Website Rescue: Are Developers Holding Your Site Hostage?

When your website is being held hostage by a hosting company or web developer, you may have more options than you realize. Here are a few places to check along with some advice on how to rescue your website.

Speaking of which, your website is one of your company’s most important assets. From marketing and sales to customer communication, everything depends on a well-built, well-designed and well-managed site. While some companies keep their development and management in-house, others rely on experts at agencies or even freelancers. You sign on the dotted line and hand the keys to your website over to them. In most cases, the developer does a good job and everything is great. If you need changes or additions, they handle them quickly. Your developer walks you through the backend and packages up all of the credentials so you always know how to manage the site. But sometimes things take a turn and the relationship with your developer goes south. Learn some of the telltale signs that you may be in need of a website rescue from a hostage situation.

 Far too often we see a company’s website held hostage by a development agency or freelancer for any number of reasons. This means you don’t have proper access to your site and it makes it that much more difficult to bring your site’s management and maintenance to a new agency or other developers. But by far, the worst part is sometimes a business owner or entire company doesn’t even realize their site is being held hostage.

How to Tell if Your Company Needs a Website Rescue

We don’t want to suggest that all developers are trying to hold your site hostage. Sometimes it’s just more efficient to let them take care of everything. However, unless you’re 100% sure (and how can you be?) that they’ll be handling your site until the end of time, it’s a good idea to ensure your company maintains or reclaims ownership to your own website.

So how can you tell if your site is being held hostage? Answer these three yes or no questions. If you answer no to any of them, it’s time to take action.

Do you own your domain name | ProFromGo blog1. Do you own and control your domain name?

It may sound convenient, but having your site developer buy your domain for you can lead to a world of complications if the relationship ends or turns sour. The rules for domain ownership are pretty simple—whoever buys it, owns it. If your developer buys the domain, they can take it with them when they leave. This is especially dangerous when you’re dealing with a freelancer or individual developer. If they suddenly “go dark,” you’re out of luck.

Reclaiming ownership of your domain name will require a transfer of the domain registrar. The registrar is the person or party recognized by your hosting platform as the owner of the domain name. If your developer can’t or won’t transfer these credentials over to you, it is possible to file a claim to restore ownership back to your company. This process can take time and in some cases, cost money if your brand is trademarked. You may also be able to file a claim with ICANN.

2. Do you have access to your website’s CMS?Do you have access to your CMS | ProFromGo blog

Who is in charge of publishing, updating and managing the existing content on your website? These activities are most likely controlled through your site’s content management system, or CMS. Popular CMS platforms include WordPress, Drupal and Magento. Each of these platforms allows you to manage the overall content on your site—from blog posts to web page design.

It’s more than normal for your developer and marketing agencies to maintain high-level access to your CMS. However, the problems start when someone within your company doesn’t have that same level of access. Most CMS’s have varied levels of access for users, ranging from admins to those with view-only credentials. It’s extremely important that at least one internal person maintain full admin access to ensure you’re left with the keys to the site’s content once you end a relationship with a developer or marketing agency.  

Where is my website's hosting environment | ProFromGo Blog3. Do you have access to the hosting environment?

Similar to the previous two topics, if you don’t have the proper access to your site’s hosting environment, you won’t be able to do much in the event of ending your relationship with the current administrator. A hosting environment is the physical place where your website lives. This includes all of the hardware, servers and routers that bring your site to life. It’s not entirely necessary to house the hosting environment on-site, but you should know where it is and who manages it.

If your developer houses your hosting environment from his or her place of business, there’s not much you can do if the relationship is terminated or they go dark. If you can’t accommodate the hosting environment at your company’s offices, opt for a third party that recognizes you as the owner and will still be there no matter what developer or agency you’re working with. Some content management systems have very specific hosting requirements and it might be somewhat of a “closed environment” where the developer can’t provide access. This is the case even with our own Studio PFG platform, however if a client ever needs to transfer out, they may be able to export the site into a more familiar hosting environment with a few tradeoffs.

If you answered no to any of these questions and you’re worried your site might wind up in a hostage situation, contact us at ProFromGo. Our team of developers is more than equipped to help you transfer any ownership you might need.

How to Avoid Developers Holding Your Site Hostage

Bringing in a third party developer to work on your site shouldn’t be the end of the process. As we discussed above, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on your site’s day-to-day life and make sure your developers are doing what they need to do.

If you’ve been burned before by a developer hostage situation, or you’ve taken our advice to heart, here are a few things you can do to make sure your website stays safe and sound.

