Savage Sites: Solutions for Owners of Hijacked or Stolen Websites
(Or How to Take Your Website Back After an SEO Company or Webmaster Hijacks It)
The primary reason that we will never buy a client’s domain for them is that we believe you MUST retain control of your domain at all times. But sometimes unethical or careless webmasters will take control of a client’s domain name and website, and they either refuse to give your website back to them, fail to return calls, or even disappear altogether.
We often help clients whose websites have been hijacked by slimy SEO companies or web developers to salvage their sites and regain control of their online businesses. If you find yourself in this situation, take heart; you can call us, or you may be able to get your site back on your own if you’re willing to invest some time in the process.
Caveat: If your webmaster is withholding your site because you legitimately owe them money for work done, pay up and be done with it. And if the website isn’t rightfully yours to begin with, this information won’t help you much. Please consult an attorney if you have a legal dispute with someone who controls your domain or website; we are not attorneys, and this article is not to be construed as legal advice.
That said, we haven’t seen a case like that yet. But we have seen a lot of snarky site hijackings by scam website vendors.
Solutions for Hijacked or Stolen Websites are Rarely Simple…
But don’t let that stop you. Following are workable solutions for recovering your website after a developer or SEO company has stolen or hijacked it.
Before you can reclaim your site, you will need to know who the registered owner of your domain name is, and you will need to know where your site is hosted. Also, before you spend a lot of time on this, you might want to contact your “hijacker” one more time and firmly request your domain and hosting login information.
Once you have all of your login information, go into your account(s) and change your passwords and secret questions. MAKE SURE TO CHANGE YOUR FTP PASSWORD, as well your regular account password. Ask your host how to do this. If you don’t take this step, you leave the door wide open for your previous vendor to wreak havoc on your site. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
If you can change the passwords for both your domain name and your hosting, then all you need is a new, trustworthy webmaster and you can skip the rest of this.
Find Out Who Owns Your Domain Name
This is the most important step, because whoever controls your domain name, controls your website.
Even if you can’t login to your web host or get your site back from your webmaster, you can still salvage your site if you have control of your domain name.
To begin saving your website, first use this guide as a worksheet, and write down everything you know about your domain and your site in the table below:
|Domain Account User Name and Password:|
|Hosting Company (if different from domain registrar):|
|Hosting Account User Name and Password:|
Create a new folder in your computer where you can easily find it again, and place all documents related to your site rescue in there. If you have hard-copy documents, scan them if you can, and file those as well.
If you don’t know whether you are the registered owner of your domain name, go to one of these websites: http://whois.domaintools.com or http://whois.org and type your domain name in (your ‘www.’) and click, “search.”
Your search results will look something like this:
[blue_message]Registrant: Joe Businessowner
Registered through: GoDaddy.com, LLC (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: YOURDOMAIN.COM
Domain servers in listed order:
NS73.DOMAINCONTROL.COM <<< (These indicate where the site is hosted. In this case, GoDaddy, but the site may not always be registered and hosted through the same company.)
For complete domain details go to:
If you don’t see the full details of ownership using this step, copy and paste the bottom “http” link into your browser and repeat the process.
This may or may not reveal whether the domain is registered in your name. If it does, you can move to Step 3. However, if someone else’s name is listed, then you have your work cut out for you, but there may still be hope.
You may also see fewer details and a phrase that indicates the site is registered privately. If the site is registered through “Domains by Proxy,” or it says “Private,” that means it’s a private, or hidden, registration.
Do everything you can to determine who owns your domain name, and file the information in your folder.
Also copy and file any emails or other correspondence between you and whoever registered your domain name or helped you register it. If your domain name is registered to your webmaster and you have an email from him saying he registered it on your behalf, that is a vital document.
If you still aren’t clear about who owns your domain name, check your website contract to see if that indicates ownership terms.
What to Do if Your Site is Registered in Your Name and You Don’t Have a Login
Contact the registrar and explain your situation. They will most likely ask you to fax or email them a copy of your driver’s license or other photo ID to prove that you are who you say you are before they release your login information to you. If they didn’t do this, no one’s domain name would be safe, because domain hijacking can be quite lucrative (as you may have learned the hard way).
If the “whois” data indicates registration through “Domains by Proxy,” that’s GoDaddy, so call them for help. They can at least direct you or transfer you to the right department.
If You DO have access to your domain registration account, that’s great!
