Yesterday, a new client and I struggled to gain control of their website. The prior web developer is also the hoster and there is a rumor they have gone out of business and there is a ghost running the server room.   I still don’t have control and the website may have to be rebuilt.  This has happened many times before. On one of the forum boards I belong to, another web developer/designer is struggling with the mystery of a government agency’s website that is no longer in the client’s direct control. The domain registration is locked and private. They have had to actually hire an attorney to gain control of their website and they are hitting obstacles with the registrar and the hoster.  There had been many changes in this government agency and no one knew who had control of the website.

You may have the most wonderful web person in the world and you depend on them to do your website stuff. But, what if they die. You will be hard pressed to get control of the passwords for all the different aspects of your website. Most likely the people cleaning up the estate will have no idea where the passwords are stored.  If the web developer is hosting the website then there may not be a recovery path unless the people involved in closing the estate are able to help.

So here’s a list of action items when you are getting a new website or having someone revamp the website:

  1. Own your domain. Have your own domain registrar account.  You will need to share this information with your Website Developer.  They will need to change the zone file (these are the settings that tell the internet where to find your website).
  2. Own your hosting account.  Signup for an account on a recommended hoster, pay the fees,  keep the access codes in a safe place and know  how to use the account settings.  You will need to keep your credit card current.  You will need to give your developer access to the hosting account as part of the build of your website.
  3. Get an Administrator username from your developer.  If you are using wordpress as your website engine there are several levels of access to the dashboard (control panel).  You will want to have the administrator access.  You may never use this level of access but if your web developer is unavailable you can hire resources to assist you with your website needs.
  4. Keep a backup of the wordpress installation and database SQL at the close of the project.  You should ask your  web developer to send you those files in a zip file.  Even if you don’t know what to do with them, a new web developer will and they can get you back up and going with those files.  Backup on the websites I support is done to a Dropbox location.  This works as long as you have a maintenance contract with your web developer.  Unfortunately, I get a lot of business because the developer would not return phone calls or just up and disappeared.
  5. Keep a screen print or pdf of all articles and pages you add after website release.  Backups are not 100%.  Stuff happens.
  6. Keep a copy of all images you use after release and know the source.   Your developer should be able to identify the source of all  images you have on your website or they have  notified you that permission needs to be gotten before it is used.  Recently a fellow web developer was served with an order to pay many thousands of dollars for the illicit use of Getty Images.  This was done by an intern in their office who was unaware of the legalities around images.  Most developers will use private images, created graphics, common use license, and paid image services.
  7. Pay for a maintenance contract with your developer.  Wordpress websites need constant care and feeding.  Wordpress, WordPress themes and WordPress plugins have continual updates and when updates happen it may break other applications on your website.  A maintenance contract insures that your website stays current and keeps up with security releases.  Don’t expect your developer to pick up your website in six months and fix all the updates that need to be done when your website stops responding.  They may do it but they will probably charge for the rebuild of the website since that may be what it takes to get you up and running again.