Ongoing Web Site Ownership: Why You Need to Continually Update Web Sites

“gray cat standing in two feet” by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

See that cat? He’s begging! That’s why I picked that photo for this article, because I’m begging you to heed the advice herein.

I guess I’m not a giant web design shop; I personally maintain about 60 web sites regularly (including many web-based intranet systems), and occasionally work on another 50 or so. So, I more or less keep at least loose tabs on a hundred sites. If I had to assemble a list of the bigget blunders site owners tend to do, “not keeping up with updates” would certainly be near the top.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me bang my head off of my desk, to be honest. I find myself repeating this advice again and again, and hopefully in a way that sounds professional and reasonable. But… so many still do not listen. So, I’m putting this article here to get it all down in ONE place, in hopes I can simply send this article, when needed, to current clients (regular ones, and just occasional consulting ones) as well as potential clients.

What Does “Update” Mean?

To start, let’s talk about what “updating a website” means. Because, a lot of people don’t understand this. For our purposes here, I’m not talking about any kind of text or design aspects. If you want to leave your site alone, as far as what it says, that’s fine — but you still need to update it.

That’s because there are (generally) two “sides” to a web site. There is the front side that people see, and there is the back end, which is all of the code and software that powers the front side. This article is mostly concerned with the back end.

So, why continually update the back end software?

1. Because … Security

The #1 reason is security. This, alone, should really be the end of the article; what more reason should anyone need? Read my other article on hacking; not updating is the #1 cause. Here’s a link:

This happens because, chances are, your site is running an open-source CMS like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. These are amazing tools, for sure. But, because they’re so popular, they’re easy targets for malicious purposes. Bad people are out there actively looking for holes in these systems, and they’re finding them! But, these large open-source projects are always looking for code vulnerabilities, as well. So, when (not if) any are found, the volunteer coders put together patches. It’s quite common for new versions of any software to include not only routine bug fixes, but also security updates.

You’re probably also running add-ons to your CMS — extensions and plugins that face the same kinds of vulnerabilities. See the article referenced above. You’ve simply got to keep these things patched. (There’s no 100% guarantee that updating will keep away ALL hackers, but it’s far-and-away the best way, aside from normal web security best practices, which should also be implemented.)

Even custom-coded add-ons should probably be reviewed periodically. Sometimes programmers approach projects based on metrics like your expected audience. “Pretty good” security might have worked for a long time. But, if a site’s traffic changes or increases significantly, it could be a good idea to have that reviewed because locking things down tighter may well be a good idea.

2. Because … Ease of Updates

When you keep up with your updates, the process of updating is almost always easier. Developers tend to do the most testing on “this version to next version” updates — not on “12 versions ago to the current version” kinds of updates. Updates can get really messy when you wait too long, as the jumps are bigger and more complicated. Frequently, big-jump type updates won’t work, and the incremental versions needed may not be readily available.

So, no matter what CMS and/or add-ons you have, try to keep them ALL as up-to-date as possible, all the time, and it’ll be a smoother affair.

Updating old sites can be a giant headache, which translates into … well, let’s make a whole new reason for this (next item):

3. Because … Cost Savings

I suspect this is what keeps many from timely updates. Some business people mistakenly feel that, once a web site is built, there simply shouldn’t be anything else to do going forward. This is a costly misconception, though — especially as time goes by. As stated in #2, the updates get more costly because they get more time-consuming.

Again, even if your site does not need any changes as far as the users / visitors are concerned, still keep in mind that the software running your site needs continual care.


About the Author: Jim Dee maintains this web design blog called “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine” as well as his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com.