Website Horror Stories and How to Prevent Them

Website Horror Stories and How to Prevent Them

Imagine finding out that your website has disappeared, or that you don’t have the keys to the kingdom.

As a web designer and developer, I have come across a number of website horror stories over the years. Some of the stories may make you shiver. Others may simply shock you.

Here are the tales of website horrors and how you can prevent similar situations from happening to you.

9 Website Horror Stories

  1. The Horror: The House Built on Rented Ground

    This is the tale of the large website built on a hosting platform that the client thought was a good choice years ago. It had an easy-to-use content management system, and the website was easy to maintain. Their domain name pointed to the home page, but the URLs included the hosting platform’s domain name.

    Initially, the site was small, but as the website grew, the client wanted to move to a self hosted platform that offered more customization. The business had outgrown its current home on the Internet.

    The Hostage
    Little did they know that when they decided to move, they couldn’t take their website with them. There was no option to export the website. To exasperate the situation, the hosting support could only be contacted by a ticket system that promised to reply within 24 hours.

    Eventually, the only option was to painstakingly copy the text of each and every page and download the images manually. Then, the text and images had to be added to the new website manually. When the new website was ready to launch, the hosting company would not allow 301 redirects to tell the search engines that the old pages had moved.

    How this horror story could have been prevented: Even if you are just starting out, read the fine print. Choose a web hosting company that you can self host your website, make backups, and one that offers 24×7 technical support. For the same amount of money for the hosted services, you can have a self hosted website.

  2. The Horror: Your Domain Name in Someone Else’s Name

    The sad story of finding out your domain name is in someone else’s name has been the horror of many. There have been a number of times that new clients have contacted us for help, only to discover their domain name is in the old designer’s name.

    In most situations, a quick email or phone call to the old developer helped to resolve the situation. On one occasion, the designer could not be reached. The road to get the domain name in the client’s name was a long one.

    How to avoid a horror story like this: Make certain that your domain name is in your name and that you have the login credentials – user name and password to the account.

  3. The Horror: Your Web Hosting Account is Not in Your Name

    Imagine trying to contact your web hosting company for support, only to learn that the account is not in your name. There have been clients who were not aware that they did not have ownership of the web hosting account. Even though they had been paying for the service, they could not validate ownership.

    How to avoid this horror story: Be sure that your web hosting account is in your name and that you have the user name and password to log into the account.

  4. The Horror: Not Having the Keys to the Kingdom

    I have been contacted by more than one website owner that had a WordPress website, but did not have the administrative login credentials or FTP (File Transfer Protocol – the protocol for transferring files) user name and password. Without these important credentials, the website could not be managed. Fortunately, this information was eventually obtained.

    How to keep this from happening to you: Make it a point of having the login user name and passwords for both your Content Management System and FTP.

  5. The Horror: Not Having a Website Backup

    Picture your web hosting company shutting down your website over a misunderstanding, but you didn’t realize there was a misunderstanding until a few days later, you discover your site is down. Then, when you contact the host, you discover that you just missed the cutoff for backups that they keep archived.

    This heartbreaking story actually happened to one of our clients. They did not have a backup of their WordPress site. The website had to be painstakingly reconstructed from web archives.

    How to avoid a similar fate: Make regular backups of your website files and database if appropriate.

  6. The Horror: Discovering Your Website Has Been Hacked

    One nightmare that many a website owner has is discovering their website has been compromised. This happened to one of our new clients last year. One day, they went to their website only to find a bright red sign that stated, “The site ahead contains malware.”

    How this could have been avoided: The problem with this website was that upgrades had not been made in some time. This left the site wide open to hackers. To keep something like this happening to you, make sure to make updates to programming when they become available.

    If you have a WordPress website, please see: Top Reasons Why You Need to Update WordPress.

  7. The Horror: Realizing That Your Website is Not So Mobile Friendly

    Having a mobile-friendly website is not a luxury anymore. Google rolled out a significant mobile ranking algorithm earlier this year. Recently, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, stated that over half of Google’s searches are now coming from mobile.

    There are still a number of website owners that have been putting off having their websites redesigned into a mobile-friendly website. The sad truth is that they are losing a lot of potential clients

    How to fix the problem: If you have been vacillating over whether or not to make the switch to a mobile friendly website, now is the time. For more, please see, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Ranking – What you need to know.

