You just got the thumbs up from your developer that all the new site files are published to your hosting space – your new site is finally live! You thank your developer, enjoy the moment, and then get back to business – which is running your business. The last thing you want to think about now is reliving the redesign process. And that’s the last thing I want you to think about too. That’s why I want to talk to you about ongoing maintenance to your website after launch.
The redesign process is indeed finished, but your website is never finished. Instead your website has moved from the redesign phase to the maintenance phase. This phase basically lasts until the next redesign phase. This is also one of the most ignored phases of smaller business owners, as most small business owners barely had the time and resources for the redesign process, let alone to pursue an ongoing maintenance phase. However, neglecting this phase usually leads to a less effective website, forcing the small business owner to get frustrated and start the redesign process all over again sooner than later, in an attempt to improve results.
Large corporations are guilty of neglecting the maintenance phase too when attention to ongoing site detail gets lost among employees who are not as invested in the project or the business. Higher ups involved in budgeting may have a set schedule to redesign the site every 18 to 24 months, allocating the funds on a time-frame that keeps the redesign habit repeating.
What most business owners and corporate employees don’t realize is that paying attention to ongoing site maintenance can prolong the life of a website, minimize the number of future redesigns, improve search engine visibility, save you time and money, and yield more online business. Therefore, accounting for ongoing site maintenance is something to factor into your overall redesign plan.
Let’s look at the most common things that crop up as ongoing maintenance for a website:
Content updates are the most common maintenance task. If you have a content management system for your website, then you may handle these updates in-house, making the only expense for these updates an expense in resources. However, you may prefer to pay someone else to handle this labor for you. Content updates can include any of the following, as typical examples:
- Existing Text Updates/New Content Pages – Whether it is simply revising existing text on the site or creating text for whole new content pages, this is a common and important update. Adding new text to a website, as applicable, is recommended. This keeps the site from growing stale and gives search engines new content to index.
- Photos/Galleries – Adding new photos to your site is one of the best ways to keep it fresh. There are many ways to incorporate photos and photo galleries that generate attention from site visitors. Make updating the photos on your site a regular form of maintenance.
- Blog Posts – New blog posts are a great way to attract search engine attention and get more content showing up in the search results. And, if you have a Blog on your website, you need to generate new Blog posts on a regular basis – it’s part of the commitment of having a Blog. Who will be maintaining your website’s Blog? Will they (or you) be able to maintain it monthly? If not, your Blog will get stale, lose traction in the search engines, lose potential new traffic, and look embarrassing to new visitors who might wonder if you’re even still in business.
- Staff – If you run a large company and have a staff page that highlights staff members, you will need to maintain this page to make sure it reflects new hires, past fires, position changes, and general turnover.
- Products – If you run an e-commerce website, you will need to maintain your products. Depending on how much inventory you carry and how often you add or drop products will impact how much time this will require each month.
- Services – If you are a service based company, you may need to update information on the services you offer.
- Projects/Portfolio – If you host a portfolio on your site, you will want to keep it updated with your latest offerings. A common example is a builder that posts completed projects, or even photos at various stages in the build.
- Documents – This can be a document library on the site or linked documents on various pages. If you share a lot of documents with your site visitors, you will need to upload new documents, when available.
- Testimonials – Hopefully, your testimonials continue to roll in, requiring you to post new ones to your site when received.
- Case Studies – Like testimonials, case studies help to convince potential customers to do business with you, or purchase a product. When new case studies are created, they will need to be added to the site.
- Pricing – Inflation happens. If you list pricing on your website, you’ll need to update it as the economy dictates.
- Business Hours/Contact Information – These are small (but critical) details that likely don’t change often, but still need to be accounted for.
- News and Events – If you feature news and/or events on your site, you should plan to update these regularly. Regular news and events posted to your site give visitors a sense of your positive activity and involvement, which helps buyer confidence. Like a Blog, if you don’t stay up-to-date on posting your news and events, then take this content off your site completely. A stale site only hurts buyer confidence.
If you are one of a billion people, you have probably used Facebook. And if you have used it for any length of time, you will have noticed changes to the user interface – or maybe not, since Facebook makes slight adjustments over time to avoid shocking their users. However, if I showed you what Facebook looked like 10 years ago, you’d be amazed at just how much it has evolved over time, right under our noses. Every work day in the offices of Facebook, usability studies are being done, new features are being tested, brainstorming meetings are being held, excessive amounts of programming code is being written, and pots of coffee are being drained. I can only imagine the millions of dollars Facebook budgets for site maintenance.
You and me are not Facebook, so we don’t need to worry about budgeting millions of dollars a year on site maintenance – Facebook is an extreme example. However, on some type of a smaller scale, you will need to make ongoing improvements to your site. This is especially true the more your site users need to interact with the website.
For example, let’s say you run a plumbing company and your website has a few pages that talk about your business, services offered and contact information for potential customers to call for more information. That’s a pretty simple site with only a few user interactions – clicking on different pages in order to find information. As long as the information on the page is correct, there is not much to maintain, in general.
Now let’s assume your plumbing company has multiple offices and serves multiple markets. You have your web developer create a tool on your site that allows users to input their zip code. Based on the zip code they enter, the site will then route them to the correct office number they should call for more information. Or, the user can choose to schedule a service call directly on the site via a web form. Nothing too complex, but it is adding more functionality to the site that needs to be maintained. Once this functionality is live on the site, you may find that users are having a hard time understanding how to use the search feature. If this is the case, changes are needed to further refine it for better usability.
