The number one question to ask your web developer

Ask your web developer is you own your website and the answer may surprise you.
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Forget about the pretty logo, even forget about promises of increased sales and revenue. The number one question you need to ask your web developer before going ahead is ‘DO I OWN MY WEBSITE?’ The answer you receive may surprise you.

Many businesses may not realise that they don’t in fact own their website. And how would a company know that, if their web developers don’t disclose it? Hard-earned money is poured into the new website, with big plans to increase sales and really get into the online market. You paid for it; you assume you own it. But it’s only at the moment that you want to step away from your web development company that you find out the truth; your website won’t be coming with you, sorry about that. That’s our property, even though you paid for it – and no, you can’t have the access, sorry. Why? Because this system is ours, we developed it, it’s proprietary.

Now, in simple terms, there are two ways you can develop a website – using open-source software or closed-source software. Open-source software includes WordPress, Joomla, Magento, OpenCart – those content management systems you may have heard about. WordPress in particular is the world’s most popular type of website. Open-source means open to everyone – any developer can access the files, codes, or support that they need in order to develop a website in that software. Open-source software is free, and freely available. Most importantly, because it is open-source, it can’t be owned – no web developer can withhold access or say you can’t take your website with you if you decide to switch company.

Closed-source software, on the other hand, is private, and secret. Think of Coca-Cola’s secret recipe that only a few select individuals have access to. Imagine a Coca-Cola distributor asking for the recipe. Of course they can’t have it! It’s proprietary, and giving away the secret would threaten the Coca-Cola empire. That’s why those companies who use their own closed-source software will not give you your website if you leave the business relationship. The code belongs to them and they don’t want anyone else having access to it.

There are several major problems with using proprietary, or closed-source web development systems, and all of them have serious implications for you, your website, and your bottom line.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of open-source versus closed-source software:


Freely available worldwideAvailable through one specific company only
Can be used by any web developerCan only be used by one development company
You have control of your websiteWeb company has control of your website
Can be transferred between companies easilyWill be withheld from other web companies
Huge global support team and active community of developersSoftware is private so cannot be improved, fixed or supported by other developers
Cheap because of competitive marketCan be expensive – developer has the monopoly
Less bugs and more people to fix themOnly a few people who can fix bugs





Freely available = better quality product

Some web companies talk about their proprietary web development systems as though they automatically make them better than the competition. They’ve spent countless hours developing and refining a system that only they know and use – it must be good, right?

Now think of software that is freely available online for anyone to add to, update, fix, or improve. The World Wide Web is just that – worldwide. That’s a lot of web developers, programmers, and systems professionals with a huge combined specialist knowledge and thousands of years of experience between them all. Open-source software is tested by hundreds of thousands of users every day and anyone can work on fixing a bug or creating new features to be used on that system. Open-source crowds together all the knowledge and expertise of the world wide web and creates the best version, constantly updated. Compared to that wealth of time, knowledge and effort, the amount of time and expertise put in by one company on one product is tiny by comparison.

Open-source is generally regarded as a more secure and better quality product thanks to the sheer size of the support system available to open-source users.

Freely available = no lock-ins

You might love your website company, have a great relationship and never even dream of going anywhere else for your new projects or upgrades. Well, that might be true today, and good for you if so, but in business you can’t rule out that one day things might change. Perhaps you’ll want a major new development and your current company can’t do it, or their quote is too expensive. Whatever the reason, when your website has been built using open-source technology – whether that’s WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, or something else – your web developer does not own the website. They can’t own it! The website has been built using freely available software. That means you can easily bring your website management in-house or take it to another web company with no major problems. This isn’t about wanting to run away from your web company and shouldn’t be interpreted as such. It’s just about having the freedom of choice available to you, now and years down the line.

Everyone can use it = keep costs down

That brings us to the next obvious point. When proprietary software has been used, other web developers won’t know the system in order to make changes easily. Of course, any web professional will be able to figure it out. But that will take a fair bit longer than asking that same web developer to make the change on a website built using open-source software. The reason open-source content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and Joomla work so well is that developers will accumulate a lot of experience working on those types of websites. So when they come to working on your one, they get a head-start, saving everyone time and money. Plus, open-source CMS are also easy for anyone to use – so you don’t have to pay your web company every time you have a tiny alteration to make to your website.

No monopoly = don’t pay through your teeth

Another problem with trusting your website in the hands of the company who own the software used to develop it is that you’re essentially locking yourself into a monopoly economy. The website company can charge you by the hour for small fixes, overcharge you for upgrades, refuse to make changes because they are too busy or just tell you ‘it can’t be done’…. and there’s not much you can do about it. The alternative, as they well know, is probably redesigning a new website from scratch with someone else. We’ve even heard of cases where not only will the web company not give you access to the website, they didn’t want to give the company their domain name either!

Proprietary software keeps you hooked – you can’t leave the company which owns the software without incurring significant costs, and they can continue to charge you safe in the knowledge that you can’t shop around for a competitive quote.

My website was not built using open-source software: what now?

All hope is not lost. If you are happy with your web developers and not looking to redevelop any time soon, you’re probably fine for now. However, if you want to redevelop your website or your web company is charging you unreasonably for support, it does pay shop around, collect a few quotes and assess your options. Since using open-source software like WordPress can be significantly cheaper to develop, you actually may be better off going for a completely new website. In that case, it doesn’t matter that your web company won’t hand over your website – you don’t need it anyway. Starting from scratch means you get a clean slate on colours, design, logo and branding of your website, so you can take the opportunity to have a real overhaul of any tired or dated design elements too.

Make sure you understand your options before building a new website or going for an upgrade. Do some independent research about open- and closed-source software and think about how you will manage the website, how easy it will be, and when you might want to upgrade again. And above all, make sure you have that conversation with your new web developers: who will own my website?