worse still, these free hosting companies often have the right to edit or remove sections of your site without notice.

You also get little, if any support. Sometimes all you’ll get is access to a template, and you would need substantial web design and development skills to turn it into anything unique, or even useful.

The worst part is that any real search engine optimisation (SEO) may be impossible. SEO is a complicated art, and worthy of its own article, but it is enough to say that you do not have sufficient control of most free sites to get a high, unpaid page rank on any major search engine. If no one ever sees your site, what good can it be doing for you?

Why you need your own domain name
It is more than worth it to register, and maintain your own domain, and it can cost as little as a few pounds. The first benefit is that www.(yourcompanyname).co.uk looks a lot more professional, and trustworthy than www.dodgywebhosting/(yourcompanyname)/com. The same goes for your company email address, which comes with the domain and hosting. It also lets people find you without searching. My clients know my company is called The Little Design Studio. If you don’t go through Google, the first thing you’ll type into the address bar is www.thelittledesignstudio.co.uk, and that brings you straight to me.

Now, say you don’t register your domain. Say your biggest competitor registers a domain with your name, and has any visitors automatically re-directed to their website. How much business would that cost you? It happens, and it happens a lot.

If you already have a site up, and you’re not sure whether you own your domain or not (or worse, if you know someone else has it, and you have to try to buy it from them), enter the full web address into the search bar at http://lookwhois.net. It will give you a great deal of information about who owns the domain, where it is hosted, and when the registry will expire (if it is not renewed).

Website hosting must-haves
Lastly, just a few hosting tips to make sure you stay in complete control over your site.

You should be working with a skilled web developer for a top quality site. Discuss your various hosting options with them. Most developers will have very strong feelings about different hosting types, and will know which options will show their work to best effect.

Whether you are working with your hosting companies CMS, or even running off a free template site, keep a copy of your login and password information on you. Write it on the back of your web developer or hosting company’s business card, and keep it in your purse or wallet. With that, you can fix a lot of problems as soon as you learn about them from just about anywhere in the world. Otherwise, if something goes wrong or you get hacked, you might have to leave your site that way until Monday morning. Don’t risk it.

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