5 Keys to Keeping Your Website Healthy

Matt Jones Business Websites, Website Maintenance Leave a Comment

“My website is down!”

“I can’t load my website!”

“Someone hacked my site!” 

Getting a text, email, or call like one of these from a customer still sets my scalp tingling and my teeth on edge, even after years of building and managing websites for hundreds of businesses and individuals around the globe. Typically, the cause isn’t extreme: there hasn’t been any massive attack on the site; no virus or terrorist hacker infiltration that is crippling that specific website alone. On those rare occasions, the panicked messages are warranted, but the majority of the time, the solutions are easy enough to find and we get the websites back up and running. 

Most often, we find that a few easy-to-manage steps could have prevented these harrowing experiences, and so today, we’re going to hand you a short, easy list of helpful tasks we suggest you put on your Web Management To-Do list to keep your website (and thereby, your online business) rolling along nicely.

1. Security
For myriad reasons, hackers like to infiltrate websites. They’re just mean, sometimes. Do yourself a massive favor and install security features. Every hosting company will offer security measures in either paid or free forms – firewalls, brute-force attack protection, virus scans, and more. (This post is absolutely not claiming to be exhaustive on this topic.) Talk with your host about security options up front, and make sure they’re active. Now, for self-hosted WordPress website users, it can be as easy as installing a plugin and going through the basic configuration. Whether you choose to stay with the free versions of security plugins or pay for additional features, we highly recommend setting up the basic security features to keep your website healthy.

2. Secure passwords
Along the lines of establishing strong security in your website, use strong, secure passwords, passwords you haven’t used somewhere else if you can help it. The more complex the password, the better, and with so many options for password vaults (LastPass, 1Pass, etc), there’s no need to memorize or whip out your pencil and notepad every time you create or need a password. A mix of numbers, letters, and special characters 12-15 characters long will almost guarantee that you’ve secured your site at least to the point of any login hackers getting tired of trying.

3. Off-Site Backups
Scheduling regular backups is essential to a healthy website, and saving them somewhere off-site (Dropbox, AmazonS3, etc) is also crucial. You absolutely will need a backup of your website at some point. A file that corrupts after an update is made to your website can crash everything and require reverting back to a point before the update. What could have been a simple fix turns into multiple man hours (and potentially loads of $$$) to root out the offending file and then try to restore or replace it with a working version. And while an all-out server crash at your host is unlikely, system-wide data loss has happened before. It’s a worst-case scenario, but if it happened, you’ll be prepared to restore your website quickly. Our post on How and What to Backup in Your Website is coming soon. We’ll go over some processes and tips on battening down those hatches.

4. Staying Current on Updates
Just like backups, keeping the multiple “background” parts of your website updated will help ensure your site stays healthy and working well. Updates are important because the developers and coders who write, test, and constantly improve the coding languages and that are used worldwide in the conglomeration of bits and bytes that make up what we call “The Internet” are at war with the aforementioned hackers who are constantly trying to exploit that code. Security patches, improvements, and simple updates to keep up with new coding practices and convention are the norm. Here’s a (very) short list of items in your website to watch for updates and stay on top of:

  • PHP versions: PHP is the language your website uses to talk to its database, the ginormous spreadsheet that indexes all the content in your website. The version being used by your website is controlled by your host or in your hosting control panel. Version updates made to PHP are important to stay up with. Best to ask your host to update it as they can more easily revert should something go awry.
  • WordPress versions: for those who self-host their website using WordPress. WordPress typically releases a new version once, maybe twice per year. Security patches and new features are the norm. Overall, it’s not critical to stay right up-to-date with the latest version, but falling behind guarantees that at some point, multiple functions in your website will stop working or become incredibly SLOW, particularly when PHP version changes affect your outdated site. Best to stay on top of WP versions.
  • Plugins and Add-ons: these additional features added to websites can be back-doors hackers can use to infiltrate your website. They are simply ‘apps’ you can add to your website for all sorts of features, but they can be coded and offered for use by pretty much any coder out there. With that in mind, hackers can more easily find back doors if the coding isn’t done well. Of all the things in your website, plugins are the easiest, and to us, the most important updates to stay on top of. Security patches are frequent and necessary, so keeping these updated is crucial to a healthy website.
  • Removing outdated or unused files, themes, and plugins: Any file in your website that is outdated should be deleted. Non-active themes and plugins can potentially be accessed and infected. Old images not in use can slow your website down considerably over time just by taking up space. Whether by hand or using a third-party add-on or plugin, a once-per-month inventory and removal of a website’s trash is a good practice.

5. Managing Your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Well
While SEO is definitely its own world (or universe, really), keeping your website’s SEO fresh is another important part of having a healthy website. If you think of the other items we’ve discussed as the basic necessities of life for your website (food, shelter, water), then SEO is like working out or eating clean: it’s crucial, but on a different level. Good SEO means your site presents well to browsers and is set up to be indexed well by them. It means your outbound and internal links are all working, not leading to outdated or missing pages. It means traffic coming to your site is being measured and responded to appropriately, and this is all just the beginning. But, caring for your website’s SEO means you are intentionally working to keep it healthy.

Let our team of experts help you start and continue to keep your website healthy. We take care of you online so you can focus on what you do best: grow your business!

MATT JONES is the president of E-Street Media. He is also owner and president of Jones House Creative, a design firm that serves authors and creatives and helps to promote their work online.

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