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Is your website being held hostage?

Over time, the Lanex team has talked to numerous potential customers in need of having their websites “rescued.” Sometimes it’s a simple internal resource issue – the company doesn’t have the time or the staff it needs to maintain or improve its website. But sometimes it’s a more frustrating challenge. A solo web developer is no longer available, a small shop folds up or a current provider becomes unresponsive.

It’s an unpleasant situation, often impacting your business in both predictable and unexpected ways, but there are steps you can take to avoid being held hostage by your website service providers.

First and foremost is to know your hosting and development company, and select one that has longevity in the field. There are local vendors like ours that provide their own hosting, as well as large-scale providers like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and GoDaddy, which all do a good job of hosting websites and web applications of different sizes.

With local providers, ask for references – and follow up. Visit their website to get a sense of their size and the quality of their online presence, then contact them. For large-scale service providers, conduct research online. Ideally, talk to someone in your own network who works with a high-profile provider and see what their experience has been like.

Periodically request a backup of your website and associated database. Wondering if you have a database? If your website does e-commerce or regularly publishes content, your data is probably stored in one.  Even though your hosting company should be making backups, it’s always a good idea to have one for yourself, and it’s worth the small cost.

While you’re at it, find out how often your provider backs up your site. If you make changes often, you might want to request an increase in backup frequency. If you’re using a platform such as WordPress, with plugins like “Backup Buddy” you can easily run and download your own backup.

It’s your kingdom, make sure you have the keys. Request all the passwords associated with your website, even the ones you’ll probably never use, like FTP or database logins which would help you retrieve your information in the event of a hosting issue.

If your company is using SEO or analytics tools, make sure you have an admin-level account. Also make sure you can transfer your analytics data to another company should you need to.  At a minimum, take screen shots or print hardcopies of important data so you have a record if it becomes unavailable.

Finally, make sure you know what you own and that you have a copy of it. This can include your website’s source code, licenses to libraries or plugins and licensed imagery. Having this information in place can save you the expense of needing to repurchase licenses if you need to move vendors. We recently met with a company whose website was designed by a vendor they wanted to leave because of poor service. This vendor refused to hand over their licenses and source code. The company even struggled to recover clear control over their domain. In the end, their only recourse was to build a new website, wasting valuable time, money and energy.

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Matt McCoy is the co-founder and president of Lanex, an award-winning Milwaukee-based website design, development and hosting company, serving a wide range of industries.

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