Here are some tips that can help ease the workflow for a project, whilst avoiding any unnecessary lock-ins to your supplier.
During the lifetime of the business, there will be staff changes as well as different suppliers. At various points they will need access to an e-mail address that belongs to your domain for things like “Click link to activate this account”. So save yourself some annoying phone calls of suppliers asking you to click on a link (that has inevitably expired) and try the following:
DNS (Domain Name System)
Arguably more important than your business registration. It turns human readable names e.g. foundonline.com.au into addresses e.g. 126.96.36.199 that computers can actually use to find relevant systems. It also holds information on where to find mail servers (Mail eXchanger records), state which servers are allowed to send mail on behalf of your domain, verifies ownership of your domain to a number of services (like Google Analytics) and can even hold information for your phone systems if you’re using VoIP.
Needless to say, if DNS goes down, you’re going to be having a bad day (and DNS DOES go down for trillion dollar companies that you may be relying on). It doesn’t matter if your website and mail servers are running fine, if other systems can’t look up the DNS info to find them, they may as well not exist at all.
There are 2 parts to DNS that you need to care about:
This is where you purchase the domain name from a registrar and associate it with a contact e-mail.
Just like your website is hosted on a web server, you need a DNS server that then serves the information for your domain name to the world. Many registrars will offer this as part of the domain registration process as an upsell, but you need to keep in mind that that may not be the best solution.
Some services like Cloudflare’s excellent content distribution network, which caches your website content all around the world to speed up your site, require that your DNS be hosted by them to work. However, Cloudflare is practically useless for Australian websites as they have to route their traffic though Singapore on their free plans due to Telstra…. well Telstra being Telstra.
In the course of creating code and digital assets for a project, developers and designers will usually generate the final assets from working files. So a photoshop file with separate layers of the elements will be flattened into an exported PNG image and likewise, code will be compiled, or combined and minified into a compressed output before it’s applied to the production website.
It becomes a lot harder, if not impossible, to edit the outputs directly when you want to make a change or an update. Therefore you need to ensure that as part of the deliverables of the project, that the supplier provides all the necessary source assets and code, along with instructions that are necessary to generate the final output files needed for a working version of the project.
There will be some situations where it will not be possible for the agency to provide the source assets for a particular part of the project, for instance they have built a marketing tool or an e-commerce engine and the cost for this development has been borne by the agency themselves and amortised across multiple clients. This is perfectly understandable as it is their intellectual property that they have built up and have the rights to, but you as a client need to understand that this locks you into relying upon them for updates in a timely manner and that a portion of your project may cease to function if you decide to move away from them at some point in the future.
Support and Updates
Everyone knows that the tech world is a constantly moving target (for better or worse), there are security updates at all levels of the tech stack of your project, there are more general tech shifts over time that result in better functionality or ease of use or speed of development. You need to ensure that the project has budget allocated for ongoing support and maintenance so that security patches are applied in a timely manner, thus reducing the likelihood of your site being hacked and starts serving ads that generate money for the hackers, or it installs a crypto miner on your server and you are suddenly faced with a large bill for the compute resources being consumed by it.
Support and updates are not only necessary for the technology either. Usually, once a website project is handed over to you, there will be a need for training of staff into how to use it properly to make content updates and operate it in general. There is no point in getting a great new website up and running if your staff making the updates are unaware of the way in which content needs to be written for effective SEO – it will usually end up in harming your overall rankings.
Unfortunately, we have heard and read of more than enough instances of companies being wiped out because a major system or their website has broken and they had no backups to revert to. Or even worse, they had backups going, but didn’t test them on a regular basis, leading to them not working when the time actually came to needing them. Always insist on backups and get the supplier to show proof of a restoration process working.