11 things to check on your website right now

So, you have a website! You’ve gone through the process of web design and content creation, and now you’re beaming with pride looking at the published version online.

At this point, you might be wondering: how well is it working? Was it developed with your users in mind? Maybe you’re not getting the traffic you expected. You will only know how your site is doing by running some checks.

Performing a website health check is one of the simplest and most cost-effective steps you can take to find out if your website is doing what it’s supposed to do, and if not, take steps towards remedying that. Spending a few minutes to give your site a “physical” is a good investment in any website owners’ time.

With this page, we’ll take you through 11  things — symptoms to watch out for and actions you can take — that can keep your web presence healthy.

Is check-up really necessary?

Running a successful website needn't be stressful, but it’s unrealistic not to expect to do some housekeeping to make sure everything is ticking over nicely. With this 11-step health check, you can ensure that your site:

  • Represents your business, personal brand, or blog theme effectively
  • Maximizes on the opportunity to turn visitors into customers or subscribers
  • Gives you a healthy ROI on your time and marketing investment
  • Captures the intended audience for your content, products, or services
  • Meets your customers’ overall expectations

11 website action items

Let’s get started running your site through the essential health and safety checks. Regardless of the type of site you are running, the following ten apply.

Site speed - Every second counts

In late 2010, Google announced that site speed would be a new signal introduced into their organic search ranking algorithm. Since then, site speed should be an integral part of any website checkup. Google isn’t the only reason to take your site’s speed seriously. People browsing your web pages simply don’t have the patience to wait around. There’s a direct link with low user engagement and slow loading pages. Google also takes user behavior into account to influence search rankings. So you definitely want to optimize your website to reduce load time. Ideally, your pages will load in under two seconds. Anything above that and you are losing visitors.

There are some classic causes of a slow website. Make sure your site isn’t guilty of the following:

Large images files

Images account for most of the downloaded bytes on a webpage, so if these aren’t optimized (compressed), they can be a prime cause of page lag. If using the tools mentioned, and you find that your images make up most of your content, there’s a good chance that any unoptimized images are causing your pages to lag.

To make sure your images aren’t slowing your site down, compress them into a smaller format. This guide from Google explains how to reduce the file size of all image types. Once you’ve uploaded the optimized images, test the load speed again. If you significantly reduce the file sizes of several images, your load speed will improve drastically.

Unclean code

Even the fanciest websites out there can contain extremely messy code. Since search engine crawlers look at website code, it’s crucial to keep your code clean so you don’t give them a hard time getting to what they are looking for...your content. The following pointers will influence the speed of your pages:

  • If you are hosting video, put it in a separate file and make sure that it is ‘called to’ on the actual web page it will display on
  • All formatting across your site should be in a cascading style sheet (CSS) style
  • Make sure JavaScript is in its own file and ‘called to’ on the web page

Poor hosting

Is your host letting you down? We’ve discussed various ways to improve page load speed, but the number one factor that is going to drive up the overall load time of your pages is your host. Hosting services directly affect site performance and downtime. How annoying is it when you type in a website and it’s down, or worse still, you revisit some time later and it’s still down?

Website downtime, and website time-outs in general, put a real damper on user experience. To ensure your pages are connecting as they should, run a report in Xenu. It will indicate the pages that are either timing out or if there was a connection error. If there are any red flags, it’s time to reconsider your choice of a web host.

We recommend looking at hosting as an investment in your business/website and as such, skip the shared hosting route and go for a premium or managed host. You will be much happier in the long run. Premium web hosts typically use a much faster and more reliable technology.

Is my site fast enough?

At this point, we need to assess how long your site actually takes to load. There are lots of free tools to check your site’s performance. Free tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom test your website’s page load speed. They also provide valuable information such as how fast your website is plus helpful suggestions on how to improve it, such as leveraging browser caching or minimizing redirects.

Enter your URL into Pingdom to test the load time of each page. This tool analyzes the outcome and finds any bottlenecks slowing your site down. Check your site load time, page requests, and page size. Try and keep requests close to 25, because too many requests will cause the website to pull information from too many sources, which can cause a slow loading speed. Page size also affects load time. Pingdom will also show what types of content make up the web page and the percentage of each.

Alternatively, use Google’s Page Speed tool to receive instant suggestions on how to tweak your web pages to improve load time. This is a fantastic resource offered by Google providing anyone with the information they need to help them learn to make changes.