Buy hosting from a reputable company and ask them how to point your DNS servers to your new host. While the process is pretty much the same everywhere, the server names and dashboards are all different. Best to have someone knowledgeable walk you through it for free. If your domain was registered through a company that offers quality hosting, the process will take a little less time and be a little simpler if you buy your hosting from your registrar. Do your homework first, though. You can even transfer your domain to your new hosting company, and they’ll help you with that, as well.
If you have any email accounts associated with your domain, ask your new host how to transfer these, as well.
Find Out Where Your Website is Hosted
It’s not necessarily a problem to have your webmaster host your website, but some shady webmasters (or SEO companies) who also provide hosting may jack their prices up over time, knowing how difficult it is for you to move your site to another host. They assume you won’t know how to take your site back, and that you’ll be at their mercy. Quite a setup.
If you don’t know where your site is hosted, go online to: http://whoishostingthis.com and enter your website address. Hopefully, this will reveal the true host of your website, but it won’t always. If your results show a well-known host such as GoDaddy or BlueHost, then you probably have your answer. However, if you see a host name that looks unfamiliar, it could be that you’ll have to dig deeper. Either way, email or call the host and ask what they need from you to allow you to take control of your site. Record the host name in your file.
If you don’t have access to your web host, hopefully you at least gained access to your domain name and can move forward from here.
Where are Your Website Files?
On the off-chance that you have your FTP login information, you can download all of your site contents via FTP. Free FTP software, such as FileZilla, is available for download online, but be sure you are downloading from a reputable source. BEWARE: Any file that you download from the Internet can contain malware, so scan anything you download with a good anti-virus program first, such as AVG or MalwareBytes. You might need your hosting company or a high school geek to talk you through configuring your FTP software.
If you already know that your vendor has control of your website hosting and won’t release your files to you, or you can’t get access to your hosting account, you can still get your files by using a program known as a “site ripper.” You can download free programs that will offload your entire site contents to your computer from a relatively trustworthy site like http://download.com, but always check your downloads with an anti-virus software program such as AVG before unzipping them.
I use the free “HTTrack Website Copier” when I need to download a website, but there are other good free programs available online. Just be careful to download from a reputable source!
After you download your website files, check them to be sure you have everything, and give them to your new—and hopefully more trustworthy—webmaster.
If your site is built on a CMS (Content Management System) platform, such as WordPress or Joomla, then your pages and posts will reside in a database, and you will need to open the site and copy and paste your content into your new site.
If your webmaster has already removed your site from the Internet but it hasn’t been down long, you can try searching Google for: Site:YourSite.com This will return all of the pages in your website that Google indexed. You can then hover over the right side of each result, which will then pop up more details about that page, and hopefull will include a CACHE link. Click the cache link, and copy the contents. Right-click any images if you haven’t already recovered them, and save to your PC.
You can also check the Wayback Machine at http://archive.org to see if any of your site contents are posted there. While it’s possible to use a site ripper to download from the Wayback Machine, it’s not an easy process, so you’re better off cutting and pasting.
Once you have all of your website contents, a web developer can piece your site back together for you.
Big Fat, Super Important Warning Ahead
If you didn’t provide your vendor with unique website content, there’s a good chance that you don’t own it and you’ll need to start over.
Sorry about that, but it’s true.
So do this to find out: Copy a unique-looking sentence from one of your pages into Google in quotes and see what you come up with. Rinse and repeat with content from several pages. If even one other site has the exact same content, you’d be making a big mistake to use it on your newly recovered site. Even if it’s boilerplate content that you can use freely, your site will never see the light of day in a search engine if your content isn’t unique. PERIOD.
Worse yet, your developer may have stolen someone else’s content to use on your site, and the original owner can come after you, have your site removed by your new host, and even sue you for VAST amounts of money. So if it’s duplicate copy, start over.
IF your website was a simple HTML and CSS based site without a database (not WordPress or Joomla, for example), and you know that you own your content, you can now upload your website via FTP to your new host. GoDaddy is good at helping customers launch their new sites, and they’re the only top hosting company that I know of that will let you pay for hosting on a month-to-month basis. BlueHost is good, too, but you’ll have to ante up a year’s worth of payments in advance, and they are very stringent about what you can store on your server. But like most hosting companies, GoDaddy will try to upsell you the moon, when a Deluxe hosting account should be all that you need in most cases.
[blue_message]Call us now if you want help with this process, or if you’ve done this successfully and need a new and ethical webmaster. And come back soon for Part 2: Conduct a Site Audit Immediately After Recovering Your Hijacked Website. Because your nightmare may not be over yet.[/blue_message]