As you continue to add layers, more refinement comes into play. Go another step and add user login accounts that allow customers to pay their bill online and now you have even more user interactions with the site. In addition to users clicking on different pages in order to find information, entering their zip code to find the office that serves their area, and filling out an online form to schedule a service call, they can now create a user account. Via this user account, they can edit their profile and billing information, and pay online. This gives users the ability to forget their login information, put in wrong profile information, and have forms of payment that do not go through. Now you have to support these issues, and continue to refine the usability of these new site features.
Now don’t panic and think I’m trying to talk you out of adding cool new features to your website. Actually, I encourage you to add the features your site needs. Sites that involve the user with more features and interactions tend to be more profitable, from my experience. I just want you to be aware that your site, in essence, now has more moving parts, and these parts need to be oiled and greased every now and again.
Platform and Third Party Updates/Upgrades
It may or may not happen that often, but based on what platform or content management system your site is built on, you will have times when the platform for the site needs to be updated. If you are using a popular content management system, such as WordPress, you’ll see these updates on a more common basis. In the case of WordPress, it is designed to be a simple update – just a push of the easy button. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems their easy button gets switched with a nuclear button and things blow up. This is especially true if you are using third party plugins with the CMS. This is usually fixable by a web developer within a reasonable amount of time, but it’s still more maintenance time to factor in. Wait! Before you just say “well, I will just avoid updating my content management system”, note that these updates are crucial to maintaining security, in addition to providing more features.
The federal government has been hacked. Large retail outlets have been hacked. International airlines have been hacked. Hacking happens. Unfortunately, crime knows no boundaries, whether offline or online. You can take the best of precautions, but you can never predict if you will be a target. You also can’t predict the level of ability an attacker has. If Target and Sony can be breached, it’s safe to say your site can too. The good news is that unless you are billion dollar company like Target or Sony, you will be more inclined to stay off a hacker’s radar, or at least off the radars of the better ones. Ongoing maintenance of your site helps to minimize threats – especially performing timely updates to your CMS, like mentioned above. But if a hack happens to your site, a developer is going to have to come in a do repair work.
Nothing stays the same on the internet. Change is the nature of doing business online. Remember years ago when you where using Internet Explorer 7 and thought it was advanced? Today, I’m using Google Chrome and just checked it’s version – version 63.0.3239.132. That is a lot of version updates! Now, admittedly, not as much happens between browser updates these days. I recall the days when a change from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 7 had, at times, drastic impacts on how a site would be rendered. Even through today’s updates tend to be more incremental, a new browser release can still have an impact on how your site is displayed.
If a future browser update negatively effects how your site displays, then you will need to spend some maintenance time to update your site code to fix the issue. This is billable time for a developer to do – the developer didn’t break the site, the browser did.
While it wasn’t the first time, or the last time that a Google update rocked the internet world, Google’s Panda update in 2011 made a profound change to how sites where ranked. This particular update was geared at getting higher quality content sites to the top of the search results and filtering out spammy sites. However, not everything went as smooth as planned, and many high quality sites lost valuable rankings. To help out the legitimate businesses that were negatively affected, Google posted evalutation criteria that site owner’s could use to compare to their sites. Based on the these evaluations, site owners could make necessary changes to help potentially restore some of their lost rankings.
This important lesson tells us that no search engine ranking is guaranteed, nor do we have a right to claim them. The search engines determine your fate in the search results – it’s their rankings, and they can change the ranking formula anytime they wish. To make matters more challenging, there are no instructions that the search engines provide that tell you how to get a top ranking – that is their secret recipe. Even in the example above where Google provided evaluation criteria, they didn’t provide a step-by-step guide to top rankings, they simply provided things to consider that might help – in other words, “your results may vary”.
Because of this, your standings in the search engines will always be subject to some amount of fluctuation. With a major algorthm update, like Panda, this fluctuation can be drastic. Allocating ongoing maintenance time for search engine optimization can help to smooth out these fluctuations. Even if your site takes an unfair major hit (like many businesses claimed from Panda), you will be in a better position to react to the changes as you will have active resources in play.
Google also continues to have a larger influence on your website than you might realize. They use their search engine results page as a carrot that they dangle in front site owners. They use this carrot to bring changes to how sites are built. For example, in 2015 they made a big stink about mobile responsive sites. If your site wasn’t mobile-friendly by a April 21, then you where going to lose search engine ranking as a penalty. This forced a lot of people to make their sites mobile-friendly. More recently, Google is doing a similar push to make all sites secured with an SSL certificate. While changes are actually good and needed, nobody likes a heavy-handed approach. It has forced a lot of web owners to spend money on their site sooner than they wanted in order to avoid the penalties Google was threatening. I don’t doubt that there will be more forced changes that Google dictates. While it likely will also be good for the overall Internet experience, it will cost you maintenance labor.
Save Time on Inhouse Updates
The best way to handle ongoing site maintenance is with an ongoing relationship with your developer. You may choose to handle what you can (most content updates, for example) and let your developer handle the rest. Or, you may keep your developer on a retainer of sorts, in order to allow them to handle this maintenance work for you, as needed. In most cases, this is done via a website maintenance agreement – you retain the developer for a certain amount of time each month. If you don’t use all the time for a certain month, that time may roll over to the next month.
Maintenance agreements are not as commonly known by business owners as an option for their website. However, they can provide the business owner with a tremendous amount of piece of mind, allowing them to continue focusing on their business and letting a website professional handle the rest.
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This article is the tenth in an ongoing series! Be sure to visit us often to catch the rest of our Business Website Success articles.