Zen and the Art of Web Maintenance: Cost, Scope & Why Bother

Zen and the Art of Web Maintenance: Cost, Scope & Why Bother



website maintance cost

Congratulations. Your new website launched, you tested all of your forms, and everything is functioning correctly. The soft launch was a success and the promoted launch is gaining traffic and compliments. Time to rest on your laurels and enjoy a project well done, right? Wrong. Web maintenance is a critical phase of the website development process. Many businesses mistakenly treat a website like a printed brochure or annual report. After the site is launched, they consider the project to be finished and put it on a virtual shelf. Websites are very complex collections of code and in order to function correctly, need maintenance to keep things running smoothly.

Maintenance can be divided into two types, maintenance you can perform and maintenance you’ll need a developer to perform. Day-to-day maintenance consists of content updates which you or your content manager will be able to handle without the involvement of a developer. Let’s take a look at some typical developer-involved maintenance categories.

Browser updates 

Browser updates fall into two categories. Major releases and version updates. As an aside, keeping all browsers up-to-date is a good practice for anyone on the internet; I’m talking to you Internet Explorer 9 holdouts. Updates offer better security, better functionality, and an overall better web experience. Keep those browsers updated! 

The five major browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari all run stable and beta versions. Our best practice is to support the stable numbered version plus one previous numbered version. For Chrome at this writing that would be 35 and 34. There are also versions that come out, bug fixes, updates, security patches that are indicated after the “.” in the name. At the moment, the latest Chrome is 35.0.1916.114. Versions that come after the “.” in the name are not as disruptive as major updates.

Any time there is a major browser update, and they can come along monthly, review your website with your developer. Pay special attention to any special functionality such as rotating headers, test form performance, and test load times. It’s not a bad idea to make sure all of your fonts are loading correctly and to give the website a good page by page overview. Review embedded videos and check all images. Give the entire site a thorough test. If issues pop up, your developer will be able to apply fixes and get the site running at its best. Your developer will also go through the back end of the site and the CMS to make sure there are no issues that you can’t see on the user-facing side of the site.

Plugin updates

These go hand-in-hand with browser updates. Many times a browser update will completely break a plugin. This is a common issue on WordPress sites. Carefully go through your plugins and make sure they deliver the correct user experience. Plugin updates can lag behind browser updates. In the interim, developers can patch a plugin until a stable release is introduced. 

Unfortunately, plugins can be abandoned by their developer. If this happens, and it does, work with your developer to find a new option. At ByteJam, we carefully vet all plugins to make sure they are maintained and have a strong development team behind them.

CMS Updates

The frequency of this type of maintenance work will vary based on the system your website uses. WordPress updates a lot. Major releases happen on average every six months. Version updates can happen weekly. We recently had a run of updates every other day. It is extremely important to keep WordPress updated and to involve your developer in the updates. Nine times out of ten the version releases are security related so keep those up-to-date to keep the bad guys out. Your developer will need to go through all installed plugins to make sure they are up-to-date as well.

A perk with some other CMS systems like Drupal, MODX and Joomla is that they don’t update quite as frequently. As with WordPress, it’s best practice to involve your developer in any major releases or version updates.

Operating systems

Platform updates to desktop and mobile operating systems happen about once every calendar year. As with browsers and CMS, keep those operating systems up-to-date and review your site with your developer to make sure there are no unintended consequences.

New technology

New devices seem to come out daily. Your responsive website should be able to make the transition, but it is always best to screen check your site. There are many browser and device testing tools out there. Our current favorite is Browserstack. Nothing beats looking at your site on an actual device, so do try to do live testing whenever available.

Stuff breaks

We all have a content management horror story. Pages disappear. Images break. Parent/child links break. All of the websites that we host are updated nightly so there is always a version to go back to if there is an “oops” moment. We also build all of our sites in version control to make sure there is a backup. If you host your own site or use a service provider, make sure daily backups are in place.

Sites go down

Make sure a notification system is in place in case your site goes down. ByteJam has a notification system in place that informs a key team by phone day or night if something isn’t right on the server-side of things.

Cost

Now that you know what’s involved, you’re likely wanting to know what to budget for this ongoing your developer will do. While the amount will vary based on the size and complexity of your website, over the course of a year a good rule of thumb is to expect an additional 20 - 25% percent of the original buildout cost for maintenance. Generally, this work is billed monthly. Some companies set a flat amount, while others bill hourly based on work completed. At ByteJam, we’re time and materials so if you only need five hours worth of maintenance in a given month, we just bill you the five hours.

So keep those browsers up-to-date, work with your developer to make sure all is running well on the site, and test often. Getting in front of potential maintenance issues on your site is always a best practice.

Digital Utopia

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