Web professionals hold small businesses to ransom

The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, uncovered a worrying web trend

The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, uncovered a worrying web trend

Alex Polizzi, aka The Hotel Inspector, was stunned in a recent episode of the Channel 5 television program. The hotel she had been sent to improve was finding it difficult to get people to book their rooms. When Alex checked the rooms, they were fine. Indeed, there was little wrong with them – a first for the popular TV series. So, Alex decided to look at the Internet to see if there were bad reviews on things like Trip Advisor or if their website was off-putting. But that’s where the problems all began. The hotel was nowhere. Online it did not exist – no reviews, no website, nothing…! Alex sat looking at her gleaming Apple Macbook incredulous at the hotel’s lack of web presence.

However, perhaps she should not be so surprised. A 2008 survey by BT found that 48% of British small and medium sized businesses had no website – indeed almost a quarter of UK businesses did no marketing at all….! As The Hotel Inspector found, zero Internet marketing means a distinct lack of profits, even for an offline business like a hotel and restaurant.

But the problems for small businesses do not end with getting a web presence. A new study by web hosting company Fasthosts reveals a worrying trend which is bad news for many companies. It seems that “web professionals” such as designers and developers are holding small businesses to ransom, preventing them from making changes to their websites – even locking them out of their own pages.

The study found that 56% of the 410 companies surveyed are unable to publish changes to their own website. Worse, some seven out of ten firms do not even own the domain names they are using, since they have been registered in the names of the “professionals” they are using. As if that were not bad enough, the companies who cannot make changes to their own website, who don’t even own the domain name and who suffer website downtime (25% of companies) actually like their professional advisers…! Some 92% of firms in the study said their web professionals were good. Yet, only 38% of the people in the study said they were a good return on investment.

So, let’s think about this for a second. Most companies do not think they have had a good return on the money they have paid web professionals yet they rate them highly…! Errr…? And most of the companies in the study have had problems of one kind of another, but are unable to resolve them because they mostly have no direct access to their own website. Another errrr….?

What this means is that for the vast majority of small businesses, someone else is in charge of their online presence and reputation. The companies appear to have handed over the keys to the kingdom and, amazingly, are quite happy about it.

Stephen Holford, the Marketing Director of Fasthosts said: “Too many small companies are failing to ensure that their valuable domains and their web hosting are registered in their names and are accessible to them.  As external parties can come and go, it is vital that businesses protect themselves from potential disruption, losses and reputation damage that an off-line or out-of-date website can cause”.

So, here are five tips on what to do to ensure you are not held to ransom by your web design company:

  1. Ensure all domains are registered in the name of the business owner – seek transfer of ownership if necessary
  2. Keep contact details and passwords for the provider that hosts your website and registers your domains 
  3. Retain an up-to-date back-up copy of your website design on CD or server
  4. Request a means to make basic amends or additions to your Homepage from in-house
  5. Negotiate an uptime guarantee to protect against delays and losses

At the minimum you want your web professionals to give you legal ownership of your domains and also to provide you with content management access. If they won’t do either of those, you need to get your lawyer involved. Or send them Alez Polizzi – she’ll sort them out…!

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