The unglamorous side of being online (Part 1)

There are some issues and problems which can occur when trying to create or sustain an online presence. After performing some recent work with Agentpoint they thought it would be useful for me to share some of my knowledge with the audience of Business2. Often these are issues that many people either do not realise or simply do not know how to manage.

Let us begin with one of the basic essentials that everyone needs, but few really put much thought in to.

Web Hosting

Some agents will never have to worry about web hosting, because their provider handles it for them, and often their website cannot even be moved to different hosting. Sites built by providers like HubOnline fall in to this category and they handle all technical issues.

Other real estate websites can choose their own hosting, which can give the agency a bit more flexibility and possibly even save some money. You do have to be cautious however because web hosts vary from professional companies run by people who have plenty of experience to sole traders working from their garage with no staff.

What to look for in a web host:

  • Beware unlimited hosting. Avoid any hosts that say that they give you unlimited storage or bandwidth (data transfer). It is impossible for either of those to be unlimited (unfortunately no one has invented the infinite hard drive yet) so it is just a gimmick to pull you in and is a bad sign about the quality of the host. Unlimited email addresses or databases however are fine.
  • You get what you pay for. You could pay as little as $2/month for your hosting, but when it is your business’s online presence at stake, is it really that important to save a few bucks? These hosts overfill their servers so your site is fighting against all the others to try and serve pages. For a standard agent’s website you should expect to pay between $10 and $15 per month for standard hosting.
    Many hosts offer business hosting which is usually more reliable and has better support. If you put a lot of effort in to your site it may be worth looking in to for added peace of mind. Expect to pay $20 – $35 per month.
  • Host Locally. It is generally a good idea to host your website in Australia, rather than the US or Europe. Since most or even all of your visitors will be Australian, they will view a website which loads faster if their request do not have to go halfway across the globe. Despite this, International hosting can be cheaper because domestic bandwidth is more expensive than in other countries.
  • Do not pay too much for your domains! There are some ‘reputable’ companies that sell .com domains for over $75/year and .au domains for $140/2 years. You should not be paying more than $15/year for a .com, .net or .org domain and no more than $30/2 years for a .au domain.
  • Backup, Backup, Backup! Always perform your own backups. Most web hosts do say that they perform backups however there is no way to know if they actually do, or if the backups will work when you need them. There are far too many horror stories of people losing their entire websites because a server failed and wiped all their data. Most web hosting control panels make it easy to download a backup of your site so there is no excuse not to create a backup from time to time. You should do it after any major changes and at least once every month or two. For larger sites I usually configure backups to run every night automatically and store the backup in offsite storage.
    If you don’t have a recent backup, now is a good time to get one. If you have trouble, ask your host for help.

If you have any questions about the issues this article raises, feel free to comment on the article or email nick@luxuryhomesaustralia.com.au and I will try to answer your web hosting questions.

Domain Names, Web Hosting

SEO For Real Estate
Listing Leads
Agentpoint Real estate

About Nick

Nick Stallman has been creating large websites and online communities since 2004. He is self taught at programming in many languages and server management. Since 2008 he has been working for Luxury Homes Australia and RealSauce and he has brought a new perspective to online real estate.

34 Responses to The unglamorous side of being online (Part 1)

  1. Peter Ricci June 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Just a couple of notes, we charge more for domain names, reason is simple, we pay for the domain names, we manage the domain names etc

    Hosting: It all depends on the service you want. If you want to host your website and do everything yourself – that is fine, but if you want customer service by email + phone that is a different service.

    Also, recent events show that if someone wants to hack you they can, you must protect against software hacks – but can never protect enough against deliberate direct hacks (CIA, Apple, Sony, Microsoft etc have all been hacked recently)

  2. Ryan O'Grady June 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Hi Nick, thanks for your informative post and for all the great work you’ve done with us lately.

    I often have potential clients say they can secure hosting for a cheaper rate. It is not until they’re locked in that they realise most of what you’ve pointed out in your post. They are just basic points but as you say they are often overlooked.

    I think with purchasing domains, you’re best to find the cheapest company to purchase through eg crazy domains. There is nothing to stuff-up with purchasing a domain name and then managing it so even the backyard operators are fine.

    Another very useful point (and I

  3. Ryan M June 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Hosting on the cloud is also an option, but it’s really down to the “fit” with your business model, and if you can find the right supplier with the right services.

    Why is bandwidth is so expensive in Australia anyway!!!

    If your site is built and optimized correctly, the speed trade off is negligible and you usually get far more for your buck hosting overseas, not just in hardware & software, but in managed services also.

