11 Ways to Prepare Your Website for 2017


11 Ways to Prepare Your Website for 2017
 December 30, 2016

When was the last time you touched your website to update it or just check in on it?

If it’s been over a month, you could be in trouble. Your website needs regular maintenance and updates to remain a valuable resource to your users (and to your business).

You can’t just build it once and then leave it to rot, at least you can’t if you want it to benefit your business in any meaningful way.

In addition to regular updates and maintenance throughout the year, there are some things you should do at the end of the year to make sure your website is ready to take on the upcoming year.

This list will get you started:

1.      Crawl your site to identify and fix errors.

404 errors and faulty redirects can throw big wrenches into your user experience, and can negatively affect your website’s visibility in the search engines.

You should be regularly crawling your website to identify these potential errors throughout the year (at least once a month is usually a good place to start).

With the year winding down, it’s a convenient time to crawl your site again. This way, you can identify any potential errors and fix them before users stumble out of their holiday stupor and return to normal or increased search activity in January.

Moz Crawl Test, Screaming Frog, or SEMrush site audit are a few good tools for crawling your site.

You’ll be able to see if you have any 404 not found errors and where they are so you can either 301 redirect to a relevant page or redesign your 404 page to encourage engagement on your website.

You’ll also be able to verify your 301 redirects are applied and working correctly. Also, check for 302 redirects and verify those are used correctly.

301 redirects are permanent, 302s are used for a temporary redirection, so they don’t pass authority and link equity like 301s do.

With errors like these identified and fixed, you’re starting off the new year on the right foot.

2.      Look at Analytics (Google or otherwise) and make a plan for the next year.

Google Analytics, or another platform you are using, is your friend.

The data you uncover about your website within analytics will show you what’s working, what’s not, and which areas on your website need to be improved.

And, you’ll be able to use the data you find to plan your strategy for next year.

Start with revisiting the campaigns you ran this year.

Which ones worked well?

Why did they work? Can you replicate what you did to get the same results or better?

Which campaigns didn’t work at all?

Why didn’t they work? What could you do differently to get the results you want?

This review isn’t just about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t – it’s also about identifying what went wrong, what to try again in a different way, and tweaking what works to make it even better (a.k.a. conversion rate optimization).

3.      Check your links.

The quality of the links pointing to your site (and the links you have pointing away from your site) matters.

Use ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer, Majestic, or SEMrush’s Backlink Checker to take an inventory of your backlinks (a.k.a. inbound links) and look for anything that is low quality and irrelevant.

If you see any links your website would be much better off not having, track down a contact for the site linking to you and ask them to remove the link.

If that doesn’t work, you can always use Google’s disavow tool within search console to disavow low-quality links.

However, make sure you study up on what you’re doing and be careful, wrong moves here can sometimes have big effects on your website’s visibility in the search engines.

If a link is helping you, is relevant, and is useful to your users, the last thing you want to do is disavow it.

If you’re not comfortable taking it on by yourself, contact us and we can help you out.

4.      Review and update on-page SEO.

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing the content and HTML source code of individual pages to improve user experience and increase the visibility of them within search engines to earn more traffic.

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Start with your meta tags. Crawl your site and take a closer look at your title tags and meta descriptions.

Are they unique? Do they accurately match the content on the page? Are they long enough without being too long?

In the past, Google would cut off your title tag if it exceeded a certain amount of characters (it usually hovered between 65 and 70). As mobile searches increased, character limits decreased and it is now based on pixel width, not a set character count.

In general, keeping your title tag at 60 characters or fewer will keep it from getting cut off.

As for meta descriptions, around 160 characters is the current standard. Keeping them around the 155 characters or fewer mark will keep them from being too long. However, you also want to avoid writing meta descriptions that are too short (below 70 characters will be considered too short).

When crafting these, a character counting tool, like the one at the bottom of SEO Book’s Meta Medic, is helpful.

Headers

Headers are an important element for on-page SEO.

Not only do they break up your content for improved reader flow and provide relevancy to readers, they also indicate relevancy to search engines so they can accurately associate your content with query topics and index it.

