Web hosting and web design questions

I’ve had a couple of customers approach me recently who have been having problems with their sites.  In one case, the original designer is no longer in business.  In the other, the customer bought the website from a company which is actually just letting the customer rent the website. This company has included items in the terms and conditions and imposed additional charges which take advantage of the customer’s naivety. Building a website should be a partnership, and both sides need to understand any initial and future costs.

So what questions do you need to ask BEFORE you enter into a contract with a hosting company or a web designer.  My initial thoughts (I’m sure there are more) are below, or you can download this as a pdf here.

Question The answer you should expect
Who will own the copyright to the site design? Most of the time you are granted a perpetual license to the design and the template. However any content which is created which you pay for you should own the copyright of, including graphics, textual content etc.
This copyright however remains the designer’s property until you pay the bill.
Who will own the copyright to the photos? This depends on who supplied the photos – if they’re yours then there shouldn’t be a problem, but you need to check any others. Copyright could quite legitimately lie with either the original photographer or the design company. Having said that, there are also images available which are royalty free, though you should always check the terms of the license before using these.
Who will own the copyright to the words on your site? This should be yours, as long as you wrote them yourself or paid someone else to write them on your behalf. Be very careful about borrowing words from other sites as Google has a plagiarism checker which can adversely affect your search engine ranking.
Who will own the copyright to your logo? This should be yours if you have paid for it. There are automatic logo builders which can generate you a logo and give you a perpetual license for it, but the design company can reuse it over and over again unless you buy the exclusive rights to it.
Is there a fee for transferring your domain to another registrar? This should be free for .co.uk and other uk domains. All other domains should be transferred for the cost of a single years domain renewal (in this instance the domain is also extended by a year, so you effectively get it for free).
Can you manage your content (photos, blog posts, changes to team details etc) yourself? If not, do you know what the charge for your web company doing these changes is? If your site is built using a content management system such as WordPress or Joomla you should be given the option to manage the content yourself. If you don’t want to do that, make sure you know how much content changes are likely to cost.
Are you comfortable with the level of security on your site? If your site is hacked, what will your hosting provider or web designer do to fix it and how much will they charge? Note that these charges are likely to be higher if you don’t have a website maintenance contract.
Is there a fee for transferring your site to another hosting company? Don’t be surprised if there is one, but make sure you know what it is. If you want them to move all the files the cost is likely to be significant. If all they’re doing is repointing nameservers and changing IPS tags then the cost should be no more than an admin fee of a few pounds.
Whose name is your domain registered in? If this is not in your name and address, or if it is a uk domain and not verified, get it changed asap. You can check uk domains at http://www.nominet.uk/uk-domain-names/about-domain-names/domain-lookup-whois/whois-tool and .com/.org etc domains at http://whois.icann.org/en.
Do you get a logon to the control panel so that you (or a new designer if you get one) can access all of your backend files if you need to? You should have one and if you’re not given one this would be a big red flag imho.
Does your hosting company take backups as part of your package? If not, what do you have in place to recover your site if it falls apart? Many hosting companies charge extra for backups, though it is possible to take backups yourself, especially if you have access to that control panel, though taking backups yourself would be a faff and not something I’d recommend. If your package does include backups, check how often they’re taken to see if this matches the frequency with which you update your site. If you’re putting new products on every day then you need daily backups, but if you do a blog post once a week then weekly ones should do.
If you are looking at a ‘package’ for building your website do you know exactly what that package covers and what ongoing costs you are likely to have to pay?
Have you bought an SEO management package? Do you know what the goals of that package are? Do you know what the ongoing costs for this are? What comeback do you have if they fail to achieve the SEO ranking you want?
If you have a CMS site such as WordPress or Joomla which requires a theme/template/plugins, do you know who owns those? If they’re not owned by you and you move to a new designer, can you still access the updates when they become available? If the template/plugin cost appears on your invoice, then it should be registered in your name.
Do you know how often the software on your site (eg php, WordPress, plugins) is updated, if at all? If you would like it to be updated regularly (you should), is there an extra charge for this?
Is there any extra charge for hosting mailboxes associated with your domain name? You often get one or two mailboxes included with your hosting package, but being charged for this, or for large numbers or sizes of mailboxes is common. Just make sure you know what the cost is likely to be.