Four critical access points for your website

In Web Design by Rachel Di Martino

Your website is the #1 marketing tool you have. It belongs to you or your business and you have every right to have access to it.

If you don’t have full access to make changes on every level, then you’ve lost control of your most valuable marketing asset. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work with people who can set these up, manage your website, or create updates for you, it just means you should take ownership and control of these access points, because it’s your website.

Not having access would be like buying a house and not getting the keys to the basement. If you need to go down there to reset the electrical breaker or change the air filter on the furnace, you’ll need to find the person with the keys. It’s best if you have unfettered access to the keys to start with.

If you’re unfamiliar with the fundamental elements of your website, check out the post on what you need to start a website first, so you have a sense of what these four critical access points for your website are for.

  1. Domain Registration
  2. Your domain is the URL of your website, like yourwebsite.com or yourwebsite.ca. A domain name must be purchased and registered from an accredited registrar by a person or company, who then becomes the registrant. The person who registers becomes the owner of that domain until the ownership expires. The ownership expires if the registrant doesn’t renew the registration before the expiry date, which is usually every 1-3 years. At which point, someone else can register the domain and become the new registrant (owner).

    The domain registration is the most important thing your business needs to own. You can always change how your website looks, or where it’s hosted, or what the words on the page are. But if you are forced to change your domain name because you don’t own it, you will have to update all your clients, your print materials, your online networks, your inbound links – everything!

    Never, never, never let someone else register your domain. NEVER!!! Not your family, not your friends, and certainly not a third-party company or agency. If you do, that means they own your domain, not you. So if there is a falling out, or they go out of business, or they die or disappear, or they want to mess with you, there’s nothing you can do until their claim to the registration expires.

    Registering your domain is simple and smooth even for non-techy people. Once you’ve registered, you can pass along the info to your developer so they can set up your website if needed.

    To register your domain, you need an accredited domain registrar. Here is a list of accredited registrars for Canada .ca websites and worldwide registrars.

    Not sure if you own your registration?

    Start by learning who the registrar is at WHOIS Search. Simply input your domain, press “lookup”, and then look for the “Registrar”. Once you know the registrar, you can contact their customer service. They’re not allowed to tell you who the registrant is if it’s not you, but if you are the registrant, they can help you recover your log in details.

  3. Admin access to your content management system (CMS)
  4. Your CMS is the dashboard you access through your browser to add posts or update pages. Usually this is WordPress, SquareSpace, Weebly, or Wix. But you may have chosen a web developer that uses their own custom CMS.

    Some developers purposely give clients limited access to their dashboards in order to minimize mistakes so the client doesn’t “break” the site. This is usually the case if you have a maintenance package, or on going monthly fees with your developer, or they are managing a shared hosting server for you.

    It’s a good idea to have a limited access for day-to-day stuff on your site like blog posts or updating web banners or page info.

    But you should be given an admin level access profile to use when needed, even if you normally use a lower-access level for day-to-day stuff.

    You need admin level access because firstly, it’s your website. I don’t care if your developer is a control freak and wants to limit access for whatever reason. You are paying them. It’s your website.

    Secondly, you need access in case your developer goes on vacation, or is busy, or charges too much for minor changes, or it’s midnight on a Sunday and you need something right now, or you want to work with someone else for any reason. There’s a bunch of reasons why having full access is a good thing.

    Work with a developer who is willing to give you access. If a potential developer is not willing, or dodges the question when you’re getting quotes before you’ve hired them, work with someone else. If you’re stuck with your developer and they won’t give you access, move on to a different service provider when you can.

  5. FTP username and password for your file directory
  6. Your website is a collection of files and documents, just like the files and documents on your computer. The collection is called the “directory”.

    FTP stands for file transfer protocol and is a way to upload and download files to your directory using free software like Filezilla or Cyberduck.

    Accessing the FTP does depend on how your website is hosted (ie what company has your directory). Hosted websites like SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix and others do not have FTP access because they’re uniquely set up to be restricted. But if you’re on Joomla or WordPress (excluding WordPress.com hosted sites), chances are there is an FTP you can access.

    You want to access your FTP for a lot of reasons. It allows you to take backups of your files for your archives, in case you need to transfer to another hosting company, or your site is damaged from malware. It can also be handy if you need to change certain files you can’t access from your dashboard or if you need to upload a file to validate your website with third-party services like Google, ad servers, social networks, etc. You can also use your FTP to store or share documents that aren’t necessarily part of your website, much like cloud storage.

    Owning access to your FTP goes back to the main point of all this – your website belongs to you. That includes access to all the content in the directory.

  7. Access to your cPanel
  8. The cPanel is your hosting dashboard, where you have control over server settings and your directory. It’s usually accessed through your browser, using a portal link that is set by your hosting provider.

    There isn’t traditional cPanel access for hosted sites like Squarespace, Weebly, Kajabi, Shopify, etc. because server settings are preset for you. Other things you might access in the cPanel, like adding an HTTPS or creating a site-wide redirect, would be somewhere under settings for those types of sites.

    Having access to your cPanel allows you to do all kinds of things including manage your SSL certificate, upgrade your PHP, monitor your traffic, create FTP accounts, increase file-size limits, review your website logs, etc.

    If all that sounded like gibberish – don’t worry. The point isn’t that you know how to do all that, the point is that it’s YOUR website, and if you ever need to quickly access those things, you can.

Conclusion

Your website is yours. You paid for it with your time, money, and energy. If you’ve hired a developer or agency to help with your website, you should be given the log in details to these four access points. Keep record of them and make sure your team knows where to find them. You may not need them for years, but when you do need it – you’ll be glad you have it on hand to take action quickly.

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About the Author

Rachel Di Martino

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Rachel is the owner of Geek Unicorn. She helps women-driven businesses elevate to a professional playing field by creating brands and websites that stand out online, like a Unicorn in a field of horses. On top of that, she's a shameless sharer of knowledge and loves to give away her best web design, branding, and SEO tips.