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

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

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.

Had a disaster of your own? Why not add it as a comment below.


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.



Coming up tomorrow:

7 of the web industry’s ‘off the shelf’ secrets


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Simon van Wyk writes: After 15 years of professional services in the web industry I have seen most of these. However web development is like marriage, when it goes wrong you have to apportion blame equally across both client and agency. You pay for what you get is true in most industries and so often developers find themselves in a no win. There are as many web developers in Sydney as there are milk bars and there is always someone who will say yes no matter what the price.

For example, many clients find their web developer just disappears. I’ve tried to pick up the pieces many times. Often they chose the cheapest supplier, killed the budget with endless scope creep and finally the developer closed or lost interest. SEO in most categories is difficult, many clients won’t pay to have it done properly and then wonder why they are not online. Hosting prices vary but again you pay for what you get and normally identical packages are pretty evenly priced no matter where you go. I’ve seen many clients insist on the cheapest only to get hammered somewhere else – like data. Like I said when it goes wrong it’s usually 50/50.

Craig replies: Thanks Simon.  It’s probably symptomatic of a relatively new industry.  Of course where there’s problems there are opportunities so hopefully the good old free enterprise system will eventually help sort the wheat from the chaff.  Obviously doesnt help the pain in the short term.

John Schuster writes: I’m a web developer and I get blamed for stuff all the time. There is a techno gap and the laymen will never understand the technology as it is growing faster than ever. I have not found a solution yet. Maybe I should look for one in the Himalayas with that other guy.

Craig replies: Thanks John. It’s very difficult for developers to cater for SMEs in such a competitive environment. My advice is to either stick to larger firms who can afford to pay you to offer a comprehensive service or develop a solution or widget than can be duplicated easily and provide a passive income stream. 

John Kirkby writes: The excess data fees on my hosting plan are killing me.

Craig replies: Thanks John.  It depends on your specific situation but if you can’t negotiate a better rate then you might have to bite the bullet and switch website providers/solutions for short term pain and long term gain.

Brad from writes: Yes, the techno gap between me and the winegeeks is cavernous, but I can’t accept 50/50 blame when you guys can’t even explain the technology in plain English.. ;-)Oh, by the way, if anyone out there thinks they can help me for a reasonable price please have a crack – I’m sure you can work out how to find me.. 😉

Craig replies: Thanks Brad.  I’m actually not a developer so hope I’m not included in ‘you guys’.  Independent providers are the way of the future for SMEs and believe me I’m working on getting to Margaret River asap!

Sam Waters writes: I’ve seen and had happen a lot of the above. I’ve currently been waiting four months for basic alters to my site with little or no answer to many emails from my developer (four months! – if I had a retail store I’d have a new tradesman in tomorrow!) Yes it is time to change, but this adds more expense. What I’d like to know is how do you protect yourself from developers that dissappear into the night – especially those that also host your site? What is a good checklist when looking for a new developer? What qualifications or qualities should or shouldn’t they have?

Craig replies: Thanks Sam.  Naturally I’m going to say ‘independent advice’ is the always the way to go for SMEs.  As independent webmasters (such as my firm The E Team) are independent of the technology or the hosting etc, we are in a unique position of being able to source the best technology solution for your specific situation – helping you avoid these issues.  We are a relatively new approach to the web but trying (via avenues such as this) to be heard amongst all the noise out there. 



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