While driving traffic from search engine ads to our advertisers’ websites, we get to learn a lot about our clients and related issues that arise. One issue we see far too often is confusion about what part(s) of their website our clients own vs. unknowingly “rent” from a third party.

This can happen to any type of business, if the person who responsible for the website does not know the right questions to ask to avoid the gotchas. We see this issue in specific verticals such as auto parts or marinas, but it can happen in any situation where the website builder or provider also serves as the website hosting company.

The basic questions
To get to the core of the matter quickly, ask the following questions:
(1) When I get ready to move my website from your hosting, what (if any) parts can I take with me for no extra cost?
(2) Can any competent webmaster use the files you provide and easily recreate our website to work at a different web hosting company?
(3) Is the website built upon an open source platform such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla? If so, what is the number of the version? If not, what platform is it built upon?

Breaking a website down into pieces
Here are the related main components you need to be aware of: Domain Name; Website Hosting Account; Website Platform /Structure; Images; and Text Content. Big picture, you need to maintain ownership and administrative login access to all of these components. Of course, you may need to share access to them with your webmaster, but always keep current admin level logins in case he/she cannot be located, etc.

If you cannot afford to have a website built that you own, you may have to start over to move your website to another host.

A recent example
A building contractor here in Austin recently called us and said that one of the largest national companies that provides local advertising was “holding my website hostage”. The contractor wanted to switch ad providers and work with us to get leads from search engine ads. However, this large web company was his web host, webmaster, and provider of traffic from online ads. Turns out that his website was built on a proprietary platform that the advertising company owned. Upon reading the fine print of his contract, the construction company owner learned to his dismay that after much effort, all he could move without a major technical effort was the text content that he had written.The upshot: he was renting — not owning — most of his website, but was not aware of it.