  8. The Horror: Not Having a Web Design Agreement
    This unfortunate story involves a disappointed website owner that did not have his website expectations met. He had assumed that his developer was going to do a great deal more than the final product.

    How the misunderstanding should have been prevented: A written web design agreement that spelled out exactly what the client expected and what the developer agreed to do would have avoided misunderstandings.

  9. The Horror: Finding Out Your Website Can’t Be Found

    Visualize sitting in front of your computer. You decide to search for your top keywords, and your website doesn’t show up on the first, second, or third pages. In fact, even Googling your company name does not bring up your website in the search engine results.

    This dismal tale is exactly what happened to a prospective client. She contacted us for SEO support and explained the situation. This one was an easy problem to spot as the robots.txt on her website was blocking search engines.

    How to be sure your website is SEO friendly: If you are unable to or do not know how to implement organic search engine optimization, contact a trusted and experienced professional.

    For more SEO frights, see 9 SEO Nightmares – Real Scary Disasters to Avoid.

Take Away

Website horror stories like these are enough to keep any website owner awake at night. The great part is that we can learn from these unfortunate situations. From choosing the right hosting platform from the start and having the right keys to the kingdom to making backups and getting expectations in writing, we can steer clear of potential problems.

Over to You

Do you have a website horror story that is not covered here? Please share your experience. It might help others – and me to avoid a similar situation.

Website Horror Stories and How to Prevent Them was last modified: October 31st, 2016 by Robin Strohmaier

Fascinated with the growing potential and power of the Internet, Robin founded R & R Web Design LLC in the Chicago area in 2000. As creative director, she is passionate about helping others reach their Internet objectives through a strategic online presence with results driven custom web design, ethical SEO, and social media marketing.

This article was published on: October 28, 2015 and was last modified October 31, 2016
Posted in Web Design
26 comments on “Website Horror Stories and How to Prevent Them
  1. When I recently switched my domain name, the domain I switched it to had been parked for some time. Not sure if that is why, but suddenly, it’s listed as a spam account by Spamhaus. The new domain AND the previous one. My emails were bouncing back, I couldn’t post my blog posts to LinkedIn. It was awful. I just recently was able to get it removed.

    • Hi Sara,

      That is a horror story! I’m so sorry to hear that your domain name was blacklisted. Whenever I am checking the history of a previously registered domain name, I run it through online tools like http://mxtoolbox.com/domain/. This tool will be able to identify any potential problems.

      I’m glad you were able to get this resolved! Thank you for sharing your story!
      ~ Robin

  2. Adrienne says:

    Oh wow Robin, my heart goes out to anyone who has run into any of these issues ever.

    I spoke to a new prospect a few weeks back and she didn’t have the log-in information for her site. She had someone else create the site for her and had been uploading all her content but she tried to get in touch with them one day and they just quit responding. I told her to notify her hosting company and since it is in her name and with her email as well that they could reset everything for her so I’m assuming that’s what she’s done. I can’t imagine not having access to my own site though. To run into some of this, definitely scary.

    Not having a backup, I know so many who still don’t. I feel for them because that’s an accident just waiting to happen.

    Thanks for sharing these with us even though they are horror stories but I hope they all have had a happy ending.

    Happy Halloween!

    ~Adrienne

    • Hi Adrienne,

      You are very welcome! Yes, the stories mentioned here all ended up with happy endings. My heart also goes out to anyone who has come up against one of these situations.

      Thank you for sharing your story about the new prospect. It is alarming when one doesn’t have access to their own website. I hope that she was able to get the problem resolved. As for not having a backup, I too, know of a number of people who do not have one. You are right. It is an accident waiting to happen.

      Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

      ~ Robin

  3. Kevin Timothy says:

    I have a horrific experience for you. Years ago I had a content laden blog on a host that I no longer wanted to go with….so I cancelled my monthly transactions. There were no probationary period that would’ve allowed me access my content after I stopped paying. They just up and denied me. And although my plan was to manually copy (and paste) everything over to the new host, this certainly hindered me. I didn’t even need to get into the back office, I just wanted to copy from the site itself.

    Oh well, though. That’s what makes us stronger and wiser, right…experiences! I sure helped me to plan better where hosting is concerned.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Welcome to our blog! Thank you for sharing your website horror story. I’m sorry to hear that you went through this. You are right. Experiences like these do make us stronger and wiser.