Mobile friendly

With over 56% of first visits happening on mobile rather than desktop, you can’t afford for your mobile experience to let you down. Ideally, your website should work across all devices, including computers, tablets, and smartphones of all brands and sizes.

Having to pinch and zoom to see the text on smaller devices is annoying for your visitors. Also, now that Google has rolled out their Mobile First Index, you need to act fast.

Is your site responsive?

Most people access the internet from multiple devices, so you’ll want your website to display attractively regardless of the device used. No one owns every mobile device on the market for real-time testing, but it is easy to use apps for a comprehensive look at your website across a range of devices.

Let’s start by checking how your site holds out across different devices. MobileTest is a cool tool that will load your site in a variety of mobile device mockups. To start, select a type of device, enter a URL, and experience your website on a variety of different smartphone and tablet emulators. Be sure to browse your entire site.

Do your pages load fast enough on mobile devices?

Most sites lose up to half their visitors while loading, this is particularly important for mobile since the mobile speed has been a ranking signal since July 2018. Test your website speed using Google’s test your mobile speed tool to see if yours is loading adequately. If your site is mobile-friendly, you’ll be greeted with a green bar once it’s done, otherwise, Within a few seconds of scanning your site, Google lets you know if there are any mobile issues, and offers some reasons why, and also includes recommendations for improving website performance across all devices.

Your brand in focus

A recognizable and loved brand is one of the most valuable assets a company owns. Your brand is defined by how your audience perceives your website. Take a good look at yours. You need to look at your brand from all angles: the visual ideas you are projecting, the typography in play, any iconography, and even subjective feelings on the brand design.

There are many ways to present a website depending on how you want to draw attention and how you want to be viewed. Depending on how long you’ve been online, you might need a complete brand overhaul to keep up with technological advancements and current design trends. Would a brand refresh fix any aesthetic shortcomings?

Regardless of what stage you are in, there are some universal tricks that all sites can apply to their website branding. Check your site for the following and remember to look at your site through the eyes of a user.

Form follows function

You need to deliver three simple elements: what your service or product does, examples of what you do, and why visitors should trust your brand over anyone else. When it comes to your content, follow the rule of “form after a function.” If your website is primarily a vehicle for content delivery, don’t focus disproportionately on functionality and visual design at the expense of content. A prolific blogger and web content publishing mastermind Jeffrey Yeldman said it best: “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it's decoration.” With this simple message in mind, think content-first, design second to yield the best results.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to break the mold with your website layout. The truth is, most popular sites use similar layouts, and this is no coincidence. These layouts share significant advantages. They are familiar to internet users, who can focus on the content instead of design features and they are so common they’ve proven that users are comfortable working with them.

You should instead focus on other aspects of design that have a direct impact on user experience, such as visual hierarchy (more on this later), and follow the points below to ensure that your message is being read.

  • Bullet lists

Break up your text with bullet lists where possible, it makes it much easier for people to scan and read. Also, breaking up the text this way makes it appear more visually appealing.

  • Text boxes

Use text boxes wisely to make your content easier to read. There are some general guidelines on the ideal size text box. Oversized text boxes have a negative impact on user experience. They affect readability which could negatively impact bounce rate and result in missed content.

  • Calls to action

The call to action, or CTA, is an opportunity to direct your users to click to perform a desired action. Most traffic that comes to your site will bounce off the page without converting, and that’s perfectly normal. If your conversion rate is lower than it should be, then rethinking your design, especially your call-to-action elements can make an enormous difference.

  • Infographics

Show, don't tell. If you have a lot of data to convey, consider an infographic. Web browsers are visual creatures, and a well-assembled infographic can go a long way to helping people understand data-rich content and get shares.

Iconography

Notable digital brands such as Facebook and Twitter have distinct iconography. Their branding teams understand that visuals communicate faster than words. Icons are a staple of modern-day branding. Attach an icon to your brand and use it throughout your site. The icon could tie in with your logo and your color scheme to solidify your branding on every page. This is the best technique for a consistent layout.

Colors

It might sound trivial to focus on your site color scheme of all things, but don’t underestimate the power of visual design as a differentiator for your visitors. The mood of your design tells people how to feel about your brand. Do your colors complement your brand ethos? Is it too busy?

