Tim Priebe

How to get your website back

Maybe your web developer disappeared. Maybe your webmaster is holding your website hostage. Maybe you’re fed up and ready to fire your web designer. Maybe an employee that registered everything has lost all the usernames and passwords.

You’ve lost control of your website!

You’re not alone. Since we opened our doors in 2003, we’ve frequently had people come to us whose webmaster has disappeared, volunteer has run out of time, or whose website is being held hostage by another web company.

While sometimes it really is gone, generally that’s not the case. Here are some different situations you may be facing and some ways to regain control. And if you’re working on a new website, the company or individual that is helping you can probably help with this process. I know we’d be happy to talk about your options if you’d like to reach out to us about a new website.

What can cause you to lose access to your website?

I’ve seen a number of situations that caused people to lose access to their website and/or domain name:

  • Their credit card on file with the domain name registrar expired
  • The employee who set everything up quit
  • They lost all their usernames and passwords
  • Their web developer disappeared off the face of the earth
  • They didn’t pay their previous web design company
  • Their previous web designer got a full time job and stopped replying to emails
  • They bought the company from someone else who didn’t know how to access anything

Regardless of the specifics, there ends up being one of three different situations:

  1. They don’t have backend access to their website but do have access to the domain name
  2. They don’t have access to their domain name but do have access to their website
  3. They don’t have access to either

If you have access to your domain name, you can always get your website back up and going one way or another. We’ll look at a few different methods for doing that.

But if you don’t have access to your domain name, you may end up needing to just purchase a new one. I can’t tell you how many times I went through all the options with a new client and they decided they weren’t that attached to the domain name.

How to get your domain name back

In the worst case, you don’t have access to your domain name. Maybe your website is still up, or maybe you are wanting to launch a new website. There are still a few things you can do.

1. Pay the penalty

If you had your domain name registered yourself and it simply expired, often the domain name registration company—a.k.a. the registrar—will actually let you pay a penalty and have the domain back. This relatively small penalty will save you tons of time and headache, so just pay it and they should be able to get everything restored, or at least ready to launch a new website.

2. Call or visit the web design company

Depending on how everything is set up, the company that originally helped you create your website may be able to help. If not, they should be able to steer you in the right direction.

3. Call the domain name registrar

The next level up if your host can’t or won’t help you is to ask your domain name registrar. Again, while it’s possible you bought your domain through the same person (or company) that you’re using to host your domain, it’s also possible you didn’t.

To find out who your domain name registrar is, just look your domain (whatever.com) up on the website www.whois.net. Once it pulls up all the contact information, look for either “Registrar,” or “Registered through.” You can then use Google to find that company’s website and pull up their support phone number.

There are many, many registrars, but knowing some of the more popular ones may help you identify them:

Your registrar will probably have a method they can use to verify your identity. Then they will likely help you regain control of your domain. You will still need to get a new website host at that point, but you won’t lose your domain name.

4. Call your lawyer and pay him or her to help.

Worst case, if your domain contains any words that are legally protected (i.e. trademarked), you can bring in your lawyer to help. In fact, you can bring your lawyer in even if that isn’t the case, but they’ll have more leverage if you do.

Of course, if you don’t want to mess with any of that, it’s much easier just to buy a new domain. But often with some effort and a time commitment, you can regain control of your domain name.

How to get your website back

Let’s say you’ve lost access to your website, but you still have access to your domain name. Maybe a web design company created your site and hosts it, but your domain name is under your control.

In that case, there are a few things you can do.

1. Call or visit the web design company

The easiest solution is to talk to the web design company and ask them to help you migrate the website. They may charge you for the service, but unless you have experience moving websites yourself, it’s probably worth it.

Put aside any differences, call them up, and see if they are willing to help you out.

2. Call your hosting company

If getting the previously mentioned web design company is out of the question, call up your hosting company. Your hosting company is basically the company that’s leasing you hard drive space for your website to be online.

Now, your web design company may also be your hosting company. Or maybe they’re paying the hosting company themselves and acting as a middle-man. If so, you may have to try the next option.

But if you’re paying the hosting company yourself, you should be able to call them even if you don’t have a username and password.

3. Save everything and start fresh

If you can’t work with the web design company, it’s time to copy all your content and create a new website with a new web host. You can grab the content a number of ways:

  • If your website is still online, just go to it and copy and paste all the text into a document on your hard drive and save the images there as well.
  • If your website isn’t online but it was taken down within the last few days, Google may still have it archived. Just search Google for site:yourdomain.com, then click the little down arrow next to each page, and click on the Cached option.
  • If it’s been a while since your site was taken down, use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. You may not be able to get every single page, but save what you can.

You can also just start completely from scratch and make a new website. At least you’ll still have your domain name.

4. Call your lawyer and pay him or her to help.

Again, bringing your lawyer into the situation can often scare people into helping you. They can make any of the above calls for you and help get the ball rolling. Sometimes all it takes is a letter to a previously unresponsive web design company and they’ll immediately start helping out.

Domain name resources

Want additional information on domain names? I’ve personally been working with domain names since 2000, and T&S has helped with them since the day we opened our doors. In that time, we’ve put together a few resources you may find useful.

First, here are some articles we’ve written related to domain names:

Next, if you’re wondering how domain names actually work, we’ve got a brief explanation in this video.

Finally, you may have read all this and decided that you really want professional help with your website and domain name. We have created, managed, and hosted websites since 2003. We would be happy to talk and see if we’re a good fit for you.

Just reach out to us to have a conversation!

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