Website Maintenance Checklist

The Website Ecosystem

A website isn’t just a website. As marketing channels multiply so do the digital components that need to be managed. There are 3 major pieces that go into any website: 1. Front-End Components 2. Back-End Components 3. Maintenance/Management.

After working with hundreds of small – large businesses I’ve compiled a list of common website components, their definitions and maintenance needs.  While not every system or website may have these components, most are common across all digital ecosystems.

Who Needs Help Managing their Website?

Frankly, anyone with a small – large business could use a helping hand from time to time.  However, constraints like time and skill level can create a need for additional website support. Help can come from a Graphic Designer, Copywriter, Website Developer, Hosting Support, SEO Expert, Website Manager or any combination of these resources, like me: https://www.herderofcats.com/website-support-training/

On average, a professional website developer will spend about 6 hrs [https://dev.to/sudiukil/average-daily-coding-time-of-a-developer-3f66] or less out of the 8 hr work day actively coding.  As a business owner that wears many hats, 6hrs to build out a page or type out a blog post isn’t feasible.  Add in the research needed, writing time, inclusion of links, images, SEO and formatting and you could burn through a day or two.  When the cost of website maintenance outweighs the benefit, that’s the time to hire a professional or engage in some website training.

Why does my Website need to be “Maintained”?

For some background, I started my career in a digital marketing firm that touted a “set it and forget it” approach to websites…it wasn’t an accurate statement then and it’s completely unreasonable now.  As the website ecosystem has grown it’s become more important to keep up with all of the components that make up a digital marketing system.

There are two main reasons for continued maintenance, Security and Search Engines.

  1. With popular web platforms like WordPress powering “37% of the Web…” [WordPress.com], that amount of market saturation exposes WordPress websites to more hackers and spam.  For that reason, updates designed to combat the latest threats are frequent and need to be applied regularly. These code updates are the bare minimum required to keep your website up and running.  The need for updates is compounded by any 3rd party plugins installed that can create additional points of vulnerability.
  2. Over 99.94 percent of websites are considered “zombie sites” [https://mashable.com/article/zombie-websites/] or sites that are abandoned / “parked”.  Search Engines, namely Google, have developed techniques to detect and identify sites that are active and legitimate.  Updating website content is essential for aiding search engines in ranking and displaying your website before those that are not.

Additionally, keeping your website freshly updated lets potential customers know that you care about your online image. Just like keeping your building freshly painted makes a good first impression.

What Does Website Maintenance Mean?

Firstly, the website today is actually only one marketing channel.  Modern Omni-channel marketing encompasses all the paths that a customer can take to ultimately make a purchase.  Common Marketing channels include but are not limited to Social Media platforms, Search Engines, Business Listings, Chat, Mobile/SMS, Email Marketing, Apps, Print Media, Radio and Physical Locations AKA Brick and Mortar stores.  Marketing your products or services across multiple channels requires consistency in messaging and knowledge of these tools.

Secondly, the website is composed of numerous front-end (customer facing) and back-end elements.  The more complex or robust a website is, the more elements there are to maintain.  I’ve listed common components by front-end and back-end from an Ecommerce (Online Store) perspective.

Best Practice:  Make sure your contact information, especially your email address is up to date in all of the systems that touch your website.  If you have signed up to receive notifications you should get advanced notice about changes that require your attention.  I do this yearly around the date the domain was purchased as that is often the first step in the website creation process, this is not the rule but will give you a benchmark to start from.

Website Front-End Definitions:

