Every now and then, we’re asked a question from clients during or shortly after a site build. If you work in an agency I’m sure you’ll have heard it before, and if you work client side, you’ve probably asked this of your agency.
“Why should I pay for ongoing web support?”
I’ve explained the answer to clients quite a few times over my 20 years in the industry, but I’ve never documented the reasons why — until now.
Sites built for one, not for many
The first step is to address the very nature of how you think of your website. Some people think of their website as a traditional piece of software as a service. By this, I mean something like Spotify or Netflix — a digital service you’ve paid for.
This business model works on ‘scale and sale’, in that they have the numbers (or the recurring revenue) to be able to afford to continually update and bugfix their product. One crucial difference between what we do and these sorts of services is that we build websites that are bespoke to your needs, and are not something we can sell to other people at scale.
In simple terms, we build for one, not for many.
And while we pride ourselves on our code, no code is immune to needing ongoing support. Think about all of the following dependencies which may impact your website:
Server and software
Your site needs to be hosted somewhere. This hosting will generally run on a Windows or Linux server, which in turn runs an operating system — and there are hundreds of these available. These servers are updated and patched by the relevant hosting company, which is necessary for security, and there’s potential for this update to break something on the site.
Content management system (CMS)
It’s likely you’ll have a CMS running your site, there's literally 100's of them be it Umbraco, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Kentico, Episerver or any other platform you might choose.
Agencies generally don’t control these pieces of software. If there’s a bug or issue with it then we need to see if a fix exists, report it to the company and wait for a fix to roll out.
In some cases we can fix it, submit to the company and wait for them to test and roll it out. CMS updates carry a lot of benefits, but again, need to be overseen and can introduce new issues.
Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari… I could go on, but these are the most common ones. It’s important to remember that they’re all updating, all of the time.
Chrome is currently on version 64 (as I write this) with hundreds of incremental releases in-between the bigger ones. Any one of them could produce new and unexpected behaviour.
Your content and colleagues
Sometimes humans make mistakes, and when they do, you’ll wish you had backups and regular reviews. If someone accidentally deletes your most crucial pages, you want them back! Keeping this kind of data means that someone has to set up the backups, and maintain them.
ISPs, web speed, routers
There are quite a few outside influences on your site in the grand scheme of the world wide web and how it works. All of them have the potential to cause a problem.
The internet service providers around the world that deliver your email, and show your site. They are businesses that run servers, and they have their own issues at times.
How fast are your customers’ connections? And can you be sure they’re on a reliable connection for making that purchase or loading that page?
Customers’ devices and environments, for example their PC, phone or tablet, and what they have installed, such as third-party plugins on the browser, antivirus software, and ad blockers can impact your site and how it works.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve only covered the basics that pretty much every site on the web uses, but your site might have more complex features.
This is where problems can really impact a business, and where your agency earns its support fee. We’ve been there and seen it all, and pride ourselves on the excellent quality of our support work.
Maintaining third-party systems on your site
And you may be surprised at the amount of 3rd party systems on your site and just how much needs to be maintained.
Your customers could be booking a holiday, room or table, a training course, dance event, or cinema tickets.
Etch specialises in this kind of work, especially for hotels (such as THE PIG) and restaurants. We know that these systems offer fantastic value and features for clients, but they’re also incredibly complicated, and like all software, they come with their own issues.
If you’ve got a global site presence then you might want to direct your visitors based on their IP. Generally, an agency will use a third-party vendor to supply this information.
CDN, DNS and security services
These are generally cloud-based services that sit over the top of, or work alongside, your existing CMS, website and server.
You could have a content delivery network (CDN) that serves up your images for faster responses, or a secure firewall in front of your site protecting from DDoS attacks. There are plenty of options and services on offer.
We’ve done plenty of work with recruiters and integrated with some of the leading job management systems.
Similar to booking systems, these can be very complicated work and as they’re also software-based, the usual rules apply.
These include Worldpay, Sagepay, Stripe, PayPal, and more. Used on transactional sites to securely handle the payment process, these vendors offer excellent services due to their secure nature, although they can be a complex tool to work with.
VAT code lookup
Do you have an e-commerce site? How about multi-currency? Chances are that you’ll be using some third-party service to check and validate that the VAT codes are correct.
Similar to above, if you’re taking orders online you might well use a subscription service to check and prepopulate the address fields for you customers.
Depending which platform you use, you could have a third-party package added to your CMS. It could be part of your CMS, or a standalone one that you direct traffic to.
These will have patches and updates that need applying by either the software owner or your agency.
It’s possible that you’ll require penetration testing, depending how security-conscious you are. Off the back of this there’ll occasionally be recommendations for change on the website.
Search engine updates
Google and, to a lesser extent, Bing, make minor algorithm changes fairly often, and at times they’ll make large updates such as Google’s Panda or Penguin. These are out of anyone’s control, but the impact can be quite dramatic and so your agency may need to make changes to how things work.
You might well be using Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or one of the plethora of mailing platforms that exist. As with any software integration, as and when they make changes there’s the potential for things going awry on the web side.
You could be using a CRM such as Salesforce or Dynamics, which have the same potential risks around third-party software.
Many agencies will use plugins or packages for specific functions like galleries or clever animation. This is a widely adopted practice as it can save you time and money, and stops us from re-inventing any wheels. But to some extent, by using this software you’re at their mercy.
Getting your support plan in place
At Etch we believe in using the best tools for your job, be it a bespoke build or third-party software. But when you make these choices, you need to be aware of the implications and the level of support that you need. These systems and their dependencies can become complicated and having a dedicated team (like our Pulse team!) is the only way to truly protect yourself against the unexpected.
If all this has got you feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret! This is why our support service exists.
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