Thinking of switching agencies? This is what you need to do
If you’re thinking of moving on from your digital agency, for whatever reason, there are ways to limit any negative effects it may have on your website. Here is a list of things you need to know before you leave.
One of the biggest issues when changing digital agencies is that certain valuable information can be lost along the way.
This can be mitigated quite easily by ensuring that the information is available long before the decision is made to move agencies. It can also be useful for this information to form part of an annual review between client and agency.
This article aims to provide a handy list of the things you need to know and should probably have to hand.
There are three main parts to your website: code, database and files. All these live on a server.
The code and files are binary files on a disk whereas the database is contained in a separate system. Servers will host your website, and either be physical hardware or more commonly, virtual machines. And of course, it will be connected to the internet!
Here are some questions you might ask as it's worth understanding a little bit about the technology used in your website, namely:
- Is it PHP or another language?
- Is it a single system or several applications?
- Is there a Content Management System (CMS) like Drupal or WordPress or a framework (like Laraval or Symfony) present?
- What sort of webserver is being used? (Apache or NGINX are the two most common for a PHP website)
- What is the database server in use (MySQL or Postgres, for example)?
Hopefully your agency is using a version control system (VCS), where different versions of the code are maintained and stored away from your webserver. Git is probably the most common but other systems are available.
Some questions you might ask assuming they are using one:
- What is the branching and merging strategy?
- When was the last time the main (often called master) branch was updated / deployed?
- What branches are in progress?
- What needs sorting before you leave?
- Will there be a clean-up of branches?
If your agency is hosting the website, then you will need to take the files and database with you to give to the new hosts.
Backups should be regular, scheduled off site and secure as part of best practice but it’s usually at this stage you find they’re not as comprehensive as you might expect.
It’s worth asking the following at any stage of the relationship with your agency:
- When was the last time they ran backups?
- How are they tested?
- Do you, as a client have full access to them?
- What's the scope – database only or code and files too?
- If you have more than one site then you might want to ask the following:
- How many sites are there and are they all hosted in the same place?
- Do they use multi-site or multi-branch or repo setups?
- Do you have access to the servers and system?
- Are passwords shared?
- Do you need to whitelist IP addresses to connect to the systems?
The website address
A big question we often see is “Who controls the DNS?” A vital part of people finding your website is the address it uses, also known as a URL.
The Domain Name System (DNS) provides this function and is made up of a number of records controlled by a nameserver.
It is a good idea to establish the following:
- Do you currently use the bare domain e.g. http://mysite.com or the subdomain http://www.mysite.com
- Does one redirect to another?
- Are there any other domains pointing at the site?
- Are there any translations or regionality that may affect the URL?
Talking of the addresses, do you have a secure certificate also called an SSL or TSL certificate? This means you can use https:// when addressing your site and see the padlock icon in the address bar.
If so, then please ask:
- Where is the certificate stored?
- How long is it valid for?
- Who purchases or renews the certificate?
Do you have a CDN?
Content Delivery Network (CDN) services such as Cloudflare, CloudFront or Fastly are commonly used to act as a gateway to your site and improve site performance and security but there may be other systems depending on your host.
Is there anything in front of your website?
Some final questions worth asking are:
- Does your agency have any of this documented?
- Does your agency have a process for migration of hosting from the old provider to the new one?
- Is there a README file included with the codebase?
- What information have they provided already?
- What information do they intend to provide?
- Will they help you leave, or do you just grab and run?
- Are their developers willing to talk to newco developers?
Time for a spring clean?
It’s worth considering at this stage how much of your existing website is still relevant.
As part of a migration, you should consider undergoing a content review and file clean-up. Doing this can save you money on storage with your new hosts and, much like spring cleaning a house, can be a cathartic experience!
Ensuring that currently in-progress work is finished, tested, approved and deployed to production before you move will prevent loose ends from causing problems down the line.
Even with the best VCS and well documented commits it’s often very difficult for a new agency to pick up where the old one left off.
As with many situations, gathering as much information as you can before the big switch will help you after it. Some of these conversations maybe awkward but are essential to have.
Getting the most comprehensive overview will lead to a smooth exit and help you – and may help your next host to provide a better service.
Looking to switch agencies?
Talk to us. We’re Drupal experts and have recovered several projects over the years, helping them to stabilise and grow.
Andrew Dempster Account Manager
Andrew is Annertech's Account Manager and has over 30 years experience in IT covering a variety of roles including support, networking, sales, development, scrum master, solutions architect and management. He's also a keen musician, currently a guitarist in two bands and loves cycling and motorbiking.