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

how to manage your online presence

Want to know the number one mistake too many smaller companies make that we see time and again at Elementive?

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. Sometimes, if the company tries to regain ownership, it can often get ugly and, on many occasions, the ugliness doesn’t end in favor of the small business. How to manage your online presence correctly is one of the biggest struggles we see small businesses facing.

Why is this a problem?

To see why this is a problem, let’s look at an example. 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).

Well, to see what could be wrong in this example, let’s roll the clock forward a few years. The web developer has gotten quite busy and doesn’t have enough time to tend to the retailer’s needs anymore. Understandably, the owners are frustrated, and they want to find another web developer who will prioritize their requests.

Switching to a different developer – a task that is already hard enough – now becomes considerably trickier because the current web developer owns that company’s web hosting – don’t forget the current web developer has been paying for the hosting too. 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 to make a change to billing or to remove their current developer as a user.

In order for this retailer to move to a new developer, they will also need to ask their current 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 the 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.

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. These are 6 questions we recommend asking consultants before you hire them.

How to Manage Your Online Presence

What You Need to Own

What do you need to do to avoid this risk? We’ll cover how to manage your online presence correctly. Here is a list of the key items you need to make sure you own (and pay for directly) related to your online presence. If your designer, developer, SEO, copywriter, or some other contractor owns these for your business, then work on regaining control now before you are in a situation where you want to, or need to, select a new service provider.

1. Web Hosting

The example above highlights one of the more critical items you should make sure you own – your web hosting. This is the company that provides the server where your website’s files live. 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. By all means, grant your web developer, web designer, SEO, and other contracts access as a user to your web host – they will need that access to do their job – but 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 owns your Google Analytics property 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 you have full ownership of your Google Analytics 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. 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 contact@mybusiness.com) 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 setup 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 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

Now that we’ve covered how to manage your online presence correctly, please feel to reach out with any questions, or schedule a consultation.