For example, using multiple colors can create a sense of clutter; this is why most modern-looking websites stick to two to three tones as a general rule of thumb. For some inspiration from sites who’ve got their color scheme right, head here. For guidance on how to pick a color scheme based on color theory and consumer behavior, follow this expert guide.

Logos

Most brands include their logo in the top-left corner, so users know where to look. Draw attention to your logo with a fixed header, so it scrolls with the users offering access to navigation links with the logo in plain sight. This works particularly well on responsive designs, so your logo can be proudly displayed on all devices.

Font

Don’t make your brand feel like a joke as in the example above. If your brand is related to humor then go for it, but people often don’t find anything funny about parting with money, for example. It’s unlikely that they would trust this optician.

Since this isn’t a ‘how to choose fonts’ post, we’ll limit discussion on your font choices and refer to another blog post that explains font selection more fully. Above all, make sure to be consistent when it comes to applying your chosen fonts across your website.

Make your pages pop - above the fold

The layout of a web page is divided into two parts.

  1. Above the fold

The phrase “above the fold” describes anything people can see immediately after they land on your web page. 100% of your visitors will see this area as it is the area displayed on their screen without scrolling.

  1. Below the fold

The remaining content is only seen when you scroll down.

Take time to plan the content you place above the fold. Statistically speaking, this is where most visitors pay attention. Think of this as prime real estate; it includes everything your potential customer, client, or subscribers’ eyes land on. This area typically includes images, forms, and texts that fill the space without anyone having to scroll down the page.

Optimizing content for this area is all about getting the most out of your space on the web. Most people have small computer monitors or their browsing through smaller handheld devices. Once the browser interface, favorites bar, tabs, scroll controls, etc. have been factored in, your web design canvas has been whittled down to around 11”, or 800x600 for mobile browsers. Given that laptop or desktop screens vary in size, content that’s above the fold needs to stand out. Focus on what you want people to see immediately as they land on each page.

Place your primary content here, the things that you need your visitors to see. The #1 goal of your primary content is to convince your visitors to stay longer to further investigate what you have to offer. Leave visual clues to let people know that there’s more exciting content to be found below the fold. Add jump navigation with main page headline, purposefully show off headlines with Anchor texts for example. Give users a reason to scroll further. As long as the page doesn’t go on forever, users don’t mind scrolling.

The image above has your typical above-the-fold components and how best to use them. For strategies on how to optimize your above the fold content, click on this guide to above the fold design strategies by Formkeep.

Compelling, readable content

Since content is king and will be the core of your marketing efforts, a decent content overhaul is going to be a little more extensive than the other points, so let’s get started.

Create a clean copy

The aim is to create a clean copy that's scannable. By clean copy, we’re talking clear, neat, and conversational, without errors, unusual typefaces, or poor formatting. Mistakes always slip through the net and leave a poor impression. Take the time to check everything on your site for clarity and correctness.

Describe your products and services

If you’re selling products on your site, are there clear product photos and descriptions? Companies or individuals offering services need to offer clear explanations of what they are and how they work.

Call to Action

Look at your calls to action (CTA), the buttons that ask your visitors to do something. Think about what you want your visitors to do, then write calls to action with that in mind. This will allow visitors to make quick decisions on what they want to do next. Most importantly, answer the question “Why?”.

Instead of saying ‘click here’, tell people why they should use your products or services, sign up for your newsletter, add you on social media, etc.

Are you having a Black Friday sale? Don’t just make a banner saying “Black Friday sale,” create one that says “Black Friday sale, CLICK HERE to get a 45% discount on everything! If you want people to sign up for your newsletter, do more than just offer up a drab “Sign up for our newsletter” “sign up for the newsletter” that’s likely to have a weak conversion rate. Instead, go a bit further by saying “sign up for our newsletter for exclusive benefits and promotions”/ “to hear the news first.” Got a new customer code for your in-store promo? Add it and make it bold.

Don’t over-complicate things

Avoid jargon outside of your audience's range and explaining things when unnecessary. Let’s pretend you are an e-commerce store selling digital cameras. Who are you selling to? A digital camera manufacturer aimed at pros will include all the technical jargon people are expecting of their content. Compare a site aiming at professional photographers to a shop selling point-and-shoot cameras. People use these for simplicity, and that’s what they want in their product descriptions.