  4. Nick June 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Yep, I should clarify that those prices are if you are looking after it yourself. If you don’t know how anything works and want a simpler solution then you can get excellent customer service for a bit more.

    Ryan M, most of the bandwidth cost is just lack of scale. In the US far more data gets transferred which drives down the price. Australia only has a little bit of data moving around yet we still have massive fibre links.

  5. Glenn Rogers June 17, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    My experience –

    Host locally –
    Choose wisely –
    You don’t have to spend a fortune to get reliable professional hosting –

    I remember well one time with Commercialrealestate.com.au my programmer rang me one evening and in a trembling voice and told me he had deleted the entire database of over 30,000 listings.

    I rang Web Central, they brought a tech in immediately and restored from backup within a couple of hours, not many listing lost and all was well.

    If I’d been with anyone less I would have been out of business.

    On the other hand after Fairfax acquired CRE Web Central actually took the site offline because Fairfax overlooked an account of less than $100, at that point they lost the account.

    It depends how “mission critical” your site is, a national portal needs to be up 24/7 but your average real estate site can be sown down a day without any real problems.

  6. Glenn Rogers June 17, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    Excuse the uneditable typos.

  7. Glenn Batten June 17, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Got to disagree with you Ryan M because of past experience…

    Purchase your Domains from a well known and reputable firm not a backyard operator. I know hundreds of agents who purchased their domain names from a specific real estate web host and had major trouble retrieving their domain names when they wanted to change providers. Very messy. If you know what you are doing you control the domains yourself and point it to the webhost. If you don’t know then make sure you are dealing with an open and transparent company that you trust.

    But under all circumstances always ensure you have the auth transfer keys (also called auth code, a transfer key, a transfer secret) for each domain.

  8. Nick June 17, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Glenn Batten, the key is to purchase the domains from a accredited registrar or a reseller of a accredited registrar. The domains must always be in your name and you must always have the account for it.

    Never let someone else have the domain in their name. That would be what you are referring to as it is impossible to do anything to the domain in that case.

    You can get the auth codes for any .au domain easily from auDA so as long as the domain is in your name, there is nothing else to worry about.

  9. Trish van Tussenbroek June 17, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Now that you guys know that I am not HubOnline any more, I’d like to through my 2 cents worth in! 🙂

    May I also suggest that if you are unable or unsure of how to do all of this, get some help!

    Regardless or your opinions or HubOnline or Agent Point or Core etc, this is what these companies do. Their job is to take the pain out of all of this for you.

    I am pretty confident that you guys are really good at selling houses. Thats fantastic because I know that I am not! So when I want to sell my house, I will call one of you guys.

    The same goes with technology, find someone who suits your needs, budget, and understands you. Just like when you are selling a house, you need to be sure you ask the right questions, technology is the same. “Am I going to have to pay each time I make a change?” “If something is broken, will you fix it and how long will you take?” etc

    So I would suggest that by all means, educate yourself on the questions you need to ask, but it’s ok to call someone else to get this all done for you.

    I’m sure everyone has at some point decided incorrectly that DIY was a brilliant idea! Technology can be just as dangerous!

  10. Trish van Tussenbroek June 17, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    And sorry about the spelling errors! 🙂

  11. Glenn Rogers June 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    I’ve got 40 domain names so I became a corporate client of Melbourne IT it was cheaper than the alcohol bill that accumulated required trying to keep everything together and safe.

    They renew everything , advise on everything to do with domains and are very good at what they do.

    They have incredible power to do whatever they like to fix things if anything should go wrong.

  12. Tatiana Mijalica June 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I’m a http://www.crazydomains.com.au fan. They have a response team available 24 hours a day, every day of the week. If not via phone, then via email. Their response time is amazing. Love that!

  13. Tatiana Mijalica June 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Trish (Hi!!!), I agree that it their job to take out the pain however in most instances this does not happen.

    I would suggest locking in specific response/turn around times with CRM and website providers before signing off the contracts.

    Each agency will know where they have come from (old supplier) and what they will require (new supplier)

    CRM and website suppliers should then work with a set of KPI’s they need to reach and have a work in progress list that is monitored and tracked, including any applicable delivery dates.

    Compensation in $$ to Agency for not reaching their KPI’s should also be agreed to at time of signing contracts. This will ensure your service level stay high throughout the duration of the contract and will save changing suppliers after 12 months due to non performance.

    It needs to be in writing as part of the terms and conditions of the contract so that the expectations are set correctly by both parties from the onset.

