What Happens When the Website You Are Working on Blows Up?

It’s every developer’s nightmare. You finally get approval from the client to go live and launch the client’s website and then BOOM! Something happens and the whole site blows up.

I recently had this scenario happen. Thankfully, the site wasn’t live yet, but the client still expected me to fix the site, with no offer of extra payment, even though I wasn’t the one who blew up the site.

There’s no doubt about it. A site blow-up can be difficult to handle.

I ended up spending an entire unpaid day and a half trying to figure the issue out. I reinstalled the site and database several times, played with the settings and finally gave up and put it on my own server to test it out. Turns out, it was a server issue brought on by messing with the htaccess file in WordPress.

Fixing blown up sites is obviously not the best way to spend our work time, so I made sure to turn it into a learning experience for next time. So, what do you do if a site blows up on you?


Who Dun It?

First, you need to figure out who blew up the site in the first place. This isn’t to assign blame, but instead helps you figure out where to start looking for the solution. It’s important to figure out what the last thing was that was added, changed or deleted in order to fix the site.

If It Was Your Doing

If you were the one who happened to have blown the site up, you owe the client a huge apology and an assurance that you won’t stop working until the site is back up.

Messing up big time like this can be difficult to deal with. After all, we work hard to try to appear perfect in the eyes of our clients and any mistake can feel like a huge embarrassment. Fortunately for us, clients realize that we’re human beings as well and most remain thankful that you’ve admitted to the mistake and are working to correct it. Who knows, you might end up gaining some extra points over the way you handle this situation!

Unfortunately though, this means you’ll be working for free. Don’t even think about trying to charge the client for this or you’ll find yourself quickly without any.

Also, don’t try to avoid fixing the site or pawning off the blame onto the client. They know if they broke something or not. Remember, good customer service is really one of the main things that set you apart from other developers.

If the Client Held the Dynamite

If it was the client who blew the site up, take a deep breath. Don’t get angry and don’t yell. Remember when I said developers are human beings? Well, so are clients.

If a client comes to you with a broken site, be calm and reassure them that you’ll get it back up ASAP. Be sure you get the exact details of what happened, what they did, what buttons they pushed etc, etc. ┬áThis will go a long way to finding a speedy solution.

If the client doesn’t come to you or you were the one who discovered the blown up site, be careful not to place blame. People hate being pushed into a corner and will immediately become defensive and unhelpful.

Instead, inform the client that something critically wrong has happened to the site and ask them if they could tell you the last things that were done to the site so you can fix the problem.

This simple phrasing of words gently lets the client know they did something wrong, without embarrassing them. It reassures them that you’re there to fix the problem, not to make them feel bad.

To Charge or Not to Charge

Now here’s the really tricky part–do you or do you not charge the client to fix their website if they were the ones who blew it up?

This is totally up to you and your comfort level, but I suggest just biting the bullet and fixing the issue for free, especially if it’s something fairly small and quick.

Not only will you be a hero in the client’s eyes, but you’re more likely to get more referrals and repeat business from them as well.

A more difficult dilemma occurs when the problem is a large one. When the whole site needs to be redone, reinstalled, the database has a hidden bug or something that takes longer than an hour or two to fix, you might want to think about charging for it.

If the problem has occurred well after launch, it’s ok to charge for it. Just make sure to charge a fair rate and if possible, give them a discount and let them know you’re doing so.

If the site breaks before or right after launch, it’s best to suck it up and just fix it for free. Clients are finicky and you don’t want to risk angering them to where they don’t send you final payment for the original project. Plus, it doesn’t reflect well on you if the client has a broken site before it’s even launched.

Client Education

In order to ensure this never happens again, it’s worth your while to spend some time educating a client on how the site works. It may also benefit you in the long run to redo a part of the admin area to make it less confusing for the client.

A few ways you can help the client not repeat their mistake:

  • Help videos
  • Help documents
  • ‘?’ blurbs next to the editable fields to let the client know what it does.
  • Remove the extra fields you don’t want the client to edit

Your Turn

Have you ever had a site blow up on you? How did you handle it?

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