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Leveraging Internet services: Hire someone, or go it alone?

Article-Leveraging Internet services: Hire someone, or go it alone?

Robert Silkey
Purchasing a Web site is only the first step toward Internet marketing success, which can dramatically affect a practice's efficiency and potentially save thousands of dollars. To support a Web site, a number of services are necessary. Deciding which company's technology is compatible with the specific needs of an individual practice is difficult when doctors must sift through a sea of offerings from local design firms, freelance Web designers, advertising agencies and Internet marketing firms that specialize in medicine. And for every existing type of Web site development service, thousands of companies are vying for the business — some of them lacking in scruples. Should you decide to go it alone, it is important to know just what you're getting into.

Choosing a hosting company There are many hosting companies in the Internet industry. Many are known as ISPs — general Internet service providers that offer various services. Hosting companies typically bundle their services and may offer e-mail, statistics, database management and e-commerce. Each of the services offered by hosting companies may or may not be necessary for an individual practice. It is important to identify which technologies and capabilities are crucial to the practice's Web presence so that the appropriate platform can be selected. (Hosting companies use two main platforms: Unix and Microsoft. Microsoft is considered more restrictive.) If all capability issues between the Web site and the platform are not satisfied, some portions of the Web site may not work. The practice will also need to judge the scalability of the hosting company's facility.

Here are just some of the questions to ask the hosting company:

  • Does it have a stand-alone facility?
  • Does the facility have the ability to sustain a load of 10 visitors today and 5 million tomorrow?
  • What type of technical support is offered?
  • Is the technical support push-to-talk, real-time chat, e-mail communication only, or automated response?
  • How much storage is available?
  • And, last but not least, are these capabilities listed in the contract?

Purchasing a domain name Every Web site has a domain name. It's a very important component of a Web site, as it becomes the practice's Internet brand. While purchasing a domain name is a fairly easy process, purchasing it without help can be a frustrating (and potentially risky) affair.

Understanding the process that translates a domain name to an associated number is difficult, and all kinds of information will be needed by the hosting company in order to make this happen.

In order to host the Web site on its server, the hosting company will need various pieces of information in addition to the domain name itself. The company will likely begin by asking questions about the practice's "DNS host." Be prepared to provide this information.

Also remember that the domain name needs to be registered each year. As a result, it is important to ask the firm, "Do you provide automatic renewal, or will I need to manage this renewal myself?"

In addition, find out if there are any safeguards to prevent the domain name from being "hijacked" or stolen.

E-mail When considering e-mail, first find out how many free e-mail addresses a hosting company provides and whether it has mailbox restrictions.

Mailbox restrictions can include: 1) the inability to add additional e-mail addresses if your practice grows; 2) a limitation on the number of messages that can be transferred each month; and 3) a limitation on the size of outgoing messages. (A good e-mail package should allow you to send messages of up to 10 megabytes. This is the equivalent to 500 one-page Word documents.) Also, avoid any e-mail package with limitations on the number of messages that can go out in a given period of time (messages per time unit).

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