When Your “Web Guy” Bails On You…

If your webmaster leaves unexpectedly, you can have a lot of trouble getting access to your own website. I’ll review some of the things that you need to do to prepare — just in case.

My webmaster has gone AWOL and my site is having problems. I don’t know who to talk to or how to retrieve my site’s back up. What can I do?

This was the case for the website for an organization to which I belong. In fact, it happened twice, and we got very lucky each time.

I’ll review what happened to us, how we recovered, and what every website owner should do to prepare for exactly this scenario.

The site story

The organization centers around a large email discussion list. There’s an associated website, built and maintained by volunteers, that includes photos, a list FAQ, and other information related to the list. It’s not an uncommon use of a website to back up and maintain information for an online email community.

I volunteered to take on-site maintenance, including the transition from an old site, to a new, partially completed replacement.

Unfortunately, as part of the transition, which included moving to a new web host, we lost contact with the person who had been doing the work up to that point and the information to access the old site.

It was hosted on a small and fortunately responsive ISP. We were able to contact them and convince them that we were the folks responsible for the site. They then set up a redirection so that visitors trying to get to the old site reached the new site instead. In short, we were very lucky because the ISP was willing to help us out.

The transition to the new site went well, initially. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, there was a monthly bandwidth cap in place. Only so much traffic (views of the website’s pages) would be allowed before the site would be disabled for a time. With the redirection from the old site, we reached that cap in under two weeks.

We were fortunate once again. The webmaster who I was replacing had prepared and shared with the organization’s administration important things like password, accounts, and access information … but not all of it worked. Enough of it did work that I was able to move the new site to a new location — one of my own servers, where I have total control and no bandwidth cap.

Lessons learned

In short, losing your webmaster can be a serious problem. Depending on many things, the worst-case scenario could be you lose access to your own website with little (if any) hope of retrieving it.

I got lucky. Twice. You might not.

If you have someone else who’s in charge of managing your website, you must have a contingency plan. I recommend that at a minimum it includes:

  • The name of the registrar (if you have your own domain name) and the account name and password that would allow you to make changes to that domain, such as pointing it at a different server or even transferring it to another registrar.
  • The name of your hosting provider. Ideally, that would include telling your hosting provider of backup contacts in addition to the webmaster.
  • Accounts and passwords to your server’s management console. Not all sites have this, but ultimately, a management console is a common approach that web hosting providers offer to individuals so that they can control the configuration of their server or their part of it.
  • Account names and passwords to the appropriate content management, login, and ftp accounts used to manage the server or publish content to it.
  • An alternate contact. In many cases, your webmaster may have a trusted individual that, while not involved in your site, may be available to grant access or assist in an emergency.

Back up!

Implicit in all this is that you have your site backed up. If everything goes away — everything: your web host, their backups, your webmaster — can you rebuild your site?

My personal goal is that I should beable to rebuild my websites — including Ask Leo!— to within a few days of being current from backed up information stored elsewhere — and to be able to do so from anywhere on the planet. It might take some time, but at least I want it to be possible.

You may not need to be quite that extreme, but by preparing for the extreme you’re also exceptionally well-prepared for all the not-quite-as-disastrous scenarios that are more likely to occur.


You may have a couple of reactions to that list:

All that information … those are the keys to my kingdom! If someone got all that, they could hack me to pieces!

Yes indeed.

Realize that you’re already relying on your webmaster to keep this same information safe already, but you’ll absolutely have to do the same. It doesn’t matter how you do it — written on a note you keep in a safe, kept in a spreadsheet in an encrypted filesystem, or something else entirely — you do want to keep this sensitive information secure.

But no matter how you do it, it’s critical that more than one person have it.

I wouldn’t know what to do with this information!

That doesn’t matter.

If you’re not familiar with website stuff yourself, you’ll be looking for someone who is. Once you find them, they’ll need this information in order to help.

A sudden or unplanned transition is always rocky, but with a little careful up-front planning, very often a total disaster can be averted.

This article originally appeared on Ask Leo! where you’ll always find updates as well as the most vibrant discussion. For the latest, subscribe now to The Ask Leo! Newsletter and get a copy of The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition. This ebook will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer, and yourself, safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.

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