“Our website? It’s fine. Why do you ask?”
Words from a longtime customer.
We’d approached them last year to ask about their business website.
The same site they hadn’t updated since 2007.
Despite their response, the website wasn’t fine.
It didn’t display on phones.
None of the signup forms worked.
The content didn’t even describe what they did anymore!
They would have known all this if they’d checked their website.
But as I found out, the client hadn’t even looked at it for years.
If I hadn’t seen it, they’d still have a broken website out there as their digital face.
(Don’t worry; they have a nice shiny new website now. MUCH better.)
Today I’m talking about the website problems you should check for every quarter.
What they are, why they help, and how you can do them yourself.
It’s not hard.
But is it needed? Badly!
Websites Age, Too
Imagine a 20-year-old car, sitting in the corner of a dealership lot. Covered in dust. Cobwebs all over the wheels.
Would you jump in and drive it onto the freeway?
Of course not.
Yet some companies have no problem ‘driving’ a website built seven, 10, even 15 years ago.
You’ve seen websites like these.
They’re clunky, hard-to-navigate, have weird layout issues, full of boring corporate-speak content, and crash on you.
It’s a digital truth. Websites age, too. Eventually, they wear out.
There are two big problems with letting websites age like this:
- The web doesn’t stop evolving. The technology underlying the web keeps changing. Since 2003, we’ve seen at least five significant changes. It happens so fast that the average lifespan of a website today is only three years.
- Customers deserve better. Old, clunky, hard-to-understand websites send your customer a dangerous message: “I don’t value your time online.”
To which the customer can easily say, “That’s okay, your competitor does.”
Never let your site age too much!
It hurts your brand, irritates your customers, ruins your SEO, and wrecks communication with your audience.
Oh, and that’s if the website stays intact.
Every Business Should Check Their Website (At Least) Once a Quarter
Instead of waiting for sites to age into uselessness, take a few minutes once a quarter and review yours.
Check all aspects of the site: the messaging, the navigation, the imagery, and so on.
That’s all you need to do.
In Website Development World, we break those aspects into two categories: “Front End” (what readers see in their web browser), and “Backend” (what you see when updating, like the WordPress administration area).
I’ll use these terms for the problems below.
Think of checking your website problems like a digital spring cleaning.
Or a fall touch-up.
Insert your own season-related quip here.
It can occur more frequently…in fact, we tend to do ours once a month.
But we’re obsessive.
Figure on one hour for such a check. Not long at all.
What should you watch out for, though?
The Big Three Website Problems to Watch
You’re looking for three things:
1. Signs of the site breaking
2. Old, stale, or ineffective content
3. Out-of-date backend elements (e.g., the CMS, plugins, templates)
Website ‘breaks’ will show up right away.
They’re big in-your-face problems, like these:
- Dead links
- Messed-up page layouts
- Problems viewing on phones
- Search ranking failures (Yes, an old website will lose ranking on search engines.)
- Signup forms not recording submissions
- Cyberattacks (You really don’t want this one to happen!)
You can also spot stale/ineffective content quickly. Old products/services you no longer provide. Boring language. Clunky or outdated terms.
Fixing this problem is a whole other topic…talk with a good content developer when it’s time.
Most “backends” will tell you if something’s out of date.
Nine times out of 10, it’s just a matter of running update processes, but you won’t know if you don’t look.
When we build a website, just before we launch it out onto the web, we conduct several last-minute checks.
Has anything broken?
Will everyone see the site we want them to see?
Will the website handle the hundreds of thousands of visits it’s bound to receive five minutes after launch?
Okay, I might be exaggerating a little on the last one. A little.
But here’s the secret: most of those pre-launch checks? They don’t require expensive developer-only tools.
They don’t take much technical skill either. Just a little attention and time.
With the following four checks and about an hour, you’ll know if you have any of the big three website problems.
The Four Website Problems to Check Quarterly
Use these four groups to run your website check.
They each cover an aspect of the site.
The first three address the “Front End.”
The fourth covers the “Backend.”
Check the Website’s Layout
This means the site’s look and feel, design-wise.
Click through the website’s pages, one by one. Scrutinize them. Does anything look off?
Older sites look terrible (or may not load at all) on phones. You can check yours with your phone.
Or use free tools such as Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tester.
Just enter your website’s URL and click ‘Run Test.’
There’s also Screenfly.
On this one, enter your website’s URL and click ‘Go.’
You’ll see the site in a frame, which you can adjust by clicking the toolbar icons above it.
This changes the frame’s size to match that of common smartphones and tablets.
If your site cuts off on one side, well, it doesn’t work right on phones.
Don’t forget big screens too!
If you have a conference room TV/monitor, pull up your website there. Do any pages look distorted, or break?
Check All the Links
This includes the links in navigation menus, as well as links going to other websites.
Are any links broken?
This can prevent traffic flowing to specific pages.
To find out, run a link checker.
Several good checkers exist. I use Validator.
What you’re looking for here are “Code 404” links.
These links are broken and need fixing.
Your site developer will help you fix them.
Check the Content Quality
Read your website from homepage to Contact Us.
There are a few things to keep in mind.
- Does the content still accurately describe what your company does?
- Are there people listed who don’t work there anymore?
- Is the content still easy to read on any screen?
- Are you missing any information customers should know–new products/services, company changes, etc.?
Review the Backend
Log into your site’s administration area.
Look for flagged updates or error alerts.
- Does anyone have a problem logging into the backend?
- Do the people who update the website have the permissions needed to do so?
- Have they had any issues making updates?
- When was the last time they did so? (Should have been less than three months prior.)
Check Your Website Over to Keep it Fresh and Welcoming to Customers
As I said, we do the same checks on every website we build, before it goes live. They’re an essential part of our QA (Quality Assurance).
Yes, this can lead to a list of ‘problems to fix.’
Yet another addition to the to-do list.
Still, remember this: if you didn’t do these checks, your customers would find an aging site with problems all over it.
How would they feel about it? Well, the ‘back’ button is right there…