Front-End Components:  The website and other digital components that are visible to the end user.  Parts are arranged in order of importance, or hierarchically.  The most important information is at the top of the website so it is easy to find, and the least important info is at the bottom.
  • Homepage – The first page or front page of a website, sometimes referred to as a landing page. Modern websites may only consist of a homepage and encourage scrolling through all the other areas or “blocks” that make up the website.
  • Header – Top banner of the site, usually contains a logo, links to other pages in the website, business contact information.
  • Utility Header – Part of the Header, displays vital info about the company or individual such as the phone number, email address and social media links.
  • Main Menu / Drop-downs – Labeled links to the other pages or components of the website, also called a navigation. Clicking on a menu item will allow the user to ‘navigate’ to the other areas of the site. Rolling over the menu may also cause more links to appear, referred to as a drop-down or sub-menu.
  • Slideshow or Hero Image – If there is a large image under the header of the website that moves, or switches to different images, this is referred to as a “Slideshow”. If there is one static image that does not scroll to another image, this is known as a “Hero Image.”
  • Calls-to-Action (CTAs) – Also referred to as “buttons”. These are links labeled with a visual icon and text, such as a “Contact Us” button that links to a page with all of the business Contact info. In Ecommerce, CTAs are links to purchase products, services or to Contact the seller for more information. In all cases, these will be important or popular links that the user is being asked to attend to.
  • Footer – The bottom banner or menu of the website, that resides at the ‘foot’ of the page. A footer can contain more links to other pages in the website. Footer links are typically less important than the ones in the header, such as a privacy policy or sitemap.
  • Content Pages – These are unique pages that are contained within the website, not including the Homepage which is often talked about as it’s own page. Typical pages include About (the business or individual), Contact (ways to get in touch), Products or Services and a Privacy Policy.
  • Blog – Blogs are websites or pages of articles written by individuals or groups about a topic. Originated as a “weblog” or informal online journal with the most recent entries appearing at the top. Generally linked to or contained within the website, often stands alone at a different website address. In Ecommerce, the blog is a powerful tool for marketing as business owners can write informative articles about their industry or expertise.
  • Product Landing Page (PLP) or Category – For Ecommerce, these pages groups products or services together by type or purpose.
  • Product Description Page (PDP) or individual Product Listing – For Ecommerce, these pages represent one product or service and its variations. An example of a Variation (also called an Attribute) is a T-Shirt available in different sizes. Size, Color, Purpose and any other features that distinguish one product from another can be variations.
  • Form(s) – A website component with fields that a user can select and fill in with information to send securely to a business or individual. A standard Form often contains First Name, Last Name, Email, Phone Number and a Message box for typing freely.
  • Shopping Cart – Items selected for purchase will appear together on a page for the user to review before completing the sale. Most carts will allow the user to view the details of each individual item, add or remove items from their cart before purchase.
  • Checkout Page / Checkout Flow – Can be one to several pages meant to guide the user through the purchase process. Here shoppers will provide their payment information, billing address and shipping address and shipment type. A Checkout flow will ask the user to confirm the purchase in order to complete the “transaction.” A transaction success message and email may also be part of the checkout flow.

Front-End Website Maintenance Calendar

How often should I update the content on my website? The short answer is daily, or as often as you can. But the general consensus on the internet is once or twice a month. [https://www.web-foundry.co.uk/post/how-often-should-i-update-my-website].

ComponentHow Often?Tips
Homepage Every 2 weeks – MonthlySet your blog posts to automatically update in a section on the homepage
HeaderAdd Promos MonthlyMany CMS will allow you to add text to the Header to announce promotions
Utility HeaderCheck every 6 months to make sure links are activeRemains pretty static but its a good idea to click on it every so often to make sure the links to social media are still correct
Main Menu / Drop-downsCheck every 6 months to make sure links are activeStatic unless adding a new page that should appear in menu, such as a donation page
Slideshow or Hero ImageEvery 2 weeks – MonthlyMain area for showcasing new products and promotions, make sure headlines are short enough to be readable on smaller devices like phones
Calls-to-Actions (CTAs)Every 2 weeks – MonthlyDepending on what they link to, CTAs often appear in the Slideshow or on top of the Hero Image and should link to the appropriate content (IE If New Products are featured in the image then the link should open to new products for easy shopping)
Footer Check every 6 months to make sure links are activeStatic unless adding a new page that should appear in the sitemap, such as a Covid-19 announcement or new award
Content PagesEvery 2 weeks – MonthlyAdd and update as often as possible as new information becomes available to keep your website fresh and active in search engines
BlogEvery 2 weeks – MonthlyAdd timely information for your online audience as well as evergreen content like How Tos and Informational articles
Product Landing PagesMonthlyUpdate content as prices change and new products become available, these are the main pages of your online catalog
Product Description PagesEvery 6 months – YearlyProduct pricing should be reviewed yearly, as most new pricing becomes available in January
FormsYearlyTest yearly to make sure forms are delivered to the correct email address(es) and entries receive a confirmation page & email
Shopping CartMonthlySubmit a test transaction monthly to ensure cart is functioning properly
Checkout Page / Checkout FlowMonthlySubmit a test transaction monthly to ensure checkout is working, shipping quotes are accurate and a sale can be completed
Website Front-End Components Maintenance Schedule

Website Back-End Definitions:

Back-End Components:  The parts of the website that can not be seen.  While the front-end of the website acts like a billboard for your business, the back-end is where all the work is done to make it function and stay looking good.  There are many tools and different places the back-end of a website can be managed.

