Web Site Rescue

I’m developing a specialty in what I call “web site rescue” – bailing out site owners who have had a falling out with their web developers or simply been abandoned by a developer who skipped town.

A few of the scenarios I’ve seen:

  • The web developer is the only one who can make updates to the website but has stopped moved out of the area or stopped returning calls.
  • A volunteer set up the web site for free (for a community organization or nonprofit) but then lost interest.
  • The web developer makes the updates, but takes several weeks to do so even for simple changes.
  • The web developer turns out to be outsourcing most of the work to offshore laborers in someplace like the Philippines. (Carr Communications web sites are made in the USA).
  • Some of my clients have churned through several web developers whom they found to be unreliable or unprofessional.

In one e-commerce example, I found that the previous developers had created a shopping cart program (or perhaps modified code they had obtained from someone else, or downloaded off some free website) without quite knowing what they were doing. The shopping cart turned out to have some problems with math that did not show up until it was asked to handle bigger-ticket items. Once the price tag exceeded $1,000, it stopped calculating the totals correctly. Turned out the software was storing the dollar amounts as formatted strings, rather than numbers, and when it was asked to do math with those values would automatically drop everything after the comma – so that $1,000 would turn into $1.

So everyone should hire me, because I never make mistakes, right? Right. But beside that, there are a few words of advice I can offer to anyone hiring a web developer on how to protect yourself:

Make sure you can post basic updates to the website yourself, without necessarily requiring the services of your web developer. You should not have to be a techie to go in and correct a typo, or post an event, or add a new product to your product catalog. A good developer should be able to provide you with some self-service tools. The current solution I am offering is based on WordPress, which in addition to being a great blogging tool is pretty capable as a general content management system. That means my clients can use a word processor-like user interface to post and edit information on their home pages or other pages of their sites.

Control your domain — the .com, .org, or other identifier for your website. It’s common for the web developer to register a domain on behalf of his client, and I often provide that service to my clients who are less comfortable with such things. But it is better for you to secure the domain directly from a registrar such as GoDaddy.com or Register.com.

The problem with letting your web developer handle the registration is that it puts the “keys to the kingdom” in the hands of your web developer. If you decide to switch web developers, you’re left in the awkward position of having to go back to the person who originally registered the domain and secure their cooperation to move it to a different server. If they should refuse, you would have few options short of a court order for regaining control over the domain.

To the domain registrar, it’s a question of who is their customer. If you are the customer, and you have the password, you can point the domain to the server of your choice. But if the registrar’s customer relationship is with your former web developer, the developer effectively owns the domain.

One compromise solution is to have your web developer set up the domain registry record with you, or your firm, registered as the “administrative contact” and the web developer listed as the “technical contact.”

But my first recommendation would still be for you to register your own domain. Just make sure to provide complete contact information so that you will not miss future billing notices and let the domain registration lapse (if that happens, you can be left in the ugly predicament of having to buy back your own Internet domain in an auction).

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