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Zen and the True Cost of Website Maintenance

“Maintenance.” What a sleep-inducing word. Your eyelids are drooping already. “Maintenance” isn’t sexy; it’s a bucket of cold water. “Maintenance” has the same effect on the human spirit as the words “homework” or “renter’s insurance.”

But that’s a shame. Because we humans really do enjoy the act of upkeep. It’s why we spend billions of dollars a year keeping our lawns green. It’s why face lotion exists. When we get our hands on something good, we want it to last.

Tack the word “website” on and “maintenance” goes from sounding dull to downright daunting.

But website maintenance—or shall we call it “website reinvigoration”—is absolutely critical to your organization’s continued success.

Here’s what “website maintenance” really means—and why you ignore it at your peril.

Your Website is a Wild Bargain

Your website is an employee. Think of it that way and everything changes. In fact, your website is your most efficient employee. After all, which other member of your staff:

  • Works 24/7 without ever taking a sick day or vacation?
  • Doesn’t affect office politics or get into HR trouble?
  • Doesn’t ask for a paycheck?
  • Performs tasks across every department in your organization—from fundraising to customer service to accounting?

OK, yes, you have to pay for a website. If you’re a huge organization—e.g., a university or national nonprofit or global association of plumbers, etc.—your website will cost serious money. Maybe a million, two million—maybe more. But when you weigh that cost against the benefits that a website provides, your site is working for pennies on the dollar.

Maintenance is Impossible With Employees

Meanwhile, your website can be engineered to work perfectly.

Let’s do a hypothetical, eh?

You’re a mid-level marketing professional.
You work for a statewide government agency.
You’re five years into your career and you’re beginning to see the light.

You’re realizing that, executed smartly, a great marketing campaign can get more people involved in your cause. It can produce a measurable change in the lives improved. Move the needle. You agree in your bones with what Peter Drucker long ago proclaimed:

You simply have to attend to your site. It’s too valuable a resource to ignore.
“The business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

Your website is your key marketing tool and will be for at least the next decade. (Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are all nice and fine, but they’re not going to change how we humans access content anytime soon.)

So what should you do with your workdays? Perfect your website, because you can’t perfect your employees.

You can’t fine tune a person as you can your website. By the time we make it into the workforce, most of our habits are set in concrete. Your website, however, is ripe for change. It’s the shiny, spit-shined Porsche engine of your organization—so treat it that way. Worship its power. Feed it.

Because remember: Your next user could be a game-changer. Your next website visitor might decide to:

  • Email you with a personal question
  • Enroll
  • Give you money
  • Become a member

Your next visitor might change everything. So, of course, you should cast as wide a net as feasible. We’re talking about opportunity costs here—i.e., when you don’t maintain your website, you lose out on opportunities you would’ve otherwise seized.

“Maintenance” is just another word for nothing left to improve.

Draw a Picture of the Perfect Website

“Maintenance” isn’t a singular task; it’s a collection of activities. To properly maintain something, you don’t simply fix it when it breaks. You:

  • Enhance it
  • Archive (some of) it
  • Upgrade it
  • Secure and protect it

To properly maintain your website, you need to know where you’re headed. What’s even the point?

You need a vision of the perfect website before you can maintain it. To be useful, your vision can’t be too general—e.g., “We want a great website that works well on iPhones!” You need a more concrete vision that includes specific tasks it should perform, specific audiences it should serve, specific feelings it should evoke, specific messages it should convey.

Don’t take my word for it, though.

Listen to the greatest mentor ever, Mr. Miyagi, as he explains to Daniel-san the simple Zen beauty of “maintenance” in this classic scene from “The Karate Kid”:

What Goes Into “Website Maintenance”?

A little bit of everything. Here at Mighty Citizen, every client picks one of two options when they partner with us:

  1. Our Care Package for ongoing website maintenance is a wild bargain. Includes hosting, general tech support, browser compatibility, and a bunch of other technical stuff, along with more long-term strategic consultation—including a deep review of Google Analytics and additional training.
  2. Our Partner Program goes even further with ongoing, monthly access to our full team of designers, UX experts, and developers to create iterative and full-scale marketing initiatives for websites and creative campaigns.

Your website’s “launch day” is just the first step on a journey that will last as long as your organization does. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “Finally, our new website is live! Let’s move on to other stuff now.” Avoid that trap by making website maintenance as integral a part of your marketing efforts as anything else. You should be reviewing your site, at a minimum, once a month.

Around here, the most common requests we get for maintenance help include:

  • Making minor site updates—e.g., adding content, formatting changes, navigation restructuring. (Note: You can usually do this work yourself.)
  • Training new staff on your content management system (CMS).
  • Changing hard-coded content—e.g., updating contact info in the footer.
  • Adding new modules, page layouts, interactions, third-party integrations, etc.

We’re going to write much more about this topic soon, but for now, suffice it to say: Upgrading your CMS is the most important ongoing website maintenance task you should pursue. And, I have to admit, it’s the most expensive.

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Unlike the apps on your smartphone, which can make tiny updates every day or week, CMS platforms usually push out a major upgrade every year or two. And these upgrades aren’t just rearrangements of the Titanic’s deck chairs; they’re heavy duty, requiring a skilled developer—and maybe a designer and information architect—to get you there.

Major CMS upgrades come with all sorts of enhancements, including:

  • New security measures that protect you and your users’ data
  • New features that enhance the front-end user experience
  • New user interface that makes the CMS easier to manage day to day

But perhaps the biggest reason to upgrade your CMS is to avoid content dystopia. If you don’t upgrade, your current CMS is going to grow outdated real quick. For example, ExpressionEngine CMS went from Version 3 to Version 4 at the end of 2017—meaning organizations that still hadn’t made the move from 2 to 3 were now two versions (and a million years in website time) behind.

When your CMS slips into this status, known in the technical world as a “legacy” product, it will no longer be supported by its developer. They won’t push out fixes or minor upgrades and you’ll fall farther behind.

Maintenance Now Saves Money Later

If you let your website lapse into misuse, it will cost you more money later in two key ways.

First, your underperforming site will irritate, confuse, and mislead your users—which will keep them from engaging with you. If your CMS is out-of-date and you’re unable to make it work for you, your users suffer. If your links are broken, your users suffer. If your site doesn’t render well on the latest web browser, your users suffer.

And when your users suffer online, your organization suffers online (and off).

Second, eventually the pain of a poor website will become too much to bear and you’ll have to redesign it. Performing a complete overhaul of your web presence is sometimes necessary even if your site has been well maintained. But you’ll need a complete overhaul much sooner if you don’t invest in website maintenance now. Even if all you’re doing is a major CMS upgrade, the longer you wait, the more work that will be required to bring you up to speed.

The Final Word

What’s left to say?

The “true cost” of not maintaining your website is the lost opportunity, the potential for security invasions, and a weakened brand identity.

You simply have to attend to your site. It’s too valuable a resource to ignore. In fact, it’s too valuable not to obsess over. Get yourself a website maintenance support package in the same way you buy car insurance: as protection against damage.

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