PUBLISHED MARCH 2015
by Molly Greene is a blogger and author of both fiction and nonfiction —
Do you have a housekeeping ritual for your website? When was the last time you checked your site for potential problems? If you’re like most of us, the answers are no, and never. Typically, we ignore the back end until a problem arises. But just like a house that is regularly maintained, your website—and your stress levels—will benefit from regular inspections, and the results can enhance your online performance.
Here’s my to-do list.
1. Maintain an unhackable username and password.
The first step in website housekeeping is to be sure you have a great log-in username and password. The word admin is easily breached and is a huge no-no, so if you use it you should replace it immediately with something more complicated that will help keep intruders at bay.
While you’re at it, remove log-ins for temporary users you’ve granted access as soon as their work is completed. That way, no one can force way in through those portals.
My website recently fielded a mini-cyberattack, and I was alerted by the security plug-in I use, Wordfence. Until now I haven’t paid much attention to the settings and information this plug-in provides. I checked it out. Know what I found? An IP address from the Russian Federation has tried more than 300 times to log in to my site using the username “admin.” Yikes. I changed my Wordfence settings to instantly block anyone who attempts to log in using that word.
2. Back up website files regularly.
Bad stuff happens. Websites get hacked; things blow up; and hard work can maliciously—or accidentally—vanish. It’s happened to me more than once. But you can minimize your potential losses by regularly backing up website files.
Luckily, a tech support person at Bluehost (my website hosting service) was able to restore my site using backup files after one major catastrophe. It took only about five minutes, because I subscribe to a service through Bluehost called “Site Backup & Restore Pro,” which backs up my site files weekly. I try (operative word) to download the files to my hard drive once a month as an added defense.
3. Update everything.
One of the most important housekeeping issues with regard to your website security is making sure everything about your website that is updatable is, in fact, kept up to date. For WordPress users, that means your version of WordPress, your theme, and your plug-ins should be the most current version. If you’re not a WordPress user, chances are a pro designed your site, and your web developer can provide guidance about what needs to be done.
For WordPress, updating plug-ins is critical. Plug-ins are a great way to add functionality to a website, but abandoned plug-ins (no longer updated by the developer) can be a huge security problem. Remove plug-ins you no longer use; update all plug-ins as soon as you’re advised of new versions, and periodically review existing plug-ins to be sure they’re still viable.
4. Check page load speed.
Keeping track of your site’s page load speed can help you manage issues before they become really big challenges. GTMetrix and Webpagetest are two free sites that will test and analyze your website for page load speed. Overly large image files are some of the biggest contributors to slow-loading pages.
5. Check website rank and traffic.
Over time, you’ll want to know whether traffic to your site is trending up or down, and which search words visitors are using to find you. WordPress plug-in JetPack includes a great stats module, and I use it to track my website’s traffic trends.
I also periodically check my domain rank with Moz Open Site Explorer and with Alexa, which will tell you where your visitors are coming from, how long they stay on your site, and whether you’re managing to grow your traffic. For a good Alexa article, go to seobook.com/archives/000944.shtml; as you’ll see, the author points out that “Alexa by itself does not mean that much, but it simply provides a rough snapshot of what is going on. It can be spammed, but if a site has a ranking in the millions then it likely has little traffic.”
6. Check your site for mobile.
Google Analytics is next in the analyzing-your-site realm. It’s tech intense, but there is no doubt the information is hugely relevant, and it will help you get the best from your site—if you spend time there.
One thing you can dutifully use it for is checking how your website is handling mobile traffic. Twenty percent of my traffic is mobile, and my bounce rate for these users is high.
I sense there is work to be done.
7. Check for duplicate content.
Of course, it’s a problem when bloggers take your original content and put it on their sites without permission. But duplicating content on your own website is a problem too. When Google finds duplicate content on a site, it’s not sure which page to show in search results. You can read an article explaining that at yoast.com/articles/duplicate-content.
Siteliner is a great online tool that will help you ferret out these issues, and it will also identify broken links. Note: Be prepared—the older your site, the more trouble spots Siteliner will find.
8. Check out Google Webmaster Tools.
They’re a pain for nontechies to figure out, but if you’re game, try Google Webmaster Tools (Google it). It’s free, and once you get it set up, the Google search bots that crawl your site will log any problems they find into your account, where you can view (and ideally resolve) them.
9. Check important links.
It’s wise to test important links on your site periodically and verify they’re still working. Think blog subscriber registration forms, contact forms, and social media follow and share links, for example.
Also check to see whether links in blog posts are still accurate. Did you delete a post, but forget to delete a link to that post in another article? The website brokenlinkcheck.com will do this for you, for free.
10. Add internal linking between blog posts.
This is not an essential housekeeping task, but it’s a smart one. While you’re tooling around your site, take a little time to add internal links to your website’s older blog posts and pages.
It’s important to include external (outbound) links to high-authority sites in your posts, but many bloggers disregard the value of internal links to posts and pages on their own websites. I think we often link to older posts when we create a new one, but forget that we can also build traffic and increase page views by linking older posts to newer relevant articles.
If you’re like me, you hate housekeeping. But, bottom line, it’s important to review your website periodically. You’ll undoubtedly find issues—some you can handle yourself, and others you may need help with.
And finding them before they cause a headache is, of course, the best way to keep your website neat, clean, and trouble free.
Molly Greene is a blogger and author of both fiction and nonfiction, including Blog It! The Author’s Guide to Building a Successful Online Brand and the Gen Delacourt Mystery Series— Mark of the Loon, The Last Fairytale, Paint Me Gone, A Thousand Tombs, and Swindle Town (December 2014). She writes about life and self-publishing topics at molly-greene.com.