Is Your Web Developer Holding You Hostage?

guy in suit holding banana like a gun

I will never forget the sinking feeling I had when I finally logged into the developer dashboard that day.

I had recently started at a non-profit organization and they desperately needed the content on their website updated. Why had it not been updated? The contract with their web development firm had recently ended.

The firm was eager for them to sign a new multi-year contract and when I found out the cost of the contract it was clear why they wanted to extend this relationship. Until a contract was in place, any website changes would be billed individually at an hourly rate that would make an anesthesiologist question their career choice.

And then I found out the changes the organization needed to make and they were very minor changes by any standard: a date change in the calendar, a staff title change on the employee directory page and an image update on the homepage.

I was not in a webmaster role at the organization but because of my web development background I volunteered to take a look. Without making any promises I figured I could report back success that very afternoon. Boy was I wrong!

Out of respect for this web development firm, I will maintain their anonymity by simply referring to them as E(vil) Corp. In this article I am going to lay out the different ways that a web developer can get a stranglehold on an organization’s web presence and this particular firm did every one of them.

A Proprietary Content Management System

When I finally made my way into the developer dashboard my jaw dropped.  Examining the code I could see that it was cobbled together in the most convoluted way imaginable.  After poking around for just a few minutes it was plain that to make a simple change to any part of this jumble of code one risked wrecking the entire style sheet.

I knew this firm had been around for a while and I could see that with each new programming language they learned they simply layered their code on top of what was already there.  This created a website that could only be maintained by the same mad scientist coder who had created it.  And judging from the turnaround on their support, I suspect it took this person a fair amount of time to figure it out themselves.

What E Corp had created was a website but it was not a CMS or Content Management System.

After wrestling with this Frankenstein’s monster of a website for several weeks I finally talked them into moving to WordPress which is the industry standard of Content Management Systems.

I made my case by presenting to our board a single slide that showed the steps and cost required to have a single change made to our existing website contrasted against the ease with which our own IT department could make the same change using a CMS like WordPress.

Prohibitive Expense

We have talked in the past about how much your web developer hates the small projects you request and there are many reasons for this but the main reason is because they don’t think it is worth their while to accurately bill you for the 30 minutes it took them to execute your request.

So they either round up (in the case of E Corp way up) or they quote you an hourly rate that will scare you away from wasting their time on small requests.  E Corp attempted to scare our organization into getting locked back into their ironclad, multi-year contract which benefited only one of the parties involved.

Blocked Access

The other way a web developer might take complete control of your web presence is by taking over any or all of these:

  1. Domain: They either buy your domain as part of the initial project agreement and then hang onto it for their own benefit or they gain access from a trusting staff member but skillfully deflect any attempt you might have in regaining that access.
  2. Hosting: A web developer might be hosting the site for you on their own server or they may merely be keeping your hosting log-in information from you.  Either way, without access to your web host you lack significant control of your website.
  3. Website: Sometimes you are not even able to get access to the dashboard or developer back-end of your own website.  This is what happened with E Corp and when I started with the organization they had only recently been given log-in credentials after multiple requests.

This list is by no means comprehensive when it comes to the ways a developer might hold your website hostage but it highlights the primary things to look for – whether you are considering hiring someone to revamp your web presence or whether you are evaluating your level of satisfaction with your current developer.

Maybe this list makes you mad because of the sheer injustice of it all or maybe you are feeling held captive by your very own E Corp.

Either way we hope you find the tools and information here that will empower you to take control of your web presence.  Technology has come a long way since the early dot-com era and your experience as website owner should reflect how far we have come.

As for us here at Trisummit Solutions, companies like E Corp make us mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it any more!

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