Own your website content to control the experience

There’s a familiar yet truthful saying that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Even though people are becoming more precarious of being in charge of their websites, there’s still plenty of unknown. When it comes to content, the idea of who controls and owns it becomes even more slippery. I’ll try to make the ground a bit more steady by sharing a personal story.

Oana
December 11, 2020
Reading time 8 – 13 minutes

While in real life, the concept of control can bring quite a lot of headaches and struggles if it’s poorly interpreted, things are on the opposite side of the spectrum in the digital world.

For instance, trying to be in control of your partner’s choices makes no sense. Give them the due credit and let them make the best decisions. Trust and allow them to be true to themselves, however they define it. Otherwise, it does not only feel weird and frustrating; it will not end okay.

Who wants a relationship where you are living under surveillance all the time?

When it comes to the digital arena, things get various flavors, and it’s wise to deconstruct them thoroughly. You not only need to be in control of your online presence, but there’s no other way around if you want to get results in the long haul.

Please let me walk you through a personal adventure to better grasp the importance of taking good care of your content. I received some valuable lessons, so make sure you learn from my mistakes and do a better job.

For the sake of keeping the narrative crystal clear, I will refer to my website for the rest of the article. Putting skin in the game is something familiar at Pixelgrade, and it brought plenty of good things along the way. Let’s do it!


My website, your hosting, whose liability?

I started my personal blog in 2009. First on Blogpost, then quickly moved on WordPress and stayed there ever since.


I hit the publish button quite rare, but I have an emotional attachment to that particular corner of the Internet. It’s very me. I’ve been putting together vulnerable articles about my becoming. I’ve been writing about my challenges as a community builder in a country where there’s still a lot of confusion regarding this industry. I’ve been promoting the local tribe of creative entrepreneurs (such as Andreea from Acaju) to help them connect, have a voice, and get support. I’ve been crafting stories that changed my beliefs in so many ways.

I was disappointed to have everything taken away. I felt robbed.

oana

Those who land on my website can get an appropriate clue about what drives me from time to time. I guess that this distinct intimacy next to the low frequency of publishing new articles makes it mine.

A few years back, a guy (let’s call him Thomas) I’ve worked with as a freelancer suggested to take better care of my website because plenty of things were outdated. He wanted to make sure I have everything under the same roof (on his setup) to secure my www. Performance, privacy, cashing, security, all those bonanza words that technical people love to throw around.

I was thrilled to hear that someone is willing to watch my digital back and double-check that I’m running safe day in and day out. It felt like a huge relief, something I was extremely grateful for; thus, I accepted with an open heart. Everything went okay; he kept his promise and made the improvements he told me; he installed a few plugins and updated whatever was crucial to have a great website.

Until one day.

Out of nowhere, I couldn’t access my website. The credentials did not match anymore, nor for the website or the hosting provider. I relied on him entirely, so overnight, I had no control over my digital crib.

At that particular moment in time, I had published a few hundred articles. Even though I’m not a public figure who’s attracting an impressive number of readers, I was disappointed to have everything taken away. I felt robbed. I was angry with myself because I trusted him blindly and mad at him because I did not understand what the f**k happened that turned everything upside-down?

A nimble river of emails with no answer in return started to flow from my inbox to him. I tried to figure out if I did something wrong without realizing it, if I hurt him without even knowing it, if I missed a message from his side, and-so-on-and-so-forth.

He did not reply to any.

Eleven years later, all I can remember is that I wrote him a vulnerable email (that I spend a lot of time to craft) in which I told him about how my website is part of my (digital) identity. At some point, his name popped up on the screen. He gave me a link, the credentials, and hasta la vista. No context, no argument, nada.

I took a deep breath, thanked him, and moved everything to another guy I knew (let’s call him Kevin). You may raise your eye brown, thinking that I’m making the same mistake twice. The truth is that you are right. I should have found a trustworthy company that does such things daily, not keep patching around with some acquaintances I did not have a solid bond with. 

