A big advantage of online media is the ability to modify, update and improve the content at any time, at virtually no cost. In fact, if a site or Web application is not updated, it’s in danger of becoming useless and obsolete.
This article discusses what website owners should do to keep their websites relevant, updated and highly accessible, long after the initial launch. This guide goes beyond common text and graphics updates and “best practices” for XHTML and CSS; as it also provides tips for maintaining a website successfully.
1. Keeping your contents clean and regularly updated
After the site has accumulated hundreds or even thousands of pages, many of the content may be old and outdated. During a maintenance routine, you should include periodical reviews of your static contents that may require corrections or updates. Of course, old contents in the news section of your site are destined to become obsolete and you don’t really need to update them. In these cases, the best solution would be to put ‘evergreen’ articles in a separate section or category.
Of course, as a developer, content maintenance may not be included in your job description responsibility, but if you have a personal blog, content maintenance should be an essential part of your maintenance routine.
- * Software documentation: Documentation for products or services should be updated regularly based on latest software versions or bug fixes. If time allows, the routine maintenance schedule should include regular changes, corrections and updates to the documentation, both for the online and downloadable format.
- * Take care of your blog: If you are inviting readers to participate more actively in your blog, you should be sure that your news, articles or blog posts don’t have spammy comments. Often, you need to manually delete comments that contain links to suspicious websites. It is also important to reconsider the tags you’re using. Some tags can be modified or altered to better reflect the subject of your article. You may also reconsider your current tagging system and make improvements in tagging process to make future maintenance easier. You may also need to disable comments in the high-traffic pages to avoid spam comments.
2. Fixing and updating
Maintenance activities should address all errors, bugs, browser incompatibilities and broken links. There are a number of server-side maintenance tasks you can do. These are a couple of things; website admins should do during a maintenance session:
- * Checking for broken links in your site should be a fairly easy task because many tools can perform this task efficiently. However, the test can go beyond simple URL verifications; you also need to check that all external files and images are referenced appropriately.
- * If you use a popular CMS (content management system), it is likely that at some point, you need to upgrade it. This is obviously necessary for a number of reasons – perhaps the previous version is plagued by security issues, has inefficient codes, or simply fails to work properly.
Wordpress is a popular platform for blogs, and it’s used primarily as a content management system that comes with many useful features. Because there are many thousands of plugins to enhance the versatility of your blog, some of them may no longer be compatible with your current WordPress version. Some plugins are already abandoned and no longer updated by the author; this can create new holes in your system making your site insecure. If you need the plug-in functionality and its latest version don’t work in your current WP release, you should find a working alternative.
Fortunately, in recent versions of WordPress, the update process is as simple as clicking a few buttons. In addition, the dashboard may alert you when the updates for the plug-ins are available. The plug-in page also provides details on what you should know about recent changes and improvements in the latest version of the plugin. Therefore, if your website is powered by WordPress, than checking for latest updates should be included in the to-do list for the maintenance routine.
3. Testing for browser compatibility
Ensure that all aspects of your Web site work correctly with the latest browser version. This task should be included in your routine maintenance task. Remember that valid, semantic code can give you the greatest chance in achieving cross-browser compatibility. You may need to check the test manually. Compatibility tests for latest versions of IE, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari should be a part of the website maintenance routine. Also test your site regularly on different OSs, after making changes on codes and contents. Your site may work well with Safari in Windows, but not so well with Safari in Mac.
4. Validating codes and evaluating web standards
Usually, the maintenance task involves ongoing tests for page validation, especially after some of the contents are added or updated. Validation can include styles and markup. You can do things beyond simple page validation, because “valid” code does not necessarily comparable to “good” code.
Leaner, cleaner XHTML code
Are there code elements in your site that can be simplified? When the developer first coded your site, he might suffer from a disease called “Divitis”, the tendency to use <div> excessively or inappropriately. In some cases, you can remove some of those <div> tags, as they don’t serve any purpose.
In many cases, <div> tags are not necessary. If you want to make improvements in CSS code, you should do it on the <ul> tag, because it is also a block-level element. Obviously, there could be a reason why outer <div> tags are required in your code. But generally, a well-designed code would still be flexible without <div> tags.
What happens if you have too many attributes in your code? It may not be as serious as using too many <div> tags. Your code will be easier to manage and look cleaner if you avoid using too much IDs and classes in elements. By using the principles of inheritance in CSS programming, you don’t need to target each element in the code. This will make your code much more manageable. You should be aware that although removing attributes can improve the markup performance, it could adversely affect the CSS performance.
CSS Cleaning and Optimization
After continuous development, your CSS codes can become too large, it would be unreadable and hard to maintain. But as you learn to create a stronger code, all future additions can be incorporated much more efficiently. However, if you have old CSS codes, you may face some obstacles in re-factoring and optimizing it. Many CSS codes, in time will have redundancies that hinder performance.
