Website Maintenance, or, how do I drive this thing?

Our bread & butter is designing (or redesigning) & programming websites for businesses of various sizes. Our clients range from family-owned small businesses to large financial enterprises. Our projects include content management system-based sites built in WordPress and Drupal and Magento-based E-commerce sites.

These platforms are meant to be more user-friendly than a hard-coded HTML site, allowing a non-technical administrator to easily input and edit content, products, images, and text. Since we do not build cookie-cutter sites, each of our websites is unique and are built with customized backend functionality. There is a learning curve for our clients based on various factors including the technical proficiency, familiarity and comfort level of the designated site administrator in the company as well as the complexity of the theme and functionality of the site itself.

Once we have built your sparkling new, feature-rich website, think of it like a Ferrari. You will need to gain some skills in order to learn how to properly drive it without crashing. You will either need to dedicate some time to learn some new skills or you will have to set aside a monthly budget for site maintenance. Some of your maintenance options are:

  • We can manage content for you on a retainer or as-needed basis.
  • You can hire a dedicated part-time, full-time or freelance webmaster.
  • You can hire a brilliant young college graduate as your new online intern.
  • You can hire an offshore team that works the same crazy hours you do (because we don’t).
  • You can learn some basic HTML. Or go to the codex or help pages for the CMS we’ve installed for you (WordPress, Drupal, or Magento – all three have extensive help resources). Or, our favorite, when in doubt, type your question into Google and be amazed at the information that appears at your fingertips.

Let’s use another analogy: when you own a car, whether Ferrari or Toyota, it will require maintenance, such as oil changes, new tires, etc. Your website is no different. CMS platforms offer upgrades on a regular basis and you (or your webmaster) should be updating the CMS to the newest version. If your site has plugins, you need to upgrade those as well, but, a caveat here, you need to do a backup first (as a precaution), ideally also set up a dev or staging site (where you can practice and test), then update each plugin one by one, and test to make sure the upgrade is compatible with the site and didn’t break the site.

Often, clients come to us pleading for emergency help, “Our website is broken! Please fix it immediately!” What we often find is a result of a mismatch from sites not upgraded conflicting with the hosting environment (which we do not control). Hosting is where your site lives and is provided by a hosting provider. There is hosting software running on the server where your website data is housed.

There are many sources of issues that can crop up from this nexus of the software powering your hosting server/setup & the software powering your website.

  • Sometimes databases become broken or corrupted, this can be due to problems arising from the maintenance (or lack thereof) of the hosting environment. Sometimes database issues are due to bugs in the original software of your site and can be repaired by database repair tools or upgrades.
  • Sometimes the problems are due to hacking, another case that underscores the vital importance of maintenance and regular updates to patch security holes. (Security & hacking is a whole ‘nother blog post!)
  • Finally, issues can be caused by someone maintaining your website but not following the CMS instructions. For example uploading non-supported content or an image size that “breaks” a page layout.

Our main point with this article is to enlighten you as to the various factors that can affect website function and performance – many of which are out of our direct control (hosting environment, your technical competency, whether your website software is updated, hacking).

Here are the basic points to keep in mind before you commit to a big website overhaul or development project:

  • Understand that the website is never “done.” It will require ongoing attention and care post-launch for the life of the website
  • Different things can and will go awry unexpectedly for various reasons. Some are preventable, to a degree. Some are not – be prepared.
  • Set aside budget for a development or “dev” site or a “staging” site that will be a clone of your website and provides a practice area for you as well as a copy of your site.
  • Commit to a regular backup & restore plan. Ask your hosting company how often they backup hosted websites.
  • Use a 3rd party to backup your code (codeguard.com or something similar) and/or select a hosting company specific to your CMS (WordPress hosting, Magento hosting, etc. It costs more but it may save you in the long run.
  • Commit additional resources post-launch to website maintenance – either money for an external webmaster or identify and train an in-house manager.
  • Understand that there is a learning curve for managing a robust website.

There are alternatives!

If, after reading this, you realize that you or your small company is not prepared for the ongoing skill, time, and budget investment a robust website or e-commerce website requires, then there are other routes you can take. There are plenty of hosted, templated website companies out there (Wix.com, Shopify.com, WordPress.com) that can host and support a simple website with pre-existing templates. Even your hosting company may offer a simple website solution. Why should you use these? They are totally managed by the company that hosts them, upgrades, security, 24/7 customer service.

Of course, this begs the question: why use a web design and development firm such as executionists? If you want a website with a unique, branded design and functionality, and your custom URL (not always available with hosted solutions), then you may not get what you want out of an out-of-the-box solution. The websites and work we offer include: mobile application design, responsive design (mobile-optimized), customized e-commerce solutions, corporate branding, SEO and marketing strategy and more.  Also, some of the hosted solutions offer limited functionality & themes and they don’t all work on mobile devices.

So think strategically about your commitment to a long-term sustainable, scalable web strategy and ask yourself some tough questions about your priorities before launching into a custom-built solution.

We’re here to help and answer any questions.

Free-Consult
Rachel Panush
by Rachel Panush
Rachel is the Senior Lead Project Manager at Executionists Inc. in Marina del Rey, CA.
Posted: April 8, 2013