8 Things to Cover When Inheriting a Website


A basic guide to website acquisition

There are a lot of things to consider when a website is handed over to a new web team, and a few bumps along the road are always expected. However, with proper planning, most issues can be resolved easily or avoided altogether. Use the following guidelines and questions early in the transition process to direct your actions and uncover all of the information you’ll need to make the handover as smooth as possible.

1. Domain name registration

The domain name registration is the hub where everything connects and is handled at the domain name registrar (OpenSRS, GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Enom, NameCheap, BlueHost, etc.). Having control over the domain registration allows you to change email and hosting servers, forward the domain to a different location, etc. This is the most important access to have. Without it, you are at the mercy of whoever does have access and if no one is keeping the domain renewed it will eventually expire and your site will go offline. Worst case scenario: No one has access after the switch, renewal lapses, the site goes offline and legal has to get involved to prove your right to access the account. This one is critical.

Questions to answer:

  1. Where is the domain name currently registered?
  2. When does it expire?
  3. Will you receive access to the existing registrar account or will the domain need to be transferred?
  4. Is the Registrant, Billing, Administrative & Technical contact information associated with the domain correct (before and after the switch)?
  5. Who will be keeping the domain renewal current?

2. Hosting, software stack & access

To keep the website updated and secure you will need to know the technology being used to serve up the website, as well as how to access the hosting account, site files, and any connected databases.

Questions to answer:

  1. What software stack is the website running on? (LAMP is most common. Others include MAMP, WAMP, XAMPP, LAPP, MEAN, Ruby Stack and Django Stack)
  2. Where is the website hosted? (e.g., AWS, Flywheel, MediaTemple, SiteGround, Rochen, private server)
  3. What is the hosting account login information?
  4. How do you access the website files? (FTP, cPanel, PLESK, etc.)
  5. Is the website utilizing any databases? If so, what database technologies are being used? How do you gain access? Are the databases on the same server as the website files?

Tip: If for some reason you unable to get direct access, make sure to at least get a zipped copy of the files and a dump of all the databases the website uses to serve up information. Your web team should be able to set up the website on a new server as needed with these in your possession.

3. Email

Email and website hosting is not always handled by the same server. To get a clear picture of how the email system is set up it is important to get clarification on its details.

Questions to answer:

  1. Is email handled on the same server as the website or is it controlled by a remote mail exchanger?
  2. How do you add/edit/delete email accounts?
  3. What are all the email addresses in use and who is checking them?
  4. How do users check their mail? POP3? IMAP? Webmail?

4. Content management system (CMS)

If the website is utilizing a content management system you will need an administrative level login to access several key functions, including management of user accounts and the ability to modify content on the website.

Questions to answer:

  1. Is the website using a Content Management System? If so, which one? (E.g. – Open source platforms: Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, Magento. Closed source platforms: Squarespace, Wix, Webly, Shopify.)
  2. What is the administrator login information?

5. Metrics and analytics

Knowing the behavior of your existing audience is critical in making decisions about the future of the website. If analytics have been running on the website you will want to make sure you have access to this information.

Questions to answer:

  1. What sort of metrics are available on the server (Awstats, Webalizer, Analog, bandwidth, errors, raw access logs, etc.)? How do you access them?
  2. What third-party analytic solutions are set up (e.g. Google Analytics, Clicky, Woopra)? How do you access them?

6. Social media

Social Media accounts like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram are often a critical part of a website’s content and inbound strategy. You will need access to these accounts to keep feeds updated as well as continue interaction with any established social communities.

Questions to answer:

  1. Is the website associated with any social media accounts? If so, which ones? What is the login information for each?
  2. Who will be managing the social profiles and feeds after the switch?

7. Third-party services and software licensing

Websites today are increasingly a collection of APIs, third-party services, plugins, and extensions. You will need to know if any of these are in use on the site.

Questions to answer:

  1. Are there any third party services or API’s utilized in conjunction with the website? There could be several of these (Typeform, LiveChat, Eventbrite, Zendesk, Kronos, SSO, etc.)
  2. Is a payment gateway or similar service being used to process payments? It is not uncommon for an e-commerce website to use more than one (Paypal, Stripe, 2Checkout, Authorize.NET, FastSpring, Amazon Payments, etc.)
  3. Are any plugins or extensions installed on the website that require separate software licensing (common with Joomla, WordPress and Drupal sites)? If so, how will these licenses be maintained after the switch?

8. Content

You will want to know what content is existing on the website, how it is performing and who will be keeping it updated. Depending on the website’s size and exposure, you may also need to conduct a full website audit. A thorough audit will give you a complete inventory of all the content assets on the site. Furthermore, an audit will reveal exactly what has (and has not) been indexed by the search engines while providing a clear picture of how that content is performing in the wild.

Questions to answer:

  1. How many pages are there on the website?
  2. Are any products being sold on the website?
  3. Is there a blog?
  4. Is content being produced according to an editorial schedule?
  5. Who will be responsible for producing content after the switch?
  6. Which pages are driving the most revenue?

In conclusion

It is important to remember that as you work through this process, no two websites are the same. They are as unique as the businesses they represent. Answering the questions above will give you a big jump start in the process of transitioning a website to a new team, however keep in mind this list might not cover everything you need to know. Websites have a lot of moving parts and taking over an existing site can be daunting to the uninitiated. The main detail to focus on from the start is receiving the logins you need to administer and update the site and it’s related content. These ‘keys’ will give you the access required to enter the ‘castle’, take inventory, assign resources and move forward. As mentioned, if you can only gain access to one thing, make it the domain name registration. In a pinch, everything else can be replaced.