How a client completely lost their site. ( and what to do about it…)

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Here’s a little story about a nightmare scenario and what I have done as a website developer to make sure it never happens again. This scenario was the result of a perfect storm of events that eventually ended up in a client’s website completely disappearing with no copy or backup.

In my early days of website development, I was a freelancer that produced good work for a good price (Still the case now but now much improved). When I would develop a website for a client, it would typically be a WordPress template that I would set-up and customize for the client. Much of the work would be done server side to save time and it was nice to show the client the work as it happened. To back-up the site monthly, I would set-up automatic backups using a WordPress plugin that would save versions of the site on the same server. I would then that copies of the backups and save them to an external hard drive. This worked for quite a while with no issues until I got a call from a client.

Loosing an entire website is not a hard thing to do. A simple delete of the public_html directory or deleting an account with the files of the website. This is why backups are made. What happened next though was a perfect storm of events that lead to this client having to start from scratch.

I developed a website for a realtor back in 2011. All was great with the site and so good that I had not heard from the client for some time. Last year I got a voicemail saying that his site was down and I needed to please have look.  I figured it was another WordPress hack job and that the site had not been updated for some time. I visited the site and noticed immediately the standard Godaddy “Domain For Sale” landing page.  This immediately told me one thing.  The client did not get domain and hosting account renewal notices and the account was locked. Typically, this is not an issue.  With Godaddy, they tend to keep website files in the system for 2 weeks after an account has not been paid but after I logged into this account I noticed there was not one trace of the hosting account.  After looking at the client’s billing record it had been 2 MONTHS since the account had been closed! In order to get this site back up we would have to purchase a new hosting plan and then restore my back-up of the site which was a version from 5 years back.   No problem right?

I am not sure if you have ever used one of those external back-up hard drives before but they are extremely fragile and prone to dying. After dusting off this external backup with the old website on it, I plugged it in and nothing, no life. Now the reality started to set in.  The work I had done for this client was gone. His hard earned money that he had paid me to provide him a site was gone forever.

There are BIG things I pulled from this experience:

1. If you don’t pay your hosting account, expect to lose your website. Same goes for many things. You don’t pay your rent, you lose your place.

2. Always expect the worst and keep backups in different places.

In this situation and along with the amount of time that had past, the fault was placed solely on the client for not paying for is hosting account. I did everything I could in my power to retrieve the the website but with the loss of my external hard drive, I was unable to provide a working copy.

What I learned from this event has changed how I work.

Even if you do not pay your hosting fees, I have ensured that there are always REMOTE working copies of ALL my client work. I strongly suggest this for anyone with a WordPress website. It is extremely easy and free. The big problem we had with this past event is that all backups of the site were being placed on the same server.  Once the client stopped paying for this account, everything was lost.

How to Set-up Remote Cloud Backups of your Website.

  1. Install Updraft Plus Backup Plugin to your WordPress website.
  2. Create a account.
  3. In the Updraft settings, select “Dropbox backup”, then Save.
  4. You will be prompted to confirm your Dropbox account and agree to send the backups there.
  5. Select the frequency of backup and the number.  For a site that is not changed much, I select “Once a month” and 2 copies. You want to be careful not to create too many backups or you will max-out your Dropbox account.
  6. ALL SET ! You are now insured to never loose your site.

I use this for every site I work on. I use a business account with plenty of space. Each site is automatically backed-up once a month with 2 copies of each project. Surprisingly, I have had 3 more clients contact me with delinquent hosting accounts. Another tip: Set a Google Calendar reminder to pay your hosting account!


Jason Houston
Jason Houston
Jason Houston is a web developer at Complete Web based on the island of Nantucket Massachusetts. He actively monitors the status and health of over 20 accounts to maintain position in search and to ensure each business is doing everything possible to increase revenue. Feel free to ask Jason a question at: