By Claire West

- Half of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) outsourcing their website unable to publish anything themselves

- 1 in 4 using web professionals suffer downtime

British firms may be placing themselves at risk by an over-reliance on IT or web consultants who look after their website, according to research released today by Fasthosts Internet Ltd, www.fasthosts.co.uk, a leading web hosting provider.

The study of 410 firms(1) finds that many do not have simple arrangements in place to retain basic control or in some cases even legal ownership of their website and domains. 43 per cent of firms surveyed are reliant to some degree on an external web specialist. Should their advisor be unavailable, 56 per cent are unable to publish any changes themselves. Two thirds are without contact details or passwords for the provider that hosts their website, and 70 per cent do not have all their domain names registered in the name of the business owner. Similarly, 70 per of firms using external website services do not hold a back-up copy of their website.

Whilst SME satisfaction with web professionals is high, the data highlights the risk posed by a lack of basic precautions to protect valuable online material should arrangements break down.

Ever broadening consumer expectations for the web has led more firms than ever (43 per cent) to opt for using the services of skilled web professionals (such as web designers) to help create and maintain their website. Some 92 per cent of such companies rate their external web consultants positively, with 38 per cent reporting a ‘good’ return on investment. 77 per cent of respondents are happy with the appearance of the website created for them. However, Fasthosts’ ‘SME & the Web’ study finds that many UK companies may be risking revenue and reputation as a result of weaknesses in their workflows with such third parties.

Issues can occasionally arise between companies and external web partners. During the past 2 years, 1 in 4 firms paying for an external web professional have had their website off-line as a result of a problem related to the other party, such as technical issues or staff shortage. 22 per cent have had an unreliable website at some point. 1 in 5 businesses have incurred delays to projects caused by their external partner, and 17 per cent report losses of both staff time and sales revenue over £1000 as a result. For 14 per cent of respondents, an external advisor or agency has gone out of business.

A large number of small companies are failing to take basic steps to safeguard the continuity and protection of their web presence. In the event of an issue with their external partner, more than half of firms (56 per cent) have no way of making any changes or additions to their website themselves. 80 per cent of firms have no facility for switching their website on/off independently. For these businesses, the link to their external web professional is a single point of failure in their online presence. Whilst UK firms invest millions in professional web design each year, 70 per of those that use a web designer do not retain a back-up copy of their website themselves.

Steve Holford, Marketing Director, Fasthosts Internet Ltd., said “For many firms, using external web professionals is a very sensible and rewarding option. However, it is vital that all businesses take simple measures to retain some basic control of their website and protect their investments. Should arrangements suddenly change, business owners should be equipped to make changes to their online identity and maintain contact with their online audience. The web designers we work with always recommend that clients at least keep a back-up copy of their website design”.

Furthermore, it appears that many SMEs risk losses and disruption by failing to guarantee their legal ownership of valuable online assets. A significant number of firms are not making a clear distinction between day-to-day administration of their company website and the legal ownership of their domains and hosting. 70 per cent of businesses using external web professionals do not have all their domain names registered in the name of the business owner. 66 per cent of firms are without contact details or passwords for the provider that hosts their website.

Holford added, “Too many small companies are failing to ensure that their valuable domains and their web hosting are registered in their names and are accessible to them. As external parties can come and go, it is vital that businesses protect themselves from potential disruption, losses and reputation damage that an off-line or out-of-date website can cause”.

Fasthosts provides the following tips for businesses to ensure that they have basic safeguards in place when relying on external web professionals:

1 — Ensure all domains are registered in the name of the business owner — seek transfer of ownership if necessary

2 — Keep contact details and passwords for the provider that hosts your website and registers your domains

3 — Retain an up-to-date back-up copy of your website design on CD or server

4 — Request a means to make basic amends or additions to your Homepage from in-house

5 — Negotiate an uptime guarantee to protect against delays and losses

As a leading web host, Fasthosts offers a comprehensive range of web solutions including domain name registrations, email solutions (including mobile email services), shared web hosting, virtual servers, dedicated servers, secure online storage, online payment services, reseller web hosting and feature-rich broadband packages. Fasthosts is well placed to deliver a high quality service. All data is hosted in Fasthosts’ state-of-the-art UK based data centre.

Full details can be found at www.fasthosts.co.uk

(1) 410 UK small companies using a website surveyed by OpinionMatters via electronic feedback form