Identifying the right website maintenance plan and provider can be challenging — but it doesn't have to be. By taking the time to understand the right questions to ask, you’ll be better prepared to make the right decision when selecting between different website maintenance plans.
To help assist your selection process, here are 12 questions IT teams should ask when evaluating website support and maintenance services:
1. What specific services are included?
While this question may sound obvious, not all IT teams take the time to probe beyond surface-level package descriptions. But this is a mistake, as being underinformed can cause you to miss out on a service you need to keep your site functioning optimally.
Part of the confusion here is that website maintenance can involve many different areas of specialisation, each of which can require its own expertise. CMS management, security updates, design, APIs, coding, and UX psychology are just a few of the disciplines that can play a role in website maintenance.
By not clarifying upfront which services you'll receive, you can run into several problems. You may have been depending on your maintenance plan to help you with key initiatives, only to find out that they aren’t covered by the package you’ve chosen.
Alternatively, if the package you lock into includes services you’ll never need, you risk overpaying for unused services. For this reason, it’s smart to look for packages that can be customised to your exact website and business needs, rather than those that are delivered in a one-size-fits-all approach.
2. How many similar clients do you have?
How many clients does the provider have that are of a similar size to your company? Have they worked with other clients in your industry?
Expertise in one industry doesn’t necessarily translate to another, while supporting a website with 1000 average monthly visits looks very different from one that receives 100,000 visits. Make sure the providers you’re considering are capable of supporting your specific website (rather than learning on the job on your project).
3. How do you manage project communications?
What are their communications processes? Do they communicate weekly, monthly, or less frequently? What kind of updates do they provide you to ensure they're on track with their tasks? Is there a single point of contact, or are you going to have to handle an influx of communications from a handful of contacts?
Also consider response times here — not just about resolving issues, but simply about responding to your requests as well. A number of Sitback clients have moved to our Support & Optimisation service because the agencies they were working with left them hanging when communicating how their issues would be addressed. It’s a frustrating position to be in — and not one you want to experience while your site’s performance hangs in the balance.
Asking these questions upfront will prevent frustrating communication breakdowns later on, after you’ve begun working together.
4. How do you determine what’s important for my business?
Is it more important that your site is fast, or is it more important that it looks good? There’s no right or wrong answer here; different companies will prioritise different features.
That's why it’s important that your provider asks questions like these at the start. Website maintenance providers should operate on an, ‘ask, don't assume’ basis. Otherwise, you risk your maintenance resources being poorly allocated while your priorities are left behind.
5. How is IP shared between team members to prevent gaps in coverage?
Turnover happens on every team — website maintenance providers are no exception. So although providers can’t guarantee you’ll have the same point of contact throughout your engagement, they should at least be able to describe the workflows they have in place to prevent gaps in coverage.
A good IP transfer process takes both security and productivity into account. Maintenance providers should protect your data while ensuring systems exist to bring additional team members in to help as needed.
6. How do you keep up-to-date with web technology changes?
Web technology changes at light speed. Your maintenance team must prioritise continually mastering these new technologies and protocols to be able to deliver optimal performance and security for your site.
Compliance is also crucial for many of today’s companies. WCAG 2.2 is coming soon, and maintaining compliance will require ongoing assessment, knowledge, and technical skills to avoid legal issues. Make sure any support and optimisation provider you’re considering is across these requirements.
7. What are your areas of expertise? Where is your knowledge best-in-class?
Your support and maintenance vendor should offer expertise in several areas, not just one. Optimising your website to meet your business goals requires skill sets in UX, UI, development, project management, security, design, and human/consumer psychology.
That said, they should also be aware of their own limitations. No single company can be a master of all possible web disciplines, despite what they may say. If your requirements fall outside of their areas of expertise, reputable providers should be willing to refer you elsewhere.
8. Do you understand the local perspective?
Outsourcing your support and maintenance to countries with a lower cost of living can seem tempting from a purely financial perspective, but going this route presents a few issues.
First, you may run into time zone challenges. Scheduling what should be a routine meeting may turn into a nightmare 3 am call that disrupts your schedule and productivity.
Further, your maintenance company should understand your local market. That's why Australian companies choose to do business with Sitback. Being locally based, we’re able to bring a local perspective to our UX and UI work in a way that international providers can’t. This can have a huge impact on the experience and engagement of local end-users.
9. Do you have expertise on my CMS or platform?
Working with a provider that has expertise with your CMS is essential. Not only does this expertise allow work to be done faster and more efficiently, but it also reduces the likelihood of mistakes being made.
Website platforms may appear similar to one another on the surface. But under the hood, each contains a codebase that must be maintained and altered with precision. At Sitback, for example, we’re able to offer expert support on the following platforms, but not necessarily on others:
10. Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place?
How does the provider plan for ‘worst-case scenario’ situations? No company likes to think that their employees could ever be hacked or persuaded to hand over sensitive access. But everyone wishes they had a plan when it happens.
Making sure your provider has a disaster recovery plan in place not only ensures they remain operational in the event of a crisis, it also helps to protect your site and its data. That way, you’ll experience minimal interruption in your revenue or operations, should the worst occur.
11. Do you use multiple environments to safely develop and test new features/code (e.g. dev, staging, production)?
Implementing new features should be done via strict data silos, including accounting for different stages such as developing features, staging them, and sending them to live production.
Working with a company that cuts corners can mean unanticipated downtime or disruption if bugs or compatibility issues make it through to your live site.
12. Do you have a reliable and regular data backup process?
Finally, the backup processes your provider has in place are crucial. If a server or platform goes down, you could lose valuable data.
Instead, work with a support and maintenance provider that performs regular backups to protect your data. For instance, at Sitback, not only do we regularly backup client websites, we store these backups securely and separately from live versions to ensure data redundancy.