During 2020 many businesses found themselves either making the transition online for the first time or becoming much more reliant on their websites than had previously been the case. It looks like 2021 will be much the same, with the importance of the website to most organisations continuing to grow. With that in mind, here are 10 suggestions for actions you can take now to help ensure that your website continues to work well for you throughout 2021.
1. Check for broken links
If you’ve had your website for a while it’s almost certain that you’ll have some broken links on it somewhere. Broken links can creep in when page URLs change and the links to those pages aren’t updated, when manual mistakes are made adding links in pages or when pages are deleted from the site. They’re almost impossible to avoid and often sit unnoticed on your website until you (or, worse, a user) clicks on them.
When someone clicks on a broken link they’ll see a 404 error page rather than the content that they’re expecting to see. Broken links are very annoying for users and create a poor impression of the quality of your site and, potentially, your business. People are much less likely to place an order on your site if they encounter multiple broken links. Broken links also damage your SEO as Google won’t be able to fully understand the structure of your site if it can’t follow a particular link because it’s broken.
At the start of the year it’s well worth doing a review of your site with the specific goal of checking for broken links. For a small site it is possible to do this manually, just going through the pages in a structured fashion and clicking on each link to check that it works. However it’s easy to miss links this way and the links that it’s easiest to miss are also most likely to be the ones that are broken.
There are free online tools like this one that can quickly check through your site and identify broken links. If you’re tracking your site in Google Search Console (which we very highly recommend) then you can also see broken links in there. Simply go to the Coverage report and select ‘Excluded’ and see if there are any 404 errors listed there.
2. Make sure all your forms are working
If you have contact forms, download request forms or any other user-facing forms on your website then it’s a good idea to go through them periodically to check that they’re working. It’s amazing how often we do audits of client websites and discover a contact form that isn’t working. If your contact form isn’t working properly then you’re almost certainly going to be losing business without even knowing about it.
So, what do you need to check? Go through your site filling in all the forms and submitting them. Things to think about here are firstly whether it’s physically possible to fill in the form. Do all the fields work? Does the ‘submit’ button work? Are the compulsory fields working as you intend them to? If you have captcha on the form, is that working? Does the user get a notification or other indication that their form has been correctly submitted and what’s going to happen next? Check the form on multiple devices. A form that works fine on a desktop computer can be impossible to submit on a mobile device.
Once you’ve checked that the form appears to be physically working from the user’s point of view then it’s time to check that it’s plumbed in correctly behind the scenes. Are form submissions visible in the backend of your website? Are email alerts of new submissions being generated? Are those email alerts going to the right person? Are the email alerts actually in your spam folder? If your form is integrated with an email tool like Mailchimp, is this link still working the way you want it to?
3. Check that incoming emails from the site are being received
This is very similar to the steps needed to check the form submissions. Check the email that is listed on your contact page. Is the email address correct? Is the mailbox being monitored? Who has access to the mailbox? Make sure that the emails are being received internally and aren’t accidentally being sent to someone who has left the organisation, for example. As with form submissions, it’s also worth checking your spam folders regularly to make sure that inbound emails from website users aren’t being hidden in there.
4. Make sure that your site is being properly backed up
As your site becomes a more important resource for your business, so it’s more important than ever to make sure that you have a proper system of backups in place so that you’re able to get the site back up and running quickly and easily should you encounter a problem. If your site is hacked or you run into some other technical problem with it and you don’t have a proper backup available then you can find yourself with a very serious problem indeed.
Talk to your hosting company and ask them what backups are in place and how you can access them if there’s a problem. If you’re running a WordPress site then you might also consider installing a backup plugin that gives you direct control over the backup process yourself. We recommend Updraft Plus which we use on our own site. We’ve put together a video guide to installing and configuring it which you might find useful.
5. Audit your content to ensure it’s up to date
So far we’ve focused on identifying potential technical issues with your site but it’s also important to do a periodic audit of the content on your site and the new year is as good a time as any to review the relevance of what you have.
