Website Support Services - What's New in 2021?

Gordon Smith
By Gordon Smith

A lot has changed this year, so what’s new in the world of website support in 2021?

We’ll take a quick look at how emerging security threats make keeping a support team onside an essential business requirement (especially for smaller businesses). And how new web technologies mean that in-house expertise may not enough to keep the lights on in the next year or two.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick reminder on what website support services are for.

  1. Website maintenance. Web support is there to ensure that your website is up and running at all times. No downtime is acceptable for any website, so a key plank of website support is ensuring that the website is always online.
  2. Website speed. Nothing annoys users more than a slow website, so website support services should be proactive in finding ways to ensure the site is running as fast as possible.
  3. Of course, the security of any business website is paramount. Whether or not the site stores confidential customer information, the physical security of the website is vital so that it is at low risk of being hacked.
  4. In some website support contracts there is a strong element of consultancy. Websites are not static items; they evolve and grow over time. Website support companies should be always available to advice on how new features are best added and integrated into the existing site. This all requires a terrific amount of web experience.

Now, how is the landscape changing, and how should support services be evolving to meet tomorrow’s needs?

Website maintenance

Maintaining a website in 2021 is changing in complexity. Some areas, such as building web pages, are becoming easier for end-users to do, perhaps with a little training. Other areas, such as mitigating security threats are becoming much more complex.

Website building platforms (Content Management Systems) such as WordPress are almost ubiquitous. It’s getting more and more rare to come across a website not built using a Content Management System, but website support companies must of course know how to host and maintain those websites built in good-old HTML, of which there are still a fair number online. Fortunately, pure HTML websites are somewhat less susceptible to many of the security threats faced by websites powered by CMSs.

The world’s leading CMS is undoubtedly WordPress, which powers over 455 million websites around the world and is thought to power over 30% of all websites, far outstripping its closest competitors. So, website support services must know WordPress like the backs of their hands. That means everything from installing WordPress, building new pages, backing up websites and migrating them between servers, understanding all the most commonly used WordPress plugins, and (if they are any good) writing new functionality from scratch using WordPress’s programming language, PHP.

In 2021 WordPress is part-way through the process of rolling out it’s new “blocks”-based page building software. This has not been a roaring success. Many website owners have found the new interface frankly baffling, and not release-ready. Unfortunately, the reviews of the new block editor (called “Gutenberg”) have reflected the negative reception. Despite a terrible false start, we think that Gutenberg is likely here to say for the long term so we might as well get used to it. On older websites we are advising website owners to stick with the old “classic” way of building pages. But on new websites we advise sticking with the Gutenberg block editor. We expect it to improve.

Meanwhile in 2021, the third-party WordPress page-building “Elementor” has really taken centre stage, whilst others have declined in popularity. There are many third-party page builders but Elementor is proving the most popular and (in our view) certainly one of the best and easiest to use. Website support companies must understand the whole ecosystem of WordPress, including plugins and emerging page-builders.

Beyond WordPress, new Content Management Systems are gaining traction. The ones that we see the most are Wix and Webflow, with Wix gaining as much interest as WordPress this year. And there are many other CMSs that have huge user-bases already, including Drupal, Joomla and Umbraco. There are many reasons why businesses may choose one Content Management System over another when building a new website. Website support experts should be able to advise on the best system for the specific needs of the new site.

Security

During 2021, there was a huge surge in online fraud. This was not always carried out by large-scale organisations, but is now equally the province of lone operators, often using card scams and banking scams. Whilst much of this fraud involves person-to-person scamming, websites owners must understand how the threat ultimately works its way back to stolen card details being used to defraud or purchase items from business websites. Website owners need to be more and more vigilant when accepting orders online, doing thorough due diligence before accepting orders and sending items.

The rise in homeworking, together with more and more online communications taking place via Zoom, Skype and Teams, opens a new frontier for phishing scams. The lone worker, at home, may not realise that the person they are talking to online might not be a part of their organisation, and can be more vulnerable to handing over usernames and passwords. These can then be used on websites to gain access by unauthorised people.

One way to mitigate these kinds of attacks is by introducing 2-factor authentication on websites, wherein a second device such as a mobile phone or authentication app is required to log in. 2-factor authentication is particularly vital on websites which store customer data.

Another aspect of security that continues to grow in 2021 is cloud-security (cloud firewalls for example). We see more and more companies placing their websites behind virtual firewalls such as Cloudflare. Having a strong understanding of how these services work, their various features (which vary widely from provider to provider) and how to configure them for maximum security and speed, is something that any website support company must know how to do.

Speed

One of the biggest shakeups in the ever-changing world of web design was Google’s rollout of the so-called “Core Web Vitals” in June 2021. Whilst the details of the Core Web Vitals are too complicated for this article, the basic idea is that Google is more focussed than ever on website speed, performance, and user experience.

Therefore, website maintenance services must pay a lot of attention to these areas. Support teams must understand the Core Web Vitals and how they affect SEO. They must know how to get websites performing at maximum speed and efficiency whilst balancing the needs of businesses to get their branding and messaging across in a modern and appealing way.

Core Web Vitals is now baked into Google’s search algorithms so one way or another, businesses need to understand them and how they affect the bottom line.

Consultancy

It’s no good just being a subject-matter expert when it comes to website support. The ability to convey sometimes complex information and advice in a way that matches the client’s understanding (and desire to understand) is vital.

In 2021 we have seen companies move more staff to working from home and online meetings have become the norm. This is a great opportunity for support companies because it allows a much more efficient means of communication between client and support team. We can be online as and when the customer needs support, and can have meetings much more regularly. It’s a chance for client and support teams to get to know and understand each other better and better. Something for which we should all be grateful.


Hire Dotwise

Dotwise provides website support services starting at £80 + VAT per month and we can accommodate support needs from the very simple to complex, multi-site scenarios.

Our experts have over 20 years of website support experience and are continually learning the latest technologies so we can pass on great advice to you.

We have built and run some of the UK’s best-known e-commerce and information websites, and we are also experts in SEO so you can be assured we have full, all-round knowledge of businesses’ website needs.

We believe website support is an essential business requirement for any business, large, small or startup. But it need not be expensive or complex. Contact us using the form below to start a no-obligation conversation about how we can assist with your website requirements now and in the future.