Necessity #6: Web IT (Hosting, Email, etc.) [from Web Marketing Nine]

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Web Marketing Nine:
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For businesses, professionals, and organizations existing in a local marketplace, Web IT is quite a challenge. The first question you may have is, What is Web IT? So, allow me to describe a services landscape.

Many of my clients will say, “I don’t know the first thing about computers and the Web and such.” These clients tend to see their physical computer and associate everything they experience on that machine as being one area of service, products, etc.

But consider that your machine is a piece of hardware, a computer, that you probably bought at a big box retailer or in a business package from Dell or the like. Then consider that your software is programming that is loaded on your machine by a software company like Microsoft or Apple. The software is proprietary, and the core source code is inaccessible by anyone other than the creator. So, already, when you turn your machine on and you try to do something, you are dealing with at least two different providers – two whole different industries – Microsoft is not competing with Best Buy.

Then comes the Internet. The Internet is a series of connected servers all around the world. This means that if you can get access to that connection, then you can communicate with people and experience information stored all over the world. So, who provides this connection? Who provides you Internet access? Most likely, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is either a phone company or a cable company. Where I live, you’re probably using BellSouth or Comporium for your Internet access. When you email, for example, you are using software(1) on your computer(2), and that software is connecting to the Internet(3).

So, in terms of providers, if your computer will not turn on, Microsoft cannot help you. Take it back to Best Buy. If your Outlook won’t open or is locking up, call Microsoft. If you can’t connect to the Internet call your local ISP. Right?

Well, as service industries evolve, the big players innovate with service options and local providers emerge to serve businesses and organizations. So, if your Outlook won’t open, it is probably not the best action to take to call Microsoft. You either take it back to Best Buy, and they have an IT person on hand who has specified support at Microsoft. Or, as most businesses and organizations now do, you have “IT”. Give it to IT, right? Who is IT? Well, IT is usually staff or a local service provider.

IT service providers make up the service industry that’s developed around computers. An IT service professional in a local marketplace essentially plays the role of helping a company deal with all of the computer related issues. They network your computers, recommend and install software and hardware… and so forth.

In terms of a mid-sized to large business, you have IT staff. They “fix your computers”. They undoubtedly are good at their jobs. But consider this: Are they your marketing team also? Probably not. And this brings us to the Web.

Your website is a communications medium and one of your most dominant methods of market presence, branding, and positioning – OK, so put the marketing team on it, right?

Well, your website is a creation of interactive code (or a piece of software, essentially) – OK, then let’s purchase it from a retailer and have IT deal with it, right?

Well, your website is supported (in display and in function) by hardware and software and ISPs – OK, then upgrade our local cable or phone service and, again, have IT deal with it, right?

Well, your website is also, if you are using your Web domain for your email addresses (for example, you@yourbusiness.com), your email communications hub – again, put IT on it.

You can see how big of a role that IT plays in your website. But what is the MAIN purpose of having a website? Answer: marketing and communications. Thus, IT plays little part in the main function of your website. As a matter of fact, marketing and IT are at the far ends of the professional spectrum, and the Web has forced them together. You can see the confusions here.

You may say, “I want one company that can handle all of this for me, to simplify this whole computer related thing for me.” That’s a valid motivation, and there are providers in every marketplace who offer this solution. They are IT companies who added the Web element as the Web became accessible. They have incorporated marketing and design and programming into their IT models and come out the other end a new breed of provider. Such companies are good options for many people.

Increasingly, though, the specialist appears in the marketplace. Like all industries before it, “Technology” is defined increasingly sharply into different areas of expertise and service. Web Design and Web Marketing have become increasingly cousins to Marketing as much as to Technology. Web Development, though all the rage in the online world, is seen by most business folk as a subset of Web Design. Computer and software purchasing, networking, maintaining, and ISP connections and such are clearly defined as the job of your “IT guys”.

Web Hosting is the step-child of this awkward marriage. Hosting is the IT need of your Web Marketing efforts. Hosting is where your IT and your Marketing must be seamlessly coordinated.Some companies and organizations choose to host their own Website on their own internal servers. That’s possible because remember that from a technical point of view a website is nothing but code, images, and databases. It displays itself into what you see when you use it. If not on your own servers, then it has to be somewhere. Thus, you will have a relationship with a Hosting Provider.

What is a Hosting Provider?

Hosting is quite a challenge for businesses. Many businesses expect the person who built their website to host it. But, unless you used an all-in-one IT company that offers web services, then this is NOT a good idea. You do not want your “web designer” a design/creative individual hosting your website. Think about it.

They don’t have any servers. So, where is your site. It’s on some other company’s servers that you don’t know about. The web designer is just reselling their services.

Your best options are:

  • Partner with a local service provider (one that actually has control of the
    servers, not a reseller of someone else’s hosting)
  • Use one of the “big boys” (yahoo, godaddy, 1and1, etc.)

The point is that hosting is like phone service or Internet service. In fact, these services are not even really seen as services at all. They are commodities of access, so to speak.

Imagine that young sales person came into your office trying to sell you phone service from some other company that you have never heard of. Then you find out that the sales person is a non-licensed reseller of someone else’s services. Does this even seem worth your time?

This strange example is akin to small shop web designers and web developers and web consultants offering to host your website. They are just reselling another provider’s services, and all they had to do was fill out an online form to be able to do so. They have no control over your hosting, and if there was a problem, they’d have to call a 1800 number or use online help, just like you would. They cannot guarantee you anything about the service. They only know what they’ve read, or been told, or experienced as a customer of that provider.

In terms of using a local service provider (actual provider) versus using one of the big boys, consider these advantages and disadvantages.

Potential advantages of using a local service provider:

  • Service

Not always, but many times a locally owned company can offer you better service. In terms of hosting, you really only need service when there is a problem.

  • Networking

It is always a good idea for local service providers to do business with other local service providers

The potential disadvantages of using a local service provider:

  • Cost

Usually you pay more to use a local company. If the service is better, though, then may be well worth the difference.

  • Access

Local web hosting service providers will often also offer other Web related or IT services. This is fine of course, and for many this is great. In almost every industry there are those who benefit greatly from the one-stop shop model, that concept will never go out of style. The only concern with such a model is the nature of propriety and access. Some models perpetuate a relationship where access is controlled by the service provider. These are not malicious practices as much as just the way of doing things.

This last point, access, is worthy of more explanation. Access is becoming the key concept of the world. Allow me to articulate a specific example in the context of Web hosting. Many web services companies that also provide hosting do not provide FTP access. You may say who cares. I don’t even know what that means. But what it means is that you have eliminated your ability to do business with many providers out there offering innovative services. FTP is access to upload to your site (enabling new pages and changes to be made and to go live).

You may not want anyone else in your website besides your one-stop-shop. And that’s fine for many people. But consider this: managing your website is like managing your personal wealth. Some people feel comfortable with one provider solely charged with the management of their financial portfolio. Other people use one provider for this, another for this, do some of it themselves, etc.

Let’s compare the hosting industry to the banking industry. Using a community bank is good business for a local service provider but not the best idea for a relocating person. Some people still bank at one bank. Most people, though, bank at many banks.

Personally, if I wanted to take out a loan at one bank, I wouldn’t want them to have to go to my other bank and ask permission to do business with me. And if my other bank said, “Sorry, you have to take your loan from us.” I would laugh at them and move my money somewhere else.