The moment has finally arrived. You have been working on creating your new website for months – you have a well crafted story, great messaging and a great design that fits your brand and stands out from your competitors. And now it’s finally live for all the world to see.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make with their website is letting it sit to just collect dust. Business owners all want their website to serve a purpose. However, with the millions and millions of other websites on the internet constantly competing for your customer’s attention, it’s not enough to simple have a website, it must be used and maintained in order for it to help achieve results for your business. For these results to occur, whether it be to generate new leads, make sales, engage customers or build communities, it’s important that regular and consistent maintenance and marketing of your website becomes a regular part of your business.
The following is an overview of what all businesses should start doing once they have a website.
Maintenance and Updates
Just as you would a house or a car, your website requires regular maintenance to remain an effective tool for your business. When using WordPress to build your website, the number one suggestion you will hear is to make sure your theme, plugins, and WordPress version are always up to date. Before understanding why updates are needed for WordPress websites, it’s helpful to understand exactly what needs to be updated.
WordPress: WordPress is the open-source content management platform that is used to develop and manage the content for your website. Similar to Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace, it provides basic features to allow you to create web pages and blog posts and organize them in the form of category or tag archives. It also includes a media file manager that helps to organize and add media files to each page. Within the past few years, WordPress also includes a basic drag and drop page builder that provides features to create web pages without any coding requirements. Previously, this kind of functionality required installing a separate third-party page builder.
Themes: The theme is what is used to control the design of the website. You can either develop a theme yourself or there are millions of free or paid themes to choose from that vary from a blank slate that can be built upon to a more fully completed design that is closer to a final product.
Plugins: Plugins are separate features that can be installed to add on to the basic functionality provided by WordPress. Plugins that are commonly installed with WordPress include SEO management tools, security enhancement, page speed optimization, page builders, form builders, e-commerce management, or membership site development tools.
Just as your computer or phone’s operating system and applications require periodic updates, so do the themes and plugins used on your website. You may ask, “But my website is working just fine. Why does it need to be updated?” There are 3 main reasons – new features, bug fixes, and security patches. The developers who created the plugins and theme used for your website are frequently making improvements that make the plugin easier to use, faster, or introduces another feature that has been requested by its users. Their updates also frequently address a previously undiscovered bug or incompatibility with another plugin or most importantly patches a security flaw that makes your website more susceptible to being hacked.
Because WordPress themes and plugins are created by third-party developers (not the core WordPress development team), any updates to these are separate from the WordPress version updates that are issued a few times each year. This means that, depending on how many plugins your website requires, new updates may be available daily. I don’t recommend making updates the same day that they are made available or using the auto update feature for any of the most important plugins being used on the site. This is because new features being introduced can, on rare occasion, cause an unforeseen issue due to an incompatibility with another plugin or hosting environment. For this reason, it’s best to wait to research if anyone else reports issues after an update in the plugin’s support forum, or as an additional precaution, test the plugin yourself on a staging environment. A staging environment is an exact replica of your website that is hidden from public view, but can be used to test out new features or additions to your website. If an updated plugin or theme version works well and causes no issues on your staging site, you are safe to make it on the main site as well.
This takes us to backups. What if a plugin or theme update is made or a new plugin is installed or something is accidentally deleted from your website that causes one of its features to stop working or even for the entire website to crash entirely? What if you wake up one day and find that your website has been hacked and is now redirecting to a less than favorable company’s website? Backups to the rescue! All WordPress websites should have a solid backups feature in place that allows you to replace a corrupted version of your website with a previous working version. This allows you to keep an older version of your site running, ideally only a day old if you are using daily backups, while you diagnose and fix whatever happened to cause your site to stop working correctly.
Despite all the great things you get with WordPress websites, the one legitimate gripe is that it often causes websites to load slower than those that don’t utilize WordPress. This is an important factor in the success of your website because customers typically abandon websites that load slowly and search engines such as Google also use page speed as a factor in how high they rank a website in their results.
There are too many reasons to get into for why this is, but basically because WordPress websites are pieced together by several third-party developers who create themes and plugins for general use, they are not often as optimized as those that are developed by one developer for a specific use. Second, WordPress websites are not “static.” This means that all content you see on each page is being pulled from a database. This requires a query to the database that takes longer than websites that don’t require this to display content.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying that WordPress websites benefit from regular optimization such as optimizing the database, reviewing media files to ensure they are a reduced size suitable for online use, updating the WordPress version, plugins and themes, updating the PHP version, installing a page caching solution, and regularly testing the website’s page speed score and testing updates to the website recommended by the results of the test.
First, make sure that the information shown on your website is always kept up to date. It creates a lack of trust for your customers when your website is displaying outdated information such as services that are no longer offered, outdated contact information or hours of operation, or old team members that no longer work at the company. Make sure to review your website quarterly at least and remove or update any outdated information that you find.
When looking at a website’s analytics, it is common to find that, after a website’s home page, the pages with the highest traffic or conversions are blog posts. This is because, for many businesses the content on a page is often similar to many other websites within its industry. This leads to a high amount of competition and if you aren’t spending on ads to get your website listed at the top, the pages on your site are likely to get buried low in search results.
Blog posts on the other hand can more easily target niche searches or answer more specific questions that people or more commonly entering into search engines, increasing the likelihood that they will be listed higher. If you have a website and you find yourself answering the same kinds of questions often from your customers, using your blog is a great way of adding content that is more likely to be discovered by your customers when they search online, but also demonstrating your expertise in your field and thereby earning trust from your customers. So for this reason, I recommend to all of my website clients that they maintain a blog and post frequently. Those that do often see results in the form of increased organic traffic (website visits that aren’t gained through paid ads) and enhancing your customer’s sense of trust in your business.
Advertising and Promotions
The quickest way to increase traffic and leads coming from your website is to start advertising. Advertising your website doesn’t always have to cost a lot and some simple steps can yield great returns.
- Add your website’s address everywhere! Your business card, email signature, brochures and flyers, posters, signage, magnets, stickers, truck wrap, anywhere your customers are likely to look, you can add your website address.
- Google My Business is a free service offered by Google that adds an additional enhanced listing for your website. All you need to do is sign up, enter your business’ information, verify your address, and Google will add an additional listing in the sidebar with all the pertinent information about your business – website, phone, address, hours of operation, reviews, and photos. It’s a free and very effective way to enhance the visibility of your business for local searches.
- Advertise. Whatever website or publication your customers commonly view is a great opportunity to promote your business. Industry related websites will often offer opportunities for ad placement. You can also begin an affiliate marketing program and offer other business owners a percentage of each sale if they promote your website on theirs. Another good and low cost/high return investment if done right is Google Ads. In order to make sure you receive the greatest return on your investment each time someone clicks on your ad, make sure that it is highly targeted. This means that the keywords you are bidding on each time your ad is displayed are not so general that you have a lot of competition, thereby driving up the cost. Instead, target very specific keywords which may have a lower amount of searches but a much higher likelihood that if someone clicks on your ad that they are a qualified lead. Finally, for any ad you place for your website, don’t just link to your home page, but make sure that you create a separate promotional landing page with a special offer or promotion. This helps with not only tracking the success of your ad campaigns, but also increases the chance of conversion.
Review your website goals and set new goals quarterly
Each business has a unique set of goals that they set out to achieve with their website. However, goals change or strategies can improve for how we are addressing those goals. For this reason, it’s important to set a quarterly website strategy meeting to review and determine how well your website has met it’s goals for the previous quarter and what can be focused on in the next quarter to help improve how it is meeting your current or new set of goals. For more information on this subject, read How to continuously improve the effectiveness of your website