Small businesses unaware of key Web site issues

Too many UK small businesses do not understand the issues surrounding domain names and how to make best use of their Web sites,...

Too many UK small businesses do not understand the issues surrounding domain names and how to make best use of their Web sites, according to a new survey.

Some businesses feel ripped off when they find they don't actually own the domain name for their Web site or find advertisements for third parties popping up when users access their site.

Problems such as these were highlighted in a survey from Internet marketing agency Neutralize, conducted on behalf of the government's UK Online for Business initiative.

Neutralize studied the Internet usage of 39 companies and found that more than a third were surprised to discover that they were not the legal registrant of what they thought was their own domain name.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) told that this is just one example of problems faced by SMEs regarding the issue of domain names and Web hosting.

FSB national IT chairman Peter Scargill said: "There appears to be a fundamental lack of knowledge in the SME sector as to what they are getting when investigating or purchasing a domain name. The inherent technical expertise in this activity tends to alienate many users."

The FSB fears that too many users are simply bolting a domain name onto their Web site without understanding the real benefits. Scargill also warned SMEs to be wary of relying on technical specialists.

"SME's should be aware of all of these issues and shop around, but be aware that as in everything, there is a balance between price, service, reliability and choice," he said.

The FSB has compiled seven Best Practice points to help SMEs get to grips with the key issues of domain names and site hosting.

1. Are you buying a name to use or just for "brand" protection? If you wish to use the name you need Web pointing for which many service providers charge extra.

2. Be aware that cheaper services may include advertising from third parties. Some ISPs offer cheap domain names, but their advertisement pops up every time a user accesses a site they host.

3. Look for real customer support. Web-based help with no access to a human being is fine when everything is working, extremely frustrating when it is not.

4. Check for lock-in fees. Some providers charge you to transfer out your domain name if you wish to move hosting of your site elsewhere. Charges can be steep.

5. Do you own or rent the domain name of your site? Is it registered in your name or that of the domain providers? Make sure you actually own the name - check the "who is" service and your account details.

6. What features are provided free? You need Web pointing to use your domain name and e-mail forwarding allows you to use your domain name as your e-mail address. Check about charges for additional e-mail addresses.

7. Look for an established provider. Transferring domain names can be disruptive.

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