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Website Maintenance / Website Development / Website Design? Huh?

What is the difference between website maintenance, website development and website design?

We hear a lot of talk of website development and a lot about website maintenance. And then there’s web design. But is there any difference and if so what? And as a website owner, should you have to care?

As a provider of both services we think it’s important to flag up a few differences between the three services, if only to steer our customers towards purchasing the service that’s right for their business, instead of throwing money away on services that they don’t need.

In one sentence

So here’s a general rule of thumb:

  • Website maintenance takes care of your website’s existing features – making sure they are working at all times and fixing them when they break. It’s like a service plan for your car.
  • Website development is all about creating new websites or adding new features to existing websites – but only those features that didn’t exist before.
  • Website design is all about creating beautiful websites that your users will love to use.

    So, in short: website maintenance maintains your existing features. Website development adds brand new features, or entire new websites.

    Now, I will be the first to admit that there can often be a grey area between these areas. For example, what if you have a feature on your website which is supposed to work but does not because it not yet been configured fully? Is it maintenance or development? (Answer, it depends).

    Difference in charging

    Another key difference is how these two services are charged.

    Generally website maintenance will be charged at a flat rate monthly fee. Usually quite a low fee, because the services are set out on a monthly routine that will generally not vary from month to month.

    Whereas, because website development is by its very nature new territory, unique and special and therefore outside the routine tasks needed to keep a website up to date.

    Web design and web development often go hand in hand, whereas website maintenance can be separated.

    So what are these routine tasks? They can include monitoring for website hacking, checking that your site is online (or whether it’s crashed – surprisingly common!), whether it is generating error messages, running at top speed and other items.

    What kinds of problems does a website maintenance contract fix?

    There is a wide range of problems that websites can encounter, from the urgent to the “nice to have”.

    The most obvious example of an urgent problem is the website going completely offline.

    There are so many reasons that this can happen there’s no space to document them all in one article.

    Difference content management systems tend to suffer from different issues. For example, it’s very common for WordPress website to experience the “white screen of death” – where the user is simply faced with a blank white page instead of your actual website.

    Or the dreaded “Error connecting to database server” is another extremely common problem with WordPress.

    Fortunately, these problems are generally very easy to fix, if you know what you are doing.

    What kinds of problems does web development fix?

    As I mentioned above, website development is concerned with adding new features, or developing brand new websites.

    Your website developer will require a high level of understanding of your business requirements.

    They should be well-versed in all the software that’s available on the market, in order to be able to recommend software for your project that you can “plug in” without needing to develop software from scratch (buy don’t build principle).

    New features on websites can vary widely.

    For example, it’s common for static/informational sites to want to add e-commerce facilities so that customers can buy products or services direct from the website.

    Or you may want to add new forms, social media feeds, videos, downloads. Another common area of development is adding the ability to interact with the business via user login accounts. This would require the addition of user capabilities such as user registration, security, password management and user administration. All of these things are very common new developments for website owners.

    What skills do web developers need vs website maintenance providers?

    The skills involved certainly overlap but each discipline will require certain specialist knowledge.

    Skill Website maintenance Website development Web design
    Security Expert High level Not required
    HTML Low level Expert Mid level
    CSS Mid level Expert Mid level
    Hacking vulnerabilities Expert Mid level Not required
    JavaScript Mid level High level Mid level
    SEO Mid level Mid level Mid level
    Databases such as Mysql, SQL Server, MongoDB High level High level Not required
    Content Management Systems such as WordPress Expert Expert Mid level
    Web server configuration Expert Mid level Not required
    Email setup and maintenance Mid level Not required Not required
    Web server optimisation High level Not required Not required
    Graphic design Not required Mid level High level
    User experience Mid level Mid level High level
    Conversion rate optimisation Mid level Not required High level

    So which should I hire?

    It depends on what your current and future requirements are likely to be. If you have an existing website which works reasonably well but needs looking after in terms of uptime, security, regular software updates and other essential routine tasks, then regular website maintenance is probably the answer for you.

    On the other hand, if you require a new website built from scratch, or require a new set of features to be added to your website, then a website developer is probably the one you want to hire.

    How to know the good from the bad

    Once you are reasonably sure whether it’s a website developer or a maintenance company that you to look after your website needs, we’d recommend using the list of skills above as a checklist of questions to challenge your potential supplier and ascertain their level of competence.

    Of course, as a business owner we would not expect you to know the full implications of all the skill sets above.

    But you can fire this list to your supplier and get them to say what their levels of competence in aspect are (assuming they are honest and trustworthy, of course!)

    What to do next

    Dotwise is an award-winning website maintenance company based in London, UK. Contact us to discuss how we can look after your website with professional maintenance services.

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