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Managing Essential Digital Assets: The Five Deadly Sins to Avoid

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As a working web professional, I often find myself stressing minutiae to our clients at the expense of fundamentals. It’s a mistake we all make, I think, from time to time. My personal conceit is forgetting that skills and concepts which are basic to my daily work life would be boring for me to elaborate on with our clients. After all, they became routine to me a long time ago so they surely couldn’t be of interest or use to anyone else, right?

Then I get a call from a former client that went something like this…

Client: “Hey, yeah, I think you guys designed our website for us a few years back…”
Me: “Hey, Mr. Client, yes, I believe we did! Gosh that was a few years back, how are you guys doing?”
Client: “Well, we’re all fine, except our website is broken.”
Me: “Hmmmm… what do you mean by that, exactly?”
Client: “Well, we tried accessing our website this morning and we’re getting some sort of ‘Server Not Found’ error message.
Me: “Yikes, that’s not good. Hey, can you find that original document we provided you with when we worked with you. You know — the one with the domain registration and hosting information in it?”
Client: “Huh?”
Me: “You know – when we worked with you we provided you with all the essential information you needed to ensure that your website would continue to function. It was in a spreadsheet.”
Client: “Oh well – that was when Connie was here. She’s long gone now and I’m sure those documents were lost quite some time ago.”
Me: “Well, that could be troubling news. It sounds like your domain registration or hosting lapsed. We need to find or reconstruct all that information or your site might be gone forever…”

I’d like to say that this scenario is exceedingly rare in my world but, over the years, it’s happened a few times. In the spirit of sparing companies and their marketing officers the pain of website downtime (minimally) or a complete loss of website data (maximally), I’ve put together the following list of ‘Five Deadly Sins’ marketing executives or small business owners sometimes commit, sometimes with disastrous consequences:

  • Not knowing what information is critical. It may seem odd to working web professionals, but many of our clients still don’t completely grasp the differences between all the passwords they’re managing and how they should be archived. For instance, clients of ours still get tripped up on the differences between domain registration and hosting. These difference can be further obscured given that, sometimes, the same entity (like GoDaddy, for instance) might be both the domain registrar and host for that firm’s website. Add to that the requirement to keep password information for things like MySQL databases and content management system ‘Admin’ areas and you get a lot of confusion quickly. So then, the first important step for a digital manager is very likely to get these ‘Website Development 101’ roles learned. Like everything else in our lives, knowledge is critical to doing your job well.
  • Failing to create a centralized ‘person independent’ archival strategy for critical digital information. In our experience with small, medium-sized and even some larger businesses, there is usually no centralized plan to store critical information about the firm’s digital assets. Often, the way this information is stored is piecemeal, through the efforts of independent managers who collect information for the projects they’re personally working on. Once that individual moves on professionally, the information they were responsible for keeping has a tendency to disappear. Any business, large or small, should have practices in this place to avoid this situation. We recommend treating essential digital asset information like other types of critical information like, say, the articles of incorporation of that business. Would you just let Ken, the Brand Manager, take those original articles home with him and ‘store them’ for the corporation? Likely not. Instead, you’d require these be kept securely and in a location known by both higher management and middle management. We recommend similar strategies for preserving information about your brand’s digital presence.
  • Ignorance about ongoing maintenance considerations. When we first started designing websites, I used to think that our peers who signed their clients to monthly maintenance agreements were scam artists. After all, in that era, most client sites were static, there wasn’t as much JavaScript or PHP needing to be updated, etc. In short, I didn’t really see that those contracts did much other than pad the wallets of the vendors who sold them. Safe to say, I no longer hold such agreements in disdain. Most websites these days are built off of open source content management platforms. The frameworks for these platforms are intrinsically subject to security breaches and are, as a result, frequently updated by their creators. Simultaneously, websites these days are relying heavily on client and server side languages like JavaScript and PHP, both of which are likewise frequently updated. The bottom line is that – in the absence of regular updates – websites can either be pillaged or stop working. The takeaway insight here is that having a new site designed is not a ‘set it and forget it’ proposition. Knowing the ongoing needs of new site and planning for those needs can prevent problems down the road.
  • Forgetting about the entirety of your brand’s digital presence. These days your brand exists in multiple places on the web. When we do local internet marketing for clients, we frequently make identities for them on dozens of different social media and review platforms. Verified Yelp pages, Google Places pages, Twitter and Facebook pages – the entire gamut of sites your brand has a presence on should have their logins and passwords recorded and stored. And they should be archived, along with all the other digital assets we’ve mentioned, in a secure location.
  • Google much? Don’t forget to archive password and account information for Google’s products and services. This is another big one. When we work for clients, we’re frequently using a number of Google’s free and paid search marketing tools. For instance, many of our sites will be linked to any or all of the following Google products: Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Merchants Center, Google Places and AdWords. Luckily, Google does make things easy by allowing these different profiles to be registered to a single Google account. But, if a vendor (like us) has created those accounts for you, it’s critical to store all those passwords and usernames in one place. See recommendations above.

Remember: even though the relationship you foster with a digital agency might very well be longstanding, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep track of and appropriately manage your brand’s digital assets. Planning for the management and archival of those assets correctly just might someday save your job or land you a promotion.

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