      Thank you again for sharing your story.

      ~ Robin

  4. ikechi says:

    Hi Robin

    Years back when I was just new to WordPress, I had built a church website using the platform. I woke up one morning to discover that my church website had been hacked.

    I had remove it only to discover that it had appeared again, I found out later that I had installed a plugin that was not tested and had been injected with malware.

    So make sure that any plugin I install is tested and trusted.

    Love this tales and takes for sharing. Take Care

    • Hi Ikechi,

      Discovering your website has been hacked is definitely disturbing. I appreciate you sharing this and how to prevent this from happening in the future. Yes, we do need to be careful of what plugins/programs we install on our websites to make sure they are tested and trusted.

      Thank you for sharing your website horror story.

      ~ Robin

  5. Don Purdum says:

    Hi Robin,

    In the 7 years I owned my web development company I saw more horror stories.

    Much of what I ran into had to deal with incompetence at the highest levels. Designers were selling people on skills they didn’t have and weren’t investing in learning up-to-date code or design trends.

    Then, they held the client hostage – they bought the domain name and held it; they didn’t want to give up control of the hosting and would provide access to ftp or a cpanel.

    The worst horror stories I encountered were all do to a lack of ethics and morals at their core.

    A lot of people I still talk to today, even though I don’t do web development, are still experiencing these problems at alarming rates.

    Thanks for the sound advice. I’ll definitely be sure to share this one with my audience.

    Have a great week!

    ~ Don Purdum

    • Hi Don,

      I imagine you did see quite a few website horror stories when you owned your web development company. It is sad that many of the ones you witnessed were the result of a lack of ethics and morals at their core.

      Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing this with your audience!

      ~ Robin

  6. These are the stories that can keep up a website owner up at night, Robin. I have been lucky in a way that when my website got hacked, the website developer was on hand to help me out but I also discovered major flaws in my then hosting company in terms of back up and answering questions but could not move away immediately because I knew the owner personally and was not as website management savvy as I am today and did not want to ‘rock the boat’ until I nearer the shore of safety.

    My first port of call was to the company that had created and maintained my Mom’s website for help and they guided me towards rectifying quite a few horror stories – like the ownership of the domain etc. They also did a complete review of my website and Cpanel to check for any hidden back doors and then guided me to learn more about this area.

    Last year they decided to change their business model and were letting go of website clients but as professionals, they helped transition each of their clients to safely to their new destinations. They helped me to acquire my own hosting package and transferred both the websites to it at a very low cost because my Mom had been their customer from over 10 years when the business had just started and in those 10 years she was one of their smaller customers compared to their MNC clientele but as the owner told me, a client is a client.

    What I liked about them and still do is that they had alerted me to many of the horror stories in your post when I first signed up with them and provided solutions as my website grew. They have it from me in writing that if they ever decide to change their model, we’ll be back as customers.

    • Hi Vatsala,

      Thank you so much for sharing your website horror story. Getting hacked is definitely one nightmare that can keep any website owner awake at night.

      You were very fortunate to have a web developer by your side. You bring up a great point. A secure and reliable web host is tremendously helpful. I did have one prospective client’s site get hacked, and when I called the hosting company, the tech admitted that other websites on the shared server had also gotten hacked.

      I’m glad to hear that your mother’s site and your website were safely transferred over to a new host. It sounds like to former went beyond the call of duty helping you to make the transition.

      Thank you again for sharing your story, Vatsala. I know that others will be able to benefit from it.

      ~ Robin

  7. Neena says:

    Hi Robin,
    These are truly horrors – and I love the way that you tied it into the Halloween spirit!
    So often, people just want to hand off everything web-ish. Granted, it is not everyone’s area of brilliance – but business owners still need to stay “business” savvy.
    When hiring anyone for anything – you need to make sure that you ultimately can access your stuff.
    Your article is a good lesson in advance. If you know that you don’t have the info mentioned in the article – figure it out now and start documenting.
    Thanks, Robin for taking the fright out of Halloween this year for some business owners!

    • Hi Neena,

      You are welcome! I’m happy to hear that you liked how these website horror stories tied into a Halloween theme. I thought this would be perfect for this time of year.

      You are absolutely right. In any situation while hiring another party, we need to make certain that we can access our stuff.

      I appreciate you stopping by, Neena, and for sharing your thoughts.

      ~ Robin

  8. Hi Robin,

    Scary website horrors!

