What did you pay the last time you requested website updates? Did you pay enough? Did you ask for enough? Did they do anything to help you secure your website? Whoa.

Let’s talk about that last question.

There are six things I want every small business owner to invest in first before we even talk about redesigns.

  1. Gather All Your Hosting and Domain Name Info
  2. Malware Scan
  3. Software Update Check
  4. Website Backup Check
  5. Website Traffic and Performance Tracking
  6. Foundational SEO Elements

So, none of these sound fun. And um, none of these are about marketing or communication specifically. Stay with me!

You’ll notice they’re all website security and search engine information. This is the 21st century SEO is something you can’t miss. Securing your website and ensuring its stable operation is base camp on the Everest of exceptional search engine performance.

All the work on making your web design gorgeous will be wasted if these basics aren’t considered first whenever you plan website updates.

Gather All Your Hosting and Domain Name Info

Possibly the hardest thing in developing a new website is this little bit of house cleaning. Do you have updated documentation for your website? Which company hosts it? Which company registered your domain? Who pays for everything?

This information seems to get lost in the shuffle. It’s the first question I ask and too many clients don’t know. Their website just exists and they don’t know how to edit it, but they want to change it.

Before we can change it, we need to do an investigation and make sure the client actually owns and has access to the following:

  • their registered domain name and its settings
  • their website hosting account and its settings

That means a company name and login page URL, a username and a password for each one.

Read “5 Tips for Working With a Web Designer” for more ways to prepare well for your website updates.

Malware Scan

Just like a computer, your website is susceptible to infection with a type of code called malware. You might have heard of famous hacks where criminals took over a computer system and posted a nasty message or shut it down for a ransom. That’s malware. 

Most small business websites are low-profile and don’t attract criminal hackers. However, malware robots are fairly common. They go around looking for any little website they can access, infect and add to their hacker owner’s network. When you’re hacked, your website host might suspend your account, Google will remove your site from search pages and web browsers may show warning messages to your customers.

A basic malware scan with a plugin like Wordfence for WordPress is helpful for diagnosing any issues and letting you sleep a little better at night knowing you’re on solid ground. Learn more WordPress security basics.

Software Update Check

A malware scan is still just a scan. It tells you if you’re hacked or not. Hopefully you’re not. The number one way to prevent that scary situation is to keep your website’s software up to date.

Again, just like a computer, your website has an operating system as well as additional software tools that give it different abilities. The world’s most popular content management system, WordPress, is like this.

There’s a community spread across the globe making plugins for WordPress. These contributors, as well as the main WordPress developers, sometimes put out software updates. You want to make sure your WordPress system is completely up to date to prevent hackers or their bots from taking advantage of vulnerabilities in out of date code. Learn how to keep your WordPress software updated.

If you don’t know how to update your system or even if it’s been updated lately, definitely mention this to your web designer so they can give you their recommendation for your next steps.

Website Backup Check

What if you do get hacked? What happens next? You restore from a backup. In an ideal situation, you’re able to say “My website was 100% on Tuesday, now it’s Wednesday and it’s messed up. Let’s roll back the clock and restore the website to the way it was on Tuesday”.

And then you go about updating any out of date software and changing all your website user passwords. A backup is your safety net against hacks. It’s much easier to go back to a safe copy of your website than employ someone to attempt to sweep out broken or infected code.

Most website hosts provide a built-in website backup and restore service. Ask your website host and be prepared to pay a little extra for the convenience and safety of a backup plan. Or ask your web designer for their input about recommended plugins and services. You’ll be so incredibly glad that you prepared for the unexpected.

Website backups are an essential tool often considered an “add-on” that’s really not an add-on. Here’s my full list of essential website tools.

Website Traffic and Performance Tracking

Did you know that Google and Bing both provide services to help you see how your website’s doing? Since search engines are in the business of helping customers find information, but don’t actually provide any of that info, they depend on your website to be the gold at the end of the rainbow. Google has an interest in making your website the best it can be.

Google Analytics is the big name you might recognize. That’s the basic tracking system most popular with website owners. You install a nugget of code from Google on your site that sends back info about how many people visit your site, how much time they spend, the path they take through your site and other creepy, but super useful info!

Are you tracking this info? Spend money to talk to someone who knows how to read your website analytics and take control of your numbers.

Foundational SEO Elements

The other crucial code you should update impacts how your website displays in search engine results pages. SEO titles and meta descriptions are some of the easiest things to update about your site and make the biggest difference next to sites that lack this element.

Read SEO Basics: More than just interesting blog posts for a primer on SEO everyone can do.

SEO titles are the titles used for your pages when viewed on search engines. Most of the time, Google’s automated system crawls your site and has to guess the page title. Unfortunately, that system is dumb. It’s up to you to feed your page title to Google in a special way to ensure they get it right. SEO titles do that.

If you use WordPress for your site, an experienced WordPress user can use the Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin to easily implement SEO titles. Yoast also lets you customize a meta description for each page and post. In search engine results pages, this description is displayed just below your page title. It’s another thing you don’t want Google to guess for you.

Ask your web designer about these elements. A quality designer will recognize the vocabulary and either quote you a price for a website audit to address these updates or help you find someone who can.

When you’re considering how to update your website, don’t just think about colors and pictures. Please think about website security, backups and the basic SEO you can’t live without.

Think you need website updates?  Give us a call

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