Five Essential Website & Blog Maintenance Tasks
There’s a mentality among some website owners that you can Set it and Forget It (a la Ron Popeil). I ask clients on my website project questionnaire what level of updates and maintenance they expect to do on their site and the overwhelming majority answer something to the effect of – “very little” or “never”. That’s no good. Websites are a little like cars in that they need maintenance and upkeep. Here are 5 essential website maintenance things you must do to keep your site working well and prevent future break-downs.
Keep in mind that each of these items could go into an entire encyclopedia of best practices and tasks to perform, but I wanted to let you know of some high-altitude things to be aware of that you can do to make sure your site is in tip-top shape.
- Creating regular backups.
Many people fail to realize how susceptible their site actually is to going down, from a variety of threats. The most common threat is actually the site owner, themselves. Unless you are a pro web developer (and even pros make mistakes), it’s probable that you will accidentally erase something or do something that causes your site to error. I’ve heard from frustrated clients who have spent hours trying to recover mistakes they’ve made. How much easier would it have been if you had a backup to restore? It’s something so simple that it can so easily be forgotten. It’s easy to overlook something like backing up a site because the information isn’t tangible and we’re usually not storing it at our own location. It’s usually on a server located somewhere else. You may think, “phew, it’s not susceptible to a fire at my location since it’s store offsite”. This may be true, but websites are also very vulnerable to hacking and threats to the host server that isn’t at your location. That’s why it’s critical to back up your site regularly, making sure you get all of the different parts of the site, specifically if it’s a database-backed site.
Different types of sites require different kinds of backups. If you use a WordPress site, make sure you’re backing your site up the right way. My favorite plugin for this is BackupBuddy. Other Content Management Systems (CMS) will have their own backup plugins or services. If you have a regular HTML/CSS site with no database, backup is a little more straightforward – you can just copy all of your site files to another location regularly. Be sure to consult with your webmaster, hosting provider, or software maker to find the best backup solution for your site.
- Update your software.
If you use a CMS like WordPress, there are core and plugin updates that are continuously being released. With WordPress in particular, these core updates are critical, as they contain patches and fixes to security bugs that make your site susceptible to hacking. Most people ignore the updates, thinking they don’t need every new bell and whistle that comes out and that they’re happy just the way their site is, not even realizing that the updates are more important from a security standpoint, rather than getting all the new fancy gadgets.
Other CMS platforms will have updates and releases as well. Be sure to stay on top of how often they are released and research whether or not the updates are critical from a security standpoint. If you use any third party software or scripts on your non CMS site, check to see if those can be updated as well. The updates I’m referring to are usually free.
- Checking for broken links.
Broken links within your site are fairly common, and happen easily. Often times, small changes to files on your site will leave you forgetting to update some obscure link and then your subsequent pages domino, creating broken links that can drive people away from your site faster than a cheetah on RedBull. Also, Google really doesn’t like broken links and if you’re ever seen a 404 error page, you’d either laugh, or understand why. Checking for broken links is fairly simple and thankfully there are tools to help you do it. W3C Link Checker is free and does a good job, but you have to check every page on your site individually. There are oddles of paid services you can subscribe to that checks your entire site in one foul swoop, but who likes more paid subscriptions?
Great new for WordPress users – (another reason why WordPress is awesome!) – there’s a plugin called Broken Link Checker that will scan your entire site and monitor it for broken links, sending you an email when a new one occurs. Couldn’t be easier!
- Checking Analytics
If you don’t have your site hooked up to Google Analytics, what are you waiting for? It’s a good idea, if not critical, to the success of your website and online marketing strategy to check up on the popularity of your site and to analyze how visitors are using your site. It can also provide some helpful troubleshooting information for things like pages that may or may not be doing well, how people are finding your site, and to discover how things may link together and what order people are looking through your website.
Analytics can be very complicated and I’m planning on doing a post or video on understanding it and learning how to apply changes to your site. Be sure to sign up to receive my emails so you can be notified when it comes out.
