Is Your Webmaster Ripping You Off?
Waving Red Flags to Look For. . .
It is Saturday night and I’m tired. It’s been a long week and I just finished yesterday’s work. I felt compelled to write this while it was still fresh in my mind and I’m still pretty angry. The vast majority of our business comes from people who have major problems with their webmaster or host company and need help.
I just hung up the telephone with my fourth phone call in as many days from some business owner who is in a big jam because of their Webmaster. I serve a lot of tea and sympathy. Usually, they want me to solve the problem. Sometimes I can if given enough lead time. In this case, I couldn’t. Their domain is down, their name is gone, they are back at ground zero. All their printed advertising is worthless because it now has the wrong domain name.
I’ve begun to notice a pattern that these crises seem to follow. If you’re reading this, hopefully you haven’t contracted with anyone yet. If you have, and you come across some of these issues, please realize it doesn’t NECESSARILY mean your Webmaster is cheating you, but you should follow up and ask some more questions.
RULE NUMBER ONE: GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING.
- Email is your friend. Don’t take anything they tell you over the telephone, tell them to put it in an email. Any legitimate Webmaster will understand your trepidation and will happily comply. Heck, we offer to do this up front so there isn’t any misunderstandings. If they won’t put it in writing, run away. Save these emails, especially the ones regarding purchasing your domain name. They may help you in the future should you have problems. It’s that important.
Here’s the lies, scams and cheats I come across most often. Most people who get ripped off have several of these occur at once:
1. HIJACKING YOUR DOMAIN NAME AND/OR LETTING YOUR DOMAIN NAME LAPSE
The most common scenario I run across is that you ask Joe the Webmaster to set up your domain for you. You paid him handsomely for the privilege and it’s now a year later. You type in your domain name, and it no longer comes up. Joe has moved, gone into hiding or has been assimilated in the witness relocation program. Who knows, but his mother tells you he’s moved out of the basement and she doesn’t know where he’s gone.
After a day or two of checking, you find out Joe registered your domain name (www.mycompanydomainname.com) in his own name, the renewal notices were sent to him in some void, and now the domain name has lapsed -- or worse, has been purchased by someone else.
Usually, the rip off is when the Webmaster “tells” you that he is going to register your domain name for two years, and you pay him for this, but he registered it for only one. And then it lapses and you don’t realize until someone else (usually your competitor) buys your name. I know how often this occurs because my own clients watch for their competitor’s names and they do buy them if they let them lapse.
My favorite is when they tell you that registering a domain name for a year is going to cost $50. It’s not. You shouldn’t pay more than $10-15 per year for your domain name. Ask to be copied on the receipt from the registrar.
This happens with companies both large and small. Item number two on our list is a related problem.
2. HOLDING YOUR DOMAIN NAME HOSTAGE.
Your domain name has been registered in his name, but is still up-to-date. You want another company to maintain your site, because Joe is worthless and every time you call him he sounds drunk or doesn’t return your calls. You find out Joe owns the name because he registered it and your new Webmaster can’t get it switched. Sometimes this can be relatively easy to fix if the domain name is the same as your company’s and not Joe’s web business name.
I’ve had clients that were forced to have their attorney’s write letters to the jerks to get their domain names released. Obviously, someone like this doesn’t have the skills to make money legitimately.
Recently, I had a client who needed to renew their name, the Webmaster had fallen off the face of the Earth and the company where the domain was hosted refused to renew the name on their behalf and change the registrant information unless the company paid them $400. Clearly, it was a case of extortion.
We were finally able to get the domain renewed and the registration changed to the rightful owner. It took us one day, but I think it was worth the effort. The client was so grateful, they gave us all their future business -- 20 separate domains to maintain.
HOW TO AVOID THIS TRAP
- Ask your Webmaster to make your company name the registrant on the domain name, and have the notices come to your mailing and email address. He can still be listed as the Technical Contact, but YOU WANT TO BE THE REGISTRANT and Administrative Contact. This is the single most important piece of information to put in an email to him. Be sure he acknowledges IN WRITING that you are the registered owner of the domain name.
- Request that your domain name be put on “auto renew” with the registrar. That way, if you are out of town or don’t receive the notice, the name won’t lapse.
3. YOU NEVER GET A WEB SITE
You’ve paid Joe to buy a domain name (which he has done, but in his own name usually) and design a web site, but it’s been two months and you still haven’t seen a rough draft. Worse, it’s been a year and you’re dead in the water.
This seems a bit excessive. Joe tells you he’s working on it. He tells you he’s doing a special design. Or he doesn’t return your calls at all. You have that sinking feeling in your stomach.
Okay, here’s my rule of thumb on this one: Unless your site has some special programming beyond the norm, a five to ten page web site should take no more than 7 days to be completed. Of course, your Webmaster might have a busy schedule, so they should tell you up front, but anything over two weeks is excessive in most cases. Two months is ridiculous -- unless he’s waiting for information from you, such as photos.
