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Technology / Business websites

Who’s keeping your website up to date?

How often do you update your website software? Ignoring this issue can cost you significant time and money.

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Have you ever updated a plugin on your website and been faced with a blank page? Then you madly call your hosting provider and pray they can reinstate your website?

As business owners, everyone can appreciate needing a website, but the biggest problem is keeping software up to date. When software is updated, if things don’t go smoothly it can cause significant downtime – or completely corrupt a website.

Is a website crash really that likely?

You bet it is. Recently our web development company received a phone call from a local business owner. After upgrading some of the software on his website, his entire online store stopped functioning; customers couldn’t even view products, let alone buy them. His web hosting provider had a backup facility, but the website was so large that it hadn’t backed up properly for some time.

Without any backups available, it took five hours to piece the website back together, which obviously came at a significant cost. Further problems were still being picked up two weeks later, and then the site crashed again. Fortunately, this time we had a recent backup and were able to restore the site within an hour.

"Have you ever updated a plugin on your website and been faced with a blank page?"

Within this two week period of website issues, the business lost around $15,000 in profit from online orders!

A bit of background on website software

The vast majority of websites are powered by software, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Magento. More functionality can be added by installing software add-ons (known as “plugins”), such as booking systems, online shopping carts, registration forms, and so on.

Collectively, a website may have anywhere up to 30 plugins installed. These plugins interact with the website, and each other, in various ways. For example, a website with an online shopping cart plugin may also have a plugin to accept credit card payments on the checkout page.

Why does software need to be updated?

The problem is that new versions of plugins are released quite frequently and most small businesses aren’t updating their plugins frequently enough to keep up with all of these changes. Updating your plugins is essential to the ongoing functionality of your website, but it also has other benefits, including:

  • fixing bugs and glitches
  • improving website load time
  • adding new features
  • patching security holes.

Most websites allow you to update to the latest version of the plugin, either manually or automatically, but as I mentioned above – doing this yourself has inherent risks, unless you’re aware of the consequences and how to fix any number of problems that can occur.

What can go wrong?

When thinking about updating website software, some of the most important considerations are:

1. Could the software “break” the site?

In any given website, there may be a dozen or more different software packages (such as WordPress itself, plugins, themes, and so on), created by a range of developers around the globe. All of this software interacts in various ways, and some won’t even work without the other. So, when software is updated, it may “break” something on your website. Be aware of exactly what has changed in the software code, and any dependencies that may be affected by these changes.

2. Is there more to your website than just software?

Your web developer may have some specific settings or custom code in place on your website, which again may be affected by changes to your website software. So there needs to be a deep understanding of how your website has been put together. Most of the time, you won’t be able to see everything at work in your website, just by logging into your website back-end.

3. How will you know if something does go wrong?

If something does “break” on your website, how will you even know? Sometimes it’ll be something obvious, such as the home page not loading at all. But other times it may be a hidden issue that you’ll never know about until someone stumbles across it. It could be that your contact form no longer works, or online payments in your shopping cart aren’t being processed. There’s a lot of testing and serious time involved here to isolate the problem.

If things go wrong, you could be in big trouble

Many business owners are too busy to notice what needs to be updated on their websites, but when these updates are ignored, the functionality of the website can be put in jeopardy.

If you upgrade your plugins and extensions without due diligence, you may have to scramble to get things back into working order – and quickly, because it could be costing your business some serious money and a hit to your reputation.

Resolving website problems can include:

  • manually fixing or updating code and settings on the site
  • downloading and reinstalling previous software versions
  • restoring the website from web hosting backups (if any exist – not all web hosts provide this)
  • repeating previous work on the site to get it back to where it was
  • starting a new website from scratch (if you have no backups and the site is beyond repair).

All of this can mean a lot of downtime and unexpected costs to your business, as well as the added stress, potential loss of business, and damage to your brand.

You need to be proactive about website management

The potential for catastrophe to happen when you update your plugins is enough reason to run screaming in search of a website management company to take away all of this stress. Someone who knows their way around websites, and understands how they work, will know what to look out for when software need to be updated.

What should happen is that before any software is updated, each item reviewed individually to see what has changed between the current and the new version. If the list of changes appears to be “safe”, then your management team will upgrade each item and check that the website is still functioning as expected. If not, they will likely have automated processes to roll back to the previous software version almost instantly.

This means that a website management company can not only mitigate the risk of a catastrophe happening in the first place, but they can also resolve issues very quickly if they do arise.

Can you afford to pay for website management services?

A better question is: Can you afford not to? Sure, hiring a website management company to look after all of the updates on your website is going to cost you money. However, if your website is offline for hours or days, the cost of paying someone to prevent this happening will be worth its weight in gold!

If you have a business website, it might be a sensible idea to investigate the costs of hiring a website management company who can keep your website secure, up to date, fast, and functioning correctly.

Prevention is always better than cure, and this goes for updating your website software, as much as it does for everything else in life.

Grant O'Neill

is the Director of GO Creative, a digital marketing agency in Brisbane which specialises in web design. He's passionate about helping small businesses squeeze every dollar out of their marketing budget, without sacrificing quality. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+

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