- Use Google Webmaster Tools
Here’s a secret weapon for website maintenance: Google Webmaster Tools. This is a special set of tools that allows you to improve the way Google searches and indexes your site. It can greatly reduce the amount of time your pages take to rank on Google searches and can give you important information about the health of your site.
The first step is to create an account and register your site. Then, submit a site map to tell Google how your site is laid out. Here are a few free tools to help you do this: XML Sitemaps, Sitemap Doc. WordPress users, you have an assortment of plugins to choose from. Just search, install one, and submit to Google. A day or two after you’ve submitted your sitemap, you should begin to receive all sorts of helpful data about how your site looks to Google. You can see crawl errors, you can check for malware, and check for issues with your site’s HTML code. Take some time to study these tools and they will give you some good ideas for technical improvement to your site. Don’t worry if they overwhelm you. It takes time and learning to understand what’s going on. Google’s help documents should by useful.
Great article Kelly! You outline everything that people don’t do, and then they call us. Taking advantage of Google’s freeware will only bring your website success.
I’m visiting from SITS. These are great tips, and number five wasn’t one I’d even heard of before in a context where I could see its relationship to me. I’m off to get on it! Thanks!
Awesome! Glad it was helpful.
Good info. I use Blogger, so I am sad that there aren’t quick suggestions for me, but oh well. Thanks anyway.
Same here! (:
Sorry it wasn’t helpful. One of the main reasons I like WordPress is because it can be self-hosted and therefore you have the ability to be self-sufficient instead of relying on a service.
Sorry to hear. Some of these things can be applied to blogger, but I understand where you’re coming from. I really like self-hosted sites for the simple reason that you have absolute control over your site and your content.
Thanks for the tech info! This is the aspect of blogging I need to learn the most–and I always love “5 Tips” on just about anything!
Wonderful! So happy it was helpful.
Great tips Kelly, as always!
Thank you – glad to help.
So helpful! Thank you! Off to do some of these things RIGHT NOW…and will bookmark this for later, too!
Thanks 🙂 Glad it was helpful.
Wow, that was so helpful! Found you through Sits girls, and I just shared this link!
Awesome! Thanks, Laura!
I am newly blogging but I do have some of these items in place for my blog and my business website this is a good reminder for any blogger
Glad you liked!
Good idea with the backup! Just copied everything to backup 🙂
Glad to hear! Don’t forget to keep your backup current.
I would love more detail sometime for Blogger sitemaps. I think it is confusing.
Thanks. I’ll note that and can hopefully write an article for you.
Such great information. I really need to get better about backing up all my info; that makes me so incredibly nervous especially with all the horror stories from people who have lost everything.
Found you SITs; awesome post!
Isn’t it frightening? There’s no better feeling than when you know you have everything backed up! Thanks for commenting.
Thanks for the suggestion about Broken Link Checker.
I use Google Analytics, but don’t find it to be that helpful. In fact, according to HostGator, which hosts my site, I get about five times more traffic than what Google Analytics says I do! I have to wonder how accurate Google Analytics is, based on what HostGator is telling me.
Google Analytics is using a different method to track links than HostGator. GA is going to give you data from a business perspective – tracking individual people through cookies, which gives you a better idea of how successful your site is. Whereas, HG is using metrics more relevant to a web developer. It’s also tracking things like search bots and other traffic that you wouldn’t want to include in the measure of how popular your site is. So, it’s important to use both tools together.
And, more importantly than the exact number of hits your site gets, is to monitor for any large fluctuation. If you see a sudden drop or increase, you should see it consistently across both tools, irrelevant of the difference in total visitors. That’s something to watch for and react accordingly.
Hope that helps. Did you see my article on understanding GA better? https://www.ekcetera.com/2012/super-duper-easy-google-analytics-guide/
Thanks for the great insight! I’ve just recently (as in the past few days) moved to a self hosted site, so this info is GREATLY appreciated. Stopping in from SITS! 🙂
Awesome! I’m so glad it was helpful.
If you use back up with your suggestion, can you save it somewhere else, someone suggested another server or dropbox, I am not really sure, I just want a backup. I did lose a blog once and it wasnt pretty.
Ok, I figured it out thanks
hummm… short and sweet.