People break websites so easily. A very large portion of websites, especially for small businesses and organizations, are managed by people who don't have much experience with the technology or industry standards. Thanks to modern systems like Squarespace, it’s very easy to produce something that’s good enough for most people’s standards, but that also creates the possibility of breaking things.
If you can't hire a professional to build or maintain your website in a way that keeps it top-notch and better than your competition, here are some of the things to watch out for while working on your web presence.
These first three are more relevant if you’re building yourself a new website, and the latter ones are tips for ongoing maintenance.
Pick a good template
Assuming you didn't have your site professionally designed, pick a template or theme for your website that is simple, modern, and minimalist. While this wouldn't necessarily be what I'd recommend if one was to get a professional design produced, since you're going to be maintaining the site yourself, it would be a good idea to not have a design that's too complex and easily broken or cluttered.
Use a platform that you know will stick around
Most people who set up their own websites are doing so using what’s called a SaaS platform, or software-as-a-service. These systems are platforms that have been developed to help you make a website without needing to setup website hosting or install any software, but if they stop supporting it, your website could break, and you could be forced to start over with a different system. For this reason, pick a platform that is widely recommended and has a good track record, so you can trust that it’ll be around for the life of your site.
If you’re opting to go with something that runs within your own webhosting system, like WordPress or Joomla, remember that (depending on your setup with your hosting provider) you may be responsible for some or all of the software updates, which are not optional. If you don’t keep the software up-to-date, your website could be compromised in a way that causes your hosting provider to shut it down because of how it’s behaving. (Usually, outdated sites are used to send spam, which causes spam filtering systems to start blocking emails sent from a server, much to everyone’s chagrin.) It’s usually not too difficult to keep things secure, but it is something to keep in mind when deciding how to build your site.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
When getting a professionally-built website, a common step that is taken is coming up with an information architecture. This involves deciding on what pages will be on the site, and what kind of special features or technologies will be used to get the desired effect.
When building your own site, it’s smart to do something similar before you start setting things up. You may have grand plans, like having a blog, an event calendar, a photo gallery, and a myriad of other things. While this may be good, take a critical look at what features you’re wanting, and ask yourself if you can be sure you’ll keep those extra features up-to-date and active, and if the users of your site will actually benefit from them. It would be sad if you put a lot of work into an image gallery only to have no-one look at the photos, and it would make your business look bad if you’ve got an events calendar that only has events up until November of 2013. Remember that the simpler your website is, the easier it will be for you to keep it looking professional without having to cut time out of your business’ productive time.
The following ones are tips for once your website is up and running.
Keep the software up-to-date
If your site is running WordPress or another content-management system that you host with your own web-hosting provider, chances are you are responsible for keeping the software up-to-date. This is similar to keeping your computer or phone’s operating system running the latest version. It’s usually not difficult, and like mentioned earlier, is a must. If you don’t do it, the chance of the site being compromised not an “if” question, but a “when” question.
Another aspect of this is plugins. As your site grows and changes, you might be adding new plugins and adjusting how you use the extra features that they provide. To help keep things manageable, you should remove plugins that you’re not using, as they are an easy thing to forget to keep up-to-date.
Keep the information up-to-date and relevant
So many DIY websites are set up with grand plans in mind, but then forgotten about. Pages that say "coming soon" six months down the road, blogs with three articles posted in the first week and then left untouched for a year, or business hours and contact info that is no longer relevant are easily prevented issues that, if unaddressed, will turn people away from your business faster than your ice cream melts on a summer day. If there are areas that you’re having a hard time to keep relevant and accurate, it might be worth weighing if they are a requirement or if they can be removed.
Don't make things ugly
This one sounds harsh, but it was the simplest way to say it. Most DIY website platforms provide you with templates that are designed by professionals, which is a good place to start, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be ruined.
One very common mistake people make, which is also an easy one to avoid, is the typography. It’s very common to see sites that have very hard-to-read text, because of a combination of the colours (like black text on a dark grey background), font size, and typeface choice. This is one of those things that might just be better to leave untouched.
Another thing to do here is to look at your business’ competition and see what they are doing with their websites. Pick through them with a very critical eye and make note of anything you see that makes them look bad, and then go back to your site and make sure you’re not doing the same thing.
Don’t forget to test on different screen sizes
It’s very easy to forget to check what your website looks like on a phone when you’re making changes. Hopefully, the template that you’re using is designed to work with all common screen sizes, but sometimes, things break, and it’s very easy to forget to check on all your devices.
Don’t forget backups
This one is easy. If you’re not doing regular backups in some way, and your site gets compromised or something else bad happens to it, you’re starting from scratch again. If you have a backup of some type, recovering from a disaster is a much more manageable experience.
Bonus: don't list your business email as a @gmail.com address
Don’t forget, there is an option in between running your website on your own and hiring someone to do it all for you. You can hire someone to advise you on the decisions that you have to make, and if something gets too complicated or you don’t have the time to take care of a task, you have someone at the ready to help.