This is important because Google rewards you for recency and relevance. It prefers sites that are regularly adding new content and updating their existing content to ensure continued relevance. This is also important from a user experience point of view. A new user coming to your site for the first time wants reassurance that your business is a going concern – a blog that hasn’t been updated for years or is full of outdated and irrelevant information doesn’t create a good impression.
Go through your site and just check that the content is representing you in the best way possible. Have a look at the wording on your home page. Does that accurately describe your business? Are all the products and services you offer mentioned on your site? Are there any discontinued products or services that are still visible but that you no longer offer? If you run events or have other content that’s tied to fixed dates (such as term times) then check that you’re not displaying out of date content related to dates that have passed.
If you have a blog then it’s worth checking that you’re still adding new content reasonably regularly and also that your older posts are still relevant. You can ‘resurface’ older posts for Google by making a few quick updates or adding a new intro paragraph to put them into the current context. You can also change the publication date on very old posts once you’ve updated them. This doesn’t have to be a massive job but can reap big SEO rewards.
6. Check that your social channels are aligned with your website
In a small business it can be hard to keep on top of your website and also all your social channels. The first thing we’d say here is that it isn’t necessary for most businesses to be across all social channels – it’s only worth engaging with the ones that work for your business. However, assuming you do have a presence on a particular social channel and you want to keep it active then you need to take a look from time to time to ensure that it’s aligned with your website.
This can be just as simple as making sure that the contact details are the same on both your website and your social channels. It’s not unusual for a business to update its office address or telephone number or perhaps amend its logo and to make this change on the website but not on the social channels.
Google ‘triangulates’ the information on your social channels with the information on your website and uses that knowledge to better understand what information it should be showing about your business, which is why it’s important to make sure your contact details are the same everywhere.
Check who has access to your social channels. Revoke the access of anyone who’s since left your organisation and make sure that you know who’s currently responsible for keeping the channels up to date and posting content. As with your website, make sure that the content that is displayed is up to date and accurately represents your business. If you’re not posting very often that you could end up with old and outdated content still being visible relatively high up in your feed.
7. Close any obvious security gaps in your site
The new year is a good time to do a security audit of your site and plug any obvious gaps. How big a job this is really depends on how often you do it. As with many of these things, little and often is generally the best approach. We have a few other blog posts and videos that will guide you on some simple things you can do to improve the security of your site, particularly if you’re running a WordPress site.
- How to protect your site from brute force hacking attempts
- Enabling two factor authentication on your site to protect against unauthorised login attempts
8. Clear up old plugins and other unused resources behind the scenes
If you’re running a WordPress site you can quickly find that the backend of your site is cluttered up with plugins that you no longer use, old themes and content that is no longer displayed on the frontend of the site. It’s a good idea to go through your list of plugins and themes from time to time and remove those that you’re not using. It isn’t enough to deactivate them – you really need to remove them altogether as unused plugins and themes can be a security risk, particularly if they’re not being regularly updated.
9. Run a speed check to ensure your site is running sufficiently quickly
A site that was running speedily when you first set it up can deteriorate over time as you add more content, themes, plugins and functionality over time. Speed is an important factor in how Google ranks your pages as well as being key to offering a good experience to site users so it’s well worth running a speed check from time to time.
If you are using Google Analytics and / or Google Search Console then both contain information about the speed performance of your site as well as diagnostic tools to help you understand any issues that might exist. You can also go straight to the Google Pagespeed Insights tool and run a test on any page from your site.
If you’re running a WordPress site then check out this blog post which explains the most common things that affect the speed of WordPress sites and what you can do to improve the speed of your site if it’s an issue.
10. Get to grips with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is one of the most useful marketing tools available to small businesses, but we regularly talk to small businesses who either aren’t running it on their website at all or had it set up when the site was developed but never actually look at the information it contains. If this is you then why not make 2021 the year that you resolve to get to grips with Google Analytics? Check out this blog post for advice on how to get started.
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