One of the first things I always suggest when I start working with a new client is that we run through a quick autonomy checklist. What does it mean to consider a client's Internet autonomy? Businesses should have freedom from outside control and influence when it comes to the services that make their Internet presence possible. I've seen many cases where folks had bad situations related to not having domains registered in their own names, or not being listed on the web hosting account. It doesn't mean that you don't trust your web services company. This is just smart policy.
Here's the list:
- Domain registration:
- Where are you domains registered?
- In what company or individual's name are the domains registered?
- Domain Name System:
- Where are your DNS zones hosted?
- Who has access to administer the zones?
- What is the process for making changes to them?
- Web hosting:
- Where is your website hosted?
- To what company or individual is the hosting accounts billed?
- Who has access to the server?
- What is the process for making updates to the server?
- Where is your email hosted?
- To what company or individual are the email accounts billed?
- What is the process for provisioning email accounts?
Other items can get added to the list if any of the answers aren't straight- forward. Some client's situations are more complicated than others, but this is a good place to start. Note that the correct policy for each will provide the greatest level of autonomy for the business.
Every business should have their domains registered not only in the name of an officer of the business, but in the name of the business as well. The registration information for all domains might look something like this:
Registered to: John Q. Public Company name: Acme, Inc
Businesses are sometimes sold. Human beings are mortal. This registration pattern allows the business to maintain control of the domain names if the officer who registered them is no longer able to act on behalf of the company.
I often see folks who had their domains registered for them by someone else. Do not let anyone else register domain names for you. If they do, make sure to execute registration transfers afterward. That's a hassle so it's easiest just to register them in the name of the business from the beginning.
The most common scenario I see is a client whose domains have been registered in the name of an IT or web services provider. It doesn't guarantee a sinister motive, but they could hold you hostage whether knowingly or unknowingly. They could go out of business, get sent to prison, get hit by a truck, get abducted by alients, or just leave the country. If any of these things happen while they own your domains, you may lose control of your presence on the web. I've seen it happen too many times.
It's also helpful to have all your domains registered with one company. Domains are billed on the shortest frequency once a year, but often on longer time scales like once every 5 or 10 years. It's easy to lose information or forget between billings. If you only have one account to keep up with it can save a lot of time.
I suggest to all my clients that they transfer all their domains to Name.com. They have a service where they'll syncronize the billing of all your domains. This further simplifies the process and that can be confusing for clients with many domain names.
So let's recap.
- Own your own domains
- Keep them all with one registrar
- Use Name.com if you want to syncronize all your billing to one date
And a few other tips.
- Register your domains out for a long time period if you can
- Register in the name of an officer and the business
- Keep your domains locked
- Keep account information in a place where you'll be able to find it later
Acronyms make some people go cross-eyed, so bear with me. DNS, or Domain Name Service, is a simple, integral part of the Internet. Everything you use and interact with on the Internet resides on a server with a numerical address. Remembering a bunch of numbers isn't realistic for human beings, so a service was created which would translate names into numbers. That way you can go to http://google.com rathan than http://188.8.131.52. It's also a lot easier to email email@example.com than firstname.lastname@example.org.
So DNS is what takes the domains you've registered and allows you to translate those names into the addresses of the servers you'll use to make your website, email, and other Internet services work.
The concerns on DNS are the same as with other hosting services. The DNS services will be hosted on an account that has billing and administrative contacts. The business who is using the DNS service should be the billing contact on the account where the DNS zones are hosted.
It's often workable to host the DNS where you have your domains registered, but not all domain registrars provide DNS with domain registration. It also works to host your DNS with your web host, but not all web hosts provide DNS. This is one of those things you have to take case by case. Another reason why I suggest Name.com is that they are one of those good hosts that provides a DNS zone with each domain you register.
You guessed it, your web hosting should be in the name of the business who the site belongs to. Even at my web development company we host some sites for clients. It's usually done as a favor, a temporary solution, or because folks aren't techincal enough to handle having a hosting account on their own. Still, this isn't optimal for the client and we encourage everyone to procure their own hosting whenever possible.
There is no best web host. You'll pick a host based on who provides the service you need in a price range that you find reasonable and within your budget. If you choose a host based upon the quality of their support and the organziation of their web interface, you'll probably choose Media Temple. Another advantage with Media Temple is that they allow you to organize the contacts on your account. You can be the adminisrative contact for technical and billing while adding your web services provider as a technical contact. It's the perfect organizational pattern. The business stays in control and grants access to the service provider. If the business chooses to change services providers, they can revoke that access and add someone else.
For most businesses I've seen, email is even more important than web. Every minute of the day communication is paramount to business operations. It's 2014 folks, email is probably the primary method of communicating for most businesses at this point. One thing that a lot of business owners don't know is that email works based on a chain of dependencies that are often out of sight, out of mind.
Let's review the chain. You have a domain you've registered with a registrar. That domain must stay in good standing with the registrar. The domain must be translated into the address of your email server by DNS. Without DNS in place your email won't be delivered. Then finally, there must be an email server that provides transport and access to messages. Imagine what a disaster it would be if you one day lost your phone number. The same is true for email. It's the backbone of many businesses. Domain registration and DNS are made even more important by their foundational status in keeping email working.
Next, you know what I'm going to say. Your email should be hosted on an account that's yours. For many businesses, this is even more important than web hosting. I usually encourage folks to use [Google Apps] to host their email and provide a whole Google account for each employee. If you're using Media Temple you'll get email hosting with your web hosting. There are also great free services for small email accounts like ZoHo. Which ever option you use, just make sure it's controlled by you.
So that's it! Many businesses have unique situations that should be analyzed by a professional. It's not a bad idea to hire a web professional to write a report on your particular situation. Ask for a bullet point list highlighting those important links in the chain. While it's not expected for a business owner to simultaneouly be an IT or web professional, you can be a good steward to these accounts.
Also, if you're shopping around looking for web services companies, ask them ahead of time what their policies on such matters are. The answer should be that all clients own and procure everything for themselves. If you get any other answer, it's a red flag.