Clear navigation

The key here is to get people to where they want to be with the fewest clicks possible.

  • Place your menu items in the order you want your visitors to follow to experience the content on your website.
  • Use dropdown menu items in place of landing or decision pages.
  • Placing clear calls to action on each page is not just a sales play, it will play a key role in guiding user navigation.

Look at your page through the eyes of a first-time visitor. You've only read the page you entered through, not necessarily the homepage. Imagine your interest is piqued and you’re looking for further resources, products, or the types of solutions your site offers.

Your users need to easily decipher how to do that based upon your website’s current UI and language. If in doubt of whether you are offering a good user experience, check out this article for tips on how to streamline your navigation.

Not having separate landing pages for each product or service is a missed opportunity to talk it up. The best way to organize your content is into logical categories just like a standard restaurant menu. The content (such as menu items) is divided into categories (starters, mains, desserts) and subcategories (pasta, burgers, vegetarian), etc.

Similarly, if you are a gardener you might offer different landscaping services, you’d offer these under one category, drainage in another, and building maintenance services in another (brickwork that needs pointing, roof tiling, etc.) You’d want all those services under one category, on one tab of your main menu. This means you definitely want each service to have its own page, just like the example below.

Provide a search function

Providing a way for your users to find content is an important design strategy, and the best way to do that is via a search function. Users search for keywords, products, or phrases to quickly locate content without having to navigate your website structure. For larger and more complex sites, it creates less friction for users to find the content they want.

If your site is lacking a search tool, add one. It’s advisable to offer your visitors a working search function on every page. It contributes to a better user experience while reducing the barriers for users to reach their destination pages. Most search companies offer free access to their search applications. For more on how to implement search on your pages, check out this article; for a more in-depth guide to getting the best from onsite search, head to Moz.

Analytics - What are they saying?

Site analytics often get bumped down people's lists of priorities because they can sound, (and be!) confusing. Monitoring your website analytics is an important step in understanding your site visitors' behavior.

Understanding how your users have been acquired and how they behave can have a massive impact on the success of your website. Once digested, you can make better decisions to improve website health, usability, and functionality.

There are tons of tools out there, but we suggest Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free tool that gives you an overview of what’s happening on your site; information that could be a surprise to you, such as who is visiting, and what they are looking at or doing while they are there.

There are also tools that give greater insight into what’s happening on the user end, for example, SumoMe. This powerful tool lets you place heat maps anywhere on your site. Heatmaps maps allow you to see where people are clicking the most. This information is invaluable in assessing what your visitors spend time on and what they aren’t interested in.

A link is something that directs a reader to another location, often activated by clicking on a highlighted word. Internal links point to content within your own website or domain. These are a great benefit to readers and help search engine spiders find and crawl your site which brings SEO benefits. External links send the reader to a separate website. Understanding external and internal links is an important part of SEO and your digital marketing commitment. Links are a key factor used by searching engines to rank websites and webpages. Both types of links can be used strategically to boost your position on a search engine results page.

Do all your links work? Broken links are those that you click on and the following page shows a 404 error message. Dead links will chase your visitors away and hurt your SEO efforts. Search engines notice when visitors spend less time browsing your site and they will assume that your website is not providing a good user experience to their users. Eventually, they will rank you lower, therefore it is best to fix them up.

If you want people to find your website, you’re going to have to build links and maintain them. It might not seem much on the surface, but a single broken link is already doing serious damage to your website and your reputation. The most common causes of broken links are as follows.

  • Linking to content that has been deleted or moved.
  • Moving or renaming a webpage and forgetting to update your internal links.
  • Linking to a third party page where the URL has been changed or the page moved.

No matter what the cause, these errors need to be fixed pronto. We recommend the dead link checker. This free tool crawls your site for dead links. Their Autocheck feature will check your site regularly and report back to you.

Outbound links are the ones that send visitors away from your website. Each time they click a link they travel from one webpage to another. This is a common practice. Most websites have outbound links. Attitudes toward outbound linking vary. Some argue that linking out risks losing money from site visitors, while others maintain that they enhance the value of a site and increase the chance of return visitors. Links are the backbone of Google’s algorithm, so you need to make sure that your outbound link game is strong.

