There is a big problem in the website world that most people aren’t aware of. Hugely pervasive – this problem will continuously drain your business’ profitability without you even knowing about it. And like so many lethal problems, it can initially seem so insignificant. And even stranger is that its most effective solution can even seem counter-intuitive.
Most novice entrepreneurs believe that once their website is built, their website marketing is sorted. But sadly, it’s not the case. But in this day and age, the truth is that most websites will degrade in a matter of days, many will reach old age in a matter of months, and most will die before a few years is up. The lifespan of a website is short – unless you do something about it. But if you don’t – you might as well be throwing your money out of the window. And in this article I’ll tell you why.
The true cost of running a website
Like so many things in life, the true cost of a website is not always first apparent. And I’m not talking about the initial investment of designing and building one which should always been clearly stated. I’m talking about the cost of a website once it has been built.
Perhaps things were simpler in the past. But generations later, your website technology is no longer just made up of code, but layers of code. And these layers interact interdependently and in themselves create their own ecosystems. Despite technology being more accessible than ever before, its heralded simplicity actually covers great complexity. This is why websites can be a considerable upfront investment and this hasn’t changed despite the rave to D.I.Y. And this is why serious enterprises don’t think twice about investing in their webdesign and build. You see, there are many layers to your website and they all in constant flux.
CMS: The first coding layer of your website
Although database technology which warehouses your content does not tend to evolve so fast – the layers above it do. Many websites are built on a CMS (content management system) like Word Press. CMS allow you to access and input content to and from your database technology without needing to code. With for the majority can be extremely helpful. In Word Press your CMS layer comprises of core Word Press code which is like the bone and muscle of your website. This layer of code can change significantly every few years although incremental changes are happening literally all the time! The Word Press platform had a major shift just at the beginning of 2019 which caused quite a stir and panic within the community and sometimes the level of change can take your breath away.
Theme: The second coding layer of your website
Then on top of core Word Press code, is your Theme code. Theme code is like the skin that cover your site. Your theme code allows you to design the external look of your website, crucial for reflecting your branding and unique value proposition. And unless you are a pro, you might not realise that your theme code itself can also be split into parts. Theme code can comprise a framework and child theme, or parent and child theme. Many novices who build from scratch might only consider installing a parent theme (often shorted to just the word “theme”) and although this will and does work, they will miss out on the nuances of flexibility and the safe navigation through change that the experts have. In this layer there’s a constant conflict of “change or not to change” because consistency matters too.
Plugins: The third coding layer of your website
Despite comprising platform and theme codes, your website has a further layer of code that can be consider independent, but inter-dependent. Plugins are the extra pieces of code that empower your website with capabilities that go beyond content and style. Perhaps you might like to think of Plugins like clothes – sitting above the skin and providing extra pockets and zips and accessories. They help you weather the environment and boost your performance, like allowing your website to connect to other technologies and platforms (like email and social media technologies) seamlessly. Sometimes the integration can be so seamless that novices struggle to differentiate between technologies, but that’s one of the great things about a website. It can become a central hub and focal point which is why many web-designers prefer to don the title digital marketer.
The disaster waiting to strike
Crazily, since the digital realm is constantly evolving and updating, every single layer of your website, comprising all these parts, will be constantly shifting and changing without synchronising. And even seemingly small changes in code – whether on the platform level, theme level or plugin level– will all have the potential to generate coding conflicts where one part cannot understand another. It might sound funny to think of code falling out. But it literally could cause major havoc and at worst destruction. And just like that, your website could be dead.
Abandoning a website in internet ether, is like investing in a car and leaving it untouched on your driveway. After some time, it just won’t work. But a broken website is worst than a broken car. Not only will you lose the initial investment you made, but you will be continuously haemorrhage finances with the on-going costs of maintaining your hosting and domain (the digital ground and address associated with your site). And should your potential clients then find you online and discover that your site is down, or things are not really working, they will leave. Literally in seconds.
In terms of business positioning that can be devastating. Whether you are aware of it or not, a broken or dying website will continuously impact your brand image – the sense of your trustworthiness and inclination to care, your attention to detail and your ability to generate income. And when business itself is founded on the bedrock of trust – there’s nothing more important than building reliability into everything you do.
Hackers and thieves
If internal complexity wasn’t enough to consider, there are external threats to your website too. We live in a world where hackers and malicious individuals thrive on invading another person’s property and causing havoc and disruption. Very sadly that includes your website. Hacking bots are becoming increasingly sophisticated as they scavenge the digital world for victims. Worse than a broken site, is a hijacked site with malicious content posted under your name. And sadly, visitor who are first coming across you, will always assume that your site content is yours – no matter how abhorrent, shocking or inappropriate that content might seem. This can devastate a business because once trust is broken it can be extremely hard work and time consuming to restore.
