Have you ever gone to research a product or service online only to get frustrated the second you click on a brand’s website? It’s slow. You can’t find anything you need. There are broken links and design flaws. It looks cheap and unprofessional. It’s not optimized for mobile. You find yourself thinking, "This can’t truly be a legitimate company," and you move on to a different site to find what you’re looking for.
Don’t let that be your website.
Your website is often your company’s first impression (which, by the way, takes a visitor only about 50 milliseconds to form an opinion). Having a functioning, user-friendly website is vital for business, and developing a holistic website maintenance plan can help your site stay at the top of its game. On the flip side, not doing so can be detrimental.
Without regularly scheduled maintenance and updates, you run the risk of not only deterring would-be customers, but also getting dinged by search engines and leaving your site vulnerable to security breaches.
A website maintenance plan is a comprehensive internal document used by your IT department, systems optimization engineers and other server-side experts to ensure that your website (and its accompanying servers) are kept up-to-date, secure and fast. Simply put, it’s your company’s go-to guide for keeping your website functioning at top performance.
The document should take a holistic look at your website as it relates to and supports your sales and marketing goals. Your tech team and other stakeholders get together to outline the document, setting a timeframe for ongoing review and updates to both the website itself and the website maintenance plan. Typically a quarterly review of your website maintenance plan should do the trick, but if there are any significant changes in platforms you use, security issues, brand updates or you work in a high-security industry, a more frequent review schedule may be necessary.
Keeping your website up to date is important because it mitigates risk and keeps your site operating to its best performance. The newest software can keep your website live and protected from potential security risks, weak infrastructure that could lead to downtime and moving fast.
The website maintenance plan is the high-level umbrella document that houses several smaller plans within its midst. Your website has a lot of moving parts to it, and each one needs to be evaluated and maintained for healthy performance.
We’ll dive deeper into the specifics, but at a glance, you should outline the document to address:
Clearly, the most visual examples of poor website function are the graphics and copy a user sees when they first arrive on the site. Typos, images that are not optimized, and poor design can leave a bad taste in the user’s mouth, making your company look incompetent — or worse, like you don’t care. As the user clicks through the site, broken links and slow speed can affect their impression further.
The behind-the-scenes security items and compatibility tasks may not be as visually apparent to visitors, but they’ll certainly know if they aren’t working properly.
When building out your website maintenance plan, make sure to specify the steps you’ll take to protect your site and impress your visitors. Try breaking it into themes or checklists that make sense for your business.
Web security is all about protecting your site from malicious entities looking to take your website down, access private information or involve your site in some form of blackmail or scam. As the Wall Street Journal reports, ransomware attacks are on the rise, and they can be extremely costly and disruptive to your business.
Keeping your software up-to-date is the best way to protect your website from bad guys. It is particularly important for ecommerce websites and others that contain a large amount of user data to stay on top of security updates. Regular security checks can catch any loopholes or vulnerabilities and inform you of new security patches that will shrink your odds of getting hacked.
Server updates go hand-in-hand with security updates, as servers are valuable targets for hackers. Furthermore, they’re a massive part of day-to-day operations for most companies, and downtime can be costly. Keeping your server up to date and in working order means you can go about your business without much interruption.
Websites and servers will occasionally need to be taken offline for maintenance. Planned maintenance takes place when a technical process needs to happen (such as updating server code) or updates to the back end of the website are performed. This is a preventive step to make sure they’re not going to go down during unplanned times or quit altogether.
These planned outages rarely take a long time (as in minutes, as opposed to long-term outages from out-of-date servers). Much of the process can happen when the website is still live, and can be performed during low-activity times.
There are a lot of services out there available to take care of server maintenance for you, but they can become expensive the more complex your site is. Hosting providers such as Digital Ocean offer automated backups and updating services, which can be very convenient, but comes with a price tag. It can make sense for smaller businesses to pay the fees, but as the business (and the website) grows, it’s worth evaluating your options.
Old websites tend to get a bit sluggish. Sometimes, a lot sluggish. It’s important to regularly check for opportunities to reduce or remove processes that are taking up too much memory to deliver the site effectively.
A good web maintenance plan outlines the steps to keep your website clicking and loading quickly. And that’s important for users. In fact, 39% of people will flat-out stop engaging with your site if images take too long to load.
Decreasing your website’s load time will improve your organic search engine results and provide a better user experience for navigating the site. Involve your front-end developer or SEO specialist to identify site speed problems and notify your systems engineer or IT member to fix them.
Did you know that 68.1% of all website visits globally came from mobile devices in 2020? That means a responsive, mobile-optimized website is more important than ever. How important? Well, 57% of customers say they won’t recommend a business that’s not optimized for mobile, and 50% of customers will stop visiting your site, even if they like you as a company.
Visuals and site flow are a pretty big deal, too. During your regular maintenance, check for broken images, outdated graphics and other design elements that can impact your site’s attractiveness.
As you get started, it’s normal to have lots of questions. Here is some information to help you on your journey to build out a website maintenance plan.
A down server is a much bigger deal than the website being down. The server is a larger, more complex, technically intensive thing compared to the site itself (the site is hosted code, and the server is a physical computer that keeps the site live). A server under maintenance means the server is taken offline to address a substantial issue. Typical circumstances that require server maintenance include physical issues with the server, an operating system that needs to be updated, or a hard drive or memory (RAM) that needs to be physically installed.
Your identified web maintenance team (usually your IT team, systems operator, SEO specialists, and those responsible for what appears on the website and how it functions) will perform various tasks at regular intervals. Routine maintenance can be weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. As a general guide, weekly, you should run site backups, update content and check for broken or missing links. Monthly maintenance includes checking your speed time, making sure your CMS is in a good place (plug-ins are updated, etc.), and ensuring your pages comply with accessibility standards. Quarterly, review your website maintenance plan and make any necessary changes, get rid of unused plug-ins, and do a thorough site check for broken links and responsiveness. Every year, you’re going to want to do a database optimization, renew your software subscriptions and domain name and update your copyright dates in your footer. Ad-hoc maintenance may pop up when URLs need redirected, contact information needs to be updated or any vulnerabilities are detected.
A monthly plan can start at $35 and go up to about $5,000 depending on your service provider and your needs. That’s a big range depending on how much you’re doing internally, whether you get a holistic package with other web services, how complex your website is, and a variety of other factors. When evaluating a service provider, consider their experience level, reputation and additional package offerings that may streamline your costs and services. Often, a holistic approach to website hosting, maintenance, UX and other services can be more cost-effective than patchwork service providers and separate plans. Your website maintenance plan should include the responsible parties for each aspect of your website.
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Matt Schott is a Digital Marketing Strategist at thunder::tech, who specializes in marketing automation and leverages data visualizations to help clients quickly grasp the whole story. In his free time, Matt is a reader of books, climber of rocks and player of guitars.