Content Management System (CMS) – The database of the website where all the content is managed. For this website, WordPress is the CMS. Popular Ecommerce CMS include Magento, Wix, and Big Commerce. There are literally hundreds of CMS available.

WordPress, for example, notifies it’s administrative users regularly when new versions are available for both core WordPress and 3rd Party Plugins. Rule of Thumb is to create a backup first, then update the core version, followed by 3rd party plugins.

If an update is available to address a security risk, my advice is not to wait until your website is at risk or the update is applied automatically and you’re not prepared.

Occasionally, depending on the website platform, an update may “break” the website and you will want to know that your visitors are seeing something funky or plain old awful, sooner rather than later.

Domain Name – The base of the url, without the http://, https://, or www. with the suffix of .com, .net, .org etc. For this website, the domain is “herderofcats.com”.

Domain Host – Company the domain name was purchased from, some popular examples are Network Solutions, GoDaddy and HostGator. Ownership of the domain is managed here along with the information about the business it belongs to. How much of that info displays is managed by making a domain either public or private, usually for an a fee.

If you can afford to buy domain registration for years at a time it will save you some money and you may be able to wait 3 – 10 years before worrying about renewal. My advice is to check it yearly anyway, because 3 years is too long to wait to find out your domain is up for sale to the highest bidder.

Domain Name Server (DNS) – Often referred to as the Internet’s Phone book. In order for users to find your website, the DNS needs to be told where the website database is going to live. DNS can be pointed to the location of the website on the web host via Name Servers (CNAME) or IP Address (A record(s). Once set up, leave the IP Addresses or CNAMEs alone as you run the risk of diverting traffic away from your site. Seek professional help if you do need to re-point these records.

Universal Resource Locator (URL) or the Web Address – In addition to the ‘domain name’ mentioned above, the URL does include the http://, https://, and the www. For this website, the URL is “https://www.herderofcats.com”.

For example, if your website moved from catherder.com to herderofcats.com there is a process for moving the website database safely to maintain SEO and traffic. My advice is, don’t move URLs alone, hire me or a website developer to help you make that change. There is more involved than you would think!

Website Host – Server where the website is hosted and ‘served’ from. This website is hosted on Dreamhost but there are many popular web hosts that range in price depending on the requirements of the website platform and amount of visitors the website receives.

Hosting should remain stable unless your contract is up for renewal, similar to how the Domain name host behaves.

Content Delivery Network (CDN) – A set of servers that are distributed all over the world so they are able to ‘serve’ website content faster than if the content was all coming from one server.

Secure Sockets Layer Certificate (SSL) – A security device that provides the ‘s’ in https:// for “Secure”, or the lock icon seen next to a URL in a browser address bar. The SSL provides an encrypted method of communication between a website and a webserver so that information shared with the website is secure.

There are different types of SSL, each with more verification designed to ensure that the business presented on the website is who they say they are. SSL Certificates for banks, for example, will require more information and time to be issued by the provider. The more verification required, the more expensive the SSL Certificate is.

Payment Gateway – A service that sends payment information (Credit Cards) from a website to a payment network for processing. Once verified for accuracy, the payment gateway returns the transaction details or any processing details (errors) back to the website. Popular Payment Gateways include Authorize.net, PayPal, WePay, Amazon & Stripe.

Shipping Provider – Method(s) of shipping products from storage to the end customer, including USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL and others. I have worked with clients that call their shipping representative monthly to negotiate better rates, if you have the time this can knock dollars off shipping rates for your and your customers. Happy calling!

Inventory Management System – Program that keeps track of products and the number available for sales and distribution. Can also produce manufacturing documents like work orders and bills of lading.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – System for managing business processes, often referred to as the “back office.” Organizes business data like production, inventory, sales, accounting, human resources, services, etc.

