Hostage or Partner? You Choose.

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Is Your Website Developer Holding You Hostage? Six Practical Tips to Maintain Control

Statistics do not lie: An impactful website design drives traffic to businesses and converts visitors into leads. Businesses invest in websites and web designers because they get results.

Not every relationship with a website developer is positive. An unfortunate industry trend involves what can only be described as a cyber hostage situation. It goes something like this: The client decides to hire a web designer. The web designer purchases a domain name and builds the website per the customer’s specifications. The website begins to convert visitors to viable leads.

Sounds great, right? It would be if that were the end of the story. For some businesses, the story continues with them being nickeled and dimed for every change they want to make to their website. The real nightmare comes into play when the client tries to move to a web platform that gives them more control over making simple edits themselves – only to discover the web developer is holding all of the keys to the kingdom.

This is a scenario our company has seen far too often. One of the worst cases to date involved a chiropractor who spent nearly seven months trying to regain control of his domain name and website from a web developer who refused to cooperate.

So, how do you know if your website is being held hostage by your web developer? There are a few tell-tale signs.

  • Important information about your website is being withheld or deliberately concealed by your web developer during the design process.

  • Website access is restricted by the developer unless certain terms and conditions are met, including fees for additional services not previously agreed on.

We must combat the status quo of website design and development to ensure no more clients are held hostage over access to their websites. There are six steps clients can take to prevent ending up in this precarious situation.

1. Maintain the keys to your domain

This is the most important step clients can take to ensure they do not find themselves in a hostage situation with their web developer. While it may seem convenient to allow your web developer the freedom to purchase a domain name for your site, it can come back to bite you later. Domain name rules are simple: You buy it, you own it. Many clients learn this hard truth when the relationship with their web developer sours and they need to regain control of their website. The site – and the domain name associated with it – is not theirs to use anymore because they allowed the developer to purchase it on their behalf.

It is possible to reclaim the name of a domain from a developer, but it requires a transfer of the domain registrar. A registrar is a person recognized by the hosting platform as the domain name owner. Some developers will transfer ownership to clients when requested. When they refuse, it puts the client in the position of spending time and money to restore ownership. If the client’s domain involves any trademarked property, it can further complicate matters. Sometimes clients can file claims with ICANN to regain control of their domain name. Other times, legal action against the web developer may be necessary.

2. Be your own host

Every website domain needs a website hosting platform, a physical place where a website “lives” and includes all of the necessary hardware, servers, and routers needed to make your site


Some of the most popular include Bluehost, HostGator, Hostinger, and DreamHost. Securing a hosting platform is an important part of designing any website. As with the purchase of the domain name, some clients allow the web designer to create the account for the hosting site.

Some web developers use their place of business as the hosting environment for client

websites. This is problematic if the relationship with the developer ends or their business goes dark. It is best to use a third-party hosting site like those previously mentioned to ensure you

always have control.

3. Get website ownership in writing

As with any other business contract, it is important to define the ownership rights for all designs and content for your website. This includes all text, graphics, video, and audio

the site. Once a client pays for the services, they should ensure they retain ownership rights to the work. Include language to this effect in any contract with a web developer before work begins on your site.

4. Choose tools that put you on the path to success

If every change – swapping out photos, adding a blog post – you would like to make to your website involves the tedious process of submitting a work order, you are not setting yourself up for success. Reputable web developers provide their clients with access to their websites and the ability to make changes to content. This can be accomplished with a good content management system that allows anyone with login information to easily adjust website content.

5. Advocate for the right to fish

An ongoing strategic relationship with a web developer or agency should involve teaching the client how to “fish” on their website. This means clients know how to access and

make changes to their website for the everyday operation of the site.

This includes uploading new photos, text,

or other content. It will make for an easier transition if you do decide to part ways with your designer. An ongoing, synergistic collaboration with a designer should only be maintained if it is working well for the client. Make sure to advocate for your right to fish before any work on your website begins, and steer clear of any web developers who are hesitant to meet the requirement.

6. Tie everything back to your vision and funnel

It is important to develop checkpoints to evaluate your website’s progress. Every well-designed website should include strong branding, eye-catching landing pages, engaging visuals, and seamless navigation. If what is being done is not supporting the bigger vision, do something else.

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