Web Developer Takes Client’s Website Hostage
You just signed on with a web developer. You trust him. You’ve paid him a nice deposit. He’s agreed to:
- secure your domain (web address such as www.yourbusiness.com)
- build you a website
- train you to manage the site (or agree to manage it for you)
- go live
You’ve paid your bills promptly and without question. The site goes live. Things are going pretty well. Or maybe not. Either way, you decide to make a change. You may have realized the site is not mobile-friendly, or isn’t ranking as well as you’d like, or you’ve met another developer with whom you’d like to work. It doesn’t really matter why you want to change developers because it’s your site. You paid for it.
You contact your developer and tell him you’d like to make the change. It might be a bit of an uncomfortable convo, but it’s just business. You ask that he cooperate with your new developer, but the site isn’t transferred.
Here are some common negative responses crooked web developers use to avoid website transfers:
- He simply refuses to cooperate with the new team
- He says he doesn’t control the domain registration account
- He says he doesn’t control the web hosting account
- He simply ignores your request
- He tells you it’s too complicated to transfer the site
- He has forgotten his domain registration and/or web hosting login and password
- His hosting service is being uncooperative and he can’t reason with them
You feel like you’re being held hostage by your web developer. And your feeling is correct. You are being held hostage. The truth is, this is your site. It’s your business. Any developer who tells you that transferring your site cannot or will not be done is a bad web developer. It’s unethical. It doesn’t really matter why you want to change developers. You’re the customer and it’s your choice.
You feel like you’re being held hostage by your web developer. And your feeling is correct. You are being held hostage.
A developer is NOT a web hosting service or a domain registration service.
There are, basically, two hosts involved with most websites.
A “domain name host,” also known as a “domain registration service” is the company used to register your web address. It’s the place where you check to see if a web address such as “www.mybusiness.com” is available. Think “GoDaddy” or “Network Solutions” or “Namecheap.” You can purchase the rights to any available domain you’d like for about $12 per year or less. This company simply “hosts” the name for you and lets you manage how that name is used, what website it points to and how long it will be yours until you let it expire.
A “web host” or “web server” is a company used to host the files that make up your website. It’s the computer that “serves up” your web pages to visitors who find you on Google, Bing, Yahoo or any of the other websites. Often, the web host also hosts your email address, if that address is something like “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Web hosting companies are often the same companies as domain registration companies. GoDaddy, for instance, offers domain name registration and hosting. So does Hostgator and Bluehost.
You don’t need to host a domain name and your website at the same place. These are completely different services that exist separately. Just because you registered your domain with GoDaddy doesn’t mean you have to host your website on Godaddy’s web servers.
Domain Registration Is The Real Power In The Equation
When you hired your web developer, you probably had little experience with how the web works. That’s okay. That’s why we hire experts. It’s not unreasonable to trust a professional. Most of us wouldn’t take out our own appendix or fix our car’s transmission. We trust and are trusted. That’s how the economy is supposed to work.
When your web developer asked you “would you like me to secure www.mybusinessname.com?” you said “yes” because you trusted him. What you may not have known is that he probably registered the domain in his name. And that’s okay because you may not have know how to do it. But that doesn’t mean it’s his property. You paid him for the service. He would never have secured that domain for himself had you not hired him to do so.
You’ve got to get that domain registration transferred to your own account before your new web developer can go live with your new site. The way to do that, technically, is very simple. You’ll need to create an account with the same registration service that your current developer is using to host your domain. Then, he can “push” the domain to your account. It’s easy. So easy. And it’s free. Always. As long as you keep the registration in the same registration service, it’s no charge. There can be a charge for transferring the domain OUT of the current domain registration company to another registration company, so it generally makes sense to keep it with the same service. Also, the domain must be registered with the registration company for at least 60 days before any transfers are permitted.
If your web developer claims that it is too difficult to make the transfer and tries to get you to pay him for the hosting, protest loudly. Explain that it’s common industry practice to transfer domains for customers on request, provided accounts have been paid in full. You should be expected to pay any prorated domain hosting fees and for any time the developer spends on the transfer. That’s all. He may charge a fee for transferring the domain. All this should have been clear BEFORE you signed your contract and paid your web development deposit. But hindsight is 20/20 and, again, you can’t be expected to know all this.
Don’t expect the domain hosting service to come to your rescue. It probably won’t get involved. The truth is, crooked web developers tend to win these battles because they control the domain. Domain hosting services don’t get involved in these disputes. You can hire an attorney, but it will be costly. You’ll probably win, though.
After a year of paying renewals for a non-paying client, it’s common for crooked web developers to drop the domain registration, but it can take months after expiration to access the domain again. And if your developer has prepaid for five or ten years of domain hosting, you may out of luck.
It’s always best to register a domain yourself, under your name and then give the developer manager access to the domain. That way, any developer you hire can’t lock you out of your own account or transfer your domain(s) to his account (yes, this happens). Never, ever give your admin login and password to anyone you don’t fully trust.
Not a lot of recourse here. If your domain is being held hostage by a web developer who refuses to transfer it, try to be reasonable and remind him that industry standards require him to cooperate with a transfer. If that doesn’t work, take to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other forum that will help share your crooked developer story. Remind the developer that every day your site languishes means lost business opportunity, revenue and damages that may convert to a judgement against him. If that fails, you might need to get a new domain or hire an attorney. Sometimes just getting a lawyer to write a letter will force the transfer.
For your information, sometimes DecemberPress registers domains on behalf of clients. If DecemberPress controls the registration of your web address and you’d like it transferred, all you have to do is ask. No questions. No explanations. No charge. We play nice.
Image courtesy of chanpipat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net