What to do before hiring a web developer

There are a number of things you can do before entering into a new service agreement with a developer to hopefully prevent the need for an eventual website rescue. These tasks not only ensure you maintain access to your site, but also set the tone for your relationship with the development team. In reality, they’ll probably be thrilled you’ve done so much legwork ahead of time. Here are some items to ensure:

  • Domain ownership
  • Registrar access
  • Admin access to your CMS
  • Back up all existing files and data
  • Confirm hosting environment

How to work with your web developer during build

Communication is key with any long-term project. On one hand, you’ve hired an expert to help develop or rebuild your site and there’s a certain about of deference that goes along with that. However, it’s more than appropriate to schedule regular calls for status updates and addressing any snags. Constant communication helps keep the project transparent and build a deeper relationship with your development team.

Another important note is to make sure you stay on top of your payments. Most web developers won’t release a finished site until it is paid for, which is generally regarded as a reasonable consideration. Miscommunication regarding payment can often lead to misunderstandings. You may interpret this as holding your website hostage and create a hostile experience in the process. Make sure both parties are sticking to their contractually specified responsibilities and things should run smoothly.

What you need after the site launches

Depending on the nature of your service agreement, post launch may or may not be the end of your relationship with the developer. If you’ve entered into a maintenance agreement and the developer will be sticking around the project, make sure both parties understand and continue to honor the scope of services. If the site’s delivery is the end of the engagement, double check that you have admin and other points of access before parting ways. Developers don’t usually like providing support once their job is done.

Sometimes a developer’s true colors don’t emerge until the site has launched. The final product could leave you wanting, or the support you’re receiving just does more harm than good. That probably means it’s time for a website rescue.

Website Rescue

The phone rings and a familiar voice is on the other end of the line. "Chris, my friend is in big trouble. Their company needs your help and fast."

We know this story all too well. ProFromGo has acquired countless customers because someone else didn't treat them right after the "honeymoon project" was over.

In our business, support and follow-thru are critical to making sure customers are getting what they need when they need it. Web design freelancers and small agencies can sometimes leave a lot to be desired in this department.

We strive to be better, and for that reason, we are often asked to "rescue" a website from a freelancer, a lone-wolf developer or sometimes even from uncooperative agencies. I like these projects because a lot of times they don't want to change a thing—the company likes how it looks and what it says. They just need it to be easier to manage and they need someone ready to tackle problems in their time of need.

Design and Development Support for Your Website Rescue

Since we implemented it a few years ago, our support desk has been a game changer for us and our clients. Our process is to acknowledge incoming requests, set expectations, and schedule any follow-up action required on our end.

This past March alone, we performed five website rescues. Three of those sites were for one company. Each one presented its own set of challenges and issues to address. However, there are a few overarching reasons companies often find their sites in need of rescuing. Here are a few quick reasons you might come knocking on our door.

1. You need a website rescue from previous design and development work.

We do website rescue projects to get folks away from a programmer or agency they aren't in love with anymore. Once the honeymoon is over, let's face it, a lot of freelancers and agencies aren't really built for the post-sale support. We're different in that way. All of our sites come with a support & maintenance plan that gives you access to our team and help desk when you need us. No set-it-and-forget-it mentalities in our office.

2. You need a website rescue from a confusing or non functioning platform.

WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Drupal, Joomla, SiteFinity, HubSpot, Shopify, YIKES!

There are so many platforms out there today. Depending on who sold you, the website platform you're on right now may or may not be the best fit. Maybe its capabilities are a bit more advanced than you need or it’s just plain confusing to use. Just because it's great for some does not make it great for all.

We do most of our lesser complicated projects on our own in-house system for simple brochure-style sites. It's called Studio PFG and its whole point is to make your website simple for YOU to manage and update after we build it for you.

We also do a lot of custom work on other platforms. These sites are typically for larger projects and companies hosted on WordPress, HubSpot and Shopify.

During a typical exploratory call, I'll share the associated costs as well as some of the pros, cons and limitations of each to see if one of the platforms my team and I work with might make better sense for you.

3. You need fresh eyes and ideas to get your business to the next level.

Even when creatives do a great job—whether they're designers, programmers or marketers—every now and then a fresh set of eyes and ideas can be helpful. If you have a good enough website and a good enough online marketing/advertising strategy, you might not need us. However, if you're curious about whether or not you might be able to make your site better, and whether or not ProFromGo might be the ones to help you do that, then you need to get a-clickin' on my scheduling link.

Contact us today if you're in a pickle and need an experienced team of website rescue experts to take a peek at the current state of your project or web presence.

Chris Vendilli
About the Author
Chris is the founder and CEO of Vendilli Digital Group. In his free time, you’ll find him camping, fishing, or playing beer league ice hockey with a bunch of guys who refuse to admit they’re already over the hill.
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