How should a website be maintained?
If your organisation has a website, you’re probably aware that there are some things that should be done regularly to keep the site secure and performing well. It’s like owning a car; it may run for a few years without servicing, but every year that it misses the services it needs, it’s significantly more likely to break down, and when it does, it’ll cost a lot more to repair.
We should clarify that some of the maintenance activities we describe only apply to certain types of websites. For example, if your website is built on an “online website platform” like Shopify, Wix, or Webflow (the kind that have a monthly fee), you won’t need to do any updates; they will be taken care of by the platform.
There’s a good chance that your website has lots of addons (sometimes called plugins or modules) that will each provide their own individual updates regularly. Each one might have a new update every week or two.
Some of these updates provided by the software might be improvements to the code, some might provide new features, and sometimes they’re fixing security vulnerabilities that have been discovered. That last type of update is the most important for your website developers to apply as soon as possible, because ignoring these leaves the site vulnerable to hackers that know about the vulnerability.
These software updates should be applied at least twice a month, or if your developers have the time, they could be done every time a security update is available, which might be every few days.
If your site is ever hacked, or even if someone makes a mistake and deletes some of the website content, it’s going to be critical that you have a backup of the entire site. In a situation like that, the most recent backup can be restored, meaning that your site would be exactly like it was when the backup was made.
If you have regular activity on your site like customers buying products, it’s important not to lose order and customer information if you ever have to restore your website from a backup, so the more often backups can be done, the better.
Fortunately, most web hosting includes automatic backups. These automatic backups are usually done daily (at a time that’s not busy, such as 2am), and they often keep just one or two weeks of backups. So if you need backups to happen more often than that, then your web developer will need to set up separate software or processes to make these additional backups.
You may need backups to be kept for longer than one or two weeks because there are times when you only discover a big issue weeks or months after it happens; regardless if it was caused by a hack or simply someone’s mistake.
Lastly, consider where the backups are stored. Security experts recommend that you have backups in multiple locations, because you never know what kind of catastrophes can happen at their storage location. For most websites, backups are just a few files that can be copied, downloaded and stored offline on a regular hard drive.
Anytime Restores & Investigations
Your web developer should be prepared and available to restore a backup of your website any time if your website ever gets hacked or has a major loss or mess up of the content. This kind of on-demand help will cost more than regular website work that they can schedule in, so this might be something that can be worked into a maintenance contract, just like insurance.
If your website is ever hacked, it will also be important for the developer to investigate what happened, and fix any security holes that might have let the hackers in. However, most web developers and agencies are not trained as security experts, so they might not have the skills to do this thoroughly, meaning you might need to bring in a specialist if this happens to your site.
Support for queries
If your website is an important part of your marketing strategy - and it should be - then you’re going to want to use it to communicate with your customers through news, product or service updates, events, and generally to let them know what’s going on.
While your team uses the site, they’re going to have questions on how to do some things on it, and to know if certain features can be added to the website.
Your team should be able to contact your web developer and get a response to these questions within a few hours (or less if it’s urgent). This contact could take the form of phone calls, emails, or possibly even instant messages if appropriate to the working relationship. The developer should then provide clear, practical, helpful answers and advice on how best to use and improve the site.
This sort of assistance is often difficult for agencies to charge for, so it can be built into a maintenance agreement.
The only way to know which marketing activities are working well - and thus which ones are actually profitable - is by testing and measuring the results. For example, if your team spends days working on a big news story or blog post, they will need to know how many visitors see it through ads, through Google, through social media, etc. Then they need to know how many people interacted with the post, including what percentage clicked on it. They should also know how long people typically stayed on that page before leaving or clicking to a different page of the site. They should know what type of device the visitors were using, and where they were in the world.
Those are just a few examples for a single piece of content on your site, but the general principle is to learn what works well for your customers and sales, and what to do differently. We call this analytics or metrics, and your team should receive regular reports with analytics numbers on the things they need to know.
As you might expect, most of the work of analytics is setting it up in the first place, however the reports your team receive on a regular basis should be updated based on what they need to know at the time.
Most websites go down for a few minutes every month, though you may never actually notice this. This can happen if your website host is dealing with an unexpected spike in traffic, or if some disaster happens like an undersea internet cable gets cut. Sometimes websites go down for much longer for reasons that the developer can help solve, such as the website software crashing.
Your website developer should thus set up tools to monitor the health of your website, and in particular, they should know if and when your website goes down, and either inform you or sort it out themselves immediately.
This last activity is the largest, and is actually something your website developer shouldn’t be doing for you; it’s something you and your team should be doing. And that is creating new content for your customers. By content, we mean website articles, videos, podcasts, possibly even books.
There are many reasons to be creating content, from helping your team teach each other, to helping your customers learn about your products. But the most important reason to create content is that search engines like Google love fresh content on your site, and will reward you with more website visitors looking for the things your team is writing about. So it’s a great idea to make this part of your work culture that the whole team participates in.