If you’ve had a website built recently, or you’re talking to someone about it, the concept of website maintenance has probably come up at some point during the process.
Often, it’s touted as being super important and critical, and you are doomed without it.
But is that really true?
But let’s have a look. In this article I’ll answer some of the common questions around website maintenance, including what it is, how it works, when you need it, and also – when you don’t need it.
What is website maintenance
Website maintenance is essentially keeping your website updated and running efficiently.
A common analogy is comparing your website to a car. Cars need regular servicing, otherwise they break down a lot sooner and a lot quicker.
Similar to a car, your website needs regular servicing. The web is always changing, so the code websites are built on gets updated often. Not keeping up is a great way to make sure your website breaks down sooner.
The thing is, if your car breaks down, you might have a really bad morning while you try get it fixed. But at least you might be able to get a ride from someone else, or call a Taxi or ride sharing service.
But if your website breaks down…. well, you could lose out on clients. Your reputation could go to crap. Or it might hurt your visibility on search engines for a while.
The impact of a screwed up website can be pretty big.
Why does website maintenance matter
There’s a few main benefits of keeping your website maintained.
Secure your site
Your website represents you online, so first and foremost you want to keep it locked down so no one can mess with it.
A well maintained website is way less likely to have a security breach than one that is riddled with security holes.
And those security holes…. there are networks of bad bots that crawl the web looking for vulnerabilities they can exploit.
Considering that the bulk of these sites are hacked because of out of date files, maintenance goes a long way to protecting you from this.
Avoid issues and code conflicts
There’s a few tech things that come together to make your website work.
We’ve got the content management system that you log into to update things (which is WordPress for many people). Then you’ve got the theme that’s used for your site. And then all the plugins that do the heavy lifting and make things work.
The problem is that every single one of these things uses code, and sometimes the code from one thing can conflict with another.
WordPress might stop working with one of the plugins on your site. Or suddenly, two of your plugins stop playing nice with each other.
It sounds weird, but this kinda stuff happens way more often than you’d expect. Usually the bigger and more complex a site is, the more plugins it uses, and the more opportunities that something will mess up.
Your maintenance person will usually be able to cover for conflicts like this, by applying updates, rolling back to older (working) versions of plugins, reaching out to plugin developers to get urgent fixes, or finding alternative options to replace the broken stuff.
And I’m not making this stuff up, these are all things I’ve had to do personally over the past year for clients.
Better technical performance
Some maintenance plans also include performance optimisation.
The past year or two has brought website performance and it’s impact on user experience to the forefront for most web design agencies.
We know that users don’t like sites to be slow. I mean, we don’t like it ourselves, so why would our customers?
And with so many alternative websites out there, it isn’t hard for someone to click out if you’re a bit slow to load and go to someone else.
With Google starting to count website performance as a factor in your ranking (even more so from May 2021), having a high performing site is becoming more and more important if you want to succeed online.
And it’s not really something you just do once. Performance optimisation is a continual process involving code improvement, content delivery networks, image optimisation, and way more stuff. There’s definitely a future blog post I could do about this stuff.
Okay, I really wanted to avoid using the tacky “you’ll rank better online” thing, because technically whether your site is maintained or not, that doesn’t affect your ranking (no matter how much people tell you otherwise).
Where it CAN possibly make a difference:
If your site serves malware, you can get booted off Google. They don’t want their users to see garbage. If your site turns into garbage because some hacker is using it to try hack peoples DropBox accounts (true story, this happened to a client), you can get blacklisted and your site penalised.
Access to support
Support can be underrated at times, but it’s super useful when you need it.
With a maintenance plan, you’ve either got an allowance for support included, or you’ve got access to get ad hoc support at reasonable rates.
If you’ve got a basic question, but no prior arrangement to anyone who can help, you’re stuck either Googling it, or trying to find someone who can give you the answer without costing you a fortune.
Giving technical support sucks, so you don’t find companies often willing to do it for a small chunk of change.
