Preventative Maintenance of Websites

I recently read How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Steward Brand. The book itself wasn’t quite what I was expecting — it is definitely meant for architecture students and not someone who just wants to look at pictures of how buildings have changed throughout their lives — however I found myself linking the information it shared about the need to think of how a building will be used and maintained over time to websites and their upkeep.

Many designers and site owners forget about a crucial fact when initially designing a website, even beyond the site’s usability: the website is going to have to be maintained. You cannot build a website and just let it live, eventually the information will be out of date or something will break.

The graph below, adapted from a Van Nostrand Reinhold graph on building maintenance found in Brand’s book, shows how a lack of maintenance and updates on an active website can increase in cost over time. There are a few ways I have found to help alleviate this cost over time, however the best option I suggest is simple: assign a webmaster to the site.

Website-Maitenance-Graph.jpg

A Webmaster is someone who controls what goes on to the website, what doesn’t go on to the website, and when the website is updated. Having a dedicated person to perform this task not only prevents incorrect or out of date information from being displayed on your site, but also gives your organization a specific person to go through when a member would like to update an area that they are an expert in.

A Webmaster can come from many places. Often, for financial reasons, this person will come from within your organization. This can either be a dedicated Webmaster job title or a sub-responsibility of someone else within the company, such as a marketer.

You can also outsource the job of Webmaster to someone outside of your organization. Often web designers will offer a retainer service fee which allows you to contact them whenever the website needs updates. You can also pay on an as-needed basis, but if your website needs regular updates a retainer fee is more cost effective and guarantees that the designer will make the time to fit you into their existing schedule when you need them.

It is a good idea to make sure that your webmaster has a few skills that will make updating the website easier. Below is a short list of some of the skills that person should have

  • Basic coding knowledge: While many web platforms are drag-and-drop these days, it is always a good idea to have a base understanding of coding for site customization. This can be learned on websites such as Codecademy if they don’t already possess the knowledge.

  • Photo Editing: While you may not need the webmaster to retouch photos, they will need to be able to crop and resize images for use on web. The most common program for doing this is PhotoShop, however there are many free alternatives.

  • Accessibility Knowledge: It is important for your organization to make sure that your website stays accessible to all types of users, no matter their capabilities. This means that your site should have the information that makes the site readable to software for the blind, and that the color choices do not make the website unreadable to the colorblind. You can find tools to help you learn more about accessibility at Usability.gov.

Once you have a webmaster in place there is only one other thing to keep in mind: stay on top of it. The more you let your website maintenance slide the longer it will take to fix and the more it will cost.