“There are risks and costs to a program of action – but they are far less than the long range cost of comfortable inaction.”
– John F. Kennedy
It is generally accepted amongst marketing teams that a strong online presence is essential for creating a lasting impression and building brand trust, especially if online is the primary touch point for a large portion of an organisation’s customers. However, it is less well understood how ongoing support and maintenance upholds these objectives post go-live.
All too often go-live is seen as the end game without adequate provision for what happens next. Deploy to production and we’re done.
However, for a website to truly deliver on a customer experience proposition, it needs to be treated as a fluid entity, to be actively: monitored, curated and protected.
The current incarnation of our support agreement is deployed across 10 organisations. From blue chip companies and charities: Visa, Zurich Insurance, RNLI as well as SME companies: Pittards Leather, JAUPT, People 1st and Hammerson.
This post focuses on three ways a well-defined support agreement; one that ensures the ongoing integrity and stability of the platform and provides a mechanism for issues arising with a deployed website to be identified and resolved as timely as possible ensuring the site is available and functioning correctly at as near 100% levels. One that is understood by both provider and site owner, helps to deliver an experience users now demand.
Security is the number one reason for ongoing support. Malicious hackers will find you and attempt to compromise your site.
The servers that websites run on are little different from the computers we all have in our homes and businesses. And like these machines, the inherent complexities of their interconnected systems mean vendors are discovering and fixing security vulnerabilities all the time.
In order to keep a website secure, these fixes need to be: validated, implemented and tested. All of which takes time and expertise. TheNHS cyber-attack earlier this year is a prime example of the damage an organisation exposes itself to when it fails to adequately implement ongoing support processes.
Yes there is a cost.
However, this needs to be measured against the potential cost and reputational damage of a significant data breach or period of website unavailability.
2. User Experience
After the initial deployment of a website, the tendency is for the user experience to degrade over time. Broken links begin to proliferate, obsolete or outdated content is rarely removed, and an ever-increasing number of third-party services are squeezed into a once highly performant site.
Whilst designers and developers aim to future-proof websites, it’s not always possible to anticipate changes in the device/browser eco-system. Seismic impacts in the evolution of device capabilities like: screen size, touch (gesture) and coming voice recognition mean sites may not behave for users as they once did.
Ongoing support provides a mechanism to implement ongoing change and low-level updates, in the short to medium term mitigating many of these challenges. Discrete changes can be scheduled and implemented based on how users actually use a site rather than how they are perceived to without having to wait for that Next Big Redesign to come along.
In short: if your site isn’t being actively maintained, the experience will degrade and user trust will erode.
3. Driving Search Engine Traffic
Search engines like Google constantly update the criteria they use to rank sites to ensure results accurately represent the relevance and importance of a piece of content to a particular search. It is essential to their business model.
They already appear to prioritise sites built with Web Standards and those that perform well on mobile devices. Next up it seems areAccelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). If you are not prioritizing these methodologies you are likely taking a PageRank hit.
Again implementing these solutions in their entirety is generally outside the scope of a support function, however low level updates can be deployed as part of a support agreement that can add up to big gains in ranking.
A defined support agreement facilitates the provision of a dedicated team who understand your website inside out. When an issue arises the team is mobilised to provide options and solutions all the while keep you informed along the way. In short the site owner can be confident the team has the back when things go wrong.
Historically brick and mortar locations were used to communicate brand qualities. These days, people, particularly the young, visit these locations less frequently, preferring to interact with organisations online. Yet the on-going support and maintenance of the online estate often lags well behind the real-world version.
Committing to regular support is an investment in security, visibility, availability the customer experience: an investment in the brand.