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The complexity of website maintenance

Websites are constantly evolving. With developers and community feedback, platforms are regularly updated. Resulting in new features, extra functionality, security patches to address vulnerability, and overall improvement of the platform experience.

However, unforeseen hiccups, compatibility issues with plugins, and other unfortunate consequences often occur. More than a few users have had their site up and break, experienced downtime, or lost data due to problems with the update process. And without regular updates websites can become slow, error prone and unreliable.

Of course, this is something all of us want to avoid right?

During our celebratory website handovers to clients we all hope for the best. Sadly though, there are many things that can go wrong after a handover, and more often than not, clients are responsible for unintentionally sabotaging their own website. All it takes is a bit of innocent fiddling and suddenly you have a problem where there shouldn’t be one.

The real cost of creating and then maintaining a website is usually not apparent from its onset. With most clients adopting a build-it-and-leave-it-alone approach or thinking that maintaining a website is far simpler than we make it out to be. Which it often initially is, but as the website ages and things are missed or avoided this is when the risk rises and finally the big crash occurs.

First lets look at why you should keep your website up-to-date:

Security
Although most websites are pretty secure, there are loopholes that exist. Not updating a website to its latest version provides opportunities for hackers to try gain access in order to inject malicious software or cause other kind of distress.

Bug fixes
Bugs often occur when new features or functionality (which translate into additional code) are introduced. And no matter how careful and thorough one is, they always find their way into the software.

New features
Often a direct result of feedback from users, new features make the running of a website and the platform more comfortable and easier to use.

Now this sounds simple enough so far, but let us share a bit on what keeping on top of a websites maintenance really involves:

Never upgrading on a live site
There is nothing more frustrating than having to restore your website after a botched update attempt.

Skipping the major updates, at first
Major updates often introduce new features and functionalities that have not yet been made publicly known. As a consequence, this makes them more likely to contain bugs or conflict with existing plugins.

Using child themes and plugins
These themes provide a way to create new designs that inherit the functionality of a parent theme while still maintaining their design and code. Making changes to parent files will result in any customizations being overwritten and upon update.

Checking the compatibility of the most important plugins
Some plugins can play a major role in the functionality or design of a website. If they up and break after an upgrade, this can be a major headache.

Keeping website backups
One should always, always, back up a website before updating. If something goes wrong, this ensures you can restore it and don’t stand to lose everything you have built.

Maintenance mode
When changes are being pushed through to the live site you should always take your site offline. This will reduce the likelihood of your visitors seeing or experiencing anything they shouldn’t while changes are being made.

Health and security monitoring
Regular monitoring will help to discover issues as soon as they appear, and often before they become serious. This includes uptime monitoring (telling you when your website is down) and a regular review of key website metrics. Using the relevant tools for these give insight into both performance and overall website health.

Troubleshooting & testing
After any update a website should always be tested to make sure it’s functioning as expected. This will ensure that the updates haven’t introduced new functionality that adversely affects the site or changes how it operates.

Scheduling and Documentation
At the end of the day, staying on the upgrade path makes future upgrades easier. So why not keep your risk low and stay on top of your website maintenance.
Regular maintenance is essential for a stable, healthy website. At Vane, we recommend updating your website on a monthly basis as there are constantly new versions of software being released. The longer you have an outdated piece of software residing on your website, the more likely you are to run into major problems.

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Paula Gries

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