    I always tell my students first and foremost to have their own web properties, their own hosting, their own domain name.

    This is really critical. You don’t want to build a business on somebody else’s property, and just hope they keep things up and allow you to stay there.

    If they decide they want you to vacate all of the sudden… that’s a horror story!

    Thanks for the great tips here to keep us safe and secure, even in the dark of night 🙂

    -Donna

    • Hi Donna,

      It is my pleasure sharing these tips to help keep our websites safe and secure.

      Your students are very fortunate that they have you as a teacher! Not everyone has someone in their corner to give them solid advice on website ownership. I wholeheartedly agree. We don’t want to and shouldn’t build a business on somebody else’s property.

      Thank you for stopping by, Donna, and for your input on this.

      ~ Robin

  9. The only website horror story I have was having my VPS on HostGator and when they moved to the Provo data centre, that’s when all the problems happened. VPS’s were down at one point for 25% of the time. Customer service was non-existent. After being a customer of theirs with many VPS’s for 8 years, I left them and moved to someone else. Best thing I could ever have done.

    • Hi Gisele,

      That is one horror story! I can only image how frustrating it was to pay premium prices for VPS, only to have it down for such a long period of time. It that weren’t exasperating enough, not being able to resolve the issue through customer support must have only added to the nightmare. I do remember quite a few problems in the Provo, Utah data center, not only for Hostgator, but a number of other hosts.

      It is great to hear that your web hosting / website horror story had a great outcome.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and how you were able to solve the situation.

      ~ Robin

  10. Although I believe we have covered off all of these points to avoid a website horror story, designing my site did present many, many challenges. Misunderstandings of what was possible to do between the designer and the developer caused my new site to take probably double the amount of time to customize that we originally thought it would. Luckily my designer and my developer were understanding, as had I been charged by the hour, it might have been the most expensive website in history. Another small issue was the template we bought was relatively new and unfortunately we ran into a lot of glitches that they have ultimately continued to correct. Websites are very time consuming and require constant attention and maintenance. Almost every week, we have some “issue” to check out to make sure it doesn’t escalate to a larger one! Thanks for the great post, Robin! I imagine the horror stories are endless and I feel grateful that my site has been relatively tame compared to what could have been.

    • Hi Beverley,

      Thank you for sharing your website mishap stories. You brought up a great point. There are so many free WordPress themes out there, and we need to be careful on what themes we purchase to avoid problems.

      Yes, websites are time consuming and require constant attention and maintenance. I like to use the comparison of maintaining a car. Cars also need maintenance with oil changes, fluid checks, tire rotation or replacement, etc. If one doesn’t take care of their car, there can be serious problems. The same goes for our websites.

      I appreciate you stopping by, Beverley, and for your story!

      ~ Robin

  11. Andrew says:

    Hey Robin,

    Great post.

    I, unfortunately, lived through most of these before. More specifically 5 – 9. I’ve gone through those at one point or another with either my current blog or previous blogs.

    Not a great thing or feeling. Now, I try to take every precaution imaginable.

    Great horror stories shared here. Although they bring up bad thoughts and feelings, they needed to talk about.

    – Andrew

  12. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your website horror stories. #5 through #9 can definitely cause a few major headaches.

    Yes, I agree. These types of mishaps do need to be talked about. Hopefully, others will benefit from them and not have to go through similar situations.

    ~ Robin

  13. Kaz says:

    Great blog Robin! I don’t like any issues with my computer including my website so when I was reading your post, I learnt so many things to avoid those problems by reading “How to avoid”. Thank you for sharing the great tips!

  14. You really hit a home run with this post. I’ve written about this myself. I see clients all the time who got a mess and have trouble paying someone to fix it. In particular, I had a client whose developer hijacked her domain name and sold it to a link farm. She had to pay $200 to get it back.

    I’d add that you need to understand what’s in your agreement with your developer and designer. “Customize your website” might mean just filling in the widgets, or it might mean making significant layout changes that call for hacking the PHP and CSS.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Cathy,
      Welcome to our blog. I’m sorry to hear about your client’s domain name horror story. The bright side is that she did finally get control of it.

      Your suggestion of having a thorough understanding of the agreement is golden. You are right. General terms like “customize your website” are too general.

      I appreciate you stopping by, Cathy, for sharing this story, and for taking the time to comment.

      ~ Robin

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