If you are responsible for any type of website, intranet or extranet you will already be very familiar with the concept of Website Maintenance.
Website Maintenance encompasses all the activities needed to guarantee the operational integrity of a site. Indeed, whenever these activities do not occur, the results can be embarrassingly visible.
For example, do any of these problems sound familiar?
- Broken links
- Missing images
- Unanswered feedback
- Badly spelled text
- Missing page titles
Issues like these betray a site with insufficient operational support, i.e. too few people being asked to do too much.
While inadequate support can sometimes be due to real financial constraints, it often arises merely as a result of indifference. The truth is that some managers simply do not 'get' why a site needs constant attention. They think that once it is live, a website magically looks after itself!
The challenge for a webmaster is to explain that this is not the case and to demonstrate why regular maintenance is so necessary. One way of doing this is to show how these tasks can lead directly to a higher quality user experience.
For example, the success of a business may depend on how well customers can interact with a site. That is, are they able to complete transactions without technical errors? Are there any broken links or missing files? Is their feedback being responded to? When any of these are overlooked, there is an increasing likelihood of the site being ignored.
The Activities of Website Maintenance
The activities from which Website Maintenance is composed can be broken down into six areas. These are:
- Publishing, meaning, how to keep content up-to-date.
- Quality Assurance, meaning, how to spot errors on a site.
- Feedback Monitoring, meaning, how to manage communication with website visitors.
- Performance Monitoring, meaning, how to measure activity on a site.
- Infrastructure Monitoring, meaning, how to ensure a sound technical footing for a site.
- Change Control, meaning, how to manage ongoing technical or other changes in a co-ordinated way.
(Each of these will be explored in subsequent articles. We will also examine the people, processes and technology needed to support them.)
Website Maintenance Team
Before commencing the process of maintenance, a team must be appointed to carry out these tasks. This team is headed by a Maintenance Co-ordinator.
It is worth noting that for a small site, a Maintenance Team may simply consist of one person who expedites all activities as necessary.
However, larger sites usually require a greater complement of staff. They may also need assistance from other departments in order to carry out their duties. For example, in a big company some services may be provided centrally, e.g. Website Infrastructure or Change Control.
Maintenance Review Meeting
It is suggested that a Maintenance Team hold regular meetings at which issues of site administration can be discussed, e.g. weekly or fortnightly. Some typical agenda items might include:
- A report by each team member on activity in their area of responsibility
- A discussion of operational issues
- Agreement on a plan for forthcoming changes
Where issues arise that cannot be resolved locally, these may be escalated to the next level. This normally consists some form of Website Management Team (WMT).
A WMT is composed of senior managers for whom the site constitutes an important asset. For example, key areas like Marketing/Communications are normally represented, as well as large functional areas with a significant presence, e.g. product divisions. As the ultimate authority in charge of a site, this team provides the guidance (and the budget!) needed to allow maintenance to occur.
The structures and procedures of Website Maintenance are explored in more detail in 'The Website Manager's Handbook', now on sale.
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