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Grow your own empire

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I would like to share a story that I encountered MANY MANY years ago when the internet was in its early days. (YUP, I am that old :D). Domain names were still a mystery to most of the people and only a few recognized that having a website can bring benefits to their own business. Even less were those who were aware HOW to do things right. From the beginning. Many learned the hard way.  But I still see this growing trend to “build other people’s empire” instead of theirs even this days of age. Maybe it’s even more prominent that it was back in the days.

The situation:

The Client knew that having a website is going to benefit her business since they offered accommodation services for young people.  It was a local business but with an opening to international clients: travelers who were looking for an affordable place to sleep. However, the solution they initially implemented was very wrong. They realized this about 2 years into the business. They build their website based on their ISP’s domain name and email address. Their site was something like: almightyisp.com/client and their email was client@almightyisp.com

The cheap solution is not always cheap.  And the free solution is generally not free.

Their solution was not free because they were relying on a service that was offered extra by their ISP(Internet Service Provider).  Yet it was marketed as free service. “We give you a free site address, hosting and a free email with the internet service we offer”. The client “bought it” because she had NO IDEA this time. She just didn’t consider how bad idea it is going to be.

Everything was more or less fine until about 2 years into their online adventure. This is when they arrived at me, totally confused and not knowing what to do. They just wanted to simply change the ISP, because it became totally unreliable as a service, was very expensive and slow when they realized that giving up the ISP contract will also mean to be forced to give up their “web address” and email.

Their big mistake was that at the beginning they had no clear idea just how important the domain name is. When they signed up for the service, they didn’t know that it will bring them a lot of hassle to get rid of it. And while I am pretty sure that these days nobody wants to use a free address offered by their Internet service provider, the  “free domain names” by various online services are still there and widely used by many.  (just take a look at how many something.shopfy.com, something.wix.com, something.blogspot.com, something.wordpress.com  addresses are out there, just to name a few, and you will see that the trend while slightly changed… it is still the same VERY  BAD IDEA. )

People tend to forget that these subdomains on various big sites are not their own. Of course is “mine” they say, I have access to it, and can manage it, do whatever I want with it… yes.. but it’s only “yours” until the company who owns the domain name and offers the services ALLOWS you to do so.

People also forget that facebook pages, twitter accounts, google+ pages are not their OWN either. It’s more like a rented property where the owner can say, sorry guys I have better things to do and won’t rent it anymore to you. Some services are surely here to stay because they make a lot of money to their owners, basically by YOUR efforts to promote your business,  when you actually promote theirs…  (you pay for Facebook ads to get people to your Facebook page?… you build Facebook’s empire :D)

So what’s the solution?

If you plan to have an online presence, start with owning a domain name. Do not compromise here. DO not believe any “wonderful offer” and free solution, HAVE YOUR OWN DOMAIN NAME first.

There are solutions to benefit from great free services for your blog/site for example if you are starting up and don’t want or can’t  invest too much, you can use your custom domain on blogger for free, WordPress offers this as a paid upgrade, you can add your domain to Shopify as well following simple instructions, and  if you decide to use Wix, you can have your own domain name on any of their premium plans. No matter what service you decide to use, do yourself a favor and grab a domain name first, then start building. You can still get the solution “out of the box” fairly cheap by using these services, yet you saved yourself a lot of hassle when later need to move just by having a domain name.

When later you outgrow you initial provider or want more from your site, having the domain name will make your life MUCH easier. 

How difficult was it to get things right for my client?

VERY DIFFICULT. And very costly as well. And they lost quite a bit.

I suggested them to get a domain name, hosting and build a site. Also to set up an email belonging to this domain name and start using that. 

The first step was to compile a long list of emails with every contact they had and send out a “press release” explaining that the old site/email address will be retired and the new site and email will replace it. People were urged to update the address books and change the bookmarks.

The second step was to remove all the content from the old site and make sure that every page of it redirects to a generic error message where a notification about the change was placed and a link to visit the new site was added.  We didn’t set up any automatic redirects because that wouldn’t really make people to CHANGE the old address. Why would they bother, when the old address takes them to the right place?

As a third step was to add an auto responder to the old email, stating that this email is no longer valid they should send the emails to the new address asap. We let them know that for now, the email arrived but this is temporary in a few weeks the emails won’t get to the company.

They were a bit lucky with the timing. They realized that they need the domain name a few days before sending out the new batch of yearly brochures to be printed, so it was still time to correct those to contain the new domain name and new email address.  

The fourth step was to keep the old ISP contract live for another half a year at least. This was mandatory because without the contract the old site address and the old email would have vanished instantly. They couldn’t continue working with the very bad service this ISP offered so they had to pay 2 ISP’s for at least 6 months in order to be sure no more/ or at least very limited amount of email comes to the old address.

After the 6 months of waiting and paying for a service, they didn’t want to use any more they switched off the old isp contract. Just to realize that there were still a bunch of people who continued to use the old address. The reason was very simple: they had an old brochure or a card at home and looked up their address from there. Luckily for these guys, their phone number was the same all through the process, and when you searched for their name on Google,  the new site was coming up.

They lost a lot of links pointing to the old address and there was no way to save them all.  We contacted many many sites and asked them to change to the new address, but it’s not always possible to get all of the links changed.

The conclusion

Save yourself the hassle and if you consider having an online presence, start with a domain name, you will regret not doing so later. 

Of course, there are cases to use the free services. For example, if you are not sure if WordPress is going to be a good solution for you and you want to see how it works, or you just write a blog about your dog and never plan anything serious with it.

How is this related to you?

Easy. If you build your online presence to be on Facebook, wordpress.com or any other online solution that exists and not using these social media accounts to send the incoming traffic to your site, you are basically doing the same thing.  If for some reason Facebook decides to shut down your page, you can lose a lot with that. Your clients might not even be aware of your site or your site may be not prepared to offer what the clients are searching. Remember… put your site in the center of your attention and drive the traffic in the direction of your site not away from it.

Also using addresses something@gmail.com type address is also a bad idea… more on that soon. Don’t worry 😀 I am using gmail… despite the fact that I know it’s not a good solution 😀

Image  credits: gratisography.com

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