  14. Ryan M June 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Tatiana, you must be the only luck one, every dealing I’ve had with them has been painful, maybe because it’s so hot in Mumbai.

  15. Shane Dale June 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Agents should get professionals who communicate well with them for all their technical needs – from web to IT etc. Its far too important to have a personal learning curve on these items in your business today.

    Anything else is a waste of their time – seriously. A little knowledge in understanding how web issues relate to real estate business is critical – CRITICAL. But to spend even a few hours mucking around on registering your domain and getting your own hosting – is often a false economy.

    Nick’s points are correct ( his comments have always been knowledgable) but I do not think they are ideal business advice for an agency. However if you are the type of agent who considers a “less than $50 annual” saving on a domain name fee – a priority then you better learn a whole pile of web details. In my experience – principals I have seen get involved usually spend massive amounts of time, dollars and effort in pursuing their “IT nirvana”. I cant help but think they usually have exceeded the ideal effort to results ratio.

    I think its easy for IT and web professionals to fail to appreciate how labyrinthine the web infrastructure is to the non initiated. I have seen too many self administered or “our IT guy” administered domains cause alot of havoc between the mail, domain and other details.

    My advice :
    1 company handles all web related activity – no blame avoidance!
    1 company handles all internal IT in the office – also no blame avoidance!

    Getting multiple IT/web companies to play nicely together is a rarity.
    Managing the small details yourself – use the time on more dollar productive outcomes. Scrooge often pays twice!

  16. Carbonite Australia June 19, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Lots of good advice here. The challenge with hosting is also moving it across to another provider. This can be a complex process.

    Yep going cheap is not the best way to do but you can also get ripped off very easily. Domain providers such as NetRegistry and CrazyDomains will give you affordable domains plus hosting of them and it can pay to keep things all together (so you can atleast remember the company you used.

    Backup is very important. The hosting company will probably do a weekly backup but you should also perform a local backup as often as you can.

  17. Trish van Tussenbroek June 20, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Hi Tatiana!

    I agree completely!

    One of the things that people need to do more of though is demand more from their providers!

    You’re paying for a service and you need to get that service. If they are not willing to give that to you, ask them for it and if you get no joy, go somewhere else.

    All businesses are there because of their customers so they need to be reminded of that sometimes!

  18. James UK June 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Wait. There’s a glamorous side to being 0nline? No-one told me that!

    I think we’re pretty good at the unglamorous side but we definately need a little more help accessing the glamour (especially when spending hours checking broken links, building sitemaps, fixing html errors, hosting issues, building links, running reports) *yawn* are you sure theres a glamorous side?

    Please tell us more!

  19. MAC June 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    *L* I like your “Where’s the online glamour?” comment, James UK 🙂 I reckon it’s all a pain-in-the-arse but as it’s not going away any time soon we might as go with the experts who can assist!

  20. Vic June 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Sometimes “going with the experts” feels a bit like getting set up for repeat business. Unfortunately us non experts are always trying to understand that what was working beautifully yesterday is not working at all today.

  21. Sal Espro June 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Notice how most ‘posters’ here are service providers to the real estate industry with a vested interest in agents using new technology, even if it’s only ancillary and shouldn’t be a high priority! e.g. Fbook, Twitter, WordPress CMS, low-ranking portals, etc etc! e.g. Peter Ricci, his partner Ryan, Brett, Nick, Tatiana, Trish, Shane, Bill, Greg, …. I have a go at all of the ‘stuff’ but at the end of the say the 2 big portals and agency website SEO are the must do’s. The rest are like letter-box drops, school sponsorships and local Rotary meetings.
    (The King still has clothes but they are a bit tatty 🙂

    Sal 🙂

  22. Peter Ricci June 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Hi Sal, thanks for the comment

    I have written nearly 500 articles across many different platforms, ideas, technologies etc. I do not promote my business in any posts and on the rare occasions I do, I always mention competitors or tell agents to contact their own developers.

    If by chance it helps my business, then your point is taken, but the hours each day it takes to write, edit, monitor and upgrade the site is something we do not for the benefits, but because I believe in real estate technology for agents to empower them – if done right.

    In fact the reason I started Business2 was from an industry seminar from years ago where a portal paid the Real Estate Institute to ‘help’ real estate agents achieve online success. There was so much dribble being passed off as fact – like spending thousands of dollars on stupid banner ads on said portals that I was dumbstruck by how agents were lapping it up and were so gullible to waste money on strategies that were misleading at best and expensive.

