Monday, March 9, 2009

Sick Websites

Sick ManIt seems that no matter the time of year, someone is just getting over what ever bug it was that was doing it’s rounds (nothing worse than a summer cold). But I have been thinking how it is a good idea to have an annual check-up for your website. How often does your website get sick? When was the last time you checked for broken links? While the list could be endless here are a few things to check up on:

The Home Page
While this may seem like a no brainer it should always be your first stop. Does your homepage correctly describe your business, services or products? Often as time passes so to does the nature of your business and the home page needs to reflect your business accurately. Just recently we had a client inform us that the products on his website were a little outdated. As it turns out most of those products are no longer on offer, but more than this it would seem that they have changed the entire direction of their business – the website (and importantly the home page) needs to reflect this.

The main title of your website should always describe your services and products or at least grab the attention of your targeted audience. Many visitors sum up their interest in your website in the first few seconds so be sure to reassure them that they are at the right spot.

As with the home page, many things change over time. Is navigation effective, quick, simple and easy to follow? Many websites are continually being updated; can these updates be reached from the homepage? Are internal pages correctly linked and grouped together? Have any of your pages been moved or removed? If so, has this resulted in any broken links?

While quick navigation is important to your visitors it is also vital for those search engine bots. The easier it is for the visitor to find your pages the easier it will be for the search engines to reach your pages. I always suggest a plain text sitemap for websites as this is ideal fodder for the search engines and requires no more than a simple text link from the home page.

Outdated and Up to Date
Is any part of your website outdated? While it is easy enough to explain face to face with other people what you many offer in terms of products and services (okay, so not always that easy – I used to sell rocks!) it’s often not that easy to convey this online. When was the last time you checked your website for industry updates or product updates. Is your latest news still current? While we all know that bad dress sense makes a comeback every 20 years or so, do you really want your website to have to wait that long before it is seen as current?

When adding pages did you make use of a template page? If so, have you modified the title and description tags?

User Friendliness
While navigation is possibly the first place to start on this one, a few other points to consider would be:

Email subscriptions, useful links and other end user products you may offer. Do all those documents you uploaded still exist? Are they compatible with the majority of browsers/readers that your end user may be using? Do you offer links to useful resources such as a document reader? If so, it may be helpful to offer installation tips or a how-to guide. Does your website encourage visitors to sign up to your mailing list? Equally important do you also have an unsubscribe option? And often overlooked does this work? So many websites have an automated mailing service and often the unsubscribe option is also automated – does this still work? I have had dealings with web hosts in the past that changed operating systems or scripting resources that left some of my code useless. I only found out once the complaints started rolling in. Keep checking that that scripts work. While an annoyance to you it could be the reason you lose a potential client.

Do you link to other resources? If so, you may wish to check that they are still there or that they are still the kind of resource you would like to link to. Sometimes websites like people can be struck down by disease. Be sure to remove links to any infected websites as this will reflect upon you and your website.

While design and overall content are vital factors in the functioning of a website these are often too large to be overlooked once they become a problem for one reason or another. Put together your own check-up list and check these factors every week/month/year depending on your needs. The real point here is that you should never assume that once it’s healthy up and running it will remain so without a little boost now and then – we all get sick from time to time.

If you have a few checks that you run regularly let me know.

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