Reminder: Never give up control of your website or online accounts
This is sadly a common story.
Generally speaking, it isn't difficult to prove ownership of something physically in your possession. You could have receipts or old photos that would usually be accepted as proof that something is yours. Possessing and proving your rights over something physical is easy enough.
One of the problems I face at least a few times a month is clients who don't own or have lost ownership over their virtual property – their website, social media pages, analytics, Google My Business, etc.
In some cases it can be easy to claim ownership. Google have a fairly simple process to claim a currently unclaimed Google My Business listing. Proving ownership when it's uncontested is usually relatively simple. When ownership is contested it can create problems.
As an example, a client who has several retail stores and an ecommerce site recently contacted me saying that they couldn't seem to access their Facebook page. After investigating the issue it became clear that a previous contractor had hijacked the page as well as their website, analytics, and Google My Business. The website had been defaced to stop it from loading but thankfully nothing nefarious had been posted to their Facebook page.
Recovering these virtual properties can be a bit of a nightmare. For the client above we were thankfully able to recover the website relatively simply using a "I forgot my login email and password" option, however regaining access to Facebook pages, analytics, and Google My Business is an involved process with no guarantee of success – especially if the hostage taker decides to delete the accounts.
There's a few steps business owners can and should take to protect themselves:
Ensure you own each account being used.
A common issue I come across is business owners not being in control initially of important accounts. Maybe an employee in their business set up their Google Analytics and did so with a personal email account, or their web developer set up their Google My Business account for them.
In instances such as these, business owners are granted access to the account but aren't always made to be the primary owner of the account. This is important – if you're not the primary owner of these accounts then you don't have much of a leg to stand on if someone wants to make changes to (or delete) these accounts.
It isn't enough to simply say "I have the password to log in to these accounts". You also need to own the email address that these accounts are associated with. Having a password to your accounts doesn't help you if it isn't the current password and you don't have the ability to log in to the email address that controls the account.
Be careful with access permissions.
Think very carefully about the level of access you need to give to other people – especially people that are outside of your business.
Does everyone in your business need admin access to your Facebook page? What would change if they had a lower level of access? How about your Google My Business page – you might be the primary owner, but do you need additional users with owner level access?
The different platforms that you use often have various levels of access for a reason – it limits your exposure if one of your accounts is hacked or if a disgruntled employee wants to cause havoc.
With each platform you use, spend the extra few minutes to learn what each access level can do and choose the lowest option suitable for each person.
Don't hand out your own login credentials.
Do you know one of the easiest ways to get most insurance companies to not pay out on a claim? Tell them that you gave the crook your keys.
That's obviously a generalised statement, but it holds true with your online properties as well. Keep your keys to yourself. Add in other users as needed and follow the advice above to make sure you're not giving away too much access to people who don't need it.
Giving away your credentials makes it possible for someone to either take away your access or grant another user access – possibly without telling you. It can also be possible to transfer ownership of an account to someone else without your knowledge.
It should go without saying that this applies to email addresses as well. Giving out the login credentials to your Facebook account is bad enough, but if something goes wrong you should be able to reclaim your account through your email address. But if you hand over details for your email as well, it becomes a lot more difficult to figure out if or when things are going wrong.
This should be a sticky post.
Also. Don't use Shopify, wix, weebly etc to create your site. They can shut down your website anytime.
What do you use then? Custom website?
WordPress on private hosting is a good start.
And be sure you have the assets saved so you can restart the site.
Some people recommend static site generators for that reason. No database or software dependencies on the hosting servers.
I've had great experience with WebFlow, although it comes with a few drawbacks compared to something like WordPress. Definitely a few positives too though.
I use WordPress and WooCommerce.
Just don't use Wix or Weebly because they're horrible platforms in general..
Why would they
For any reason they want to. Who knows. Maybe they get a wild hair up their ass in 3 years and decide to take down any political sites. Or your funny meme shirts become "culturally offensive" in the future 'cancel culture' overnight and they don't want to be associated with it. Or somebody does a false Digital Millennium Copyright Act Policy (DMCA) against you / that company and they find it easier to just pull your entire site whether it has legal standing or not.
That's the issue. They can come up with any reason to shut your site down, and there is nothing you can do about it. Better to avoid that possible situation all together.
