If you’ve purchased, or are in the process of purchasing an existing business, you undoubtedly are facing the complex and confusing task of taking control of that business’s website. Even if the previous owner is being helpful and proactive, he or she may not understand all the various components involved in owning and managing a modern business website.
For you, the new owner of the business, having a basic checklist of what you should have access to and ownership of can save you a lot of major headaches and wasted time down the road when domains expire or paid plugins need to be renewed.
We highly recommend that as you uncover the various pieces that make up the web footprint of the business, you make a list of whatever you find including links, login information, and account information, and keep this list in a safe place like a safety deposit box. If you ever need access to the information or decide to sell the business yourself, you’ll know where to find it.
Transferring Ownership of the Domain
Without a doubt, the most important thing to take care of is transferring ownership of the domain. If a business has a lot of income as a result of web traffic that has built up over a long time, then losing access or ownership of the domain could mean losing a major part of that business’s value. And this is not something that can be quickly rebuilt.
In some cases the registrar of the domain may be the same company as the hosting account (see below), and if this is indeed the case, this step could be taken care of when you take over the hosting. In a situation where the domain registrar is another third-party company, you may want to transfer the domain to a domain registrar you like, taking over the ownership of that domain in the process.
Transfer of the Hosting Account
Hosting can be one of the most confusing, expensive, and technical aspects of a business’s web footprint. In the space of this short blog, it would be difficult to walk you through the wide variety of situations that can be encountered when trying to understand how a website and its associated email accounts has been set up, so we’re just going to go over some key points to help you do your due diligence.
A web host is basically where your website and its associated files exist. You could think of a website like a house that sits on a lot, which is the host. That lot contains all the plumbing, electrical, and other services that keep your house livable. It also has the mailbox. The domain is the address for your house which you put on that mailbox. What is different from real life with this scenario is that you can move your house to a different lot, but still keep your same address so that people will always be able to easily find you.
In the analogy above, one incredibly important thing to understand is that the mail accounts are routed through the hosting company. If the company you’re taking over relies on online ordering, or email for any aspect of business, then any mistakes made in changing settings or migrating (moving) the website to another host could possibly cause a disruption of email, or worse, loss of all email history. Hosting is a critical element in the functioning of practically every modern business.
When acquiring a new business, make it a priority to work with the seller to get access to and make contact with the host of the website early in the process. Ideally, you will be able to communicate with a human being at the hosting company and they can assist you with the change in ownership and associated billing. They should also be able to answer any questions you have about the setup of the website and email. If there are any red flags while dealing with the hosting service, immediately find a competent and trusted technical partner to help or advise you with the process.
What About Web Analytics?
The website you are taking over should have one or more accounts associated with it that record and report web analytics. Most of the time this is Google Analytics, which is a free analytics platform that is accessed through a Google Gmail Account. If this is the case, the seller of the business should either give you access to the Gmail account, or add a Gmail account that is under your control as an admin of the analytics account.
Another free Google platform that the website may be connected to is Google Search Console, which provides very detailed information on the website’s visibility in search. This will also be connected to a Gmail account, so it is worth checking on when inquiring about Google Analytics.
Sometimes a website will have a third-party analytics platform with an associated monthly or yearly fee. Sometimes these services can cost quite a bit, so make sure you find out the costs and renewal date of any associated analytics platform so there are no surprises down the road.
Regardless of whether the website has an analytics platform or not, we strongly encourage you to connect the site to both Google Analytics and Google Search Console right away. As mentioned above, these platforms are free, work well, and can run quietly in the background like the black box in an airplane, even if you decide to spend money to try out a paid third-party analytics platform.
Plugins and Other Third-Party Subscriptions
If your website is fairly large or complex, like an event ticketing site or ecommerce store, there will undoubtedly be lots of plugins and third-party services involved in keeping it running. And some of these plugins and services may have costs associated.
Make sure you are clear on what third-party billing is associated with the website’s functionality and features, and if there is any sort of storefront involved, know that you may need to take over the payment gateway as well to connect it with a business account in your name.
Photos, Logos, and Files, Oh My!
One thing that can easily be overlooked is artwork and photography. While the site may have a great logo and lots of images on it, these will not be usable if you need to print them out or use them in a larger format.
Make sure you ask for the original raw artwork files of any logos or branding elements. Even if you don’t have the program to open the artwork files, a graphic artist or printer will, so having them could be incredibly important for future promotions and signage.
Photos may not seem like a big deal, but if there are original photos tied to the business, these can be extremely valuable to you for future website changes and other marketing both on and off the web. So don’t just ask for the website files, ask if you can have copies of the original files of any and all images associated with the business.
Ask for Help
Lastly, and most importantly, ask for help if you need it. While we put a lot of the above in layman’s terms, much of what goes on behind the scenes of a website is incredibly technical. Hiring a competent web partner to guide you through the process of taking over an existing business can save you a lot of stress and money down the road when unseen problems pop up that could have been identified while the ownership was being transferred to you.