Change in culture, design and business
Compounding any technological change or threat, is another layer of change that will affect all websites. This change deals with shifts in culture together with business growth. No matter how up to date you are with your technology – branding, positioning in your market and execution of design matter. Changes in business direction and client expectation can hugely impact your online marketing. And changes in culture will subtlety communicate whether you belong or not. A website that feels out-dated and old-school can very much make a business feel historic, out of touch and irrelevant. And with recent shifts, all websites should be encrypted for security and SEO (search engine optimisation), all websites should be bound by legal requirements and should evidence this, and all websites should allow for business growth by harnessing analytics and allow for updates so you can stay on-trend and relevant. In the past only bigger enterprises had the resources to manage this. But times have changed.
But there's always a solution - or four!
Should evil befall you, please don’t blame your web-designer or builder. That’s NOT the solution. Just as you wouldn’t return to your hair stylist and expect them to remedy the fact that your hair grew or complain many months later that you had purchased a style that is no longer as you had hoped, and just like you wouldn’t moan to your mechanic when you neglect your car and it gets rusty or its battery goes flat from no use, you can’t blame somebody else for responsibility that belongs to you. Web-designers know that technology changes and that the digital world isn’t as innocent as many might think. But it’s impossible for anybody to promise that your site will be hack free or that its performance will remain high when the world around it shifts.
With website code constantly evolving day by day, week by week – and business and design strategies always on the move – the only way to overcome is to keep your website constantly monitored and to have procedures in place should the worst happen. It might feel like overkill. But it’s actually financially savvy. As long as your site is live and running, you will always need somebody to maintain and watch over it and happily, there are a few options you could choose from.
Do It Yourself
Of course, one approach is to Do It Yourself. And when things go wrong you can certainly take on the task of trying to fix things without making thing worse as/when. All it takes is time and energy. And a degree of expertise when things go wrong. If you decide on this route, it is most helpful to keep a record of any changes made – just in case an issue gets flagged up a couple weeks later. That record could really help you to unpick things fast and isolate the problem while you set to work on finding a solution. Be prepared to spend time on this. Code can literally update from day day to the next!
Make backups so you can restore things if needed and consider investing in hosting that allows you to stage your website. Often you have to pay for a higher tiered hosting plan, but with staging you can create a copy of your website so you can work through issues without the world knowing it until everything is running as it should be. And if you get stuck, there are countless tutorials and videos online which can help. Google is phenomenal – so the answer will be out there. You’ll just need to spend your time finding it.
Do it in-house
If you are not technologically minded or inclined, extending your team can save you hours and can really help you build up your business. A technical team might be just what you need so you can do things in-house. However, when you are a solo-entrepreneur or micro-business – developing a technical team can be a challenge in itself. Wages and the myriad of things to consider as you delegate work and streamline communication processes can make this a savvy long-term solution – but not the most possible in the early stages of business.
Invest in Pay As You Go expertise
Alternatively, when things get really tough and beyond your scope, you can always call in an expert. But a word of warning. Hoping for a cure once things have gone sour can be hugely expensive. And by then you’ll be in a comprised position too. Sadly, cures are not always easy to come by – even for experts. So, don’t be shocked should you be charged a premium – because fixing a problem is always an order of multitude more demanding than preventing one. Endless time can be spent searching the problem out and sometimes, depending on your stage of business, a website rebuild might be the more cost effective approach to consider. Even if nothing has gone wrong, updating many strains of severely out-dated code is no mean feat. Just make sure you budget enough finances for this. In our experience, we get called to rebuild dying websites at an alarming rate. And although that makes for a great business opportunity for us, it’s a big shame for you.
Website support plans
By far the most effective solution is our final alternative. To invest in website support and customer care plans. On-going support might seem counter-intuitive, rather like investing in insurance, but like insurance it’s much more cost effective than getting a site rebuilt or debugged. But unlike insurance, website support means that a load of work will be constantly issued on an on-going basis to keep your technology in check and protected. With a professional constantly on hand, you can save yourself considerable grief, anxiety and lost finances. A website professional who is overseeing your site will monitor, enable backups and restores, run checks concerning all updates on all coding levels, and will work on a lot more behind the scenes too.
At mitsgriffin we can stage your website so changes and fixes can be made without you or the world noticing! And we sequence and record every update so if there is ever an issue, the problem can be tracked fast without you need to even think about it. Security scans monitor the introduction of any rogue code and up-time monitoring can allow us to chase up any slacking hosting companies to ensure your website is accessible 99.99% of the time (saving the odd moment when servers get re-sorted). You need never liaise with hosting companies or domain registrars again. And with monthly reporting, you can feel confident that your are maximising your website investments and make strategic decisions for the future with clarity. When you consider that the cost of premium hosting alone is typically around £30/month (once all the introductory offers are excluded and payments are adjusted for VAT) you might find that investing in monthly support is an extremely savvy approach. Especially when an issue will be addressed even before you even know it ever existed. This peace of mind can be priceless. For an idea of all the things that can be included in website support do check out our support page for more information on what’s possible.
The most important thing to action
The most important thing to action, is to take action! Whichever approach you adopt, don’t make the mistake that many business novices make. Don’t create a great website and then just abandon it. Make your investment last and expand the lifespan of your website. After all, when your website is representing you to the world 24-7, you’re worth it (wink).