Closing Up Shop

The pointy-haired boss of Dilbert fame once said, “The key to success is persistence. The other key to success is knowing when to quit.” These statements seem to contradict each other, but maybe the boss was on to something. Only by persistence, perhaps, will you get to the point where you know it’s time to quit.

And when it’s time to quit, it’s time to think about what to do with your website. Shutting down your website requires some advance planning and effort, and how you go about it depends to some degree on the reasons for quitting.

Top 4 Reasons to Shutter Your Website

  • By choice: Maybe it’s time to retire, drive around the country in an RV, and spoil the grandkids. Or maybe you’ve grown weary of running a business and want to try something new. These are examples of voluntarily shutting down a business and its website.
  • Selling out: A subset of the voluntary shutdown is the sellout – your business is being bought by another business.
  • Completed project/promotion/campaign: Perhaps you have a specific site that is relevant only for a specific time, such as for a one-time event, promotion, or political campaign.
  • Not by choice: The business is no longer a going concern for involuntary reasons – bankruptcy, lost lease, disaster, legal action, or some other calamity.

How to Shut Down Your Site Gracefully

You could, of course, simply stop paying for web hosting and domain-name renewals, in which case your site will hang around for a few months and then disappear one day. For “sudden death” closures, this may be your only choice. If you’re being led away in handcuffs, chances are good your web hosting provider has been served with a court order to shut down your site immediately.
But if you have the luxury of advance planning, just letting the site die is not the right approach. For one thing, it conveys a false impression that your business is still active. In the worst case, customers might continue to place orders that will never be filled, leading to a damaged reputation or even lawsuits.

Here, then, are some suggestions for shutting down your site in a more graceful manner:

  • Give visitors advance warning. Let people know that the site’s days are numbered and how long they can expect to continue using it in its current form. Be sure to thank your loyal customers (individually or as a group) for their support.
  • On the final day, switch to a “shutdown” version. Replace your home page with a one-page “goodbye” message, thanking your customers, and perhaps including links to alternative sites where your customers can go instead. Be sure to remove all other pages from your “active” site or have them all redirect to the new home page. Some visitors may have bookmarked pages on your site other than the home page, and you don’t want them to miss the message.
  • Archive your old site. They’re your files, so you might as well keep them. There are several reasons for archiving your site. You might want to resurrect the site some time in the future, or you might want to start up a different site and use some of the design or functionality of the old one. Or you might want to show your grandchildren what a great website you had back in the day.
  • Leave the “shutdown” version up for a few months. After a sufficient amount of time, you can shut down the site entirely. Even if you have no intention of reviving the business or the site, consider retaining ownership of the domain name so that some other entity can’t immediately scoop it up and (for instance) pretend to be you. If it’s one that would be legitimately useful to someone else, you may be able to sell the domain name.

A word on sellouts: If you are selling your business, the website and domain name, along with your trademarks, are typically part of the deal, and after the transaction closes, you will probably not have any control over the domain name or the site. If you somehow do retain ownership, you may be required to redirect to the buyer’s site, or shut down your site entirely, for a certain period of time.

Shutting down a business may be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. Don’t make it harder by failing to plan for shutting down your website. Knowing when to quit may or may not be a key to success, but knowing how certainly doesn’t hurt.