The moment your website launches, support starts.
Ongoing support is one of the most underappreciated costs of owning a website. The moment your website launches, support starts. Believing otherwise is a bit like buying a pet goldfish and being surprised that you also need to pay for fish food.
Why You Need Support
You need support for three reasons:
- Things break.
- Things must be maintained or else they’ll break or become obsolete in the future.
- You’ll want to make improvements.
Every website is a complex and, in some ways, fragile bundle of technologies.
Every website is a complex and, in some ways, fragile bundle of technologies. As such, all websites periodically encounter unforeseen problems: hardware failures, software errors, and the damage done by active malicious attacks.
Maybe your hosting provider is suffering chronic downtime problems. This is no fault of yours, but it keeps dragging your site offline—and you’ll need help from a technically skilled person to understand the problem and remedy it through a hosting transfer.
Maybe your site hits limits that weren’t apparent at the time of completion. For example, maybe you’ve got a file uploader that can handle anything smaller than 25 MB, which has always been fine, but now you really need to upload a long audio transcript and your site whitescreens every time you try.
Or maybe your site login password turns out to be simple enough to crack with a brute-force attack. (Don’t let this happen!) Goodness knows what happens after that, but you’ll need a developer to clean it up.
Things Must Be Maintained or Else They’ll Break or Become Obsolete in the Future
Web technologies are constantly shifting, and no site can remain static for long without starting to break down.
If your site’s on WordPress (and it probably should be!), you’ll need to update WordPress, as well as your theme and plugins, or risk falling prey to security vulnerabilities that affect out-of-date sites.
As new types of web-capable devices come into being, the whole web landscape changes. Smartphones and tablets led to the responsive design paradigm. Sites designed before that paradigm—and not maintained or upgraded in the meantime—are increasingly obsolete, veering toward unusable. The same will be true of today’s sites given the technology a few years from now.
You’ll Want to Make Improvements
If you’re doing it right, your web project will be ever-expanding and ever-improving.
This is the most important reason to budget for site support. If you’re doing it right, your web project will be an ever-expanding, ever-improving presence. Even if your site never runs into any errors, if you’re content to let your site to just sit there for years at a time, it’s a good sign that you’re not viewing it as an investment—calling into question your need for a site at all.
Maybe your blog site is gaining a pretty big following, and you’d like a store to sell t-shirts and other merchandise.
Maybe you think that converting your online portfolio from static text into a set of really beautiful multimedia presentations might help convert more of your visitors into clients.
Maybe you’d just like help adding something to your navigation menu. (Here, again, life’s definitely better if you’re on WordPress.)
Just as you’d want a good contractor to help grow and improve your home, you’ll want a technical person or team to make small and large ongoing improvements to your site.
So, You Need Support!
These three needs aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes things are bad so they break, and you’d like help designing a new, better version! Or sometimes a maintenance and update job can be a great transition into needed design or structural changes.
The point is that you need support, and you need to have a plan for where you’ll be getting support, and under what conditions, long before your site is launched—and, ideally, before it’s started.
Just to make the point, let’s look at what can happen if you launch without a clear plan for support…
The Bad Default: No Clear Plan for Support
What generally happens is that you turn to your developer for support when things go wrong, but have no regular contact otherwise.
This is the default: if neither you nor your developer discuss a support arrangement, and you don’t formulate a plan to get help from someone other than your developer, you end up here.
If you had a good relationship with your developer during the initial project, what generally happens is that you will turn to him or her for support when things go wrong, but have no regular contact otherwise. Unfortunately, this tends to put both your developer and you in a weird spot.
You will be inclined to:
- Put off small but important pieces of maintenance because you don’t want to bother your developer;
- Feel like you’re intruding on your developer’s time with a bunch of small or “silly” problems (“I forgot how to log in”)—which are nevertheless urgent for you;
- Be unusually cost-sensitive, since an extra $200 to figure out a tough problem feels a lot more costly in isolation than in the context of a $10,000 project;
- Feel stuck with the current version of your website, since you have no reliable way of contracting for changes and improvements.
When contacted, your developer will be inclined to:
- Be speedy and distracted on the phone or email, because discussing your needed changes adds unplanned, unpaid support time to his or her workday;
- Do small jobs for free because it’s not worth billing you for so little work, creating an awkward dynamic where the developer must choose whether or not to bill you for each support job;
- Have trouble completing support work as quickly as you’d like, because support projects are often crises (“my site is down!!!”) that require an immediate response, and often hit your developer unannounced in the middle of other projects with their own deadlines.
At worst, this dynamic leaves you angry at your developer for suddenly turning so rude and unresponsive, vaguely worried that you’re always intruding on your developer’s precious time, fearful that every new error or feature request will mean hundreds of dollars in support work, and afraid to touch anything on your site for fear it’ll break and force another “Sorry to bother you but please help!” email.
Your developer, in turn, may feel harassed by a barrage of small but urgent support requests that pay very little, carry an unsustainable amount of overhead, and distract from other obligations—as well as guilty for being so grouchy and hard-to-reach after completing a great project for you.
Now For the Good News (Coming Soon)
Well, that was a gloomy look at a website with no one to support it. Fortunately, you can avoid ending up here. We’ll explore how in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Image Credits: Ed Garcia
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A support plan does not need to be in any particular format. It can be written, include photos and drawings, or a video. It’s our plan and we can create it any way we want, but it must exist!
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Every word of this – especially “The Bad Default” – describes my situation PERFECTLY. I’m sold! And getting desperate. Sign me up before something else breaks!
Great article, this is so, so very important!! So often businesses are focused on getting a web developer to come in and fix, update or redesign their website, they may not be thinking about the long term. We used to only do website development with no support afterward, but so many clients didn’t have the staff and knowledge in place to keep the site updated, secure, and running at peak performance. About two years ago our company Lawrence Media, started offering a maintenance, security and update package and 90% of past clients signed up. Because of fast changes in technology it is paramount that business have a support plan.