When it comes to the web there is no set and forget option. One does not simply launch a website never to revisit it again. In the current state of web technology, cycles move fast and keeping up to date *can* be a hassle. Besides part of your marketing strategy, you need to stay on top of your website and make the most of what you've got.
Not all websites are created equally
You may have a static website which is fairly low maintenance, but even that requires updates every now and then. Why? Mainly because technology changes at a rapid pace - users are on different and new systems and your online presence has to adapt to the demand.
If you run a content management system with databases, plugins and updates it starts to add layers of things to consider. Who is managing the website, who is keeping things up to date? Do you have an in house team, if not - do you have a provider, a maintenance agreement, etc. Who do you call on when things go full out meltdown?
Websites are run on servers in the "cloud" which just means it's digitally stored somewhere. That means data is put up somewhere and needs to be controlled to some degree. Your hosting provider may offer managed services or you may have your own internal IT team helping out. Maybe you're really savvy and manage your own server, so this one isn't for you.
Hosting files online by itself isn't entirely complicated. Depending on how involved your website is - think scale, involvement and type of website; is where it can start to get tricky managing. For example a heavy traffic website like YouTube will be more high maintenance compared to a couple page brochure website or a product launch micro site.
What needs maintenance?
We often recommend our clients to a monthly maintenance plan that will keep their systems update to date.
The other option is waiting until something goes wrong and fixing it, but not everything is always an easy fix.
Little issues are bound to popup here and there. That's pretty standard. In the design and development process we strive to crush all bugs and glitches before going live but the reality is it's (nearly) impossible to test for every user experience variable and situation. It's part of the process. Ship it out there and build on what you have, improve it.
Unless you're on a hosted solution and have everything taken care of, then you need to think about your current setup. Even then, hosted solutions require updates and script changes here and there.
What can happen if you don't maintain your website
Fear mongering aside, this is the truth. Something BAD can and likely will happen at some point. Cross your fingers and hope nothing happens, or plan ahead.
What's the worst that can happen? Overwriting files, data loss, a crippling virus, site downtime - the list goes on. We can all strive for perfection out of the gate but technology changes so quickly, to stay on top of it all you have to follow a preventative schedule.
If you're on an open source Content Management System like WordPress, there are often plugin and version updates to stay on top of security. The implications of this is a reality to come to grips with - yes work needs to be done, and no - it's not always that simple! Plugin compatibility, version differences, the big point here is, things need to be tested to make sure everything is working as it should, or better.
Think of your website in organic terms, it's a living, breathing thing.
Common threats can be basic injections that place code into your website acting as a virus with the sole intention of spreading itself. Most of these are pretty harmless however they should be taken seriously and prevented at all costs. Even in the odd chance you get a really nasty one. The source of these can be automated scripts finding a weak spot and taking advantage of your likely out of date script or setup.
Usually issues appear in widely distributed code or open source platforms that aren't kept up to date.
The best way to prevent any issues is to stay on top of the system you have. You can do this by upgrading to the latest platform version you can get and periodically updating your plugins and website code.
There are various server hardening techniques a server admin can recommend that is fairly technical in nature. On the extreme end of the spectrum there are a lot of things you can do if you're super paranoid. Many successful companies have built an empire on peace of mind.
Ask your web admin about what you can do to better protect your website. By staying on top of these things you're not only protecting yourself but potentially your website visitors.
A healthy website is a happy website.
Do you backup?
Backing up is important by keeping an archive of your files and data. Should anything happen you'll want a plan B and plan C. There are various systems you can utilize to automate backups offsite and double redundancy is always a good thing. Backing up your backups.
Keep it fresh
Having foresight is free, taking preventative measures may add up to a handsome fee. In the long run it's definitely worth it. Consider it an investment. How much would downtime cost you? A day, a week, a month? Not being able to recover data etc.
Spring cleaning needs to get done, or potential issues compound every year until you end up with some sort of crisis which forces you to take action. If you are prepared it could be prevented altogether or at least be less of an issue as far as damage control is concerned. Try to update once every month or so at least. Work with your web and IT team and have a plan in place.
Next time your website goes down, thank the server angels looking over you and remember, it's not as easy as you might think it is. There is a lot going on behind the curtain!