Help! My Website is Broken!

One of those emails you hate to get.

I received a fairly panicked email recently from a client. My work to that point with her had mostly been involved in managing her Facebook account and providing advice on branding and business development. Maureen (not her real name) had been aware for some time that her website was in need of an upgrade. Set up in 2008, it had become a bit all over the place and no longer reflected her changed business approach and it was not up to date on the systems used to collect payments and leads. Upgrading a website is however not a project you take on lightly.

Not until you get to the point where you existing website is broken that is.

Luckily on first look it didn’t appear like there was too big an issue. The front end (the part the public can see) was still working ok but my client was not able to access the back end to place new blog posts. It appeared that lack of maintenance since 2008 had resulted in one of the plugin’s becoming corrupted and had crashed the backend of the site.

Simple to fix. As I had not been involved in setting up the website or the hosting my advice was a quick call / email to the hosting providers would fix the issue. I have had this happen on a few occasions and both hosting providers I have used in the past – BlueHost and HostMonster, which are sister companies, have been fast and efficient at accessing the CPanel of my sites and disabling the offending plugins so I could go in and problem manage the set up. Another of my clients had had the same issue recently.

WordPress has had some massive changes since it was first introduced many years ago and its beauty as a modular system with many plugins talking to themes that overlay the base line WordPress install is both its advantage and at times its disadvantage. But it is essential on any software system that you perform regular updates and backups.

Here is where Maureen’s problem started to get complicated. The company that had designed her WordPress website had been sold and for whatever reasons the new owners were not answering emails or calls. Maureen decided to bite the bullet and use the opportunity to replicate the existing website and add new features and a fresher look. Because we could still see the front end it was a case of hours of copy, paste, editing and improving the layout. Not a fast task when it involves 25 pages and 81 blogs.

Three weeks later and it was time to move the website from my development site and link it up to the domain name. I had advised that due to the issues with the current hosting that Maureen start a new hosting account with a more reliable supplier. Easy, or so it should have been.

The new site was migrated to her new hosting and I requested that she transfer the domain name over to the new hosting providers so that the name servers could be redirected to point to the new website and not the old one. The process was initiated but then stalled with the new hosting company telling us they were not getting answers to their emails to request transfer.

It turns out the previous website hosting company had set up the domain name admin email address as their own address and therefore any request to migrate the domain name went to an email address that was no longer in use. Read more about this here

How did I find this out?

I used whois to look up the domain name and see who was listed as the registrant, registrar, admin and tech contacts. Because the website designer had been a reseller of domain names we found out that enom was still listed as the registrar and luckily my client had been listed as the registrant. So we had to apply to enom to get the admin email changed. Meanwhile my client was still unable to post any blogs on her site. In the middle of this farce the new business owners finally answered emails and stated categorically “none of it was any of their problem” Great, we now had an even better reason to withdraw all business from them.

Eventually after a couple of weeks of hair pulling and some rapid website design we got access to the domain name and were able to change the name servers and link the new website up with the domain  name. The domain name is yet to be transferred to the new hosting account as it was locked from transfer until the middle of September after it was ransomed as hostage in this technical mess.

What did my client learn in all of this?

  • Pick a website designer who has your best interests at heart. No website designer should be putting anything other than the client’s email address as the admin contact. The client owns the domain name no one else.
  • A website is a collection of a few elements that talk to each other. Read more about this here
  • Make sure your website is backed up and maintained regularly. Websites only have a life of about 2 or 3 years, even with regular maintenance. The technical capabilities of the internet are moving fast and potential clients are looking for the latest look.
  • Choose a hosting provider on support facilities not just cost or location. I am in Australia and love to support Australia but want 24/7 online support (preferably chat support) for my websites. I also want help support that is proactive and just not just a read off a script and get stuck when it is a slightly out of the box situation. In my experience I have received that from BlueHost and HostMonster. Ask around and see who recommends which hosting provider.
  • Have support not only from the hosting provider but also from other “in the know” colleagues. I am in a number of forums where I can call on support if let down by my hosting providers. Boy did I do that on this occasion and I owe a few people. Most good online business managers who do website development will charge a small by the hour charge to help you out. It is worth every cent.
  • Diarise the dates on which your website hosting package and domain name need renewing – do not rely on auto-billing.
  • You can manage your own hosting but if you are technically illiterate and it is something you just can’t work out then engage a person you can trust that will have your back.

Backup, keep control and don’t skimp on service are my new mottos.

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