Do you cringe when you have to look at your website? Have you started a list of things you like on other websites that you want to incorporate into your next iteration? It happens. Every couple of years, business websites need a bit of a face lift. It’s usually prompted by new technologies, changing staff, new designs, new company branding. Here are somethings to consider after you’ve decided to upgrade your website, and before you’ve chosen a company to do it.
1: Using a CMS
If you see a future of an ever changing website for your business, consider using a Content Management System (CMS). If you weren’t able to update your content on your soon-to-be-old website, now’s your chance to get with the year 2004. No more relying on your “webmaster” to update your website when you want to make a few sentence changes. A CMS separates the website code from the actual content that’s on the front facing page. It allows the business owner or designated person at the company to update the website without dealing with code. There are probably hundreds of CMS’s, from free open source, to proprietary and supported. Here’s an updated list of CMS’s and their overall use on the Internet.
The company you choose to make your website will most likely suggest one that they feel comfortable using. That’s fine, but ask them:
- Do I still have control if you leave/disappear (is it proprietary to you)?
- Can anyone else update it if we part ways?
- Can I host it anywhere I want?
- Will anyone train our team on how to use it?
Personally I use open source CMS’s. More specifically , WordPress. WordPress, as of this writing, is estimated at a ridiculous 22.4% of website usage of the whole Internet, and 60.2% of total CMS usage.
2: 301 redirects
When thinking in terms of snail mail and your home address, when you move, you’d setup a forwarding address. A 301 redirect is just like that forwarding address, but for your website.
The scenario: you’ve looked at all of your website pages and decided that you want to restructure all of the inner pages. Let’s just say that you don’t call your staff “Staff” anymore, you call them “Team”. You want “Team” to show in the menu. So, you’re URL will go from mywebsite.com/staff to mywebsite.com/team. You’ll want to tell search engines about this change. The old URL will still be in search engines’ index for a bit so it may come up in a search. Also, other websites, may have linked to that specific staff page. When someone clicks that link, you don’t want your website visitors to land on a “page not found” (404 error), which is what will happen if you don’t setup a 301 redirect.
If your visitor thinks they’re going to see your old staff page, you want them redirected to the new team page, not the homepage. Respective page to respective page. The redirect will happen immediately, and the user won’t feel lost when they land on the page.
The URL structure is especially important if you’re using an older technology that uses extensions for your URL’s. Most have search friendly URL’s now. Go to your website. Look up at the URL bar. That’s the bar that has the actual address of your domain. Take note of it. Go to a few different pages of your website and note how the URL’s look. Some examples of how it may look: yourwebsite.com/home , maybe mywebsite/index.html
Check the inner pages. What are the extensions? Some examples: yourwebsite.com/about.html, yourwebsite.com/about.aspx, yourwebsite.com/about.php, etc. Generally your new website shouldn’t have any extensions for a couple of reasons.
- Even though hackers can figure out your underlying technology, you don’t want to offer it up by showing them the extension which give them a good start.
- When updating your website in the future, you’d like to keep the URL extension redirects to a minimum. So using no extension is preferred as that’s the way most newer websites are setup.
So make sure you ask the company that’s developing your new website how will the new URL’s be structured? Will they setup redirects from the old ones to the new ones? Will the website URL’s have extensions?
3: Remember different screen sizes
I’m tempted to say “mobile first” because mobile website traffic is climbing constantly. However we have so many screen sizes, and “mobile” can mean phones, tablets, TV’s, watches, etc… I’ll just say to remember that your visitors are on all types of screen sizes.
I generally go with responsive websites, which are websites that respond to the width of the screen so visitors don’t have to pinch, pan and zoom. Responsive is what Google recommends.
What is a responsive website? Think of the content on your webpage being broken into blocks. The blocks will stack vertically on screens that are narrow.
You also want the menu to be mobile friendly, understanding that people can’t “hover” over a top level menu item on a phone or tablet and have a dropdown menu drop down to show what’s under it.
Some people would specifically like a separate mobile website, which is fine as well. I’d suggest that if you have a type of analytics on your current website to check what devices people are using to visit it.
Ask the company making your website if your website will be mobile friendly as in a specific one made for mobile or if it’s responsive.
4: Who’s hosting your website?
Clients move on, it’s a fact of business. I’d rather a client wanting to be with me, than being with me because they have to. Ask how your hosting account will be setup. Who do you make your payments to?
Sometimes online marketing companies do their own hosting. More often than not, they have a master account with a popular host that has all of their clients on it. Personally, I like to setup clients on their own account and have them pay directly to the host for hosting keeping the maintenance and update costs separate.
Again, future thinking, if you’re on a slow server, how will you handle it when you want to move your website somewhere else? The host may be slow because other sites on your server are receiving a lot of traffic, or maybe you just want to reduce costs.
How often are backups being performed?
Websites get hacked. They can also “break” when doing updates. I highly recommend checking with your host about backups. Sometimes hosts do their own backups. Some have the option of “on demand” backups, to do before you upgrade… just in case something goes wrong. I’ve used various WordPress plugins. I’ve haven’t bee 100% happy with any of them. If the host my client chooses doesn’t include backups, they may offer third party backups.
5: Your domain
Now that you’re moving your website, you’re going to have to track down your domain info. More than likely, you’ve lost it and don’t know the login, password, who set it up, or who it’s even registered with. We’ve seen it. Hopefully you can search your email and somehow find it. Once you do:
- Make sure it’s under your name. Make sure all of the contact info is yours. Not sure? Check your domain info here.
- Get all the info under your name with a phone number you’ll always have.
- Once you track down the info, register it for a few years or keep an updated credit card on file at the domain registrar. That’s so it’ll renew automatically. Better to be safe than sorry.
Have a great time updating to your new website and if you have any other questions, just leave them below!