The fact is that if most people treated their cars like the treat their website no one would get anywhere. I’ve built a lot of websites, especially in the last two years, and I’ve realized that I don’t always do a good job of explaining to people what they need to know about them. What results is frustration for everyone, especially around the issue of maintenance.
Now before I dive into my analogy I want to reset expectations a bit, especially if you’ve ever felt like your website was more work than you bargained for, that it should somehow be easier or that you just don’t want to mess with it. Keep in mind, your car will get you from point A to B but it costs you money to do so. However, unlike your car, your website can be a source of revenue, not just a necessary cost center. Think of it that way and you might not mind taking care of it so much.
So think about your website like this… your website, like your car, requires maintenance, some of which you can do, some of which you have to pay a specialist to do for you. But if you take care of it it will perform well for you for a very long time.
We all know when we buy a car that we have to put gas in it, change the oil, add air to the tires, get new breaks and tires from time to time, replace the air filter, and oddly enough, upgrade the software.
Content = Gas
You don’t have to blog or add fresh content to your site, but without it your site will go about as far as your car if you don’t add gas. It might still look pretty, and people will see it if they happen to drive by, but it isn’t going to get you where you want to go. So give it some gas, keep your content fresh and up to date.
Perform Regular Maintenance
Like your breaks, fluids and numerous other components, your site has to get upgraded from time to time. In the WordPress world, it’s painfully easy to upgrade the core software and plugins (virtually just the push of a button). In some others it may be as easy or somewhat more complicated but whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it, maintenance is a necessary part of being a responsible site owner. You wouldn’t fail to change the tires on your car so don’t neglect your website when it needs and upgrade. BTW… not keeping things up to date is one of the biggest causes of getting hacked.
Not All Cars/Sites Are Created Equal
Like a car, you have to pick a site platform that is right for you. Put the face/color on it you want and keep it shiny. The occasional face-lift or polishing will keep your site looking new for a long time. As for what’s under the hood, talk to an expert and figure out what platform is right for you based on your Business Requirements, timelines, budget, … do not base it on what the used car salesman, um..er… consultant happens to know (have in stock, if you will). I focus on enterprise CMS’s and WordPress. I don’t know Drupal well but I did recommend it to someone recently based on their needs as a better fit than WordPress (to all of my friends in the WP community, it can happen!)
Speaking of Requirements, here are a few things to keep in mind
If you have an Accord budget, don’t expect a Ferrari, but don’t spend Ferrari prices if you need an Accord. Sites can get complex, take planning to be well executed and that is just the beginning. Just because the software may be free doesn’t mean getting your site built will be cheap. That said, there are also lot’s of shops that have packaged offerings to fit most budgets and get you going. But if you want a completely custom look and feel, custom functionality, e-commerce functionality, … expect to pay for it. And the more complex, the more maintenance you’ll have down the road.
Finally, know what you are responsible for. This is the one that often killed me as a consultant, and while it’s a some what understandable perspective, it’s dead wrong; it’s the question of who owns the project. You should expect your consultant to walk you through it and take good care of you in the process and even play project manager, but ultimately this is your site, your business and YOUR project. Here are a few things you can and should be doing:
1) Own the requirements, the business ones, not the technical ones (usually). Do your research and take some time to plan what you really need and want the site to do. Start with the laundry list and scale it down from there. If you need a business consultant to help then so be it, hire one (contact me if you want). There are technical business people out there but in my experience most fall into business or technical.
2) You Own the Content. This is a big one, I realize that many people think of their site and the content on that site as one and the same but they are far from it. While your website is being built you have work to do too… developing your content. Make no mistake about this one, that content is an important part of your business, especially from a marketing standpoint so you better own it.
3) Stop changing your mind. Your consultant’s time is not to be spent “experimenting.” I’ve had a lot of client’s want to do that and I understand that they aren’t always 100% of what they want or how something will look (that’s what comps are for early on). But where it get’s sticky is when you want to keep trying things to figure that out but don’t want to pay for your consultant doing 2x – 3x as much work. It’ll never be perfect, get it out there and then start making changes in batches.
Take care of your website like you would your car, a car that can actually make you money, by understanding that performing regular maintenance and being a responsible owner is a part of the deal and you’ll build it into your routine.