Maintenance clients can ask me questions and I’ll (usually) answer without needing any extra money from them. If they need help, depending on their plan I’ll either just do it for them, tell them how to do it, or quote them if needed.
But if someone isn’t on a maintenance plan? Highly unlikely.
The maintenance plan isn’t just to have the tasks happening. It’s also to have access to support.
It’s kinda like insurance
It’s weird, but website maintenance is kind of like insurance. You hope you never need it, but if something goes wrong you’ll be glad to have it.
I’ve encountered websites that hadn’t been updated in years and were still functioning and had no malicious files loaded.
But then I’ve also had a client who didn’t update their site for 3 months (since ending their maintenance plan) and had unfortunately been hacked which resulted in their website being blacklisted across multiple sources. Only 3 months! It took weeks to get them sorted out, and that was considered a fairly quick turnaround.
Using the insurance concept, imagine driving your car without any insurance. You might never have a crash, and be perfectly okay.
Or something could go wrong, and then you’re left in real trouble.
What sort of things are covered in a maintenance plan
Seems okay, but what are people actually doing as part of this?
Keeping all the code stuff up to date is pretty damn important. That’s the main way you plug any security holes.
A maintenance plan will ALWAYS include backups. These are critical because if updating something breaks other things, having a backup means you can go back to before it broke so you can figure things out.
Malware and Security Scanning
There are so many vulnerabilities being found all the time, it can be hard to keep up. A regular security scan will let us know if a vulnerability or malware has been found. Fixing issues early is often the difference between your site being vulnerable and your site actually getting hacked.
Websites can go offline every now and then, just a little (like, literally a seconds at a time). We usually don’t even notice it.
But what happens if that down time stretches a bit longer? It’s not like we’re sitting there checking our own websites every hour to make sure it’s visible. Usually, we won’t know until a client tells us about it. AWKWARD!
Uptime monitoring services ping your website every few minutes, and if it doesn’t pick up as being online, it sends an alert.
Doesn’t sound like much, but it means that we know if a site goes down unexpectedly, and we can jump on it to get the issue resolved (rather than waiting for someone else to let us know).
Most websites have a database attached that stores a lot of the content and settings and all that kinda stuff.
As you make changes to your site, it adds records to the database which makes it get bigger. Eventually it starts to slow your site down.
Making sure that database is regularly cleaned and optimised keeps it from becoming unwieldly.
If your site has a comments allowed, or if it has contact forms on it, you’ll find spammers continually pestering you. Either just with gibberish, or trying to sell you cheap SEO.
With a maintenance plan, spam comments are removed regularly. And if you find your contact form is giving you grief, your maintenance partner should be able to help take care of it.
Troubleshoot Issues and Conflicts
Back to the concept of insurance. If something DOES come up that causes an issue, or a conflict, your maintenance partner should be able to figure out what it is and take care of it for you.
This happens WAY more often than you’d expect. It kinda sucks for me as a maintenance partner when it happens, but hey – that’s why people pay, right?
Support and Site Changes
Maintenance plans can include a level of support. Anything from answering questions, through to actually making content edits on your behalf.
How far they go will depend on your maintenance plan. Usually the more “care” focused plans will include content edits, but pretty much every maintenance plan should include at least a basic level of support.
Most maintenance plans will include at least some sort of regular reporting. Often it covers any work performed, as well as the results of any scans or checks.
Sometimes it might cover things like website traffic and useful information like that.
In some cases, maintenance plans can include complementary or discounted website hosting. This isn’t always the case, and isn’t a hard and fast rule.
But some plans will include it.
What if you don’t maintain your website
True story time.
A few years back, we built a website for a client. They were really happy with everything, but elected NOT to take me up on my offer of maintenance. We gave them a heads up about the tasks they’d need to do to be safe, and they went on their merry way.
Well, 3 months later they reached out, wanting to jump back onto a maintenance plan. They hadn’t even touched the site once since it had been built, but had gotten a warning about some blacklist thing.
