Unfinished Symphony: Your Website isn’t Done When You Think it Is
August 24, 2015
Building a website is always more work that you think it’ll be, and it takes a symphony of skills to bring it all together. You’ve directed all the key players as they have collected all the content, defined the navigation, finessed the words, chosen the layout, selected the imagery, programmed the plug-ins and ironed out the bugs. And now it’s finally live.
Congratulations. Now all you have to do is put your feet up on the desk and let the traffic roll in, right?
Alas, like pets and houseplants, your website needs regular care and maintenance in order to thrive. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure the value and health of your website.
Keep Search Engines Interested
To make sure the right people find your website, you rely on Bing. (Just kidding. Google gets more traffic than the next four competitors combined, so it makes sense to focus your SEO tactics there.)
The point is that a key criterion for your search ranking is the freshness of your content. If you always say the same thing to people, they eventually choose to ignore you, right? Search engines today aren’t all that different. That means periodically updating your site with news, blog posts, images and so on. If your site is static for months on end, Google judges it as stale and less relevant. Think of your site as a platform, not a finished product.
When you add pages, it’s also a good practice to resubmit a sitemap to Google. Pro Tip: Want to make sure Google sees all of your website’s pages? The Google Webmaster Tool (recently reminted as Search Console) provides valuable insight into how Google’s web crawlers are interacting with your website.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
Website security is simply not a “set it and forget it” tactic. At the risk of sounding overdramatic, it’s more like an arms race. You may ask yourself, “Why would anybody ever want to hack our site?” You’d be surprised. Even if you’re not conducting e-commerce or storing private data, hackers will often break into poorly guarded websites to coopt them for attacks on other sites. Sometimes they do it just for bragging rights or nihilistic glee.
Beyond using a strong password, your most important defense strategy is to regularly install security updates, especially for any plug-ins you’re using. (WordPress, the popular content management system, for example, typically issues updates three or four times a year.) When hackers discover a vulnerability in an existing product, there’s a race for other baddies to exploit it before the product maker issues a security fix and its users install it. Don’t be fashionably late to the update party.
Have a Backup Plan
We’ve all experienced the agony of losing an hour’s worth of work when Word or Excel crashes. Imagine losing a whole website. As with all human creations, websites are subject to failure. Whether it’s from a hack or just a run-of-the-mill crash, you cannot afford to be unprepared. Backing up your site should be a no-brainer, especially after you’ve made an update. Testing the backup by restoring to a test server is not only smart insurance, but knowing your restore process actually works will also greatly reduce your stress when “crash happens.”
Practice the Browser/Device Shuffle
The online ecosystem never stays put for long. Back in 2008, Internet Explorer ruled the web with over 80% of all Internet surfers. By 2014, it was nose diving and overtaken by Google’s Chrome. Last year also saw users of mobile devices (such as tablets and smartphones) surpass the number of desktop users.
Just as with our advice in the “Don’t Let Your Guard Down” section above, it’s a good practice to periodically installing updates for new versions and updates for all major browsers. But more broadly, it’s a good practice to periodically view your website from different browsers and devices to make sure your site looks and functions the way you intended it to in every combination. Responsive design is one way to ensure such device flexibility, though truth be told, that’s an undertaking that goes beyond the basic maintenance we’re talking about here.
Take care of your website, and it’ll take care of you.