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July 17, 2007

The Website Hosting Ripoff

High-prices hosting costs and unethical domain name registration is rife in the website industry. Learn what you should be paying and what NOT to do when you hire a webdesigner!

I have been helping real estate agents and vacation rental companies in Myrtle Beach, SC for over 5 years now. In the last year or so I’ve gotten out of the designing end and more into SEO and copywriting. But since the beginning I’ve seen and heard more customer horror stories than seems natural in this day and time. There are a few basic Do’s and Don’t’s that everyone should know to avoid this problem, and I’m surprised that it isn’t broadcast more often. If you are planning to have a website designed, please READ this and do a little “due diligence” to protect your own interests now.

Buying Your Domain Name

I won’t go into how to choose a domain name here, although it is something to consider. What I want to uncover is one of the worst, most unethical, and COMMON practices I’ve seen in this area, and make you too smart to fall for it.

Before you hire a designer, go YOURSELF, to one of the major domain register sites. Open an account. Choose a user name that you use often. Choose a password that you can remember. WRITE THIS INFORMATION DOWN. Give it to your wife or husband. Give it to your secretary. Just be SURE you have it where you can find it again. I can’t emphasize this enough.

After I’ve yelled about keeping the login information, let me again say, DO THIS YOURSELF.

You should never, ever, have a webdesigner or website company do this for you. Inevitably, at some point, you are going to either become dis-satisfied with your designer, or find someone else that provides more services, such as SEO. No matter how much you trust the person you hire to do your website, do NOT expect them, or allow them, to register your domain name for you.

This is one of the oldest nasty tricks I’ve seen, and is still one of the most prevalent. The web designer registers the domain in HIS OWN name. All goes along smoothly until such time as you want to change web companies. All of a sudden you find this “nice guy” you hired laughs in your face and refuses to give you your own website. Or he tells you he will for several hundred or thousand dollars more. Much of the time, you’ve hired someone locally and don’t even have a contract. To my knowledge, you don’t have much recourse. You may even have a contract that says in the small print that your designer owns the site.

I had an older gentleman call me one day to ask for help resolving a situation like this with one of the more well known companies here in Myrtle Beach. When I looked at the “Whois” information and told him the designer owned that name, he literally cried on the phone. He had had the website for 2 or 3 years, and was a small sign company whose business practically relied on that website. It broke my heart, but I had no solution for him except to start over.

Buy your own domain name. Keep your login information safe, and be sure you pay for it when the yearly bill comes in. Godaddy.com has domain names for as litte as $8 a year. Pay for it for several years, and be sure your email address is always correct with the registry company. Maybe it’s something you would rather not be bothered with…but it’s a small bother if you end up with a website that literally makes or breaks your business.

Hosting Your Website
This is another area that I continually see agents and others being taken advantage of all the time.

NEWSFLASH: You can choose your own hosting company!

I have been using Pair.com since I started doing websites. They are the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. If you have a small website that won’t have a million visitors a month, you can get a hosting package for under $10 a month. Hosting packages are based on total file size and something called “Bandwidth”. Bandwidth concerns how many times your website is visited, plus the size of each page that a visitor looks at. The more large files such as photos, music, or video that you have, the more bandwidth you will use. If your website will contain videos or many photo galleries, you may have to go to a larger package…say $20 a month…to handle the volume. But a normal small website will hardly ever cause an overage.

Now, why would you want your designer to host your website? There are some good reasons. Your website will also usually control your email(s). When there is an email problem, or you need to make a new one for a new office person, it’s easier to pick up the phone or email your designer to handle this. Sometimes it can be complicated. It might be worth paying a little extra for them to host it and handle this. But how much is legitimate, and how much is highway robbery?

I have a few clients and even friends that I host a website for. I buy a larger package, and can have multiple websites in my account. It’s very important that your website has its own separate dedicated IP number also, but I’ll save that for another article. It may be that some designers will offer you a cheaper package to share hosting. They may not even TELL you that you are on the same IP with a dozen other websites. It’s much cheaper for them to host them all on the same IP… and worse, many of these designers are actually hosting your site on a private computer in their basement! Ask them where they are hosting it and get the details. Verify what they tell you with someone else if you can. If not, and you trust them to do the right thing, then figure on paying an average of about $25 a month for most designers to host your site. That is the going rate around here.

This means the designer is probably making about $20 a month at a minimum.If they are hosting it on their own server, it may not cost them a dime.

My average price for hosting a regular to large website is $15 a month. If the company has 30 employees that constantly worry me about emails and problems with forgetting passwords, I might increase the price to $25 a month. I never have done this so far. And they DO bug me fairly often…:-)

If your design company is charging you more than $25 a month for an average website, then you are paying too much. If you have a small site and can take care of basic email setups online yourself, then open your own hosting account and save the extra monthly amount. If not, then at least question the amount and make sure it’s reasonable – and with a reputable hosting company that provides multiple backup and very low downtime.

If you plan to have a website with an IDX database, or are going to invest heavily in video or virtual tours, then choose a real estate web design company that provides this, and be prepared to pay considerably more than what I’ve described here. But if you are going to have an ordinary website, little or no video displays, and a reasonable amount of traffic, don’t fall into the trap of being overcharged.

You can have a great website for a very reasonable amount of cost if you do your homework up front!

Author:  Jan Chilton has been helping realtors with search engine placement and internet marketing since early 2001. If you are interested in website hosting or want help with choosing a domain name, Jan would be glad to answer an email question. Her website at Myrtle Beach Web Design can provide more information as well. Bone up on real estate marketing tips at www.Echoforum.com.

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