You need to make sure your headers are saying the right things, and you also need to use a proper header structure (H1, H2, H3, etc.). With a proper header structure, you prioritize topics in your content and improve your website accessibility.

After refreshing your keyword research and reviewing queries in Search Console, revisit your headers and update them as needed to increase relevancy and clarity.

Image Alt Tags

The alt tags on your images allow search engine crawlers and screen readers to “see” your images.

You can use keywords in these, which will help search engines index your images, but keywords are not your main focus.

When creating alt tags, your main focus is accurately describing the image. Use a keyword or two if it makes sense, but make sure you steer clear of anything that could be remotely considered keyword stuffing.

5.      Review and update your content.

While you’re reviewing and updating on-page SEO elements, don’t forget about the content of your pages – that’s included in on-page SEO.

Your content should be focused around one topic/topic cluster and be as relevant and useful to your users as possible.

With that being said, are you mentioning keywords related to your topic towards the beginning of the post and including variations throughout?

Is the content long enough to provide value to your users? Does it help them solve a problem?

Check and verify any claims you’re making and statistics/facts you’re presenting. Update information and reference links as needed.

Then, zoom out and look at the bigger picture.

Based on the research you’ve done and the information you’ve learned from users throughout the year, what’s missing? Is there any content you need to create?

What content is performing well? Consider repurposing it into different formats and continue promoting.

Also take a look at content that isn’t performing. Can you update it to make it more valuable to users or is it irrelevant?

If it’s irrelevant, isn’t drawing traffic, and/or isn’t earning you any backlinks, consider removing it, redirecting to a more relevant post/page, or integrating into another post (as long as it adds value to it).

6.      Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.

Now, more than ever before, it is essential for your website to be mobile-friendly.

With Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update of April 2015 and the more recent “Mobilegeddon 2.0,” which is being used to refer to Google’s Mobile-First Index, it’s clear that your website needs to be responsive to continue to succeed in the search engines.

Globally, nearly 60% of searches come from mobile devices, overtaking desktop and continuing to increase. There are variations by industry, but it’s clear mobile usage will continue to rise.

In the United States, 75.1% of internet users access the internet via mobile devices.

Your customers are accessing your website on mobile devices and your website needs to perform for them, otherwise, they’ll leave (and go to your competitors instead).

In fact, if users arrive on a business website on a mobile device and find it doesn’t provide a good mobile experience, 48% of users take it as an indication that the business does not care.

That last thing you want is for your customers to feel as if you do not care about them, so make sure your website is mobile-friendly.

7.      Review business objectives and align your website accordingly.

Take time before the new year to review your business objectives and goals.

Did you meet your objectives? Why or why not?

How did you do with reaching your goals? Did you meet them, miss them, or exceed them? Why or why not?

Are there any you discovered weren’t right for where your business is going?

How about objectives and goals you need to add and work towards to get your business where you want it to be?

Take stock of where your business is and compare it to where you want your business to be in the new year; tweak your business objectives and goals accordingly.

Then, review your website to make sure it aligns with your business going into the new year.

Your website should support your objectives and help you reach your goals – making sure everything is aligned to work together will help you get there.

8.      Review, test, and update website security.

Maintaining good website security is an ongoing process.

You have to keep up with it or you risk getting hacked. A lifetime of good security moves can be ruined by one small mistake.

Hackers don’t stop advancing their techniques and neither do website security measures.

Make sure you’re regularly updating your security measures as needed and testing to ensure there are no weaknesses throughout the year, not just at the end.

If you haven’t checked in on your security measures recently, it’s a good idea to do it before you move into next year.

Make Recommended Updates

Look at where you are – is everything up to the recommended standards of your website platform and host?

If not, update your systems so they are up to recommended standards. Make sure you update your extensions as well.

Update and Strengthen Passwords

When is the last time you changed your passwords?

It may be time to start the new year with a new set of stronger passwords.

Check User Accounts and Permissions

Review your user accounts and permissions.

Remove inactive user accounts and adjust permissions as necessary for other accounts.

Review Website Backup Strategy

Are you regularly backing up your website?

If not, you should be.

If so, are old, outdated backups still stored on your server?

Those can contain security risks and should be removed or contained separately.