You can use a few tools to perform this task, but you should use them carefully. Before each optimization task, make sure you back up all CSS files, as in some cases automated tools can ruin your code if used improperly.
Before optimizing your CSS codes, you should be sure that your CSS codes are valid. Bugs in CSS code might cause unintended problems when you perform automatic refactoring or optimization.
You have the opportunity to manually optimize the code to limit errors and problems. Of course, some optimization methods can be automated effectively. For example, you can combine several CSS codes to reduce unnecessary HTTP requests. In addition, you may want to change your ID names and class names to better reflect the conventions. (For example, using “promo-box” as class name could be more appropriate, than “red-box” because the color may change in the future).
5. Improving accessibility
If you have validated the markup correctly and used best practices in coding methods, then it is possible that your contents are generally accessible to those who visit the site using assistive technologies such as screen reader. But because recent contents can affect the site accessibility, evaluation on accessibility should be included in the maintenance schedule.
Evaluating Mobile Access
Many website owners are reluctant to develop a mobile version of the site both to save time and because many mobile devices are now quite reliable in rendering desktop-version site. Even so this is not a complete guarantee; you should open your site using popular mobile browser and platform, such as Chrome in Android and Safari in iOS.
If your mobile version is already in operation for some time, you may continue to perform evaluations on newly added contents and make necessary adjustments.
6. Improving on HTML5 and CSS3
While not all browsers support HTML5 and CSS3, you can still use these new technologies in browsers that support them. When you maintain the site, you can determine which parts of the site that could be improved through methods based on HTML5 and CSS3 technologies. Of course, you should ensure that any change in this area won’t degrade the site performance in browsers that don’t support these technologies too much. Advanced techniques based on HTML5 and CSS3 can help you remove outdated code.
7. Optimizing performance
A rather odd trend in website development is the obsession to optimize webpages for speed – despite the fact that even a decent DSL connection can still download complex pages relatively quickly. Although Internet users are increasingly using faster connections, developers are still concerned about the loading speed of their pages.
Performance analysis task during a maintenance session may encourage web owners to make changes that increase the page loading speed. If you want to include optimization methods in the maintenance routine, you should allocate enough resources.
8. Updating code comments
In some cases, you won’t gain much information from comments. Some comments are too obvious, such as explaining “this is a sidebar”. You should remove unnecessary comments and add new information whenever necessary.
When maintaining your site, you will benefit from comments you add or update in the previous maintenance session. Simply by allocating a few minutes for improving the comments, you may save hours of maintenance time in the future.
9. Improving SEO
As a web admin, you may not be too proficient with SEO-related tasks. However, if it is your personal project, then you should do it yourself
Semantic and well structured code automatically get plenty of SEO benefits right from the start, even if you use only basic optimization techniques. Over time, the integration of various optimization methods can improve your site ranking.
Common onsite SEO optimization practices such as improvements on keyword phrases, meta descriptions and title tags should be performed regularly, as your site expands gradually and cover more subjects. You should also optimize webpage titles and internal link structure.
10. Evaluating website conversions and analytics
During the site maintenance, you should include analysis on site traffic, traffic routes, bounce rates and others. In larger agencies, this task is often performed by the SEO or marketing team. However, if this is your personal project, you should analyze your statistics every 3 or 4 days, to see which improvement you can make.
If your conversion rate drops, your site might benefit from attractive “call to action” buttons or similar encouragement components. When visitors are using the site, they should have a clear path to your services or products. When maintaining your site, visitors should be respected as the most essential component of your site.
You can use free analysis tools in the Internet and they are usually very easy to use. You probably already have it installed in your site, but are you performing the analysis properly?
You should check whether keywords used really help people find your site and you may need to include a few more long-tail keywords in each maintenance session.
11. Evaluating user feedbacks
A successful site has clear methods for visitors to submit comments. The most common way to get user feedbacks is through e-mail and contact form. You can also gather information through social networks, surveys, polls, and blog comments. By using as many methods as possible to gain user feedback, you can find practical ideas to improve your site.
Common suggestions for site improvement are usually related to bugs and compatibility issues. During a maintenances session, you should organize the feedback and fix all issues quickly, if possible. However, some fixes may require design changes or even a major restructuring of the site, which requires you to ask the developer to provide assistance.
In any case, organizing and acting on user feedbacks will allow the site to grow and prosper. You can show the customers that they are the priority.
Leaving your site untouched years after the initial launch is comparable to buying a new car and neglecting the need to change the oil, eventually, you’ll have a catastrophic engine failure; the car will be useless for both the driver (website owner) and the passengers (visitors).
Regular site maintenance is instrumental in ensuring the long-term success of your site.