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Dental Website Designers

by Liam McNaughton

Dental website designers, and the scandal of domain ownership. You have registered mydentalpractice.co.uk – but do you actually OWN IT? Who is the REGISTRANT - you or your website designer?

Having dealt with a dodgy website design company today, this is probably as good a day as any to vent a certain amount of frustration with our on-going problems with web designers in the dental market. As an industry, sitting as they do between IT skills, and design skills, I often wonder whether they actually represent the worst of both: designers who can’t do pure graphic design, and technical people without enough grasp of the technologies involved. OK, that’s probably harsh – I dare say there are many admirable web designers in the dental sphere doing great work for their clients, it’s just that we don’t come across many of them. The best web designers, in our experience, are actually design companies who consider the design, brand and marketing first, with the website simply another media in which the design is delivered.

Problem 1

The scandal of domain ownership. Web designers invariably register domains to them, not the customer. This is a major problem, which affects probably more than half of the customers we come across. What tends to happen is this: a customer (say Dental Clinic) approaches web designer (say Pink Elephant) and asks them to setup a domain and website for them. Pink Elephant discuss with the customer, agree that dentalclinic.co.uk is the best domain for them, and it’s available, so off they go and “register” the domain on behalf of the customer. At this point they could, indeed they SHOULD, register the domain in THE CUSTOMER’S name, with Pink Elephant as admin (which is undoubtedly what the customer would want and expect, if this was explained to them and they were given a choice), but very often they don’t – they register the domain in Pink Elephant’s name, and the customer is none the wiser.

They setup the website, and all is well; until, that is, the customer no longer wants to use Pink Elephant and hears that Strawberry Artisans (or whoever it is they want to move their domain/website to) can do a better job. But the domain doesn’t actually belong to the customer (Dental Clinic); it belongs, legally, to Pink Elephant, who can hang onto it forever if they want to, or charge Dental Clinic an extortionate fee to buy it off them and transfer it away. To be fair, very often it isn’t a business calculation that leads web designers to register the domain to them rather than the customer; often it’s just ignorance of the implications of this. If you want to check the actual “ownership” of a .co.uk domain, you can do this with the “whois” tool at www.nic.uk (Nominet is the authority for the .co.uk namespace). You might be pleasantly surprised, but I doubt it.

Problem 2

Web designers often have a barely passing understanding of DNS and its associated services. If I had a pound for every time a web designer has asked us to just “transfer the customer’s domain to them” when they want to create a new website… There is absolutely no reason to do this, and very often any number of reasons not to. To understand this conceptually, you have to see the services under a domain (let’s say, dentalclinic.co.uk) as being entirely separate services, because they are. Let’s say your web designer is somebody called Pink Elephant (entirely fictional, probably!).

The most important and relevant of the services under your domain dentalclinic.co.uk are the email and the website.

We also use the domain for remote monitoring, remote access to the network, any secure certificates, VPNs… So the domain can be hosted by one company (names.co.uk, 123-reg, Dental IT, AN Other) whilst the website can be pointed to Pink Elephant’s servers. In reality, the web designer probably don’t have their own servers, they probably rent reseller space on hosting servers from a larger provider such as Fasthosts (itself a problem, see section 3, below). Now, if your email is already set up to work on some other servers (your own Exchange server, or a server at some other provider), moving the domain to the website designer will most likely break the email at the same time. Yes, they might be able to offer email hosting, but will this integrate with your current setup, will they set it up on all the workstations and the server, are they familiar with setting up Exchange, POP connectors, SMTP smarthosts, iPhone and Android sync, the various automated email systems you might have (SOE Exact, Kodak R4)? This is unlikely. There is absolutely no reason why a web design company would need to “take over” your domain, and if they insist on wanting to, you might want to question a) their integrity and or b) their competence.

Problem 3

Web designers don’t usually run their own servers. This is entirely understandable; we run our own servers, and it’s costly and time consuming. We have to have good and reliable bandwidth, appropriate security and hosting facilities, and keep the servers backed up and maintained. Web designers’ hosting will generally be just shared space with a reseller account somewhere. This may not even be in the UK (which may not be CQC IG compliant if you capture any data through the website). So if something goes wrong with your website, if it goes down or it is hacked, you can get in touch with your web designers, but actually, to get a resolution, you will have to wait for them to then get in touch with their providers to expedite the solution. And they may not be even taking calls until 9am next Monday.

Problem 4

Web designers aren’t generally good at IT. This isn’t always the case, but usually is. So when a technical problem with the website arises, it is quite often your IT people who will need to fix it, not your designers.

Problem 5

Web designers generally have only a passing interest in security and compliance. If you are capturing data online, it should be secure and encrypted all the way back to your network.

Problem 6

Web designers often talk total nonsense, especially if the phrase SEO comes into it! SEO (search engine optimisation) is the voodoo that promises to get your website “on the first page of Google”, or “up the rankings” by attempting to manipulate the content of the site favourably, and other tricks. In reality, having a good and content rich site, that people see as definitive and relevant, and up to date, is most of the battle. I dare say some of techniques deployed by the SEO people may well work, but I’ve yet to hear any client raving about how busy they are since a particular SEO company transformed their fortunes.

Problem 7

Web designers know that most people will never update their website, from one year to the next. So if they do charge a maintenance fee, it is probably pointless. But, we all have to make money, so I don’t really begrudge them this.

Problem 8

Web designers tend to have their favoured “templates” and technologies for use on the websites they design. This is fair enough, except when they advise the client totally inappropriately, for example in the use of Flash. Flash is no longer supported on many mobile devices, especially Apple iPhones and iPads, and using it on any website made in the last few years is absurd – yet we still come across this, because a particular web designer is wedded to it, and doesn’t want to change.

In summary, please remember that web designers are not regulated in any way, and like any supplier, you need to be confident both of their skills and their integrity. It is assumed that you are confident that the website itself will look good and do what you want it to do. But in addition to this our recommendation is to check the following:

  1. That your website designer has no interest in registering a domain on your behalf in their name, or transferring the domain to them unless they have very good reason to do so.
  2. That your website designer will not make changes that affect your domain, your email and website records, without proper planning and understanding the implications of any changes.
  3. That your website designer is aware of relevant legislation that applies to dental practices: the DPA (data protection act), ICO guidelines, CQC IG requirements.

And if your domain is already registered through your website designer, I suggest you check that you actually own it!

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