Is your developer holding your site hostage?

Date: January 10, 2020
Author: Kristin Zhivago
Photo of a man tied up and gagged behind a desk to symbolize a website developer holding him hostage

Do you know where your site is hosted? Where your domain is hosted? Where your email is hosted? Do you know if you are paying for that hosting directly via your own credit card? Do you have sign-in information for each of these sites and know how to access the information you need? Has your developer ever shared all this with you, and shown you what you need to know? 

I thought not. 

Not knowing all this is the norm, not the exception. When we take on a new client, we have to do a lot of digging before all this information is known and fully under the client’s control. This is not good.

It happens because, after all, this tech stuff is not your first priority. You have a business to run. You’ve been leaving all this to the experts. But the other problem is that developers are notorious for preferring that clients stay in the dark. There are several reasons for this:

  • If they are in control of this information, you are more likely to stick with them. Developers are not the world’s most people-friendly people. They prefer to spend their time developing, not interacting. And they absolutely hate selling. So the more control they have over your site, domain, and email, the more likely you are to overlook their unsociable tendencies, and stick with them. 

  • The less you understand, the more you will depend on them. This is their other source of job security: clients who are “not technical.” The backend intricacies of sites, domains, and email systems are definitely very geeky. No matter if you are a man or woman, the basic techie attitude is, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” They want to be your single point of contact. 

  • The less you know, the less likely you are to mess things up. It’s true, if you have access to the backend, you can make a decision about some aspect, unknowingly, and mess up what’s there. Of course you don’t want to do that. But that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about you being able to access your own site, domain, and email resources. 

Why is access so important?

Well, for one thing, your developer might disappear. Not so much that they’d suddenly die on you or slip off to Tahiti without notice, but that they might not respond when you need help. That’s why we have several developers on our team; if there is an emergency, we can reach out to the backup developer for that site and get the problem resolved. You need to be able to give a backup developer your name and password, and at least have a basic understanding of how the site is built (in WordPress, for example, or custom-coded from scratch). 

Another reason you need access is if you decide to change developers. If you want to bring on another developer, getting that access from your current developer will be more difficult if the current developer knows you’re going to fire him. Better to have the access all along, so you can make a clean break and the new developer has whatever he needs, from the start, to get working on your site. 

Keep in mind that a nasty developer who has control of any of these elements might, when told that he is going to be fired, demand a fee for releasing whatever he has control over. Or, he could simply drag his feet and make it very, very difficult for you to get control over your own resources. 

It is also useful to be able to go into the backend and see who has access to your site. If you are assuming that all the work on your site is being done by one person and being done inside the U.S., you will want to check who the users are—and especially the administrators—from time to time. 

If your site goes down, or your hosting company says they can’t re-subscribe you because your payment method isn’t working, or your email stops working, or . . . whatever goes wrong (and things do go wrong), you don’t want to be sitting there with no access to your site, no response from your developer, and no way to get revenue from your site. What might have seemed like no big deal—not having access—can turn into a significant mess in these situations. 

Getting access to your site, domain, and email systems

The first thing you should do to find out who is hosting your site is to go to (or or and type in your site URL. You will see the information that is listed there. If the developer has made the site info private, though, you will find that he is the technical contact and you may not learn very much. Here is what you need to find: 

  • The hosting company that has your site on their servers. There are hundreds of different hosting companies. (If your company is fairly large, you might be hosting it on your own server; if that is the case, though, your in-house IT team will have access. If you don’t have your own server, you will be hosting it at a hosting company.) One of the largest hosting companies is Amazon Web Services, or AWS. Other popular hosting companies include BlueHost, HostGator, Network Solutions, A2 Hosting, Hostinger, Register, GoDaddy, and Some developers like to work with smaller companies; they can be more responsive and less bureaucratic. Once a developer finds a hosting company he likes, he usually sticks with it for all of his clients. 

  • Your domain registration company. Many site hosting companies also provide domain registration, and vice-versa. GoDaddy is large and popular; others include,,,,, 1& and As you go through the domain registration process, you will be offered all sorts of options; but you’re usually fine with a simple .com domain and a 1-year, auto-renewable subscription. Once you get into the account, check the activity and payment methods on the account to make sure everything is in your name and up to date. DO NOT under any circumstances allow a developer to register your domain in their name. If you have done this, get it transferred to you. The domain service company will help you do this. 

  • Your email host. A lot of people are using Gmail as the underlying hosting company for their email now, even though the email comes from This works well, and gives you access to all account settings through a Gmail backend. But there are other email hosting companies that allow you to go into the backend via a browser. Popular services include: A2 hosting, Fastcomet, Hostinger, Chemicloud, TMD Hosting, and Don’t confuse the backend hosting with your computer-based email. The email program you interact with every day is referred to as the “client” of the web-based system, and is not the same. Common clients for Windows include Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, Mailbird, and Windows Mail. Common clients for Mac include Apple Mail, Airmail, Canary Mail, and Microsoft Outlook.

Don’t let your developer hold you hostage. It’s your business. It’s your site, domain, and email. Don’t let them keep you in the dark or baffle you with tech talk. Keep asking until it makes sense to you, whatever it is. You can’t manage what you don’t understand. As far as the outside world is concerned, your company is your site. And most of your business is conducted via your site, domain, and email. Keep all of these essential tools safe and under your control. 

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