The first thing we did was do a scan of their site, and wouldn’t you know it – they’d been affected by malware. While they’d been doing their own maintenance (or not doing, as the case was), a critical vulnerability had been uncovered – but they didn’t apply the security patch, and eventually a hacker took advantage of that. And it’s not really their fault, if you’re not subscribed to that kind of news, you’d probably never know about the issue or the fix either.
Well, that malware was serving a fake login for DropBox, in an attempt to hack peoples DropBox accounts. Google (and other online services) really doesn’t like that, so the site had been pinged and blacklisted.
That ended up causing a solid chunk of work in cleaning up and fixing the site, then asking every single place that had blacklisted the site to review it. It took WEEKS.
Thankfully, since then they haven’t had an issue. Coincidentally, we’ve been maintaining their site since then.
When don’t you need a maintenance plan
Sounds like I’m really trying to sell maintenance here.
I promise, I’m not. It’s just a pretty freaking important thing to do.
There are times when you can get away without having a plan. Obviously, there is always a risk, but in a few cases that risk might be low enough to be okay.
If you have a “static site”
Remember before how I spoke about having a content management system, a theme, plugins, etc?
Well, you can actually build out an entire site purely in code with no content management system, and therefore no themes or plugins.
While that would mean updating the content is a nightmare, it also means 99% of the ways sites get hacked are not a factor.
So if your site is a static site, with no content management system, there’s a good chance you don’t need a maintenance plan (unless you want someone to help you update the content regularly – but that’s a whole different thing).
If you use a hosted page builder platform
If you use a hosted page builder platform like Squarespace, Wix, or Webflow (and many more), they handle a lot of the technology updates and backups as well as handling the security.
No need for a third party to provide maintenance.
If you’re a tech savvy DIY type of a person
If you’re fairly tech savvy, have an interest in the web, and tend to DIY, you may not need to have an external maintenance provider.
You just need to be disciplined about updating things, have a premium backup solution, potentially get a third party malware scanning service, an uptime monitoring service, and stay up to date with the security news on what’s happening in the industry.
The only downside is if you get it wrong, you’re kinda on your own. But if you’re comfortable with it, then you can get away without having a maintenance provider.
Your site doesn’t matter at all
Finally, if your site just doesn’t matter – as in, it could literally be an advertisement for porn or something worse and it wouldn’t make a difference to you – then you don’t need a maintenance plan (although you could probably benefit from reviewing your digital strategy).
How much does it cost
Cost for maintenance can vary WILDLY. Not only because there are different levels of maintenance, with different inclusions, but also because people can charge different rates for similar things based on how they value themselves.
Cheapest – host level support
At the most basic level, you could get a web host that does automatic updates to your files, backs up daily, and gives you technical support.
There are some major things you miss here, but it’s the cheapest way to get at least some level of protection.
This would usually be anywhere from $10 to $50 per month.
Medium – basic maintenance plans
The pricing on a basic maintenance plan can fluctuate wildly. Full disclosure, the numbers that follow are based purely on personal observations of others in the industry.
There are maintenance plans at this level that start at $50 per month, and there are some that go as high as $250 per month. If you have a complex site, such as one with e-commerce, or a membership system, they can usually go a little bit higher too.
These services usually include everything you need for a maintenance plan. Often with a limited level of support (ie. answering questions, but not necessarily making any changes to your site).
High – premium maintenance plans
A premium plan will often start from around $250 per month and escalate from there (fees over $1,000 per month aren’t unheard of).
Not only do these include your basic maintenance tasks, but they’ll often include things like unlimited content edits, potentially some degree of marketing activity, higher focus on performance, as well as (usually) access to a number of premium website plugins that cost quite a bit on their own.
This is the level you go to when your website is a critical part of your business, and you need it to be the absolute best it can be. A premium maintenance plan usually focuses on growth and continual improvement.
Hopefully this article has given you a bit more insight into what a maintenance plan actually is, and whether you need one or not.
Of course, it would be silly not to make mention of our own website maintenance plans. We have plans for all stages of business, and make sure everything that matters is taken care of.
If you feel we’ve missed anything, feel free to drop us a line!