Your website is not a slow cooker.
Stay with me on this analogy, folks.
Slow cookers are a fantastic invention for anyone who enjoys a nice, hot, home-cooked meal but doesn’t necessarily have the time to slave over the stove for hours to get one. You can just chop up your ingredients, throw in some spices, turn a little knob, and BOOM. Set it and forget it, baby.
But here’s the thing about websites. Once you go through the process of building one, you cannot just set it and forget it.
This is one of the most common mistakes companies make related to their digital presence. Whether they spend a lot or a little on getting it built, they think launch day is the end of all the hard work and the leads and sales will start pouring in any minute.
And then what happens? The site eventually starts looking stale compared to the competition, killing the company’s credibility. Or maybe it starts running slow because the server is crippled under the weight of outdated software and errors. Or worse, there may be security gaps that are just itching to become a huge problem.
We’ve seen people go months, even years before they realize that their website isn’t helping their business. In fact, sometimes it even starts hurting it.
Then the long process of disappointment, finger-pointing, and defeat begins. No one can find the passwords to anything. Maybe a marketing person loses their job. Ultimately, the site either gets left to lie fallow or a lot of money gets spent rebuilding it.
All of this could have been avoided if someone were maintaining it all along.
The Benefits of Having an Agency on Retainer
Usually, when people hear the word “retainer,” they immediately think of a lawyer. The concept as it relates to agencies is similar, but the deliverables are very different.
When you retain the services of an agency, you basically pay upfront each month for a set amount of hours that can be used in any number of ways, usually defined within your contract. That means, you can basically supplement your internal team with several experts for a fraction of the cost of another full-time employee.
Sure, you could opt for an hourly arrangement where you only pay for the time spent executing individual tasks here and there. But that assumes that you have the tech savvy and the time to handle everything else that good maintenance requires, which…let’s face it, few people do.
With a website maintenance retainer, you unlock a number of neat perks:
- A team of experts who know your business and goals inside and out
- Priority support and response times (we answer emails within 15 minutes)
- Context, i.e. they already know what has been done or tried before
- A more strategic, consultative relationship
- Results-driven, not task-driven
The long-term nature of a retainer relationship means that as time goes on, your agency will gain a deeper understanding of what your goals and needs are. They can then offer helpful suggestions or steer you in the right direction for the best results, as experimenting and iterating over time will lead to more informed, data-driven recommendations.
Plus, you can budget more accurately when you know exactly how much you’ll be paying each month. Compare this to praying that the single task you requested under an hourly arrangement won’t take 2x or 3x longer than expected and put you over budget.
As a digital agency that offers maintenance services and often works on retainer, we can understand people’s hesitation when it comes to such arrangements. After all, it is hard to predict the future—how do you know that the money you pay each month will actually be used? What if there are a few months where you don’t need anything from your agency?
Well, if your agency is worth their salt, they’ll include the right maintenance activities in your retainer to make sure that you’re always getting your money’s worth.
Which brings me to my next point…
What Is Included in an Agency Retainer?
Earlier this week in our office, we had a lively debate (i.e. I picked a fight with Kris and Avram) about the semantics of the phrase “website maintenance.” To many, those words ring very simple and hollow—it’s merely making sure that the website is, like…running, right?
That is true, yes, but there’s so much more to it.
As we’ve preached many times on this blog before, your website should really only be one part of your company’s larger digital ecosystem. But when you’ve got limited time on your hands and small or non-existent marketing and IT departments, keeping your website up to date and taking care of everything else that goes into maintaining an online presence is hard.
Because agencies are typically made up of many individuals with diverse skills, having them on retainer means you can accomplish a lot more within the scope of your arrangement.
So let’s explore some of the services that are typically included in an agency retainer:
Routine Website and Server Maintenance
Duh, right? The core of any maintenance services must be the actual maintenance of your website and the server on which it lives. And I’m talking regular maintenance, not just fixing things only after you notice that they broke.
Depending on how your website was built, these tasks can vary. If you’re running a WordPress site or using any other out-of-the-box CMS, there will be fairly frequent updates that need to be run—especially those that involve patching security holes. Even if you have a custom CMS, there may still be occasional updates and optimizations that will help it run even better.