Now, if they are setting up a database, creating a series of custom designed maps, hand-drawn graphics, or scanning 50 documents, it might take longer than a week. They will usually put this in writing to you. If you’re dragging your feet giving them the graphics or information they need, that could account for the delay.
If, after a week, you haven’t at least seen a “shell” of a web site -- like a template with graphics and blank pages, or a design concept to approve -- or your Webmaster isn’t following up with you regularly to tell you where he’s at, it has been my experience you will never see a web site. Never, ever, nope, nada. Sorry to tell you, because you probably paid the jerk up front, didn’t you? Now he sounds sort of stoned every time you talk to him?
Recently, I had an artist who paid $1,200 for a web site we do for under $500. They had been waiting for two months to see the final product. The client had provided all the artwork for the site on a CD to the designer. I found out the domain name was registered in the Webmaster’s name. The client was heartbroken when I told him if he had gone with us, his site would have been up and running in three days for a fraction of the cost.
This coincides with the next red flag.
4. YOUR WEB SITE IS NOTHING LIKE YOU WANTED, LOOKS AWFUL, OR IS ONE SINGLE PAGE
Happens a lot. Joe claims he’s a world renowned web designer and yet your page is an embarrassment. People tell you it would be better to not have one at all. It’s so bad, you can’t believe you paid for it.
HOW TO AVOID THIS TRAP:
- If your webmaster claims he designs webpages for a litany of Fortune 500 companies, and you’re a start up Mom-and-Pop, he’s probably not being forthright. While I design for different industries, I don’t stray too much from the same size company, which is smaller mom-and-pop type operations. If he’s that hot of a designer, you must ask yourself what is he doing designing your website?
- Ask for references. If he tells you he designed the Megolopolis site, and his name and logo don’t appear on the bottom, ask for a reference. Look at the sites and see if you like the designs. If he gives you only one, realize it might be his brother-in-law’s company and he may not have designed it. I give my clients about ten sites as a reference, and my logo appears at the bottom of each one (I don’t want them calling my clients as most are very busy). Realize that the designer may be reflecting the taste of their client in the design, but if all of them look hideous, chances are good your’s will too.
- Don’t pay up front. Ask to see a rough draft of the concept so you have a good idea of what the pages look like. Then make a deposit. You should pay as much as the website has been completed. If they won’t get started without the full amount, realize there are thousands of other designers out there. Do they offer a money-back guarantee? This is where having everything done in writing really pays off.
- Ask if they are using custom designed graphics or a “canned” template from their web page software. If all their websites look the same, and you don’t like that design, you should go elsewhere.
- Do they seem concerned about your business? Are they asking questions about what you do? Are they requesting brochures, business cards, content information? If not, how are they going to create a website for you?
5. YOU THINK YOU PAID TOO MUCH FOR YOUR WEBSITE.
How much is “too much”? Difficult to tell. Sometimes asking for competing bids will help define the cost.
This past week, a client informed me their webmaster let their domain name lapse, registered the domain in the webmaster’s name, posted a horrendous site and refused to take it down, and then charged her $400 for single web page. This is simply ridiculous given she supplied all the text and there was nothing special about the site.
6. YOUR WEBMASTER DOESN’T RETURN CALLS.
This may seem merely annoying and unprofessional, but what if 50% of your business is generated from your website and it’s been down for a week? What if your webmaster can’t be bothered to answer the phone for days on end? This is the single biggest complaint we hear. It is also the one reason why more companies switch to us.
We’re in business too and we understand how important it is to get results fast.
7. THEY ARE PROMISING TO GET YOU TO THE TOP OF THE SEARCH ENGINES.
This is the latest ruse in the industry. If you host with them, or let them design your site, for a mere additional load of money, they can guarantee to get you on the first page of Google. This is ridiculous.
They will offer you add-on services like “search word optimization” for a hefty fee. If you’re really interested in this, then ask for their promise in writing. As to be GUARANTEED your webpage will be on the front page of Google for one full year for the main keyword you choose (such as the primary focus of your business). It’s doubtful you’ll get it.
Here’s a good article on the topic if you’re interested:
We advise our clients to get as many links from area or related businesses. Getting to the top of a search engine is no guarantee you’ll get more business.
6. NICKEL AND DIME TREATMENT.
There are certain features which should be included in your hosting, which are fairly standard in the industry. If your webmaster is telling you that a search function is going to cost more, start looking around to see if this is the case with other host companies.
Here are our standard features with all hosting packages:
SHOPPING CART with secure checkout, compatible with 10 payment gateways.
SECURE SERVER SPACE for receiving credit card numbers should you opt to process payment in-house.
1000 MEGABYTES STORAGE more than enough for most small businesses.
25 EMAIL ACCOUNTS that can be accessed online through webmail.
PHP 5, CGI, Perl 5 capability
MySQL database capability
Autoresponders, Mailing Lists, Email Forwarding
PHPBB discussion board (for hosting your own discussion formum)
Live Chat Software
Newsletter signup for up to 1,000 email addresses
Counter and usage statistics
Classifieds and Auction
MP3 Audio Streaming and Video Streaming
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