How to avoid your website being held hostage
I have seen this happen all too often. All sorts of problems can occur when a business owner trusts their web developer too much and doesn't ask the right questions when arranging their domain and website. Sometimes I can't fix these issues purely because the law is on the side of whoever is registered as the domain owner.
Hiring a web designer is an important decision. You should ensure prior to allowing someone to handle your online presence that they are honest and actually care about your business. Often once a developer has your money they aren't really concerned whether your business succeeds or not.
I believe that your success is critical to my success. Over the last 10 years or so I have come across numerous occasions when web designers have used what I class as "sharp practices".
I will tell you of them so that you know what questions to ask a prospective web designer prior to engaging their services.
1) Do you own the website?
I have been contacted by people looking to get their website brought up to date only to find that they don't actually own the site. The design contract states that the web company owns the design, whether that's because they purchased and used a template or because they simply decided to tie in their client. When this happens the only option is to create a completely new site from scratch or go back to the same designer to get the design improved often paying inflated prices. For an ecommerce site this can be devastating so make sure that at the end of the build you are the legal owner of the website.
2) Are you the registered owner of the domain?
Another issue that may arise is regarding the domain ownership. Some developers either don't know how to register a domain in someone else's name or want to retain control of the domain so that they can keep the client hostage. This means that you are no longer free to take your domain elsewhere should you fall out with the developer or simply want to save money. What happens if the designer simply can't be contacted. Can you get the domain back? Unfortunately the answer is most probably not, at least not without a legal battle.
3) Who hosts the website and can you get access?
At the very least your designer should be open about where the website is hosted. You should also have full access to the site should you wish it e.g. via a control panel that allows you to add files or with ftp login. If the web designer has used a pre-made template then you should also be informed and the license for the template should be in your name. This applies as well to any software licenses used e.g. content management software and you should also be made aware of any license fees you will have to pay in the future
4) Do you have a backup of the website and data?
When you have a website it is important to have a backup of the original site and it's database if there is one. A good idea is also to have a periodic backup and a good developer will do this and give you access to the data. Often you can also pay a little extra for your hosting to get regular backups e.g. rolling daily backups.
If you ask the right questions you can avoid these traps and ensure that your website is actually 100% your website - forever.