While things were okay with Kevin, at least on the surface, he traveled a lot at that time, making it hard to get in touch and synchronize our communication. This happened soon after joining the Pixelgrade crew, so I took my messy digital luggage and asked Vlad, our Chief Technology Officer, to lend a hand and guide me further.

So yes, I guess you might call it a happy ending, but only because I was lucky, although I’m born on the 13th.

Keep the keys, outsource what’s mandatory

This experience taught me a few valuable things I still carry with me, so I preach them whenever I have the occasion. The most important lesson I got is that I can’t outsource my responsibility. Having a website comes with both rewards and requests, so I understood what depends on me entirely, whatnot, and whom to work with to solve the things I don’t know.

I used to believe that focusing on crafting stories is enough, but life threw me a different conclusion at me. Now, I’m aware it’s my job to know about things like hosting, which plugins do what, the recurring payment of a domain name, and the importance of keeping WordPress up-to-date (even though I’m not there yet), and such. I have no claim to know them in-depth, but at least I can link the pieces of the puzzle and get the whole picture. In the end, every bit counts and impacts the website’s success no matter how one might put it—through the lens of performance, security, traffic, sales, etc.

Another valuable lesson that stuck with me is the importance of making time to choose the right partner for my needs. When I worked with Thomas and Kevin, I wasn’t looking to save a buck or two; it just felt natural to do stuff with folks from the same community. However, the subconscious thinking showed me that I achieved exactly that. 

I intended to get the job done. I didn’t have the know-how nor the criteria to make the best choices. Everyone was talking in an alien language, which made the communication fragile.

The website is your digital house, and as with the real one, you need to keep the keys in your pocket.

oana

In the end, convenience brought me to a vulnerable spot, where I made poor decisions. Looking back, I still don’t know what would have happened with my website if I did not get a job at Pixelgrade, a place where we help people build solid websites for a living. If I were to be true to myself and honest, chances were super high to have followed in the same path: call a friend, give him whatever he needs to make my website run, trust him entirely, and hope for the best.

The only clarity I had back then was that I was keen to invest all my resources in crafting meaningful stories. They brought me a lot of satisfaction; they kept my wheels spinning; they were the fuel of my website. I did not realize that in the absence of everything else, it’s mission impossible.


Find a company that cares

The truth is that what happened to me can happen to you, too. Moreover, today are even more traps at every corner. You can either land in the same spot as I did because of the partner you are working with, the guy or gal you are trusting a bit aimlessly, or you can get caught up by the platform where you choose to spread the word about yourself, your products, or your services (Facebook, for instance).

The content you are regularly writing on social media is not yours. It’s almost a smoke and mirror kind of game. It gives you the illusion that you have control over what you are publishing because it shows up on your profile, page, next to your name, which makes it reliable, but the reality is different and quite harsh.

The content you willingly write on Facebook it’s theirs. 
The photos you are publishing on Instagram are theirs. 
The tiny messages you are throwing on Twitter are theirs.
The big news you are sharing on LinkedIn is theirs.

All these networks encourage you to spend time, interact with brands, generate content (co-creation, they say), press the like button repeatedly because such inputs give them a lot of insights about you. Goldmine, goldmine, goldmine!

They have the tools to tailor ads to match your interests and goals, but they can also use them to mislead you by getting well-packed fake news in front of your eyes, for instance. It’s a complicated system that is in continuous perfecting, but the control is on their side, not yours.

That makes Facebook not a free of charge platform. Your data is the price you’re paying to have access. One day, you might give them direct money, too, but meanwhile, they’re happy with your countless hours a day throwing clicks on their website and widen the pockets of big advertisers.