Continuous Testing

Add security testing into your regular site maintenance checks to identify issues and stop problems before they start.

What to Look for When Reviewing Site Security

A code review from an experienced developer can identify pieces of malicious code that have been injected as a hack or modified files.

Customer complaints can be telling as well, especially for eCommerce websites.

Don’t brush off complaints – take them seriously and investigate thoroughly.

This way, you’ll be able to identify potential vulnerabilities, hacks that have just happened, or a customer service issue and fix them before they become big problems.

If you notice sudden and sharp decreases in page speed or large increases in errors, take notice and investigate – if you can’t attribute it to recent changes you’ve made on your website, it could be a hack.

Security Server-Side and Site-Side

A good, managed hosting service can help you beef up your security on the server side of things.

On the site side of things, you can use a service, like Sucuri, for website security scanning and protection.

Your website security matters, not just to you but to your customers too. Get it together for the new year and then keep it together with continuous monitoring.

9.      Check site speed and aim to improve it.

How fast your content loads makes a big difference in whether your website visitors stay and explore your site or leave.

Before you roll into the new year, check your site load times and work to improve it – the faster your content loads, the better.

These are a few tools you can use to check your current site speed:

With the information from these tools, you’ll know what your current load times are and have a good idea about how to improve page speed.

10. Review and update your sitemap(s) and robots.txt file.

Your XML sitemap and robots.txt file work together to make your website as accessible and easy-to-crawl as possible for search engine crawlers.

For your website pages to show up in the search engines (a.k.a. to be indexed), they need to be crawled by search engine web crawlers – this is how search engines discover your website, understand what it is about, and determine how it shows up in search results.

XML Sitemap

Your website’s XML sitemap is a file (and it’s also usually a page on your site) that lists all the pages of your site. By crawling it, search engine crawlers can understand the organization of your site content as well as the importance of each page compared to the whole site.

Sitemaps can also provide useful metadata to search engine crawlers, like how often a page is changed, when it was last updated, priority within the hierarchy of the site, etc.

If you have a large website, especially one that is heavy with specific types of content, it may be beneficial to have multiple sitemaps.

For example, if you have a large eCommerce site with tons of products, a lot of videos and several more pages, you could submit three sitemaps – one for videos, one for products, and one for the rest of the pages on your site.

In situations like these, having more than one sitemap can improve the crawl rate of your website.

Robots.txt File

Working hand-in-hand with your sitemap is your robots.txt file.

This is a file containing directives for search engine crawlers that you upload to your server. It provides helpful suggestions on how search engine web crawlers can crawl your website more efficiently.

From within this file, you can block certain pages from being crawled and/or indexed. This is a useful function for protected pages, template files, and other pages that do not need to be indexed and viewed by the public.

However, you have to know what you’re doing when writing directives in a robots.txt file.

When done right, you can improve the crawl rate of your website and ensure that only the pages you want to be indexed are visible in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But, mistakes in this file can be costly – one wrong character or directive can end up blocking your website from the search engines entirely.

Search engine robots need to be able to access and crawl your website pages to be able to index them. If you block their access, your website won’t be indexed.

A regular review of your sitemap and robots.txt file will help you stay ahead of issues and ensure your website crawl rate is as efficient as possible.

11. Run a few user tests to further improve the user experience.

You can run as many internal tests for user experience as you want, but you still won’t gain the same insights you would get from external user tests.

You know your business and how your website works. New website visitors don’t.

They’re experiencing your website, and perhaps your brand, for the first time. What you may see as intuitive design, they may find clunky and confusing.

The only way for you to know is to run external user tests with people who have not seen your website before.

They could be friends, contacts in different industries, or focus groups you gather together. Regardless, make sure you run a few tests with users outside of your organization. Just ask them to navigate your website, give them a focus or a goal if you’d like to test conversion pathways, and collect feedback.

The insights you gain here will give you an honest, true-to-life evaluation of your user experience and give you plenty of ideas for improvement.

 

Regular maintenance on your website keeps it updated and functioning as it should for users.

Once you add in these extra steps at the end of the year, your website will be more than ready to take on the new year!

Need help getting your site ready for January?

The VIG team is standing by to lend a hand!