What is “Web Abandonment”?
The definition of “Web Abandonment” is a scenario in which you, as a business owner, commission a web developer/designer to build a website and then, at some point during or after the project, the individual figuratively disappears without a trace taking your domain and hosting access with them. The reasons for this happening can be any number of different things so let’s narrow it down to a hypothetical to better illustrate this possible calamity.
Let’s say you decide to quit your day job and finally start that small restaurant business you’ve dreamed of building. You’ve refined your skills as a chef, chosen your restaurant service style, written your business plan, developed your brand, found the right location, created a menu, hired your staff, and just had your grand opening. You now need to market this new business on an online platform but your budget is a lot smaller.
Your next challenge is to find a web designer who can do the job within the budget you have left. So you ask around and your cousin introduces you to a computer science student that he shares some classes with. They regularly get together to study and drink coffee so your cousin feels that this student is trustworthy and explains that he has developed and maintained several websites for other businesses for the last two years. So you do your homework and check up on him by contacting a couple of his current clients. You find out the student does decent work so you decide to give him the job under a verbal agreement to pay $500 and sweetened the deal with an offer of another $500 in the form of meals in trade at your restaurant.
At this point in our little scenario, your new agreement can either be straightforward or it can just go completely sideways. This greatly depends on your new web developer’s credibility, work ethic, and moral compass. If all these character traits checkout and you’re comfortable in trusting that this person will fulfill his or her end of the agreement without a written contract then go for it. “Web Abandonment” may never happen in this case.
Possible character flaws aside, however, let’s imagine that this website has been built, debugged, and utilized to represent your business online in the best way possible. What’s going to happen in two years when our student graduates college? We’ve already established that he does decent work and his skills could possibly get better as he pursues his studies in computer science. So, ideally for him, a decent paying and time-consuming job is waiting for him on the other side of that diploma. At which point, he could just fall off the face of the planet when it concerns you and your site due mainly to life just happening.
Over time, your site will fall out of date leaving it open to malicious hacks, your site’s content will no longer be up-to-date, and interactions with technologies such as new kinds of smartphones will not be addressed. What this means is that your site no longer represents you or your business the way it should when maintaining your brand.
What You Can Do
Now that I’ve possibly scared you into thinking that all freelancers are bad and you should never trust them, I want to explain that this is not the case. In this business, we’ve all had our start as freelancers in one form or another. I can attest that most are very excited about the field, they’re driven and want very badly to do good work for their clients. The purpose of this article is not to bash the new guys but to help you as the client protect against Web Abandonment. So let’s go over what you can do.
1. Always ask for a contract and read it carefully.
Verbal agreements between professionals are great and all but that physical documentation is just that added security to protect all parties. In your case, reading the contract completely is important but the thing to look for is the “Conflict of Interest” or the “Intellectual property rights” sections. These should outline that all developed content, domains, and graphics are legally yours.
Having a signed copy in your filing cabinet will help you defend against any unprofessional behavior like Web Abandonment and give you that bit a leverage if the situation escalates to the “Legal Action” level.
2. Obtain copies of Administrator-level credentials.
Most sites nowadays come built with a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. It’s important that you have Administrator access to your own website in case you have to make changes yourself or commission another party to maintain it for you.
3. Host your own website
It sounds scary to someone who isn’t savvy to the whole interwebs thing but it’s really not so bad. Most media businesses and some freelancers prefer to host websites that they develop on their own accounts and servers so they have greater access for the purpose of maintaining everything for you which really is a big pro if you think about it. In some cases that preference is a strict policy if you decide to use their services.
However, if your developer agrees to this, all you really need to do is ask and they’ll have no problem setting you up on the hosting of your choice if you prefer not to do it yourself. Just ask that they register everything with your preferred username, password, and email address.
4. When all else fails (this is the important one), register your domain yourself.
Godaddy, Bluehost, A2 Hosting and a bunch of other domain registrants have made it pretty simple for anybody to create an account and purchase registration for a domain name. That said, if you host your domain on your own account, you won’t have to worry if your developer disappears. You’ll have complete control over what the domain points to so you can just “park” the domain if the website no longer represents your brand the way it should.
Sure, you’ll have to start your site over again, but at least you won’t be displaying the wrong information in regards to your business. Outdated product prices, policies, and content can cause “but your website said” situations. NOBODY wants to have those conversations.
I’d like to wrap things up in this article by just saying that you can never beat a brick and mortar media business with a good contract when the subject of consistent service and accountability are concerned. Sure, you can get what you’re looking for by making a deal with your buddy, sister, cousin, brother, or acquaintance. But with that comes possible tradeoffs like inconsistency, missed deadlines, and a general lack customer service. It’s always best to go with a business whose first concern is helping you build your brand and promote it for you.