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In the 1990s, businesses paid to have listings in the phone book. When the Internet caught on, phone books tried to gain dominion there too. They offered value added services and marketing synergy. Let the phone book handle the marketing. That little patch of real estate of black on a yellow page, costs businesses a pretty penny. The phone book’s web pages would cost a lot as well. Contrast the high cost with low functionality. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is increasingly easy to deliver sophisticated functionality to a website– and it’s easy to deliver that functionality. My weapon-of-choice for Web development is WordPress. It has a tonne of useful add-ons (aka plugins). An adept web developer can apply these plugins to a website to get it do many things.

How could having the phone book make your web page be worse? What if they take your website? Clients who are looking to spend their marketing dollars better may find it’s hard to close the book on phone book advertising.

It shouldn’t be hard to change over to a different marketer. A good web developer will register a domain name on behalf of a client. The client will hold the domain registration and the web developer will offer advice, do the technical work and keep everything in good working order. Some companies will register a domain on behalf of their client, but keep control of the domain. If the client and the company part ways, the company will keep the domain name. When the phone book does this to their client, it will kneecap a client’s web presence. The good news: clients have a way to make a break for it.

How to Get Out

Step 1: Hire a Web Developer

Find a Web developer who you can get along with. Talk with them about what you want to accomplish online. Then, listen: listen for what they think they can accomplish for you in your market vertical. Figure out the budget you have in terms of time and money.

Step 2: Attempt A Rescue Of Your Domain Name

Ask for your domain name back. There will be some costs involved. If you were using a very valuable domain name, they may keep it and connect it to another client of theirs. If the domain name is associated with your business name, the company cannot keep it. You can urge them to transfer the domain and if that fails, there is a oversight body,, that you can apply to. They will negotiate the transfer through a dispute resolution mechanism ( It’s not ideal as there is a cost involved, but it will allow you to keep your domain when it closely matches your branding identity.

If that doesn’t fly, register a similar domain that still matches your branding. It’s not an ideal solution, but it is often faster than the dispute process.

Step 3: Get Your Content

A decent web development company will hand back creative files. When you embark on working with a developer, ask them for what the plan is when a) you and they part ways; and b) what happens when their business folds. These should not be difficult topics.

Designers will work with a client and launch a project. Until edits are needed or the next iteration gets planned and launched, a relationship is inert. Their inertia may just continue on. Or, maybe there’s a decent reason to part ways. Regardless, there should be a plan in place for how to get the material. I will often store content in Dropbox and prepare to share that data through a Dropbox share to my client. It’s seamless and doesn’t need media to be handed around or lost.

Businesses fold. While IBM has had a century of automation under their belt; when you hired Yamcoa Design Shizzle, they lacked the same longevity. I have worked for a dozen web design companies since I started in the field in the 1990s. Most of them died eventually. Clients have asked, “what if you go under” and my response has been simple: “I will bundle your assets (graphics, website, files, passwords, etc.) and give them to you.” Those assets should be ready to hand over at any time as an exercise in redundancy and portability. A laptop holds 1,000,000,000 kilobytes of data but is still vulnerable to a mug of coffee.

While you deserve your assets, understand that those assets don’t come with a guided tour. Expect that your next designer will have to get given time to assess what they have to work with.

When you hear of their backup / handoff plan, ask them to write it into the contract. If they won’t write it in, they won’t execute it when you need it.

Planning before the fact is all well and good. What happens when that didn’t happen? Don’t worry. There’s a secret weapon for content retrieval. It’s called The Internet Archive ( I have gone there a number of times to exhume client content and bring it into the present. If your former developer won’t hand over your website or your content, I can help with that.

Step 4: When The Burn Stops, The Healing Starts

There is a sharp divide between what a print designer can do with a website versus a web designer can do for your website. While a website from a phone book may look okay, key shortcomings affect how discoverable a website is. Below are some examples. When a website comes up short in elements like these, the job of popularizing and marketing the visibility of the site becomes much harder to accomplish.

Security and “Secure Socket Layer” (SSL). Google is the number one search engine. It now penalizes websites that are not secured. When visiting a phone book based website, look at the lock icon next to the web address. If it has a red line struck through a lock that means the site is not secure. Web users will be cautioned to not divulge information via contact forms. Google will back burner a website in favour of an equivalent website that is secure.
Make your website easy for Google to figure out. There are ways to dress up your content to make the content easy to distill by a search engine. This is called “Open Graph” “ mark up” and phrases to that effect. It’s not hard to do and if your website lacks this, it gives Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Bing, etc. less to work with.
Keep your code up to date. Nerds in the know will roll their eyes at these shortcomings. Google is the ultimate nerd in the know. This website is for a Canadian home improvement business. It lists the currency in use as the Euro. Several years ago, search engines started to mostly the chunk of code that included “keywords.” It was a well abused element, so they disregard its contents. When search engines see the keywords element, they will take that as a cue that the website in question is behind the times, by still using that element.

What’s next?

If you have a website tied to your phone book ads; and you want out, let’s talk!

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