If you’re reading this article, we really wish we could give you a hug and tell you everything will be okay. The next best thing we can offer is this: advice to help you recover when a developer holds your website hostage, won’t return your calls, or goes AWOL with your credentials.

This happens to more people than you think. While you have a good shot at regaining command of your website if you own accounts, sometimes all is lost.

We hope your situation is the former, but if not, there are steps to take to rebuild your website and take back ownership. Unfortunately, you can’t turn back time and decide not to hire a freelance website developer. Here’s what you should do if you can’t access your website due to a crooked or MIA website developer.

5 Tips to Help You If Developers Hold Your Website Hostage or You Can’t Get Access

1. If you own your domain, contact support.

Owning your domain name is THE MOST important thing you can own for your website. That’s because this is the link you’ve worked hard to drive traffic toward and used as inspiration for your marketing and branding.

If you own your domain name and account credentials, take a sigh of relief. You won’t have to buy a new domain name. Just contact support if your website developer changed passwords on you. You’ll have proof you are the true owner of your website domain and support should be able to help you regain access and primary ownership. As soon as you do, change passwords and lock that jerk of a website developer out for good!

If you don’t own your domain name (your website developer purchased it for you), you have a harder battle to fight. You can try to contact support to prove you own the business, but they might not be able to help you take ownership of the account. If this happens, you’ll most likely have to purchase a new domain name and rebuild your website. You will need to change your marketing ASAP, raise awareness on your social media accounts that this website changed, and put money into SEO to outrank your old website. SEO will slowly but surely bury your old site in rankings so your new website gets traffic from your prospective or current customer/client/patient base.

Making this fatal error absolutely sucks. However, now you’ll know you always need to own the domain of every website you create for a business.

2. If you own your CMS and hosting, contact support.

Your domain name is the link to your website. Your CMS and hosting are where your website is built and lives. If you own your CMS (like a WordPress or Shopify site) account and your hosting account, contact support at both places. They’ll be able to verify you are the rightful owner, change passwords, and get your website back into your hands.

If you don’t own your CMS or hosting accounts, still contact support. Explain the issue. If you own your domain you may be able to recover your credentials and account. If you don’t, it will be harder to get your site back. This brings us to our next point…

3. If you have a backup of your website, build it again elsewhere.

If you can, get a backup of your website once per week (assuming you publish regular content). Save this somewhere only you or your trusted internal team have access. If you don’t own your website management accounts, you can take this backup, purchase a new domain, hosting, and CMS accounts and rebuild.

Of course, it really sucks if you have to buy a new domain as all the traffic and awareness you’ve spent time and money to build will be gone. And, you’ll have to work on your SEO to take over its ranking in search.

Sometimes it’s easier and less costly to rebuild your website with your own team rather than spend time fighting a horrible website developer. Especially if you have an e-commerce website and sales are at stake.

4. Contact a lawyer.

If you signed a contract with your website developer or designer, you most likely can take them to court for reparations. Of course, this can be long and drawn out, but at least you may recoup the money you lose in this nightmarish endeavor.

5. Hire a trustworthy website developer or designer for future projects—and sign a contract!

Since you’ve found yourself in this predicament, it’s probably painfully clear you need to hire a better, more trustworthy website developer for future work. To hire the right developer, always look for testimonials and proof of work on a portfolio site. Check out his or her LinkedIn page or the website design agency’s online portfolio. Next, sign a contract! This will protect you and the developer. Don’t start with a massive project, but try a smaller test project to see how your website developer or designer does with time management, communication, and technical skill. It’s super important to vet your website developer before handing over passwords or creating user accounts. Here are more tips to help you hire the right website developer or designer for the job, like us at Charm School! Our 100% women-owned agency takes a fresh approach to web dev—one that won’t drive you insane.

The bottom line: Even if you have the worst-case scenario in a website hostage situation, your website and business will be safe the next time around because you’ll be all the wiser for it. Of course, you can always get in touch with us and we’ll see if we can help you get out of this jam. And if we can’t, we can help you rebuild your website and get back to normal in no time.