In today’s world, viewers expect a website to be dynamic, engaging and up to date. It’s not enough to have a static presence. Material must be updated to attract and retain viewers. At the same time, websites today are more complicated and their structure is more difficult to maintain. Cascading style sheets, templates, library items, coupled with modern graphics and animation technology make web maintenance no longer a job for back yard mechanics.
What Are The Options For Maintaining An Organizational Web Site?
There are two components to maintaining a website: Content creation and content installation. Of these two components, content assembly and creation is far more time consuming than installing properly formatted content on a correctly configured site.
Questions that need to be answered in selecting content for a site are:
- What needs to be communicated to support the mission of the site?
- Where on the site should it go?
- How should it be worded?
- What images support the information?
- How should the images be cropped, shaped (aspect ratio) and sized?
- How should the text be formatted and presented?
These are all questions that must be addressed before the information is put on the site. Unfortunately, in most organizations, there is mo designated site manager. Site maintenance usually falls to technical people in the IT department. These areas are not always in their skill set. Sometimes the graphics or art department may inherit the job. Their skills may make content look great but often don’t deal with the core strategy and message required. That being said, an effective web presence is a combination of art, technology and strategy with strategy being by far the most important ingredient.
Types of Maintenance
For the purpose of discussion, we can divide web site maintenance in to three levels:
Updates, upgrades and redesign.
Updates consist of changes to existing text and pictures that already have a designated spot within the site. Common examples would be changing events and dates on a calendar page, changing pictures and bios for staff members on a pre existing page and things of this nature.
Upgrades involve adding, removing or significantly expanding content or pages within the site. An example would be going from a staff page with a list of names, phone numbers and email addresses to a staff page with pictures and bios.
Re design projects involve basic structural or appearance changes to the site. Adding or removing entire sections, Changing the basic menu structure or graphic look of the site would all fall into the re design category. The distinctions between these categories do not have hard edges. One can easily lap into the next. The basic difference is in complexity and difficulty.
How Does It All Work?
There are 3 basic update strategies for keeping a website maintained and current.
The traditional method:
The site is hosted on a web server. This is where viewers go to view and interact with it.
A master working copy of the site exists off line on a hard drive. That’s where the changes are made.
Changes are made on the offline version of the site using web authoring software such as Dreamweaver, Expression or similar applications. Web techs sometimes use hard coding to make changes or tweak parameters.
When the changes are made and tested offline, the new pages, graphics and other material are uploaded to the web server. If they are replacements for existing material, they will overwrite the old files.
Server based CMS (Content Management Software)
Content management software was developed to enable a person who is not familiar with web authoring software to make changes to a web site.
Server based CMS allows a user to sign into a special administrative area on the site, often called a control panel or dashboard and make changes in page content on specific pages. These changes can include anything from simple text changes and picture changes up to page addition, linking, formatting and other design level changes depending on how the CMS is written and set up.
There are some “off the rack” server based CMS systems available but most are custom written for a particular application.
Cloud based CMS system
There are an increasing number of “Cloud Based” CMS systems becoming available. These can function as a “Satellite Site” that is linked into a main site. They allow complete control of a specific section of the content presentation in a site. They can be utilized for a calendar, news area, blog, employee area or any designated portion of the content area. They can be set up to look similar if not identical to the rest of the site.
Think of them as an outbuilding to the rest of the site. Not evident to the viewer that they are actually on a different server. Cloud based sites can be interlinked to the main site in as intricate a fashion as desired.
Editing content in a CMS system is not like editing a MS Word document. It requires a certain amount of technical savvy and graphics knowledge to implement successfully.
In House or Outsource Maintenance
Unless you are a very large organization that can afford a dedicated webmaster or are overstaffed or have people with time on their hands, it’s generally cheaper and more effective to outsource provided you have an outsource provider who is skillful, ethical and understands your organization. One possible exception is if you have a site that requires frequent fairly simple updates. If a primary effort is devoted to putting together and properly formatting material for your site, the actual work of putting the material up is very simple for an experienced web tech. A digital document and properly optimized and formatted pictures can be uploaded to an existing space easily by someone who knows what they are doing.
Website Management versus Website Maintenance
Website management is a totally different process from maintenance. It is also the biggest unfunded mandate in organizational structure.
Website maintenance involves uploading changes to calendars, events lists, news listings and other dynamic components of the website. It is essentially a passive function, driven by input or at best a reactive one which responds to changes in updateable information requirements on the site.
Website management on the other hand is proactive and involves tailoring content and structure to the strategic goals of the organization. A website manager will respond to people sending them new calendars, schedules or results. At best they will check specific, date driven sections of the site for material that has become obsolete.
A website manager will interact with top management, department heads and team leaders to harvest material that should be implemented on the web site. They will also check the site itself on a regular basis for obsolete material, potential problems and opportunities to use the site to further the organizational agenda.
To be truly effective, a web manager must:
- Have the ability to interact with all members of the management team at all levels.
- Be familiar with the organization’s overall goals and strategy
- Understand web technology and how to apply it to communication tasks
- Have the logistical understanding to appreciate the cost effectiveness of various web choices
- Know what to do and what not to do to effectively deliver the desired messages