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The #1 Mistake Small Businesses Make: How to Manage Your Online Presence

June 02, 2021

Want to know the number one mistake I see too many small and mid-size companies make that we see time and again?

They don’t own their online presence. Instead, a contractor, consultant, or marketing agency owns some, or all, of the online presence on the company’s behalf. For example, the social media profiles are registered under the contractor’s email address. Or, the domain name is registered by the web designer instead of the company itself.

Too often, if the company tries to regain ownership, it can get ugly and, on many occasions, the ugliness doesn’t end in favor of the business.  I’ve seen companies forced to change their domain name because they couldn’t regain ownership. In other cases, the company had to pay ridiculous fees to regain access.

Long story short, managing your online presence correctly is one of the biggest struggles we see small businesses facing. Let’s talk about why this happens and how you avoid this problem for your company.

Why is this a problem?

Let’s walk through a common example of how companies lose access to some or all of their online presence. Say the owners of a small mom-and-pop retail store don’t know how to set up their website hosting – it is pretty technical, and they are confused by exactly what is needed for their online store. Their web developer offers to set the web hosting up for them…and, to be extra helpful, the developer also paid for that web hosting for the company too (the owners of the retailer can simply reimburse the hosting costs after all).

What could be wrong with that? The developer is saving the owners of this small retail establishment a headache (and every business owner prefers saving a headache or two where they can). A lot of developers or designers do this for clients to be nice. Early on, I even did this for a number of clients to help them with their hosting. 

To see what could be wrong in this example, let’s roll the clock forward a few years. The web developer is still paying for the company’s web hosting services and helps when time allows. However, the developer has gotten quite busy and doesn’t have enough time to tend to the retailer’s needs anymore. Understandably, the owners of this company are frustrated and would like their work to be completed. As a result, the owners of this company want to find another web developer who will help them fulfill their requests.

Switching to a different developer now becomes considerably trickier for this example company because their current web developer owns and is paying for that company’s web hosting. In many scenarios, that also would mean the owners of the retail establishment wouldn’t even be authorized to reach out for support from the hosting company. As a result, they couldn’t make a change to billing so they can pay for the hosting directly and they also couldn’t add their new web developer as a user.

To get out of this situation, this company would need to ask their current web developer to transfer ownership of the web hosting to them. Yes, sometimes this transfer can go smoothly. But…far too often, relationships between companies and contractors are strained when they are coming to an end. Sometimes bitterly so. The more strained the relationship, the worse the chances a company will be able to successfully gain ownership. In this example, a strained relationship could mean the owners of this example retail store might not be able to easily gain ownership of their web hosting. This is a big risk and could put this retailer’s entire website in jeopardy; if they can’t regain ownership, they’d have to start over in building their website.

Do you want to take that risk? I wouldn’t for my business, and I don’t want my clients to either. This is a prime reason why it’s important to hire a good, professional consultant. When you are selecting contractors, make sure you ask the right questions to determine if it is a fit.

How to Manage Your Online Presence

What do you need to do to avoid this risk? Here is a list of the key items you need to make sure you own (and pay for directly) related to your online presence. These should be registered in your company’s name and the owners of the company need full access to each service. If your designer, developer, SEO consultant, copywriter, or other contractor owns these for your business, then work on regaining control now to avoid future problems.

1. Web Hosting

The example above highlights one of the more critical items you should make sure you own: web hosting. This is the company that provides the server where your website’s files live. Once you’ve found the right web hosting company for your website, you want to make sure that this is set up in your company’s name, that all fees are paid for on a company credit card, and that the main point of contact (with full permissions to make changes) is somebody at the company, including the owner. By all means, grant your web developer, web designer, SEO, and other contracts access as a user to your web host as they will need that access to do their job. Just don’t make them an owner. (Side note: if your email is hosted separately from your web host, the same applies to your email host too.)

2. Web Registration

Even more important than owning your web hosting, you need to own your company’s domain and you also need ownership of any tools used to manage DNS records for that domain. Typically, at least for smaller companies, this is handled in the same place: the web registrar. For example, if your domains are registered at GoDaddy and you manage DNS through GoDaddy, you’d want to make sure you have (and pay directly for) everything inside of GoDaddy. If a contractor owns this or pays for this on your behalf, not only could your website be in jeopardy when that relationship ends but your entire business name could be too.

3. Analytics tools 

Reliable access to accurate data is the most critical component of succeeding with any type of website. If you lose access to your analytics accounts, you lose access to your data and that means you are operating blindly. This is especially true of historical data – you need to know what happened in the past to help understand where things stand now and what future scenarios are likely. If an external contractor has your Google Analytics property set up within their account and if that contractor leaves, they take the Google Analytics property with them. This leads to the loss of vital information, which could set your business back severely. Make sure your website’s Google Analytics property is set up within your company’s account data and then invite designers, developers, and marketers as users. The same holds true for all other analytics tools too.

4. Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

Many people think of Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools as an analytics platform. They are in part, but along with providing insights and data, these tools also give you the ability to instruct Google or Bing as they crawl through your website. For example, one set of instructions you can pass to Google is a list of backlinks to ignore (called disavows). This is a great tool and can help cut down on spammy backlinks. However, if the wrong person has access to Google Search Console, that person could instruct Google to ignore all of your backlinks – including the ones that are helping your website rank in search results. The good news is that Google Search Console makes it easy to add people at different user levels – and relatively easy to remove people when they are no longer working with your organization. The same is mostly true with Bing Webmaster Tools as well. The first step is making sure you are an owner of these tools so that you have full control.

5. Local & Google My Business

Your company’s online presence is more than your website – for most smaller companies, a key piece of the online presence is your local profile. That includes Google My Business, Yelp, local listing managers, and many more. Here again, you want to make sure your business is the owner. However, there are a lot of local listing profiles, and, likely, you won’t have time to set these up yourself. Instead, set up a generic email address (like that you own and have access to. Then, grant the SEO you hire to put in charge of generating local listings access to that email address. That way, the SEO can set everything up but since all profiles are tied to that generic email you own, you will be able to access all the local listing profiles should you need to change SEOs in the future. Also, for any local listing management tools, like Moz Local or BrightLocal, make sure they are set up in your company’s name and that your company pays for the account.

6. Ad platforms

In general, the same idea applies here as above – as much as possible, ad accounts should be set up in the company’s name using a company email address and the company should pay for ads directly. Certainly, for social media or search advertising, this is easily doable and then you can invite your ad agency as a user to those accounts. However, sometimes you can’t own the ad network or pay for it directly because your ad agency simply gets a better rate or better access if they own it or pay for it. So, for ad networks make sure you own and pay directly for as much as is possible. For the rest, be sure you regularly request full exports of data on ad performance, request complete copies of the ads that were run, and request complete information on how ads were targeted. That way, if you do have to change ad companies, you have the complete information and can provide that to a future ad agency.

7. Social profiles

Finally, make sure you own your company’s social profiles – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, and more. Here again, you can hire a marketer or copywriter to help you manage the profiles and you can grant the person you hire access. Each social network needs to be under your control so that you can switch marketers or copywriters as the need arises. The last thing you want is a disgruntled contractor holding your Facebook page hostage while they demand more money.

Recap & Final Thoughts

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. For your specific company, there might be additional services that you need to make sure you own. For example, plugins within WordPress or other tools you use to run your business. However, the point should be clear: don’t allow a third party to own the critical tools you need to run your business. 

If you need help managing or regaining control of your online presence correctly, please feel to reach out with any questions.

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