Maintaining Your Website After Launch
To keep your website running at its best there are some basic maintenance jobs that should be tackled on a regular basis. I won’t lie to you, this isn’t going to be the most exciting part of running your site. But by staying on top of this stuff you’ll be helping ensure a consistent user experience, keep Google happy and avoid any long-term maintenance time bombs.
If you (or your web agency) can set aside some regular time to keep your site properly maintained you should also continue to see the greatest return on investment for all the time and money invested in creating it.
It’s a good idea to run through some of the common tasks a visitor to your site might carry out. This kind of basic testing can help reveal bugs or other types of friction in your site which might take a lot longer to discover if you just wait for someone to report them. Even if you don’t find any issues you might have that spark of inspiration about how to further improve the user experience. Try to move this testing around different browsers and devices from month to month (see Mobile Device Testing) and across the year you’ll be able to cover a pretty broad range.
Going hand-in-hand with testing the key functionality of your site is checking content for typos, out of date information, broken links, missing images and duplicate or absent SEO elements. Addressing these in a timely fashion helps ensure a consistent experience both for your visitors and the search engines alike. This doesn’t mean you have to manually click every link and visit every page of your site. Some of this checking can be automated and run site-wide with tools such as Xenu Link Sleuth and Integrity. Services such as Google’s Search Console can also help highlight potential maintenance issues. What these tools can’t check for are typos or other errors in the written content, so it does need to be augmented by some human eyeballing too. As with the functional testing it makes sense to focus more on the most important areas of your site, but over time you should try to re-read the less trafficked areas too.
Platform & security updates
Maintaining a secure website is a constantly moving target, but it’s important to try and keep up as most sites (big and small) will come under some kind of hacking attempt multiple times a month. Luckily if you’re using a popular platform such as WordPress potential security flaws are being patched all the time and additional measures added to make the sites that run on them more impervious to attack. But only if you keep your installation up to date.
Beyond the security benefits these platform and associated plug-in updates will often also include new features or extended functionality which can make your job as a website owner easier or even enable new functionality for your visitors.
Before you rush to hit update it’s important to thoroughly test any new software releases in a development environment first.
Updates will have been tested before release, but perhaps not with the particular combination of other software that runs your site. If testing new releases in a staging copy of your site isn’t possible then at the very least you will want to take a full backup before proceeding. But a general rule of thumbs is that if you wouldn’t know how to roll back from an update if it did break something then it’s best not to click that button and instead get some help from your developer.
There are a few basic health checks you can do month to month to keep your hosting running at its best. Full hard disks and email accounts are common culprits for website problems so having a good clear-out or scaling up your storage is a simple measure to avoid these. It’s also worth checking your bandwidth usage and comparing to previous months. Any sudden jumps not associated with similar increases in visitors may suggest an issue worth investigating further.
If your site runs on a VPS or dedicated server there might also be software updates to install. In general these are best handled by someone with a good technical understanding of your setup and run at a time which will cause minimum disruption to your visitors if some downtime is involved.
Should the worst happen and you need to restore individual files or your entire site, you’ll thank yourself for having a recent backup. An automated backup tool that takes daily copies of your site is best but failing that a manual full backup once a month still provides a good degree of coverage.
There are many analogies that could be drawn upon when thinking about why on-going website maintenance is important. The one I come back to most often is to compare a website to a garden. You don’t necessarily need to hire outside help to tackle regular jobs like cutting the grass, raking the leaves and weeding, but they do need to be kept on top of and even the most ‘low-maintenance’ gardens have some on-going needs.
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