From time to time I receive calls from clients that find out that they don’t have as much control of their websites as they thought they did. Common issues are that they may not have access to their Control Panel, they may not have backups or they may not be able to change their DNS (to point their domain to a new host). The site owner is not fully to blame — there are plenty of developers, consultants and website hosting companies that make it very easy for you to lose control of your site.
Recently I was told this story:
A site owner decided to switch from his original development and consulting company. This developer had offered free hosting for life and claimed that they’d take care of all the details pertaining to the maintenance of the site. So when the site owner called to tell the developer that they were moving on, the response he got from them was surprising:
Do you still need your site?
This came as quite a shock to the site owner. Basically the vendor was telling him that they planned to hold the site hostage! How could this happen? The vendor had set up the site with a “vendor lock,” claiming the site owner’s domain name (through hosting DNS) and content (they hosted the site), and their policy was not to allow client backups.
So how can you prevent this from happening to you? Make sure that you retain control of the “keys.” The keys are your content, your domain name and your DNS.
Control your Backups (and test them)
No matter where you end up, make sure you can backup and restore your site. There are many plugins that can do this, and having a good copy of your site is critical if anything happens. Even if you do not have the technical know-how to restore your site to your local computer, make sure you can read the backup file. It will generally be a ‘zip’ file that you can extract on your computer. Make sure all your content is there. WordPress puts user content in the wp-content directory where you will find your uploaded images, audio and video files. Make sure you can backup the database. A good host or consultant will help you with this. The rest of the backed-up files are important, but these are the most critical.
Control your own Domain
Every site on the internet has a domain name (like tadpole.cc) points to an IP address. The IP address is a number much like a phone number that allows users to find your site. When you type in a domain name, you are asking a Domain Name Server, or DNS, “hey– what is the address for tadpole.cc?” The DNS matches the domain name to the numeric IP address and off you go, connecting to the site. It is very important that you — the site owner — control your domain. Make sure you can make changes to your DNS records. If you can, you have control. Beware of hosting companies that require that you use their name servers for DNS and do not allow you to make changes. Remember, the domain name is yours, you need to control it. If your host controls it you do not. It’s fine if your hosting company offers to let you use their name servers. If you want to do this, that is fine, but if they require that you move your domain to them, run.
This is not to say that you cannot use a “one-stop shop”. You can, just make sure that they allow you to control the “keys” your site.
So what happened to the site owner that told me his sad story? Fortunately, he was able to respond to this by reminding his vendor that they had refused their free hosting and they had their site, thank you very much. This did not sit well with the vendor, and they went on to demand fees that were never agreed to. Nothing came of this as there was no agreement for these “phantom fees”.
This ended well, but it could have been a disaster. Remember it’s your site, make sure you have all the “keys”.