There’s no better way to build a name, craft an experience for visitors, and nurture a community than having a website that speaks to the core of your personality.

oana

As I mentioned right from the start, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. The humble driver of sharing this personal story is to help expand your horizon and give you the best chances to be safe in the digital world, as I hope you are trying to be in the offline one. Please don’t treat it lightly, don’t take it for granted, don’t imagine that you have the control over the experience you want to shape for your readers.

It’s a bluff.

I encourage you to use such social platforms to distribute your messages, amplify your voice, and increase your reach but protect the core, which is your website. That is your digital house, and as with the real one, you need to keep the keys in your pocket.

Ensure you have control over your content and that it will always be yours, no matter the provider you are working with in terms of website creation. Regardless of whether you decide to drop the current subscription you have if you choose a different CMS (content management system) or switch from a WordPress theme for whatever reasons, the content (text, photo, video, multimedia) should always be in your hands. Always.

Such oversight gives you a lot of peace of mind and the opportunity to shape your growth. There’s no better way to start building a name for yourself, to craft the entire experience for your visitors, to stay in touch with them constantly, to nurture a community around your work than having a reliable website that speaks to the core of your personality.

I’m still learning about the system that governs a website, but I’m grateful to know that I have the right partners shadowing my evolution and giving me little room for mistakes. This serenity contributes to my inner balance, and I genuinely need this safety to keep writing stories that make the world a better place. This is my labor of love and way of contributing to making a dent in the universe.

Oana
A question by Oana, the author of this article:
How about you? Do you own your content and the keys to it? Share your story with me.

Conversations 6 comments

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Anca Gilcasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:personal blog

Oana, I am in the same situation in this moment. My blog is suspended and I feel that I have to learn a foreign language in order to be able to fix the situation, to be sure that I won’t lose the words that, once, represented my opinion on a specific subject. Your article motivated me to dig into my inbox, to do some research in order to save my blog. Thank you, Oana! 

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Oana
Oanasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Storyteller and community builder
Hi, Anca! I’m grateful to know that my story gives you the courage to make the most out of your blog. I resonate with the ”foreign language” that you are talking about.

Often, there’s a massive gap between people like us, who like to write and express their thoughts, and developers/technical guys who can’t translate their efforts.

Regardless, I encourage you to invest some time and energy in understanding the intricacies of having a blog. You will gain freedom in your upcoming decisions regarding the digital presence, and you will also have leverage in various conversations.

Best of luck and stay brave!

thank you for this insightful piece! made me rethink the online content i publish at a click of a finger and to put more thought into controlling and securing my digital identity 😀

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Oana
Oanasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Storyteller and community builder
I’m happy to hear that. It means a lot to me. Take good care of your content, and make sure you handle it wisely, regardless of the channel you’re using to reach your audience. Cheers!
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Jeff Bondsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Real World Enthusiast

I now store ALL my content in a Drive folder (or a Dropbox or anything similar). I created a folder named Website and created 4 separate folders for content (page content docs, images, video, blog articles).
When ANY changes are made to the site, they all begin with adding/deleting/modifying content in the drive folders, which gets copied over onto the site after it’s all finalized. That drive folder, and all access, is managed by us exclusively.

When we pay creators for work, we have all that work done offsite, then we copy ALL the content onto our drive folder when its complete and permanently store it there, that way if the content creator later pulls back access to a shared drive, we still have our copy of all the content we paid for to be created.

The biggest thing for me was to learn to treat that drive folder as gold, and everything else (including our website & blog articles) offers a look into that valuable content. We don’t let even our own website become the thing that can be used to separate us from our valuable content.

Our content IS our worth, the website is a view into it, keep all your values well protected behind doors you completely control is great advice, thank you Oana.

Oana
Oanasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Storyteller and community builder
That’s a great attitude towards protecting your content! As someone who almost lost her blog articles, I can only applause your way of dealing with this topic. Leaving things random can cost you a lot.  I’m happy that sharing this story raised a bit of awareness, so feel free to tell others to do the same. Cheers! 👋
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