Thursday, August 13, 2009



Disappearing Domains

I can buy a dedicated server from a web hosting company and load it up with two or three thousand web sites. I can set it up so you'd think I was the web host, when in fact, I'm simply reselling web hosting services at a nice profit.

All I need is a server in my dorm room closet. Then, when I get tired of the hassels of customer service, or I graduate, I can simply shut down that server and when you log on to your site's dashboard, you get a 404 message - can not conect to server - because I turned off the server.

Your business disappears in the night without a word. All your hard work, all the money you invested, all your income - gone with the flip of a switch.

Scared? You should be.

If it happens to you what have you lost? Much more than just your website. You also lose access to your site’s databases – databases filled with invaluable customer information. You also lose inbound links, critical to higher page rank. Even worse, you disappear from search engines altogether. You can see how this nightmare can go on to the point where you’ve lost it all – and who knows where your web host is. Maybe he graduated from high school.

There are lots of horror stories about deleted domains – websites that have been zapped simply because the owners forgot to pay the annual domain registration fee, for instance. If you’re the forgetful type, you don’t want to work with a host that deletes your livelihood over a $4.95 charge – but it’s happened.

What are the domain registrar’s responsibilities?

There is some law and order on the W3. A consortium called ICANN oversees the relationships between web hosts and site owners. You can access the agency’s rules and regs on-line to see what your “legal” options are when you encounter a problem with your web host. Any reliable hosting company is going to adhere to ICANN guidelines. Look for some kind of sign that a potential web host is ICANN-savvy.

Next, before you sign up for an expensive, long-term subscription for hosting services, read the TOS – the Terms of Service. And not just the big text, either. Before you sign up with any web host, read the entire TOS – even the finest of fine print. Know how a given host deals with deleted accounts and what steps the hosting company takes to provide access to databases and other critical information if your domain is deleted, and what steps it takes to rectify the problem if technically feasible. All of this will be laid out in the TOS. Read it very, very carefully.

However, if you’re reaching for a copy of your host’s TOS, chances are you already have a problem and you’re looking for the host’s contractually-binding responsibilities. So, even if you’ve been zapped contrary to ICANN guidelines or even the TOS of your web host, there’s not much you can do about it. It would cost much more to litigate and even then, getting payment is going to be difficult if not impossible. (And don’t think the unscrupulous web hosts don’t know this. They count on it!)

It all comes down to the way web hosts treat their clients and fulfill the legal requirements of a client subscription. Some web hosts operate out of a spare bedroom (or even a closet) and just don’t have the time to oversee simple, administrative chores like automatic domain renewal for their clients. If you’re working with an unreliable or uninvolved hosting company, you may get deleted, along with an auto-responder in your inbox.

On the other hand, working with an engaged web host – one that provides the tools you need to build a site to success – eliminates a lot of uncertainty and sleepless nights. It’s all about the quality of the hosting services you receive.

The quality of hosting

How do you know your site won’t be vaporized overnight without so much as a heads up from your hosting company? Fly-by-night web hosts disappear all of the time, taking with them their subscribers’ money and all of that hard work. It’s a fact, not all web hosts provide the same level of service, or the range of services, that better web hosts do. That’s why it pays to shop around.

As you’re comparison shopping look for signs of reliability. Does the host’s site look good? Is the text professionally written or is it just some kid working out of his dorm room hosting a few hundred clients on a shared server? It doesn’t take much to call yourself a web host. A small investment in server hardware, administration software and the ability to take credit card payments are about all you need to call yourself a web host company.

However, it takes much more to call yourself a good web host. Think of your web host as a silent but critical partner in your on-line endeavor because, in fact, that’s just what a web host is. Why? Because if you lose access to the world wide web, you lose access to your customers or clients and you aren’t making any sales during downtime. So you want reliability – even if it costs a few bucks more each year.

What are the “signs” of quality web hosting?

Does the host offer an automatic renewal service? If it does, it’s a sign that the host is involved in the success of its clients.

Does the site display any logos – the ICANN logo, the on-line Better Business Bureau or some other affiliation that instills confidence? Look. Ask.

Are the TOS clear, simple and straight up? It’s in the best interests of a quality hosting company that clients not have any misunderstandings before buying hosting services.

Does the host offer 24/7, US-based tech support? If your site has suddenly disappeared you want to talk to someone who can fix the problem – now!

You also want to look for a host that’s been around for a while. Now, this is no guarantee that your site won’t be deleted for some infraction (or for no reason at all). The nightmare scenario described above involved a huge domain registrar with a long-time, web presence.

Is the web host involved in the success of its clients? The good ones are because it’s easier to keep a client than find a new one so quality web hosts build their client bases by delivering quality services, near-perfect uptime, tools and applications required to build and launch a website and grow it to profitability. The more freebies a web host offers the better. That’s a great measurement of how the web host sees its responsibility in your partnership.

So, scour the blogs, read the reviews and visit each potential web host’s site for a thorough evaluation. Read the TOS agreement from top to bottom so you understand just what you’re getting and for how long. Finally, look for a web host that wants to partner with you for mutual success.

Websites will still disappear and the horror stories will continue to make the rounds on the web. But if you go with a hosting company that delivers, has a track record and a commitment to your site’s success, the likelihood that your site will be deleted are greatly diminished.

Your web host is your on-line partner. That's why it pays to shop around and not let cost be the only deciding factor. Looking for some web-based business security? Drop me a line. Let's get you hooked up to a web host that'll look out for YOUR business' best interests.

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