WordPress website maintenance services: What you need and what you don’t
So you recently launched a new WordPress website and now an endless barrage of digital marketing solicitors is beating a path to your door to sell you on their marketing services — am I right? This has been a problem in the industry for years, and unfortunately it’s not getting any better. You obviously want your website to be seen by as many people as possible, but how do you separate the good promotion strategies (and providers) from the bad? Well my friend, read on.
There are really only a handful of ongoing services that you really NEED for your website. There’s a second category of “nice to have” services that you should consider when the time’s right. Finally, there’s definitely a third category clearly labeled “stay away.”
As a point of clarification, I’m directing this post at marketing coordinators/managers or agency account folks who are in charge of primarily informational/marketing WordPress sites, which make up a majority of the sites we work on. If that’s not you, keep in mind that your site may be different and have different needs than the ones I’ll cover here!
Ongoing website services you truly NEED
1. Quality website hosting
Once your site is built, you need to make sure that it’s (1) online, (2) loading quickly, (3) protected against hacks, malware and other security threats and (4) backed up to hedge against catastrophe. There’s a foundational component (picking a good host in the first place and setting it up properly) and a verification component (monitoring it over time to make sure nothing has disrupted what was originally set up). For more information on this topic, I recommend Cory Crowley’s article on How to choose a good web host and John Gough’s article on Website protection.
2. Content updates
A website is a living, breathing representation of your company’s marketing messages. Some companies are able to set their marketing strategy and forget it — others are constantly tweaking it as they respond to market conditions. Every time your company’s marketing strategy (or any other information you’re presenting on your website) changes, you’ll need to update your website. Your website should have been built with a content management system that allows you to go in and make the majority of these kinds of edits yourself. But even if it does, you’ll want to have an agreement with your web developer (preferably the one who built the site in the first place) to support you in making tactical changes to your website as your business evolves. These are typically available either on an “as needed” or a “retainer” basis for more needy websites.
“Nice to have” website services
1. Development roadmapping & implementation
The maintenance described above is very reactive and only fixes things when they break or need to be changed. The first “Nice to have” service I recommend is a proactive development roadmap. This typically amounts to sitting down with your web developer on a somewhat regular basis (semi-annually is usually enough) to update them on your overall business goals & strategies. Based on that understanding, your developer will be able to advise you proactively on the changes that should be made to your website. We find this works best in a retainer situation where your developer is free to chip away at the roadmap a little each month and report back on progress.
2. Promotion strategy
There are a LOT of different ways you can drive traffic on your website, but before you do any of it you’re going to want to have your “quarterback” in place. This should be someone with a nice broad understanding of digital marketing options and yet a deep understanding of your business, its strategies, goals and objectives. This is not the person who will DO the work, but the person who will PLAN the work. If you have a really savvy marketing coordinator, they can play this role. If not, you can outsource your strategy to a firm. Just be sure to find a provider that can give you good strategy advice — even if they don’t offer (or you don’t hire them for) implementation services. You’ll want to find a really experienced professional here even if it’s costly because this is the person (and strategy) that will dictate and be responsible for outcomes.
3. Promotion implementation
Now with your holistic strategy in place, you’re ready to start hiring implementation teams. Be careful with firms who claim to be able to do it all. Internet marketing is a young, fast-paced industry with lots of moving parts and it’s REALLY HARD for any one person or company to know it all, especially within normal small business budget ranges. We recommend getting your quarterback (above) to hire out different firms for implementation jobs, preserving his/her freedom to use different firms if they’re not getting the results they want. Here are a few of the “implementation” tactics that will most likely be a part of your strategy:
You’ll want to make sure that your listing is claimed, posted and optimized in major “local listings” such as Google/Apple maps, Bing, Facebook and Yelp — and that it’s updated any time information about your business changes. You can use services like Yext to get a head start on this, but it’s typically worthwhile to spend a few hundred bucks on someone who knows how to set them up properly. For most businesses, well-optimized local listings are low-hanging fruit.
Another great place to start is paid advertising — whether through Google, Facebook or LinkedIn. Paid advertising online allows you to reach a hyper targeted audience on a shoestring budget. Here again, you can set this stuff up yourself, but don’t. Get a good vendor to at least set it up for you, and consider hiring them to check on it every month or two. Although you can technically set these things up yourself, you’re going to be “mis-spending” if you don’t use a vendor, and THAT cost is a lot higher than whatever you’ll pay to have it set up properly. Finally, don’t forget to direct your paid advertising at a special landing page on your site with messaging uniquely crafted for the audience you’re targeting.
Once you’ve covered the first two bases, turn your attention to content marketing. This requires a lot more patience and investment, but it’s one of the best long-term online marketing strategies. Basically it amounts to blogging regularly — anywhere from 1-3 times/week — and putting a volume of GOOD thought-leader content out into the web for search and social sharing benefit. There’s a TON that a good content marketing shop can show you how to do once you’re publishing regularly, but it all starts with you committing to sharing your expertise online. Shameless plug: We LOVE Vertical Measures for this kind of work.
What to stay away from
Anything not mentioned above is either highly experimental/risky or else too advanced to worry about at first. There are, however, a couple of categories of service provider that we would recommend staying away from entirely:
- Pure play “Search engine optimization” or “social media” companies. These two things should be part of a broader content strategy, NOT sold as standalone services. Anyone who promises to “get you to the top of Google” or “help you jump on the social media bandwagon” should be suspect.
- Most paid directories. The good ones, like Yelp and Google, are free. Nowadays most industries seem to have a handful of industry-specific “lead gen” sites where you can pay to be listed near the top. While I won’t deny that there could be some value here, it’s unlikely. By definition, these business models directly pit you against your competitors and in time they’ll fail you, even if they are good initially.
- One-stop-shop freelancers. The web seems to be full of people and even small companies who claim to be able to do “all things digital marketing.” Again, it’s SUPER hard — practically impossible — to know everything they would need to know to be able to back that claim up. They may have a tactic or two that works, but let your digital quarterback be the judge of that!