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Now that you’ve got your website up and running using the steps outlined in Chapter 2 of our How to Create a Website series, you’ll want to make sure it stays online, loads quickly, looks the same regardless of browser or device, and doesn’t get hacked. In Chapter 3 we’ll look at security considerations, backup services, website speed, user experience, responsive design (mobile), browser compatibility testing, and more. This may sound like a lot of big words, but these are crucial elements to making your visitors happy and we will break it down into easy to understand bites.
Phase 1: Is Your Website Secure?
Securing your website can be done on multiple levels: at the server level (where your site is hosted), at the software level (via your website platform, such as WordPress, that powers your website), and at the cloud level (using networks such as CDN’s). Typically your website host will take care of server level security for you, particularly if you are on a shared or a managed hosting plan.
If you’re running your own dedicated server you’ll want to hire a security expert to secure it for you. Securing your site at the software level is fairly straightforward if you’re running a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal. If not, you’ll want to hire a web developer to make sure your code is secure. They should pay particular attention to your scripts or dynamic code as this is where most vulnerabilities lie. Hosted solutions discussed in the last chapter (such as Squarespace or Wix) won’t require you to hire a web developer so they should take care of security for you.
Step 1: Securing Your Site at the Server Level
Get in touch with your website hosting company and ask them what kind of security protocols are in place, as well as which aspects of website security you are responsible for. Typically this will involve securing folders and files using secure read/write permissions, and making sure dynamic code such as scripts are updated and not vulnerable to exploits.
Step 2: Securing Your Site at the Software Level
Securing your website at the software level can be very straightforward if you are on a self-hosted content management system such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, etc. Simply search for a security plugin that gets good reviews and has lots of downloads, then install and test it. We highly recommend Wordfence for WordPress. You’ll also want to make sure that you keep your website platform and plugins up to date by updating frequently. Hackers tend to target sites that are out of date. If you are on a hosted solution (i.e. paying a monthly fee to a provider for your website platform) such as Blogger, Weebly, etc., they will typically take care of security for you, but ask them to make sure. You can never be too safe.
Step 3: Securing Your Site at the Cloud Level
Cloud level security will typically apply to larger sites. A cloud-based security solution such as Cloudflare or Incapsula help speed up your website globally and can add a layer of security to prevent hack attempts.
2-factor authentication (2FA) provides an additional layer of security when it comes to server and website access. Your login identity is verified by a second method, such as authentication by mobile phone or email. It’s a good idea to have 2FA in place wherever possible, in this case at a minimum at your website host and on your website itself.
Phase 2: Is Your Website Fast Enough?
How quickly does your site load in your visitor’s browser window? Every second of page load time can make a difference in your visitor’s experience. If your pages take too long to load, visitors may leave before your webpage completes the loading process. One of the easiest ways to speed up your site is to ensure that your pages are not loading large images or other forms of media – learn more about image optimization. Caching can also dramatically decrease the loading time of your pages. Caching solutions are available via plug-ins, server level optimizations, as well as cloud software such as the MaxCDN Content Delivery Network. You can paste your site URL in Google’s free Page Speed Insights tool to see how fast your page loads in both desktop and mobile modes, and you’ll receive specific recommendations you can use to speed up your pages.
Phase 3: Is Your User Experience Consistent Across Devices?
One of the most important aspects of website optimization involves ensuring that your users enjoy a consistent experience when accessing your site regardless of what device they are on. Browser compatibility and responsive design are two of the most important elements that directly affect your visitor’s experience. We’ve written a guide to browser compatibility testing that will offer you resources to discover what your site looks like on different website browsers and devices. Responsive design ensures that your site scales to fit the viewport of whatever device your visitor happens to be on (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) and is easy to use, learn more in our tutorial on responsive web design. You can use responsive design development to make your website mobile-friendly, which is very important in terms of SEO. On April 21, 2015 Google released a mobile-friendly algorithm update, which penalizes sites in the search rankings that are not responsive so this has never been more important than it is today.
Putting it All Together: Do Your Visitors Enjoy Your Website?
One of the most often overlooked website optimization strategies is user testing. Get a random group of people to visit your site and offer their feedback – that is user experience testing (sometimes call UX Testing). You can start with family and friends, and work your way up to professional user experience testing solutions such as UserTesting.com. They have a free service called Peek you can use to try their service and have someone give you feedback for a URL you specify.
The feedback you receive should give you some guidance as to how to make your site more user-friendly. Common elements that can be improved upon include website navigation (i.e. main menu) and layout (do you have a sidebar and footer, do visitors need to scroll or click through multiple pages to continue reading, etc.). The overall arrangement and organization of your content is also vital to your web visitor’s experience. If a visitor arrives on your home page are they able to find what they’re looking for (either through a search function or by clicking through your navigation)? Beat your competition with our comprehensive guide to website optimization tips.
- Starting Your Own Website, Name and Brand
- Build Your Own Website
- Website Optimization (Current Chapter)
- Website Marketing: How to Get Traffic to Your Website
- How to Monetize Your Website