Data Analytics Software (DA) – System that collects data from the website and other external sources to help website owners make informed decisions. Google Analytics is free and the most widely used web analytics service on the web.

If you can monitor traffic daily to ensure things are running smoothly. A dramatic drop in visitors could mean there is a security issue or something is broken on the site. If all is well, reviewing monthly can tell you how consumers behave when they visit the website, what is working and where the website can be improved.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Also referred to as “Organic Search” and involves the use of keywords and phrases throughout the website content to help users find your website on search engines, like Google.

Monitor where you rank on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) monthly. A dip in placement means that yesterday you were at the top of page 1 but today you’re in spot 7 on page 1. Dramatic changes in placement can be an indicator that something is broken on the website or you need to add fresh relevant content to that page. Dips can also happen when Google makes changes to how its algorithms calculate results.

Here is a great resource for SEO Training: https://adventuresonline.com/wordpress-training/how-to-add-seo-to-wordpress/

Paid Search or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) – The opposite of Organic Search. Placement in search engines is paid for in exchange for popular terms and areas of the search engine results pages (SERPS), like the top and side.

As the name indicates, you “Pay per Click” to the page your are linking to in the Ad so you will want to exclude the traffic you generate from being counted. If you’re not seeing a return on investment, it may be an indicator to change the term you are targeting or do more research.

Back-End Website Maintenance Calendar

Each element of the back-end of the website has it’s own maintenance requirements and can change if there is a security risk that requires immediate attention. I’ve provided some general guidelines for each of the back-end components we’ve discussed.

Disclaimer: If your website is on fire, fix it now, don’t wait because some crazy cat lady told you to do something yearly!

ComponentHow Often?Tips
Content Management System (CMS)Visit you site weekly, daily if you can swing it. Varies with the system, most will notify usersRun a full Backup first!
Domain Name/Domain HostYearly, on or before the date of purchaseBuying more years at a time will save $$$
Domain Name Server (DNS)Only if the web address or hosting has changed or movedLeave the settings alone to avoid site outages!
Universal Resource Locator (URL)Only if the web address or SSL has changedHire a professional to migrate the content from the old url to the new url safely!
Website HostYearly, on or before the date of purchase
Content Delivery NetworkYearly, on or before the date of purchase
Secure Sockets Layer Certificate (SSL)Paid SSL Certifications: Yearly, on or before the date of purchase. Free SSL from letsencrypt.org: Auto-renews every 90 days from issuanceI am keeping an eye on the renewal period, letsencrypt.org states that they may shorten the period to make the SSL even more secure
Payment GatewayYearly or Monthly, on or before purchase dateIf a security update is issued, apply immediately, as this is where payment information and transactions are handled
Shipping ProviderYearly, on or before the contract date
Inventory Management SystemYearly, on or before purchase dateUpdates may also depend on whether the system is hosted locally on an in-house server or online
Enterprise Resource PlanningYearly, on or before contract date
Data Analytics SoftwareReview monthly at a minimum, daily if you are able
Search Engine Optimization (Organic)Check your Search Engine Page Results, monthly or at a minimum every 3 months to be able to observe trends
Paid Search / Pay Per Click (PPC)Daily when a campaign is actively runningDo not set it and forget it, check in on your results frequently to adjust as needed
Website Back-End Components Maintenance Schedule

Check Your Work!

When in doubt, do what the professionals do and click on every link and through every page of your website. This is called Quality Assurance (QA) and there are several times through out a website build that QA is done.

The most common QA from software development is a “smoke test” done after every website update to make sure changes in one area do not affect another. A smoke test focuses on the most important functions of the website, such as links opening properly from the homepage, main menu and checkout flow.

Lastly, keep a professional website resource on call for emergencies. It’s a waste of time and money to burn hours trying to fix something yourself that a professional can diagnose and repair in minutes. Almost every platform has help documentation and a forum, both are good places to start.

About the Author

Jennifer Kusiak, AKA The Herder of Cats is a digital marketing consultant based in Coventry, RI. She has been helping clients as a project manager, content marketer and merchandiser for over 15 years with a focus on Ecommerce. Jennifer lives to organize and currently tends a small herd of goats, dogs and of course, cats. The Herder of Cats can be reached at [email protected] for a free consultation.