Switching website maintenance vendors challenges and solutions

Switching website maintenance vendors - challenges and solutions

With our website maintenance business growing well we are constantly faced with on-boarding new clients either who don't have anyone maintaining their site or are unhappy with the current maintenance service providers.

As you can imagine switching website maintenance vendors can be painful all around. In most cases the agency losing the business, cooperates as they don't want their reputation spoiled by unnecessary confrontation. And of course if there is no agency in the picture better still.

Here are some of the common issues faced when switching website maintenance vendors and ideas on how to tackle them:

The existing website is a mess

This is a common problem and by its very definition necessitates the appointment of a new vendor. When we say 'mess' in includes

  • malfunctioning scripts that have not been updated
  • a design skewed and distorted by new versions of browsers
  • broken and dead links leading to non-existent pages
  • broken images as the images no longer exist or the path has been corrupted
  • mangled sites due to repeated hacking / malware attacks.

When faced with such situations we have to evaluate if the current design is salvageable and if it is, then we go for a complete recode of the underlying source code keeping elements of the design the same. If the design is too outdated then we strongly recommend a complete redesign exercise.

After the underlying code of the site has been rewritten, the content is salvaged and plugged into our Content Management System and the site is handed to our customer support team.

Usually after such an exercise, the performance of the site improves dramatically as legacy issues are addressed, search engine friendliness is improved and overall loading speed of the site also improves.

The Intellectual Property of the website is scattered or misplaced

One of the first questions we ask when we come in for a maintenance contract is, 'Who has the domain?' It amazes me how businesses are careless with their digital intellectual property such as domains, hosting accounts, control panel details etc.

Usually multiple managers have handled the site and with each change the information gets more scattered and lost. They have no idea who is handling the domains, who is hosting the site, what are the annual charges being applied etc. They do not have access to Google Analytics (if any) or access to the CMS (if any).

It takes days of painstaking work and searching to put together the missing information and take charge of the website.

To avoid such situations, you must

  1. Keep a record of all past billing related to the website. Also contracts with previous and current vendors for domain, hosting and other services related to the site.
  2. Keep the domains in a separate vendor account with the login details safely noted.
  3. Keep a record of the hosting parameters and costs per year. How much space, bandwidth, email addresses used.
  4. Login details for the hosting control panel.
  5. Keep a record of changes and updates made to the site through the years.

When you treat this information as valuable intellectual property instead of an afterthought, it becomes easier for the website maintenance vendor to take over the site smoothly.

Migration of CMS systems

One of the biggest challenges we face when migrating a client's website to our maintenance services is that of the CMS.

CMS or content management systems are of two types - custom ones and open sourced ones. Both are made of the same technological components at the core but are maintained, updated and operated very differently. Some commonly used open source CMS include Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla.

Any website design company can create a custom CMS (as we have) and there are dozens of open source CMS systems. This leads a bewildering number of potential CMS that could be powering any website.

As a rule we try and migrate the client website to our own CMS so we can update and maintain the site faster and better. Our own CMS gives us some additional security advantage as the general structure is not known to outsiders, unlikely the very public open source CMS systems.

If the client insists on sticking with the same CMS, we evaluate it for stability and user friendliness. If it is usable, we continue. Otherwise we advise the client strongly against it. In some rare cases we had to say no to the client as they insisted on continuing with an unstable CMS.

When deciding which CMS to continue with, the following factors are important

  • Is the CMS stable i.e. does the site keep running without issues?
  • Is it user friendly? Is it easy to use? Some CMS systems are labyrinthine with so many options and settings that the average user is lost. The best ones are simple and direct.
  • Is it necessary? Sometimes people buy the cow when all the need is milk. Sometimes a very simple CMS will do instead of a more complex system.
  • Does it depend on outsiders to maintain? Most open source systems are dependent on third party plugins which are created by outside programmers. There is inherently nothing wrong in this as we frequently use shared code. But it does leave the CMS vulnerable when a third party plugin fails or has a security risk.
  • And finally, does it get the job done. At the end of the day, the client needs and pays for results, not excuses.

Backing up and archiving

When switching from one vendor to another, it is important to have backups of the websites. If access is available, the new website maintenance vendor can take the initial backups or they can be procured from the hosting company.

Backups is a vital part of any website maintenance service and timely backups can be really handy when things go wrong, such as server crashes or malware attacks.

In Conclusion

Switching the website maintenance contract can be a tricky affair with a lot of choices and also a lot of things that can go wrong. It can also be an excellent opportunity to take stock of the website and streamline things.

A good website maintenance company can enable not only the website to run smoother but also help the client get more out of the website than was earlier possible.

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