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Small Business Websites: Owning Your Online Real Estate

-- 2011-08-24 2:00 am --

When your business is small, you look for ways to manage costs. Some small business owners settle for website solutions that have them renting space on someone else's domain. Even when the space offered is free, you should proceed with caution. Your long-term business plan should involve a domain you own for the following reasons.

#1 - No Shortcuts

It can take up to a year for a small business website to gain traction with the search engines and routinely rank for competitive keywords. You cannot abbreviate this process by building a site on someone else's domain. You may see traffic on their site to your space, but at some point when you decide to make the switch you will be starting from day one on your domain. All the content and referrals you have already amassed on another's domain cannot transfer to the new site and grow your influence any faster.

#2 - Terms of Service Change

If you read the terms of service for a site that offers free or low cost hosting (like an online storefront, for example) you will see that the provider has reserved the right to change their rules without notice. It's their way or the highway, a daunting proposition once you have come to rely on their traffic or have built up significant content on their domain.

#3 - Landlords Control the Pricing

You may sign up for a great deal today, but what prevents your landlords from changing their pricing at a later date? Nothing really, according to the terms of service. Maybe you can lock in a low price by buying years in advance, but still you risk a day when the old terms or pricing no longer apply. At that point, the more deeply invested you are in their site, the harder and more expensive it will be to extract yourself and start over.

#4 - Landlords Control the Content

YouTube famously cancelled the account of Problogger, Darrin Rowse, when they decided they didn't want to carry video content in the "make money online" niche anymore. While you may agree that much of the content in this category was useless or misleading, the thing is, one day this content met YouTubes standards, the next it did not. Online landlords have the right to make these reversals at will.

#5 - Landlords Sell Out

Finally, websites and platforms change hands all the time. New landlords bring new rules and new pricing. These new stakeholders have no loyalty to long-term customers or co-creators, which makes them even more likely to exercise their rights to change policy at will.

Your best defense against the changing whims of online landlords is an offense that includes a domain you own with website content you control. You will start gaining credibility with the search engines from day one, and over time, your online real estate will increase in value. Use free or low cost sites to help send traffic to your site, but do not put all your eggs in one of their baskets.