They're all shitty platforms anyways.
Are you speaking from experience? I've seen hundreds of highly successful sites on Shopify
Being successful doesn't mean that they're doing it right / how they should be. There is a reason that companies move away from places like Wix when they get large enough. Why you would pay just as much (or more) than you would if you hosted the site yourself, is beyond me.
It'd be like renting a car from a company every day instead of just buying it yourself. You take the risk that one day while you're getting ready for work, the rental company just shows up and says "hey, we need that car" or "we deem that it isn't drivable anymore", and it's gone. Leaving you stranded with no way to make money. All while paying $400/mo to rent the car (which you're limited in what you can do with it), when you could be making $250/mo payments to own it yourself and do whatever you please with it.
I donno man I think a shop making $500k-$1m/mo is doing a few things right…what do you suggest they are doing wrong?
Can't speak for wix but Shopify seems to do the trick for a lot of people
It isn't about how much money you can make through a platform, it's how much money you're leaving on the table. Cool, they make $500k-1m a month. What if they could be making $2-3m a month instead, due to being able to modify their site in ANY way they see, leading to more sales.
Do you think Apple or Microsoft would be fine with a Shopify website? In no reality would they leave their entire fate up to some random ass company that could go out of business in 6 months.. Same thing.
Yes – if your company is listed on the Nasdaq, you are probably beyond Shopify.
For anyone else running a traditional e-comm setup, Shopify/Woo/Magento/BC can get you to $20m+ year and beyond, usually with 20-70% margin intact depending on your product.
The cost of maintenance is also very likely to be lower than a custom site as well. The apps make it so you hardly need a developer with Shopify (they're good to have, but not really necessary to have on the payroll full time). Customizing the theme and building out the site is a one-time/infrequent deal.
As a non-technical person I am genuinely curious — what do you think could be leaving $2-3m/month on the table, really?
Most of the sites I see have no trouble with site speed or handling traffic. They don't crash and I've never seen one get flat out taken down by any platform. They all serve their purpose just fine and the price is right…building everything from scratch is pretty impractical with all the tools that are out there now.
Exactly there you can appreciate the magnitude of the danger. If I had an online store that generates $ 500K a year, I would remove it from platforms like Shopify immediately and create my own website where I am the owner. Otherwise I run the risk of losing everything.
lol why though?
Imagine if all your income comes from selling your products online through Shopify. If they banned you, wouldn't you lose your income overnight? Imagine if you have a mortgage to pay, car loans, a kid on the way. That's gonna screw you badly.
Shopify doesn't care about the revenue you do. If you violate their Terms Of Service (TOS)(maybe?), they can shut you down overnight, with no access to existing outstanding customer orders. There's no way you can get your site back up on Shopify again. The same goes for wix and weebly as you are hosting your site ON THEIR SERVER.
If you're on Magento or WooCommerce, even if the webhost you're on decides to reject your business, with a backup of your site, you could go to a different server, toss up your website and it'll be live again. You could even purchase your own server and host it up on your own.
Sounds like someone needs to start a "Digital Identity and Security" firm that controls all access and retains ownership of credentials for owners. So, if someone needs access they can request it and there are required electronic signature docs for contractors to sign making sure if they try to hijack or control the ownership of digital assets they get sued by of course this third party representing the client on their behalf. Maybe this exists, but idk. Just an idea.
It would help if that controlling business was also a domain registrar so all of the accounts and access can be associated to ownership of the domain name.
That would make some sense in terms of top down hierarchy of ownership. It kind of all starts with the domain name or client "identity." I'm surprised one of the big players (GoDaddy, etc.) doesn't sell a service like this.
Don't tell them just yet…
Good luck lol.
They do exist, but mostly for domains rather than social accounts etc.
I worked for a major bank in the UK and all their domains where held and managed by a company that managed domains for all the big banks and retailers.
If a client has their Google My Biz (GMB) profile hijacked to mess with them, is there a way I can trace back who did it? Obviously we can reset email like you said, but I'm wondering how we find the person who deliberately messed with their business.
The only easily identifiable way would be if the email address used to control the account is clearly owned by a particular person or business, but even then they could claim it wasn't them.
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