What to Do When a Developer Holds Your Site to Ransom


Many small businesses pay a developer to create their website. This makes sense for a number of reasons, not least the fact that the end result will be more professional. However, what you might not consider when you hand over your money is that the developer has you over a barrel.

Some developers keep their clients in the dark as much as possible. It’s in their interest to withhold key information so you stay with them and they can continue charging a monthly fee for hosting and site updates.

The client probably doesn’t care. He’s handed a flash new website, so he is happy. But what he fails to realise is that the developer controls every aspect of the site. If the client wants to switch to a new (cheaper) hosting deal or hand the site to another developer, he won’t have the information he needs.

Why is Site Access Important?

Not all developers are reputable or in it for the long-term. Some of them are only interested in making a quick profit and disappear without a trace overnight. That’s not great if they take your website details with them. It’s also not nice if they hold you to ransom when you tell them you want to switch to a new developer.

There is a lot that can go wrong with websites. Payment methods fail. Emails stop working. Sites get hacked. Your hosting company goes bust. And so on.

Without key information, such as what hosting company you’re using and what platform the site is built on, you’re in a tight corner. Sure, the site belongs to you (allegedly) because you paid a small fortune for it, but if you don’t have access or control, your asset is worthless!

What To Do Next

Speak to the developer and see if you can come to an amicable resolution. It could all just be a misunderstanding.

If you can’t get through to the developer or they are being deliberately obstructive, find out who is hosting your site. Visit whois.com or icann.org and type in your website URL. If the information is public, it will be listed. Some developers make the information private, in which case you won’t find out anything useful.

Larger sites are often hosted on a dedicated server rather than a shared one. If this applies to you, someone in the company may have access to it. If so, you can check who the hosting company is from the nameserver information. Chances are you are not on the cheapest package and it is prudent to switch to a cheaper deal to save money. However, bear in mind you might need to migrate your site over if you move to a new hosting provider (if in doubt, ask for help).

Check who your domain registration company is. Reset your login if necessary and verify all payments are up to date. If the developer registered your business’s domain in their own name, ask the domain company to transfer it to you.

Pro tip: never let a developer register your company’s domain in their name. If you do this, you are storing up a lot of trouble for the future.

Find Out Who Your Email Host Is

Many businesses have a custom email address, for example, admin@mycompany.com. To find out who your email host is, log into your domain panel and look at your site’s DNS settings. The domain name in your MX records is your email host. Once you have this information, you can contact them directly to find out any settings you need. If in doubt, speak to your hosting provider and ask them to verify who your email provider is – this information might be in your records.

Last Resort

If none of the above helps and you are still locked out of your own website, you might have to cut your losses and start from scratch. This time choose a reputable developer and make sure they give you all the information you need, at every step of the way. Remember, this is your site and your business. If you don’t understand anything, keep asking questions until it makes more sense. A good developer will be happy to go over things until you are both on the same page.

True Story

One of our clients had this problem. He wasn’t able to access his site and the original developer refused to hand over control. In the end, he was forced to engage a different web designer to build a new site and we provided all of the content. Not ideal, but he couldn’t do much else, sadly!

A business website is an important asset, so treat it with the respect it deserves. You have probably paid good money to a developer for the site. If they can’t or won’t work with you and provide the access details you need to manage the site, follow the above steps.

And if you do have to start again, don’t panic. A website refresh could give your business a much-needed marketing boost. Contact us for your content needs. We can also recommend website developers who won’t rip you off!