What is Website Maintenance?
In a nutshell, website maintenance is the work needed to keep your website working optimally, meeting the needs of your audience, and projecting a professional image of your business or organization. That’s a mouthful, and a bit abstract, so let’s use a metaphor to help.
Think of your website as a storefront window. When your site launches, you (metaphorically) have a brand new window display, with a gleaming promotional display that advertises your business to passerbys. Maybe you have one of those scrolling LED signs to attract attention. It all looks great. And probably after the first day or so of it being up, the newness of it will wear off, and it will fade a little into the back of your mind.
But obviously, if you never once looked at your window display again, that would be an issue. Aside from the fact that you should probably change it up every so often, your display will get dusty. Something could fall over and look awkward or broken. Or that LED sign that looked so good at first got messed up somehow and is now displaying garbled text. Eventually, the lack of attention to the window display may warn people passing by AWAY from your business.
Websites are not dissimilar. Over time, they can collect small imperfections and oddities that slowly erode their effectiveness. External services can change and sometimes break. Content editing can slowly shift away from the original intention or usability. These little quirks add up and can change a website that worked great at launch to one that feels buggy and broken. Website maintenance just means ‘keeping everything clean and in working order.’
What Website Maintenance is not.
To continue with our storefront window metaphor, the thing that Website Maintenance is NOT is changing out what’s in the window. It should go without saying that you really should change the things in your window display every so often. People get tired of seeing the same thing all the time. Nothing changing can give the impression of an inactive or withering business.
Metaphorically, changing the stuff in the window, or adding new things to the window, that’s content creation. Website Maintenance is about making sure what IS in the window looks good and works well.
Why is maintenance important?
Ok, but why does your site need to be maintained at all, you ask? After all, it’s NOT a window display. Dust doesn’t literally collect! The files aren’t rusting! Why should some computer files change over time and need to be maintained?
Well, you’d be sort of right. It’s not that your website is literally gathering dust or rotting. But it’s not a static object preserved in a museum, either. There are two ways that quirks or bugs usually creep into a website. Either the web itself changes around your site, (which is unavoidable) or your team changed or added to your website in a way that brought new complications, (which is inevitable).
Let’s talk about what issues website maintenance addresses:
Your website needs updates itself.
Unless your site is built using entirely static files, the platform your website is built on itself will eventually require updating. For security reasons, you should always try to be on the latest version of whatever software your website uses. Developers will find security issues and patch them in updates, but this work will only benefit you if you regularly update. And of course there are usually new features you can take advantage of by updating. If you let your site go forever without updating the underlying platform, eventually you’ll run into issues with your hosting platform no longer supporting the version of software you’re running.
How many times have you logged in to your WordPress Admin panel only to be greeted by several red bubbles and a list of updates that need to be run?
Updates themselves can cause maintenance issues as well. Something about your site may be built in a way that works on an old version of your site’s software, but needs to be fixed in order to work on the new version. Ignoring these issues or holding off on updating to avoid the cost of fixing them is a risky plan and will create a snowball effect. Eventually, something will force you to address these maintenance concerns, they’ll have to be tackled all at once, which is inevitably more expensive.
Your website probably uses other services that may update.
Another cause of maintenance issues is that your site relies on external services for some of its functionality. Think like google maps, or some plugin that needs to pull data from a server you don’t own or control. Lots of functionality works like this, and it’s perfectly fine and normal.
But sometimes those external services will change how they require data to be requested, or what data they send back in return. And what that means is that, if left alone long enough, sometimes parts of your website can break without any changes on your end.
Mostly this comes back to the first issue: your website needs to be updated. These services try to put out warnings in advance of them changing in order to avoid issues like these. If you’re using an actively developed tool to access these external services, that tool probably will have an update ready before it becomes an issue. But if the code you’re using is something you or your developers created themselves, the responsibility to proactively update it to avoid errors falls on you.
Your content needs to be checked for best-practices.
This is the simplest and most common cause of website maintenance issues. If you’re using your website actively, you’re going to be adding, tracking and measuring a lot of content.
Side note: Do you know what pages of your website are working for you? Learn How to create an SEO Dashboard.
And some of that content will inevitably be a little… wonky. It’s fine, it happens, but it’s important to do regular sweeps to check for content irregularities that are eroding your user-experience. Common content issues can include:
- The amount of text added to an element is much larger than the design intended.
- The images added do not have alt tags.
- The fonts or text styling used break brand standards.
- The images added are too large or un-optimized and are reducing site performance.
- Content added is in a confusing place or hard to find.
These are quirks that should have been caught in the content creation stage, but inevitably slipped through. If you don’t ever allow time to go back and fix them, they just pile up like any other maintenance issue.
Websites need to be maintained just like anything else!
Lack of maintenance can turn a great site into a frustrating one. Just like anything else intended for regular use, they need time and attention to stay in clean, working order. A well-maintained site, on the other hand, communicates that you care about the details and your audiences’ time.