Do You Really Own Your Website?

By Chris Wadsworth

Published in The Source issue 8

Many businesses think they own their website but when the time comes to change their web supplier some find out they don’t.

The growing need for every business to have a website combined with a proliferation of web designers fueling competition in the web industry has produced an array of packaged offerings for economically priced websites aimed at businesses with limited budgets. Low capital costs attract businesses wanting a cheap website, but high monthly hosting and licensing fees often result in an expensive solution over the life of the website.

To reduce costs and to tie customers in for long periods, design templates and software are often licensed to a web designer’s customers. Without a full understanding of the implications of this approach you could buy into a deal that’s not what it appears on the surface.

Web design templates

Predesigned templates are a common way to reduce the time spent designing a website, and therefore reduce the cost. However, dropping content and images into an existing layout doesn’t work in your best interest as little thought is applied to understanding your needs and the best way to communicate with your target audience. Design templates limit the design choices available and the process is full of compromises to fit content to a predetermined structure.

Design templates also limit the opportunity for branding a website. Simply adding a logo and changing colours is an ineffective way for your website to integrate with company branding and can create a disjointed and unprofessional image for your business.

This approach to web design will diminish the effectiveness of your website to communicate with your audience and will reduce brand recognition for your business. It can also mean that you don’t own the design of your website. You are instead given permission to use it while you subscribe to the web designer’s services. If you find yourself in this position you have two options; stay with your current web supplier (for good or bad); or start again from scratch. Although the second option is often undesirable it can provide an opportunity to fully review your website design and create a more effective website suited to your company’s unique needs and branding.

The best website results come when you commission your own design. If you are not able to invest in design and have to choose a templated option it is advisable to clarify with the web supplier any issues around ownership of the design before proceeding.

Don’t get locked in by licensed software

Many web designers use proprietary software they have developed themselves or licensed from a third party to run websites that they build. When a website is built to run on a specific software you need access to that software for it to function. Once permission to use that software is withdrawn your website cannot operate. The most common licensing issues occur when software is specific to a particular company. If you decide to move to another web supplier you no long have access to that software and the only solution is to rebuild your website using different software – an expensive option. And remember, if you don’t own the intellectual property to your web design you can’t even do that.

When considering a web supplier find out if they use proprietary software and what sort of restrictions there are for its use. If it is licensed specifically for their customers then you need to realise they will own your website, not you. If a web design company requires you to host your website with them it is usually a sign that they use proprietary software which could tie you into expensive ongoing fees and restrict your future options.

An alternative solution is to find a web supplier who uses open source software or third party software that is readily available to others. In the case of open source software you won’t need to pay any ongoing license fees either.

Costs vs investment

Because websites are important business and communications tools it is wise to invest in a professional website that has been designed specifically for your company’s needs. This not only delivers you a more successful website but will also give you the flexibility to develop or move your website as technology and business needs change. This flexibility will allow you to manage the ongoing costs of your website and protect your investment.

Posted 17 May 2011

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