Not all outbound links are helpful. Spammy outbound links can be detrimental to your website. The key to taking care of your site is identifying and fixing potentially detrimental links. To investigate your site outbound links, crawl your site with Screaming Frog. Once the software is installed and running, enter your website URL in the search bar and click start. Hit the tab named ‘External.’ The Address column now lists all the websites that your external links point to. It’s time to cut the low authority links unless the outbound link is justified. The aim is to avoid linking to untrustworthy or spammy sites.

There are two types of outbound links: the nofollow and the dofollow. The dofollow link passes on Google PageRank juice from your page onto the targeted webpage. A nofollow link, on the other hand, doesn’t pass on any PageRank juice to the targeted website. Adding the nofollow link tag stops search spiders from crawling the targeted webpage. This is a useful tactic when you don’t want to give out Google PageRank juice to other sites, and keep it for yourself, instead.

Don’t use nofollow tag for every outbound link because nofollow tags still deduct some Google PageRank juice from your webpage even if it gives none to your targeted webpage. It’s a lose-lose scenario. Play fair. Give out dofollows if the target webpage deserves it. For an extensive guide to fixing outbound links, read this blog post.

Are you secure?

How secure is your website? People often think their site will never be attacked until it happens to them. You might not think your site is a target if you’re a small business or you haven’t monetized your website for example. Unfortunately, that’s not how cybercrime works. Everyone is a target. Uber, eBay, and Apple among many others faced data breaches in 2020 which according to the RiskBased Security’s publication was named “worst year on record in data breaches and cyber-incidents around the world.”

People often pay attention to user-facing elements such as website design, content, and SEO and underestimate the security area. When you were setting up your site, you should have put some basic security controls in place. Whether you’ve considered security or not, given the evolving nature of cybercrime, types of worms, malware, and viruses which are emerging daily, It’s beneficial to keep on top of monitoring your site security.

Depending on your technical knowledge, your website setup, and the infrastructure you use, website security audits can get pretty complex. We’ll cover some security basics to ensure your website doesn’t have a “Hack Me” banner displayed on its homepage for example. If you would like to take extra measures, speak to a technical expert about setting up additional security. Let’s look into whether your security is strong enough to avoid any breaches.

Security checklist

Check your site is complying with the following to make sure it's running as safely as possible.

  • Make sure your plugins are always up-to-date and remove any inactive ones. Change your password regularly and if you’re using WordPress, change your username from ‘admin’ if you haven't already.
  • Perform regular site-wide security scans. A professional scanner can look out for malware, and if it detects any, remove them.
  • If your site doesn’t have an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate, get one.
  • If you are using a content management system such as WordPress, make sure it’s running on the latest version?

There are plenty of security scanner tools available, and many are free to use.

  • Siteguarding is a professional security tool that helps you scan your domain for injected spam, website blacklisting, defacement, malware, and much more. This tool is compatible with many platforms including but not limited to WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento many others.
  • Acunetix is a complete website security audit tool. Promising to keep you in check, Acunetix scans your entire website for over 500 vulnerabilities including network infrastructure and DNS from Acunetix servers.

For detailed information on keeping your domain secure, read our comprehensive guide.

Let people find you

Sure you can do pretty much anything from the comfort of your computer, order pizza, become laird of a manor, or an ordained minister, but, unless your website is a strictly online business, a lot of people will want to visit you in person, or call you on the telephone. Don’t make it a hassle for people to get in touch by burying your contact page somewhere, or having only a contact form as a means of communication.

Leave your direct contact information including telephone number and address, including a link to Google Maps. Put contact information on the footer of each page, this won’t only give you a local SEO boost, it will serve as a trust signal, and avoid any frustration of having to search the site for contact information for your business’s phone number, or your physical shop’s location for example.


Final remarks

In a perfect world, your website would tick along nicely without you having to maintain it. In reality, it won’t. It’s also not realistic to tell you that you can pick a few of the key elements above and you’d have a great website. The reality is, you won’t.

The 11 pointers above are pretty comprehensive. See them as a total package type of thing, and work on all of them. Indeed implementing a few of them is better than none but if the goal here is to check over your website so it’s easy to find, and people want to come back, then taking a holistic approach is the best way to make that happen. It’s a really important part of your routine when running a successful website, and given the number of free and easily accessible tools to help you on your mission, it’s also a no-brainer really. There’s never been a better time to make sure that your website is doing great.



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