Top 10 website disasters

What’s the biggest disaster you’ve had with your web presence? The sad thing is, you’re not alone. CRAIG REARDON

By Craig Reardon

What’s the biggest disaster you’ve had with your web presence? The sad thing is, you’re not alone.

Perhaps your website went down at a critical time, or worse, never got up at all. Maybe you can’t be found on Google et al, no matter what you try. Or your developer went belly up half way through your website development, leaving you with nothing but legal recovery bills.

In a still nascent industry like the web (still only 13 years since achieving “critical mass” in 1995), its common to find a lack of industry standards and compliance. And everyone from your nephew to the local computer store thinks they can provide you with a great website and often it’s only through painful experience you realise that there’s slightly more to it than being handy with DreamWeaver.

Of course smaller organisations are most exposed as they can’t always afford the time or money to do things as professionally as they would like – and suffer the myriad of consequences.

So just to assure you that you’re no Robinson Crusoe when it comes to website disasters, heres the top 10 website disasters I’ve come across in recent years.

1. I’ve paid an arm and leg for my pretty basic website

Welcome to the club! This is probably the most common of all web-related complaints. What usually happens in this case is that businesses have been with their trusted developer for some time, during which much of the associated technology has become commoditised – in some cases down to no cost at all. But you are still being charged the same and possibly more because your provider wants to protect the revenue stream you have provided them for the last few years.

But it’s easily resolved. Simply get alternative estimates on all but the most basic of changes – just to keep your provider keen.

2. My website has disappeared and I can’t contact the developer!

Tragic but true. One day this particular client logged into his (by then mission-critical) website only to find an error page. Naturally he tried to make urgent contact with the developer and was told by a weary flatmate that he was somewhere in the Himalayas and wasn’t sure about the return date. Months went by till the client gave up and had to build a whole new website, costing thousands in lost business and new site establishment costs.

3. The excess data fees on my hosting plan are killing me

Wonderful website! Shame about the hidden charges. Some ‘off the shelf” solution providers know that you have no idea about how much storage you need or how much traffic you get, so give you an appalling amount of hosting with their monthly plans. One prominent firm still offers its clients as little as 8mb of storage and 25mb of traffic a month – about enough for a few decent images and a couple of dozen visitors before slugging you 40c per megabyte for any excess. All this when you can now get “free” websites including 500mb of the same. Clearly a case of information highway robbery!

4. My website looks great but I’m nowhere on Google

There was a time when a business’s search engine presence was a mere afterthought when it came to search engines. Now that researching products and services using a search engine is one of the predominant online consumer activities, no website provider can afford to operate in the forlorn hope that search engine results will look after themselves.

Prove the provider’s claims by actually conducting a Google search of the business category (as distinct from the business name – which is far too easy to achieve).

5. I want to change providers but my previous designer won’t release my domain name

All industries have their sharks and the web industry is no exception. I am no lawyer but your commercial arrangements should prove that the provider has registered the domain on your behalf so under no circumstances should they own it or claim to own it. Even if they did officially register it, they could be simply “cybersquatting”, knowing that you need the domain and there is enough legal precedent to suggest they will be forced to surrender it anyway.

Try and reason with them about the cost of legal action. In the short term, register a similar domain name so you can at least have an online presence while it’s sorted out. If they have any integrity at all they’ll realise that they don’t have a leg to stand on and will surrender it to you – provided all legitimate outstanding accounts are in order, which then is another kettle of fish.

6. My nephew was doing my website and I don’t want to upset him by switching

As outlined above, everyone thinks they’re a web designer and with all due respect to him, your nephew is no exception.

What I would do is enthuse about what they’ve done for you and express your gratitude for getting you started. Explain however that you are now ready to “go to the next level” which means working with an established technology partner.

While your nephew may get his nose out of joint, it is “just business” and no reflection of their great work or your great relationship. He’ll get over it soon enough…

One consolation could be that he “manages your content” rather than maintains your site by using the content management system of the new solution you are considering. This approach could well benefit you both.

7. It costs a bomb every time I want to change any aspect of my website

You don’t know what you don’t know. So how do you know that the beautiful website you’ve had developed doesn’t have the content management tools you need to make simple changes to the website, and worse still, is going to cost a bomb to add what are now fairly basic features like password protected pages, forms and so on. But then your developer can’t read your mind can they? Or at least that’s what they’ll oh so innocently tell you when you complain about their charges to provide such.

8. My website works beautifully and is found by search engines
but looks like sh!#
The converse of No 5. Websites are a careful mix of technology, design and content and few individuals get all three right. If it is just the design that is lacking, a realistic developer will be open to the notion of partnering with a qualified graphic designer to achieve the desired result. If not, they are kidding themselves and consigning themselves to the ‘too hard to work with” category – something you don’t need.

9. I’ve set up a beautiful website but not getting any results

A variation on No 5 and No 8. And there is no easy answer to this because every business is different.

Perhaps there is too much emphasis on the look and not enough on the content. Or you may have so much Flash animation on your site that it takes forever to download and visitors give up and go elsewhere. Perhaps you are giving too much information away when you should be charging for it. Perhaps there is simply too much competition to stand out… And on it goes.

A good website provider will be results-oriented so that they can guide you as to how much you should spend to get a good result. But often they simply plead ignorance and ride off into the distance with your hard earned cash. Again independent and results-oriented providers are the way to go.

10. My developer seems qualified, but just doesn’t seem to ‘get it’

A degree in computer science may seem impressive but in fact may be more a hindrance than a help. In fact in many ways your provider’s best asset is understanding how business works rather than how technology works. This way they can identify technologies which provide a good business result rather than simply know the inner workings of your website.

A common danger of using someone who is technically qualified is a tendency to use the latest technology for the sake of it rather than for a given business result. A good example of this is plain old email. Email marketing is one of the most cost effective promotional solutions in history but doesn’t get the press of its more fashionable Web 2.0 counterparts – something that many fashionable young things won’t consider.


Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs.

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