How ongoing website maintenance keeps your site secure, compliant & accessible
When most people think of UX, website maintenance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But although a website’s nuts and bolts often take a backseat to frontend design and functionality in public opinion, it’s the backend of a site that keeps everything running smoothly. Suffice to say? If the backend of your site isn’t well-maintained, the user-facing parts of your site will suffer too.
These days, many websites opt to use open-source CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and Umbraco. But although these platforms offer a more convenient and approachable site-building experience when compared to developing from scratch, their popularity also makes them a bigger cybersecurity target, given the greater ROI to bad actors.
While these platforms try to streamline the maintenance and updating process, simply hitting “Accept all updates” isn’t a real solution. Without going through and checking each update yourself, you can’t be sure that an update to one module won’t cause a problem with another, or that a patch in one part of your site won’t affect custom code you’ve written. Although putting your maintenance on autopilot may seem appealing, it can cause more problems than the time-save is worth.
Indeed, to update reliably, competently, and safely across sites of scale, you need comprehensive testing processes in place to ensure nothing goes wrong, along with a team that can guide you through ongoing maintenance activities and the order in which they should be scheduled.
Further, to ensure that your site stays accessible and compliant — no small task in today’s rapidly evolving environment — you’ll need the help of skilled partners that have experience undertaking comparable projects and that can implement efficient maintenance structures.
Why Website Maintenance Matters
Far too many business owners think that, once their website is built, they can move on to the next phase of their business endeavors, and that they need only revisit it occasionally to add content or news items.
But this ‘set-and-forget’ mentality isn’t in tune with the realities of modern business. Nowadays, businesses have to rapidly change their operating models in response to global events, like pandemics or economic downturns. And even if your business itself doesn’t need to change, the technologies and regulations that surround it will change without you. It’s up to you to make sure your website can still interact and comply with them, safely and securely.
In other words, even if you’ve implemented best-in-class security and accessibility into your first build, it’s only best-in-class for that specific moment in time. As the technological and regulatory environment shifts, your top-of-the-line build can quickly become bottom-shelf. To prevent this, you need a solid maintenance and service structure that can keep up with the changing tech and legal landscapes.
What is Website Maintenance?
Website maintenance is the practice of keeping your site safe, secure, enjoyable, compliant, and accessible over time. In other words, it’s the process of making sure that your site doesn’t just start out great. It actually stays that way.
When considered holistically, your top website maintenance priority is almost always going to be reviewing and implementing any security and patch releases for the OS, CMS, the site’s theme or framework, and any modules or plugins being used.
For example, many sites that used jQuery before v3.4 unknowingly exposed their sites to an XSS security vulnerability. While this issue was fixed in 2020, many businesses have yet to update their sites to the latest jQuery version and, as a result, are continuing to put themselves at unnecessary risk.
Beyond that, website maintenance also includes website optimisation: making sure that the site is still performing well and that it’s meeting the benchmarks of standard frameworks like Google Web Core Vitals.
Finally, maintaining your site means making sure that it’s up-to-date. Unless you’re building a very static brochureware site, there are always going to be changes that need to be made to your site’s content and functionality. Capturing those changes and maintaining a backlog of tasks that need to be completed are important parts of website maintenance.
How Website Maintenance Improves Site Security
Whether your site is handling sensitive personal data or not, web security should be a top priority. While it may seem convenient to test your luck to save time and money upfront, it’s more cost-effective to prevent an attack than to recover from one. Just take a look at recent breaches of Australian companies, like LimeVPN and NSW Health, to see how much damage they can cause.
The reality of the internet is that it’s a constantly shifting minefield. Whether you realise it or not, your OS may have updated, your server might have upgraded, or a new vulnerability may have been identified — all of which can leave your site wide open for attack.
Hackers and bad actors are constantly on the lookout for new bugs and vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Sometimes, an attack may not even come from an active hacker — it could be from a script that a hacker sets free onto the internet to search for vulnerable sites and servers. In some cases, you may not even notice you’ve been infected for months, all the while the hacker is stealing your data.
The good news is that there are armies of developers and security experts working to patch vulnerabilities and keep you safe. But you still need to make sure you actually implement these updates. If there’s an update that solves a major issue, it won’t do you any good if you don’t apply it to your site. Having a strong website maintenance process is crucial to ensuring that your site stays updated, safe, and secure.
As you add more content to your site, you’ll need to stay vigilant. While it might sound scary, even adding a single picture to your website could introduce a new vulnerability — hackers can easily embed malicious code into images, so if you’re downloading a file from an email or an open-source image site, you could unknowingly expose your site to an attack.