The “routine” part of this is really the key. Unless you have a dedicated IT staff in-house, you need someone to keep an eye on things, stay up to date on the latest software releases, and spring into action should the site crash for some reason. When you have an agency on retainer, you don’t even need to think about these things—they’ve got it covered.
Digital Marketing Assistance
You knew that you couldn’t get through a post written by a marketing person without the subject of marketing coming up, right?! :)
In all seriousness, this is where clients can get the most value out of their retainer, as there is always something to be done in this category. Whether it’s updating and rewriting site copy, maintaining your social media profiles, or launching complex campaigns to help increase your leads and sales, an agency can fill in any gaps where your team lacks the resources.
This also ties back to the consultative nature of an agency retainer. Digital marketing is seldom an instant-gratification type of activity—it can take months to see the fruits of your labor, and it involves a lot of data. The longer you work with an agency, the better they can make sense of that data and help you make smart decisions about your strategy.
Analytics, Reporting, and Analysis
Speaking of data, how much time in a day do you have to pore over Google Analytics to understand what’s working on your site and what isn’t?
There are a lot analytics tools out there, and a lot of data to be tracked. Sure, it’s easy enough to glance at top-level stats and see how many people are visiting your site each month, but how long are they staying? What pages are they visiting the most? The least? Where are the dead ends where they drop off from your site, and do they ever come back?
This is another strategic advantage of having an agency on retainer long-term. Not only can they gather data and present it to you in a human-readable report each month, but they can also sit down with you and help you interpret it. Then, based off of the findings, they can set a plan in motion to make changes or optimizations to your site.
What does that mean? You guessed it!
We’re pretty far from my slow cooker analogy at this point, but I’m still standing by it. A stew tastes better the longer you leave it alone to simmer and integrate the flavors of every single ingredient, but your website will go stale pretty quickly.
Based on the aforementioned activities, it should actually be in a constant state of evolution. As you pull more visitors in through your marketing campaigns and uncover more insights about their behavior via analytics, you will quickly notice where the holes in your site are.
For example, are they hitting your homepage and then immediately dropping off? It could be because your navigation isn’t clear enough or there aren’t strong enough calls to action. Or perhaps business is booming and your staff is struggling to keep up with transactions over the phone. It may be time to add an ecommerce section to your site.
Someone is going to have to make these changes. If your agency has already been involved in all of these other activities, they will know exactly what to do to patch the holes.
Of course, even with all of the monitoring and security measures in the world, shit does happen. Sometimes, it’s a server-level glitch that messes with your customer database; other times, human error gets the best of someone and they accidentally take half of the site down while trying to update a particular page or plugin.
In a situation where you don’t have an agency on retainer and have to find someone to help you on an hourly basis, you run the risk of them not having much technical context to work off of, especially if they weren’t the ones to build your site originally. Plus, since you’re not a regular client, you may have to wait in line behind other projects and priorities.
When you have an agency on retainer, on the other hand, there should be specifics built into your contract regarding emergency fixes. This could mean that you get to skip the line, so to speak, when something bad suddenly happens. Or in some cases, they may already monitor your site 24/7 and are on the case before you even have the time to pick up the phone in panic!
Signing a contract for a long-term commitment with a vendor can be scary for some people. But weigh that trepidation against the time, money, sweat, and probably tears that you may spend trying to keep your website functional and up to date on your own. Or worse, the amount wasted by allowing your site to sink into obscurity in the cold, unforgiving Web.
When it comes to peace of mind, having an agency on retainer for website maintenance can be a beautiful thing. In addition to taking some of the pressure off your shoulders for the super technical stuff, you’re also gaining additional team members to fill any expertise gaps in your own staff. And a good agency will always be willing to give recommendations that will steer your website in the right direction instead of letting it gather dust (because eventually, even your beloved slow cooker will start a fire if left unattended too long).
Essentially, when you engage in these types of website maintenance services, you’re not just retaining an agency’s time—you’re also retaining all of their collective wisdom, experience, and support.