Don’t forget that on January 1st you were supposed to change all of the batteries in your smoke detectors! It’s also a great time to review and update your website. Here are a few things you should make sure you do at the start of each year.
Update Your Copyright Notice
It’s up for debate as to whether Google cares about whether your copyright date is current or not, but it’s a signal to viewers as to whether you maintain your website with the latest information (and could also have some legal repercussions!). Make sure you update the copyright year to reflect the range from when you started your website to today, and also ensure that your organization is listed as the copyright holder.
Fix Broken Links
Run a link checker on your website and look for broken links to old websites or internal pages. There’s a free website broken link checker here (UPDATE: That tool is currently down, but almost the exact same tool, minus the meta tag list, is here) that will scan your site for broken links and much more. Google does care whether you have a lot of broken external links on your site, and if you are linking internally to a page that no longer exists, it will stop crawlers in their tracks during site indexing. You can also use browser tools such as Check My Links for the Chrome browser to look for bad links on specific pages.
Update Press Releases and News
This is a great time to review your “Latest News” page to ensure that you are displaying all of the great things you did this year. Make sure all of your press releases are up to date (and in an HTML format, not just PDF) and that you’re linking out to any articles or mentions of your company.
Freshen Your Home Page
Has it been a year since you’ve changed that header image, or looked at whether the words you’re using on your front page still reflect what you do and your brand? Are there new services or products you’ve started to offer? Google likes fresh content, and also uses your homepage (among many other clues) to get an idea of what your site is all about. Users like to see new things. Make sure this gateway to your entire site is current and leads visitors down the path that you want them to travel. At a bare minimum, add a few sentences that are relevant to who you are today.
Update Your Contact Us, Privacy and Terms Pages
Once again, Google likes certain things to exist on your website – especially the Contact Us page. According to the Google Quality Guidelines (there’s a summary of this leaked document here), having an “appropriate amount of contact information” is important to Google. This should include, at a bare minimum, your company name, telephone number and address.
Update Meta Descriptions
Google heavily uses page content to understand what a page is about, but it also uses the page “meta description”. Sometimes this description will appear in Google search results, and sometimes Google will come up with its own description. Use the broken link checker I mentioned above to view all of the meta descriptions for your site and freshen them up to, once again, reflect any changes about who you are and what you do.
Review Google Webmaster Tools
If you aren’t using Google’s webmaster tools to track information about how Google sees your site, you should be. These tools will tell you whether Google has problems with your site (broken links, errors retrieving pages, etc.), but will also tell you about links to your site that Google finds important, keywords that Google feels are relevant to your site, search phrases that will make your site show up on Google results, and much MUCH more. These tools give you a little peek into the engine that is Google. Review the site for problems that Google has found, and then fix them. Also, make sure your sitemap is up to date, and that you’ve told Google about it in the webmaster tool console.
Consider Moving Your Site to HTTPS
Google recently announced that it will give a rankings boost to sites that are completely secured, and there’s a certain peace of mind your visitors will have when they see that green lock in the corner of their browser.
I worked on moving one of my sites to be fully protected and it definitely wasn’t as simple as just buying a certificate. I found several WordPress plugins that didn’t play well with secure sites so had to be switched out, and I also had to change a number of server settings to make sure my site was actually secure. For example, SSL version 3 is vulnerable to attack, so I had to disable it. There are some great SSL audit tools, like the Qualys SSL Server Test, that will tell you how secure your “secure site” is – from an encryption perspective. Most domain registrars will sell you SSL certificates, with prices ranging from about $20 a year to several hundred dollars per year (depending on the type of certificate you get). I would recommend hiring someone who has switched a site to HTTPS before to make sure this project goes smoothly.
There are definitely other things you can do and should do. Verify your backups (make sure you have backups!). Add trust seals to your site. Do a security analysis – especially if you take credit cards. I could probably list off another 30 pretty quickly. But before we go there, review and implement the above suggestions. What else would YOU recommend?
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