Maintaining and keeping your website up to date is an on-going process.
It is a common misconception that a website will continue to operate exactly as it did on the day of launch indefinitely but unfortunately this is just not true. We often say “a website has a lot of moving parts” and the more complex it is the more movings parts. All these parts need to be looked after, more on that later…
In this article we’re going to look into what is involved in website maintenance, how often maintenance needs to be performed and what the costs might be.
- What is website maintenance?
- Why do I need website maintenance?
- Keeping software updated
- Providing assistance with content
- Having a team to call on
- What to include in a website maintenance contract?
- How much does website maintenance cost?
What is website maintenance?
Put simply website maintenance is an ongoing process whereby you update your website to keep it operating functionally, securely and efficiently.
Why do I need website maintenance?
So what do we mean by “a lot of moving parts”?
As a quick overview your website is hosted on a web server which has both hardware and software. Your website is built with software often something like WordPress that lets you manage the content. WordPress is complimented with plugins to extend the website functionality. Your visitors then access the website with a web browser. See the diagram below:
This whole stack of hardware and software is all being regularly updated to remain competitive. Because of this constantly evolving cycle if you leave your website it will eventually start to break.
The other major factor in maintenance is preventing or minimising the risk of software being open to security vulnerabilities. Especially in the case of open source software, vulnerabilities are constantly being found and patched.
Keeping software updated
At a base level the software powering your website needs to be kept up to date. The frequency is not too important, we would tend to recommend every 2-3 months, the main thing is that updates are performed regularly and not left for long periods of time.
It is likely that your WordPress website will have a few (*ahem* lots) of plugins. In which case keeping all of these up to date can be near on impossible. So do not feel like they should always be up to date. As mentioned just having an update cycle is best practice.
If you are using WordPress it might seem easy to run the updates yourself and indeed the interface provides one click updates to do so. This is fine 95% of the time but every so often you can run into problems that are trickier to resolve.
The downside to WordPress and its ecosystem of plugins is that it is very easy to code and publish so you will get a wide range in developer skill and professionalism when releasing their software. From time to time a plugin might induce a bug or conflict with another piece of software. The result could be a minor inconvenience but it could take a page or your whole website offline. When this happens having someone technical on hand to figure out which software is causing the issue and what the best solution to restore the website is invaluable.
Providing assistance with content
Another important aspect of website maintenance is keeping your content up to date and inline with your business goals. Hopefully the majority of this can be managed through a content management system (CMS). These days it is pretty rare that a website has no CMS.
However, even with a CMS in place websites can be very technical and often a little daunting to team members who only dip into the website from time to time. We see this all the time with our clients – and it is very understandable.
Having support from a team to help adding content, especially with things like getting the correct image crop in place or adding something more unique like tabular data can be very beneficial.
Having a team to call on
Like insurance having a maintenance contract with a reliable team is in place should the worse should happen. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often but when it does it can be very infuriating and time consuming to fix issues.
An experienced team should be very familiar with your website and the software components. It is impossible to know what changes are in each new version and predict conflicts. So any maintenance should have full access to your website and backups to hand. For this reason it is almost always better to have the team who built your website look after it. From experience it is very hard to take over a website as they can be built in so many different ways.
What to include in a website maintenance contract?
There is no right or wrong, what you want help with will depend on you and your teams level of skill and time that can be put towards looking after the website. Some people will try to do it all themselves (common when starting out), other want to outsource everything but typically we find people want to manage the content themselves and have a team on and to run software updates and be on hand should they need help.
Here is a list of tasks to consider including in a maintenance contract:
- Monthly or Quarterly software updates
- Security & vulnerability scanning
- Insurance against website hacking
- Daily backups and restoration service
- Site speed audit
- Site technical audit
- Content assistance
How much does website maintenance cost?
The cost of putting a maintenance contract in place will vary due a many factors, but here is a summary of the common options:
- You could look for a specific website maintenance company. They are likely to offer fixed rate packages, generally a couple of options based on the type of website complexity (ie: basic, professional, ecommerce etc…) or the level of service (perhaps turn around time). You can expect to pay between £50 – £75 per month for a basic plan and in the region of £150 – £200 per month for a more professional / e-commerce plan. Pros: they will pack in a lot of white labeled services you can benefit from Cons: they are operating on small margins and won’t know your website in and out.
- Your website design company might offer a maintenance service. This is likely to not have as many white labeled services and instead focus on the basics of software support and assisting you with content, day to day tasks and consultancy. You can expect to pay around £600 per year for a basic service and £1,500-£2,000 per year for closer support. Pros: you will get to know the team by name and be able to speak on the phone with issues. Cons: turn around time might be slower due to support not being the primary focus of the company
- Finally, you could have a good old fashioned support retainer in place based on a set number of hours per month set aside for both routine tasks and contingency. You would need to work through what those tasks are and the estimated number of hours needed. The cost for a retainer will be based on the companies hourly rate, usually with some discount due to being paid up front or contracted for a term like a year. You could expect to pay an hourly rate of £50 to £150 per hour. An example of 3 hours per month would be £1,800 – £5,400. A wide range!