The Internet is a tough environment
I had a discussion with a potential customer today. He is just starting up a new venture and is obviously being very careful with his costs. He knew he needed a domain name and a website and he went looking and found a deal that made sense. Problem is he's wound up with a solution that may cost him a lot of opportunities to connect to his potential customers and was not the bargain it may have appeared.
He acquired a .net domain, presumably because the .com variation was already taken, overlooking the availability of the .com.au option. According to the registrar listed on his whois information this cheap domain name cost him US$23 / year (say A$33 at the current exchange rate). The Australian registrar I use charges A$13.95 / year for .net (or .com) and $29.95 for 2 years for .com.au domains. Not a lot of dollars difference, but when every dollar is being monitored ......
Next problem is the fact he's trying to limit costs by using the storage his ISP provides as part of his internet connection. This makes sense - right? This storage is suitable for hosting a website and it doesn't cost extra. Does the ISP allow even business websites in personal plans? The general answer is no, so let's hope he doesn't get caught. He's got a domain name so now all he needs is a way to point the domain name to the hosting. The US domain registrar has a solution. For only US$12 / year they will provide a service called "Web Forwarding". This service is called "URL Gripper" by one other provider. So far, so good. Not really. These services create a framed page at the Registrar's hosting facility that wraps around the content stored at the ISP. Frames are a problem I've written about before. You can catch up with that discussion by visiting the "What is so bad about building a site using FRAMES?" discussion. But that discussion doesn't even address the specific problem I see in this situation. The Web Forwarding is hosted in USA, so how can Google and company recognise this site as Australian, and they aren't even using a .net.au domain name.
"Is that all?" I hear you ask. "No!" is my strong reply.
This potential customer only needs a simple website and knows how to write a Word document and Word has the capacity to save the document as HTML (the underlying language of the web). Problem is Word produces some of the worst HTML I have ever had the misfortune to have to re-write. So even if the search engines find the site (and so far only MSN has found the site and they exclude it from an "Australia only" search) they will struggle to find the limited content written into the single page provided by this startup enterprise because of the unnecessary, non-standard HTML produced by Word. Even if the search engines get past these impediments there's no guarantee they will recognise the content as Australian and present the site in a search limited to "Australian only" content.
The good news. He didn't have to pay A$180 / year to get good quality Australian hosting or A$30 / 2 years for a .com.au domain name. Unfortunately, the site may never be seen in a search engine result, particularly a local search, unless he's prepared to spend more money to acquire each click.
Is there a solution to this problem?
There are some options available, but they are not without costs. The most obvious choices are:
- The ever popular "do nothing". The less said about this the better.
- Change the Web Forward option to US based hosting and move the web page from BigPond to the US host. This changes the current annual cost structure by replacing US$12 (A17) for US$120 (A$170). This would eliminate the Frame problem but not address the other serious issues.
- Move the .net domain to an Australian host. A partial solution that will cost about A$180 / year and will eliminate one part of the "Australia only" filter problem; will improve page load times for the primary market; and will eliminate the Frame problem. This will eliminate the US$12 / year Web Forwarding cost from the expenses.
- Buy a .net.au or .com.au domain to match the existing .net name. Host this site in Australia and park the .net domain over the .net.au domain. It will have similar costs to the last option plus an additional A$30 / 2 years for the .au domain name, but will eliminate the other roadblock to the "Australia only" filter problem. It also has the advantage of retaining any value the .net domain name already holds.
- Regardless of any other options chosen the HTML of the page should be cleaned up by eliminating the HTML errors and remove the detritus created by Word. This has a probable cost of A$300 to A$500 to complete.
In the context of the success of the business these costs are nothing compared to the business opportunities that an efficient and effective website can create. Sometimes the old sayings offer an insight - "You have to spend money to make money!" This is one of those cases.
This discussion is not intended to take advantage of someone else's misfortune. Situations like this come about largely through people's limited decision time, ignorance or poor advice from someone who made this same poor choice, as well as the greed of others willing to exploit that ignorance. Our guy doesn't know about all this web stuff. That's our expertise. If we need advice in his area of expertise we'll ask him, not some guy at the pub or the brother-in-law. Maybe he should have asked around a bit more to see what others are doing in this area. I'll bet he asked around when deciding where to lease his office.
Does this discussion raise a few questions for you? Please feel free to contact MidBoh if you would like to discuss your requirements and how we might be able to help you avoid "bargains" like this.
Notes: Some of information in this discussion was not directly revealed by the potential customer. Here are some of the details.
- The prices quoted for the current US hosting / domain registration were taken from the website of the organisation listed as registrar using a whois service. I used the published rates for the smallest business plan, registration package and options.
- I have assumed an exchange rate of 0.7000 (which it rose to this week late March 2009). He probably paid when the rate was a bit worse that this.
- Local prices are rates in force from our current providers.
If anybody wants to check these numbers they can contact me and I will provide as much as I can without revealing the identity of the potential client.
P.S. The original version of this posting did contain some factual errors, particularly the US costs, which we had inferred from the US registrar's site. These have been fixed. The revised pricing was provided by the potential customer. He is comfortable with the publication of this page, provided we maintain his privacy. We thank him for his co-operation and will respect his request for privacy.