Your Never-Ending Website Project: How to Accept and Embrace the Ball and Chain

Website maintenance

Updating your website might feel like a ball and chain around your ankle. But it can become an ongoing task you enjoy!

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your website will never be done. And that’s good.

Don’t think of website maintenance like other business tasks like drafting an email, writing a report, or creating a proposal. It has a beginning, but it has no end.

That may sound daunting (or depressing!), but it’s not so bad if you change the way you approach it.

Today’s post spells out how to keep up with your website maintenance, and what you should work on to make your site better over time.

Keep Up with the Times

Web technology is always changing: software changes, computers get faster, color rendering is more accurate. You’ll want your website design to reflect this.

People’s consumption habits change, too. Right now, sharing images is big. Internet speeds have increased in the past five years, so video is booming, too. If your site doesn’t use these two things, you may feel like you’re getting left behind.

The way to keep ahead of these changes is to stop thinking about your website like a once-and-done project. Instead, think of it like a garden you tend. Over time, to keep it at its best, you do updates, make changes and add sections.

To make this easy, put website maintenance into your schedule. One day a week, carve out time to work on your website.

What should you work on? First, make time to do basic upkeep, then make improvements.

Tend to the Basics First

The first thing to take care of is basic maintenance. Most sites run on some kind of software, and keeping this software updated is important for site speed and security.

  • Check for software updates. In WordPress, you’ll see a notification in your Dashboard. Do a complete site backup just to be sure, then click the update button.
  • Update any plugins. Check to see which ones need updating, then click to get them up to speed.
  • Fix broken links. In WordPress, a plugin like Broken Link Checker will let you know if there’s a link that’s not working anywhere on your site. Fix these to improve your user experience.
  • Throw out the trash. If you have a blog, you might have some comment spam waiting. Throw this out as part of your maintenance tasks.

Once you’ve taken care of the basics, you can work on improvements.

Test to Improve

Testing your site for usability may sound like something only companies with big budgets can do. But if you keep it simple, you can gather useful information about how users perceive your site, and what you can do to improve it.

This is a task you can put on your calendar for every six months or so. The information you gather will give you plenty to work on:  you can spread the tasks out over time so they’re not overwhelming.

According to Steve Krug in Don’t Make Me Think, site testing is accessible to all of us if we use this technique:

  • Sit someone down in front of your site who isn’t intimately involved in its maintenance. Ideally, this will be someone who represents the type of visitor you’d like to attract to your business, but who hasn’t spent time on your site. You want someone with “fresh eyes” to do this test.
  • Ask them to navigate through your pages and speak aloud what they’re thinking. Stand behind them and take notes. Steve recommends filming them from behind so you can see their screen and what they’re seeing as they comment. You can also use screen capture software like Camtasia or ScreenFlow for this task.
  • Note what they say as they navigate through your site. For example “I clicked on your About page, but I don’t see a photo of you. I wish I knew what you looked like.” Or, “I went to your Services page, but I don’t know where to go from here, or what to do next.”

Having someone do an informal tour of your site like this and talk about what they’re seeing is a great way to expose weaknesses you might not see. You’ll know what needs improving, and you can add that to your maintenance tasks.

Triage Your Results

Try not to get overwhelmed by all the to-dos that result from this testing. Instead, take the results and prioritize them so you can work on the areas that will have the most impact on improving your site visitors’ experience first.

When you run out of tasks, you’ll know it’s time for another test.

Turn That Ball and Chain into a Shovel

Embrace your ongoing commitment to your website. That’s not really a ball and chain around your ankle — it’s a shovel in your hand that’s poised to dig into your site improvements!

Need help putting together a website that’s easy to update?

Sign up for my free Easy Websites class here. You’ll learn a step-by-step process for putting together a website using easy-to-update software.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Pam, I just wanted to drop a note regarding the catchiest headline ever (or maybe I just relate a lot?)
    Best Regards,
    Nando

  2. says

    Another tip with the site testing is to give the “subject” a specific goal before they look at your site.

    Like: “how would you find out how to contact me?” was it easy or hard?

    or “Can you tell me what I do from looking at my site?”

    Really like the idea of prioritizing so tasks are not overwhelming.

    • says

      That is excellent advice, Darlene. I love the idea of letting them wander a bit at first, just to see where they go, and what catches their eyes. But then handing them a few tasks to complete helps gauge how easy/hard your navigation and instructions are. Brilliant!

  3. says

    I really like the analogy of the website as a garden that you tend over time. I’m going to totally steal that and use that line too! Great article too, I think website maintenance is something that’s not talked about enough and we see that with the number of sites getting hacked all the time. And I’m not just saying that because I offer WordPress support and maintenance services :D

  4. says

    Hi Pamela, I’d be interested on your take of the broken links checker. I recently used it on my site. Certainly I can and do fix broken links I can control or find updates to. Since my blog is 6 years old though there are a lot of old posts that link to sites that no longer exist. Would you unlink them (to make them go away in broken link checker) if the article still has merit in the content?

    I go back and forth in my mind…and having been a web professional for many years its the kind of thing that drives me nuts.

    Thanks

    • says

      Hi Paula,

      I hear you: updating all those old links could be a nightmare! What you might do is prioritize the pages that are worth updating based on the kind of traffic they receive.

      If they’re being visited frequently and people are using them as resources, they’ll have a better user experience if the links are updated or replaced with new ones. You could start with the pages that get a lot of traffic, and work your way down the list.

      I hope that helps!