    This prompted me to start business2 to better inform agents and I think our team, of writers have doen a phenomenal job and we now have thousands of subscribers and a great audience of agents and people like yourself who stimulate conversations.

    We do this because we are passionate about the industry and if the people who spend their valuable time researching and writing make a little money, or increase their profile, then I am happy for them.

    Yes, we ask people in the industry to post and we have strict rules about self promotion. We also allow people to post from outside the regulars – you could even write a post 🙂

    This site has a real estate agent focus, and it always has, I do not hide from this fact and this is why the site was set up – to better inform real estate agents about technology and news. (as our tagline has always stated)

    Sal, II hope this clarifies your points and our position.

  23. Sal Espro June 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Just “keepin’ the bastards honest”, Peter. I appreciate your ‘agnostic’ efforts in particular but couldn’t keep you out in the interests of fairness 🙂

  24. Shane Dale June 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Sal, I hear you – its a valid comment – because frankly it can all get too complex for the average agent working hard everyday when each provider insists their product is the “must have” in your marketing arsenal.

    FYI – I am no longer running myhome ( I presume this is one of the lesser portals you refer to) but I would also raise the point – as per Nick’s original advice – when commenting on value for money – surely free portals are a good add on – if you are considering saving $50 on a domain then free has got to be good too. Yet so many agents dont bother to even take advantage of often free uploads from their provider.

    Finally – in conclusion – most agents still seem to miss the basics so any amount of effort on SEO and web wizardry wont help them when they dont ask for a phone number – as I just encountered while searching for a new office. Although it was amusing he said – just go there – the office is empty and the door is open – let yourself in, which we did.

  25. Ryan M June 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Thanks Wayno, i was eating lunch while reading that article, made me feel a bit queezy, oh the importance of backups!

  26. Ryan O'Grady June 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Geez, really demonstrates the importance for off-site backups!

  27. Vic June 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    We have our own server space and back up daily through a separate server, with our site and now with our blog. Had a scare recently with our wordpress blog being hacked which got us to reinforce our backup system.

    Let the experts do it; but good to know what it is we need to have. Ask all the dumb questions you can. These web nerds will speak to you as if you understand them- but they will revert to English if you persist.

    The time taken is well worth the money.

  28. Nick June 22, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    When I say the unglamorous side of being online, I’m referring to how easy it is to get caught up with stuff like Facebook and Twitter and not even think about some of the other issues of being online.

    Sal Espro, part of the reason why its people with a vested interest writing about this kind of thing is because it is our job to know about this area. If agent’s already knew all of this then we’d be out of a job and we’d see agents in the web hosting business. 🙂

    I’ve been watching the issues with Distribute.IT for the past two weeks. It really makes you sit down and go over your disaster recovery plans. Fortunately for us our plans would save us from that kind of disaster, however it would be a massive inconvenience and a disruption of that scale would involve several hours of downtime.

    What happened there is probably the worst case scenario because everything from domains to routing to their hosting was all offline.

  29. Vic June 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Nick, must have missed that one- what happened with Distribute.IT ?

  30. Nick June 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Read the link Wayno posted. Distribute.IT is pretty much gone.

    A known ‘for hire’ hacker took them out and very effectively destroyed most of their servers. Their hosting (not VPSes) is all gone and is unrecoverable, backups are gone and their domain management systems are gone.

    This was 2 weeks ago. They are still mostly down and they probably won’t be back in business for some time still. The Australian Federal Police are also investigating.

    The thread on Whirlpool http://whrl.pl/RcMeEy is up to 85 pages and counting. It has also been on the news on every channel tonight although many of them are crediting Lulzsec who were not involved at all.

  31. Vic June 23, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Thanks Nick. My web guy has reviewed our back up systems a couple of months ago. We have our own server space with 6 times our current usage requirement. He backs up his stuff (around 10gbs ) on our server then backs our stuff on his server, daily. On the face of it it seems a good system.

    However after reading the distributeIT problems should I ensure that my web developer has his server hosted by a different one to my host?

    Scary stuff.

  32. Nick June 23, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I always backup to file storage facilities in the US such as Rackspace Cloudfiles or Amazon S3. It is not only cheap (approx $0.15 per gig) but it also ticks the boxes for being completely off site and not attached to any common infrastructure.

    Its a very good idea to set it up to run nightly and use incremental backups if possible so you only store what has changed during the day. I use Duplicity because it handles all of that.

  33. Vic June 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Nick,

    Have just finished our offsite back up of everything. Thanks for your help on this.

    Cheers

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