Guest book
As annoying as it is to stop just short of a party or event to sign guestbooks, looking back at how important the online counterpart was confuses me today.

I have yet to meet the person who doesn’t remember the first website they attempted to put together. Growing up during the Internet’s inception, creating a webpage at expage.com and getting people to sign your guestbook was THE thing to be doing in junior high, and I, like many of my classmates, was obsessed with it for a while.

This obsession led me to looking at how to make my page better, and I started to dabble with HTML. While my TAG instructor was content to hand me some extremely dense printed material and call it a day, a friend of mine in the same program was kind enough to show me a few basics, which was good since learning HTML is like learning the most complex new foreign language ever. Imagine trying to learn that from an encyclopedia without any help.

That being said, it would be over a decade before I dusted these skills off again, and the landscape had changed drastically during my absence. Like many who are lost when it comes to joining the nebulous Internet, I latched on to a bright life preserver known as WordPress.

Gritting my teeth, I bore the difficult learning curve and was able to put together a blog for my then and present favorite hobby, Magic: The Gathering. While I have not given it the attention it needs in recent years, that simple project was my first step to understanding how the Internet worked.

My original blog posts (stories) of league nights and various games were how I developed my card-playing theories and started seriously flexing my writing muscles. These are the same mental muscles which I get to keep in shape for a living now, telling the stories of businesses across the country and helping them captivate their own audiences. As part of that, I aim to help my audience follow the path I’ve blazed over the last several years.

That’s where today’s article comes in. Something as simple as knowing what to ask when it comes to website design and maintenance would have saved me a lot of mistakes when I was getting started, and most people don’t have the patience, or in my case stubbornness, that got me over the first difficult climb of building a website.

Not all companies are as customer focused as we are, and often operate under the assumption that you either know what they do, or they can fleece you for all you’re worth. Both scenarios bring an undue level of hardship when you’re navigating blindly, so let’s start shedding some light to help you start walking the path you need to successfully get and stay on the Web.

Can I add my own domain to the website I create with your web company?

The answer to this question should always be yes. There shouldn’t be any extra charges affiliated with doing this, unless you are buying your domain through the same web company as well. Domains play a central, foundational role in your online presence – never use anything else for your website.

Am I able to download a backup of my website?

This is a trickier question, because it typically means you need to make a choice if you are undertaking the project of building your own website. Do you want your platform to be easy to use, or do you want to invest time and/or money in something more substantial?

If you’re using a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) platform like Weebly, Wix, or Strikingly, the answer is going to be no. The reason is these platforms are designed to be proprietary in order to give you a platform that is much easier to navigate than WordPress, Joomla, Dreamweaver, or any of the dozens of different website platforms out there. However the negative is obvious: if something happens, that website is gone.

If the answer to this question is no, and you aren’t using one of these environments, you should stay far, far away. The best example of a popular platform denying you this access is wordpress.com. Not to be confused with WordPress, which can be run on most hosting plans, wordpress.com is an extremely restrictive hosting environment for WordPress websites.

While they receive a lot of business from people who are not as familiar with what WordPress actually is, if you’re going to take the time and effort to learn how to use WordPress, you deserve to be able to connect to your files via FTP and access a copy of your database should you need to fix a mistake or change who hosts your business website, or restore a website that is hacked, damaged, or somehow or in some way lost.

What are you using to create my website?

Tailored specifically for any web company or freelance designer you hire, you can learn quite a bit about them by how they answer this. If the answer they give you is any sort of WYSIWYG don’t hire them. Like we mentioned earlier, WYSIWYGs are designed to be easy enough for anybody to learn – building sites with them really isn’t anything special, and will often stifle your SEO in the long run.

By comparison, a good answer will tell you not just about the platform, but about how it is either going to be hosted (if they’re handling the setup for you) or what type of web hosting you need to purchase for it to run at its best.

Is there anything else you recommend for my website?

If all you’ve spoken about regarding your website is a domain and a hosting plan, the answer to this question should almost never be no. The only exception to that involves WYSIWYG platforms, but there are also far better options out there, which any web company offering WYSIWYG alternatives should be jumping at the chance to tell you about.

The single biggest thing people choose to cheap out on or skip is website security. SSL certificates, malware scanners, and firewalls are treated as optional by business owners and web companies alike, despite them being the bastions you need in order to protect customer and website data.

For businesses expecting traffic across the country, continent, or world, a content delivery network (or CDN), can also be invaluable. These are designed to serve your website content from locations that are close to the people accessing your website, which can cut down on the time it takes for them to load it. Faster website load time = better SEO and customer retention.

What am I getting with my service?

Web companies that bumble around trying to avoid a direct answer to this question are not web companies you should trust with your online presence. That said, if there’s an element they aren’t sure of, it’s okay for them to say they don’t know in the moment – so long as they get you an exact answer before you proceed.

This shows a willingness to get you the right answer and ultimately help you make an informed decision. Some elements like SEO can be very intangible, especially if you’re working with a new platform or obscure environment. If this becomes a theme with basic questions, however, this is a red flag you should pay careful attention to.

Not only should you know what you’re getting, but if someone selling you a package doesn’t know what you’re getting consistently, you have to wonder how good any package they sell really is.

Do you own any of my content?

Ooh, an easy one! If the answer to this question is anything other than no, don’t hire them. It’s expected for a web company to own and maintain their hosting platform, email servers, and any other element of their infrastructure, but the moment they start laying any kind of claim on your content, they’ve crossed a line.

The only exception to this rule should be during the development process of a website or changes that are being made to improve SEO. Even then, any company worth putting your faith in should be turning the ownership of the work over to you once it has been completed and paid for.

How can I contact you?

Being able to contact a web company by phone is mandatory as far as we’re concerned. There’s simply no substitute for being able to have a real, in the moment conversation about questions you have, issues that have arisen, or updates on a given project.

A web company doesn’t even need to offer 24 hour support with this – a clear timeframe where you will attempt a callback is sufficient. Exercise caution with any that don’t offer phone support at all.

Email is another option that most companies can and should offer – so long as it isn’t their primary point of contact. Not everybody likes calling and speaking with someone, and many are more comfortable with typing out a quick note and getting on with their day. This in fine in cases that do not require technical support – in the moment troubleshooting is generally the best way to diagnose and solve a technical problem.

Contact forms on a web company’s website are generally the last of your reasonable options for reaching out to them. These should be designed with specific goals in mind, such as scheduling appointments, reporting technical issues, or asking questions. Anything too broad is simply better handled by phone or email.

We offer all three of these options to our customers. By calling 319-229-5225, emailing design@midwestwebsites.com, or using our contact form, we are able to speak with new customers through any venue they need while offering prompt response options for our existing customers as well.

Braden Gardner

Braden is one of the founders of Midwest Websites, and has been professionally writing and developing websites for over 6 years. His blog posts often take an experience from his life and showcase lessons from it to help you maximize online presence for your business.