The Importance of Compliance and Accessibility
At Sitback, we work with a number of companies that are mandated to keep on top of compliance and accessibility issues due to their work with government bodies. But even if you’re not legally required to keep your website compliant and accessible, doing so is still beneficial to your business and your audience.
Consider this: one in five Australians has a recognised disability. By not keeping your site accessible, you risk cutting off 20% of your potential audience (not to mention the many people who experience temporary disability, such as a broken arm). Accessibility is especially important for non-profit organisations that work with groups with disabilities and elderly populations, since as we age, the eye tends to naturally develop problems focusing on small text, such as website content.
As far as government requirements are concerned, the Digital Transformation Agency enforces accessibility compliance within the Australian government. It follows the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, which created a legal requirement for all government services to be accessible to those with disabilities.
Currently, all government agencies are required to meet at least the WCAG 2.0 AA standard (though WCAG 2.1 AA is strongly encouraged). Regardless, WCAG 2.2 is just around the corner. Maintaining up-to-date compliance will require knowledge of these additional assessment criteria, as well as the resulting remediation required.
Although there are no punitive measures currently in place for sites that don’t conform to these standards, that’s no reason to sit back and relax while some of your visitors struggle to use your site.
In 2014, Cole’s Supermarket was sued for disability discrimination for failing to make their online grocery services accessible to shoppers with visual impairments. Cole’s settled out of court, and the case now serves as a lesson to all businesses as to just how important accessibility is — not only from an ethical perspective, but from a practical and financial one as well.
The good news: many popular CMS platforms have some degree of accessibility compliance baked in. However, while this serves as a good starting point, it’s not enough to keep your site truly accessible. Achieving that requires a solid understanding of accessibility, as well as knowledge of specific guidelines, like WCAG, to build and maintain a website that’s compliant and accessible to everyone.
Remaining Accessible and Compliant with Website Maintenance
The role that website maintenance plays in accessibility and compliance is similar to its role in maintaining security. Compliance guidelines change, so even though your site may have started out on the right foot, it may fall into noncompliance over time if you don’t regularly maintain it.
Plus, every update you make and every piece of content you add to your site opens the door for an accessibility issue. For example, if you’re required to meet the WCAG 2.1 standard, and you upload a new image but forget to include the alt-text for it, your site is now noncompliant.
The only way to ensure long-term, consistent accessibility and compliance is to periodically audit your site. In most cases, this will turn up content issues, which are easily fixable. But it’s always possible that deeper and more challenging concerns will be uncovered. For this reason, we typically recommend conducting an accessibility audit on a quarterly basis.
How Sitback Can Help
To get everything running consistently smoothly, you’ll need a mid-level developer who can regularly perform maintenance work. Most organisations, however, let these tasks fall to the project manager or to the digital marketing department. That’s a problem, as most people in non-technical roles don’t fully understand the importance of security, compliance, and accessibility for a website.
If you want to ensure that your site stays secure, compliant, and accessible, you need a partner with deep knowledge of the subject that stays up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations. Hiring someone who only makes a few basic changes and doesn’t stay current with emerging issues just won’t cut it.
Our Accessibility Audit Process
When we run a Sitback website accessibility audit, it’s likely that we’ll find issues of varying severity that need to be resolved. Taken together, these issues can seem like quite a project to fix. But with an ongoing services retained model, like the one Sitback offers, you can take the highest priority items from your list and work on them over your allocated hours.
That means that, even though your website might not be compliant right now, you’ll have a clear plan in place to get it there from a company that understands compliance inside and out. Over time, we’ll also train and educate your internal team on how to maintain compliance and accessibility when updating, in addition to building out any additional functionalities, feature enhancements, or extensions required to maintain compliance and accessibility.
Long-Term Success with Website Maintenance
At the end of the day, you can think of your website like a car. Just because you bought a brand new, luxury sports car doesn’t mean it’ll stay brand new forever.
Not only will you need to address its maintenance through regular services, you’ll want to tune it for high performance. Maybe you upgrade the tyres, add new stereo speakers, swap out engine parts, or even modify the engine management unit. In any case, you’re improving the car — not just maintaining it at the condition it was in when it rolled off the production line.
Caring for your site is the same. If you want to keep it running safely — or even optimise it to its highest potential performance — bring it to the experts at Sitback to keep it in tip-top shape. Learn more about our Support & Optimisation service to see what this work looks like in action.