I'm not the kind of guy that calls out companies and bashes them for doing something that I'd consider wrong or unethical, and I'm not going to do it today. But beware - there are a lot of Internet marketing companies out there that own YOUR company's online assets - and if they go out of business, to put it bluntly, you're screwed.
In the world that is small business, it's fair to say that a large portion of small business owners don't fully understand the Internet, and in particular the marketing aspect. There are so many things to know - SEO, PPC, SEM, Analytics, social media - the list goes on. Trying to understand all of these and run a business is a pretty daunting task. So typically, those business owners that are smart enough to see the trends and hire a marketing person or agency to help them typically rely on them to do what's in the best interest of the owner.
But that's not usually the case.
More times than not, the agency sets things up in a way that's best for them, and not the business owner. Unfortunately, its common practice - and in my opinion just plain wrong. So let me show you some examples and explain my reasoning.
Do You Own/Control Your Website?
For many businesses, having a website is critical. If you're in business, you have to have a website. Customers ask for your link, and not having one makes you sound out of touch.
However, having a great website is usually not a top priority. So the thought process that goes into building that site is more often than not minimal. Companies like Intuit and Wix spend a lot of their advertising budgets telling business owners how easy and cheap it is to set up a website, and many business owners think that's enough.
But they're wrong.
With most of these DIY website builders, the content, the 'guts' of the site, and the ownership of that data all belongs to the provider. Sure, you can get in there and change it, but if their servers start acting funky or you want to add some custom functionality, you're probably not going to get it. And if you do want those things, and realize that you need to move your site to a more robust web hosting company, you'll find out that the website you built on their platform doesn't transfer to another host. You don't really own it - and that's a bad place to be.
I'm a huge fan of WordPress - a free content management system (CMS) that you can download and put on any reputable web hosting company (like mine, for instance) that you want. All of the content for a WordPress website is stored in a database that is easily transferrable across servers, and any custom design work that you have done is easily downloaded and moved as well. Plus, the SEO benefits of using WordPress are phenomenal.
The same can be said for ecommerce sites. Many online providers make it so easy to set up your products, etc, but when your business starts to grow and they want to charge you for more bandwidth, you might want to see if there are cheaper alternatives. And that may be when you find out you're 'locked in' to their platform.
Action Item: Find out if you can move your website to another host. It's worth the phone call. If the answer is NO, start considering a WordPress solution. If your site is eCommerce, I recommend a CMS like Magento Community. (We can help you set either of these solutions up.)
Do You Own/Control Your Domain Name?
If you set up your site through a website provider, they may have given you a 'free domain' as part of the package. Chances are they registered that domain name in their name/account and not yours.
I've also seen local agencies set up websites for clients and do the same thing. Perhaps it's not a malicious thing, but you still don't own the rights to it. I've literally seen webmasters die and companies unable to gain control of their own domain name.
Your domain name is a huge part of your branding. Don't let someone else control it.
Action Item: Look up the registration details of your domain. If it doesn't list your name, contact the person/company it does list and start the process to getting it moved. You can transfer a domain to a GoDaddy account you create for less than $20 bucks.
Do You Own/Control Your Data?
Recently eBay announced to thousands of users of their ProStores platform that they were shutting it down. Business owners using ProStores have about 6 months to move their information elsewhere (like Magento, for instance). What would you do if this happened to you? Would you know how to get your data (product names, SKUs, prices, inventory, etc) out of that system and into another? Most wouldn't.
Having your data secure - especially data that determines if you stay in business or not - is pretty dang important. When that data is on a server that someone else controls, you're at their mercy. Luckily for eBay/ProStores users, they got a 6 month window to get things moved - but what if there was no warning? What would you do?
This brings me back to the same thing I mentioned above about websites - having one that is on a server you have access to is critical for business. Having a backup is critical. These things are not optional. Uber-convenient sites like Shopify and Volusion make life really easy when it comes to getting a site up and going, but not when you want that data for yourself.
Action Item: Make sure you can download a copy of your website database - or at least a CSV of your product data - from your current website host. If you can't, consider moving the site somewhere that has that capability, or consider buying insurance against their system. If their servers go down, you're defenseless and your revenues will suffer.
Do You Own/Control Your Social Profiles?
I think it's no secret that when it comes to social media, most businesses just aren't there. But I do think it's important from a branding aspect to make sure that you've secured the social profiles on the major players - Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter and FourSquare. Sure, there are others, and you could easily spend a day or more signing up for them all (and there are services that can do that for you). Some sites - like Google Plus and Facebook - may have already set up an account for your business, whether you wanted them to or not. They're taking public data about businesses and making pages for them. If you haven't claimed your business on these networks, you need to do it now. Don't let someone (aka a competitor) grab your business name - forcing you to choose something other than your brand.
Do You Own/Control Your Data?
Yeah, I already used that headline, but here's another scenario that I see all the time: You decide that your current SEO agency or web developer isn't up to the task or performing at the level you'd prefer, so you look for another. You find out (like me) and hire them to take over your online marketing.
After a day or two with the new person, you find out that your Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, AdWords (PPC) and many local business profiles were set up under an account that is controlled by the former company. Depending on how the breakup went, you may have to go back to them and ask for administrator rights - something they may or may not give you.
Even worse, some Google products are non-transferrable, meaning that the past data may become unreachable as soon as you let the original company go. They control it - not you.
While this isn't the end of the world, I'll tell you that there's nothing better than having past data to use to determine how the new guy is doing - something to compare to. If that wasn't under your control, you may lose it and start all over.
It is absolutely imperative that you own and control your website data. And I honestly can't tell you how many times business owners have called me to look into their situation only to find out they can't even get me access because of the way their current vendor structured it.
What would happen if your current vendor got hit by a bus? Would you be able to still access the online assets related to your business?
I can't stress enough how important this is. I've seen it over and over again, and it's a bitch to get straightened out - but it can be done. Maybe by bruising a few egos, but it's worth it.
Action Item: Make sure you own your data. Log into Analytics and click the Admin tab. Can you click on everything, or are things greyed out? Look at the users - are you listed as an admin, and your web people listed as users? Or is it the other way around? Can you log into AdWords with your own Google ID? Does your current web person log in using that same ID, or have you just granted them access (that you can revoke at any time)?
I don't think there's anything more frustrating to a business owner than calling me only to find out they have to spend a huge chunk of time unraveling the mess that their current/former web person/agency put them in. Take these action items and put them to use. Make sure that you own it all. I can't imagine suddenly losing access to my website or analytics and having to start over - yet it happens all the time.
Get out of that situation, and get out of it now. And of course if you need help, let me know.