What do I mean by a health check?In the same way a car has an annual health check (MOT/Service) to ensure that it is running at its most efficient and to check that everything is still working as it should; a website should have a similar check. I mean why would you invest (quite a lot in some cases) in one of your main marketing tools to then just leave it and hope for the best? The world of the internet is moving at such as fast pace that if you do not keep on top of your web presence it can end up being a wasted resource and very quickly.
What does a health check look at?
Websites do have a few pieces of legislation that they need to comply with. A series of checks that are made on the site to see if it complies with The Equality Act and the The EU Cookies Directive.
Although the legislation hasn’t changed in a while and the site should have complied when it was built any subsequent changes made to the content on the site especially with regard to images may have a caused a failure with regard to the Equality Act. The EU Cookies Directive is only a couple of years old and again may have been fine when the site was launched but if you have added any social media feeds or videos since then it will more than likely need to be adhered to.
A health check will also look at the quality of the build of the site against the industry standards of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) regulations. These are not a legal requirements but our equivalent of building regulations, something may look good but is it built using the latest technologies and built to last and be sustainable? Anything built in an older technology will start to have issues much quicker than those built in the new ones. A health check should also flag up any errors that are within the code. Some errors are fine as the functionality of the site is more important but these should be few and far between. Too many errors and this can have an affect on the way your site performs and on your ranking with search engines.
Cross Browser Testing:
By this I mean does your website work in all of the main browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explore and Safari? Everyone has their favourite browser to access the web including designers, it may look and work fine for you and them but what about customers who user an different method, do you know what they see? With more people accessing websites on the move have you looked at your website on an Ipad in Safari for example? There are tools that allow designers to see what a site looks like to others and this is a another part of the health check. Again it may have worked when the site when live but the browsers will have probably had updates since then as well as the site. It needs re-checking.
The Back-end Modules
This is the technical bit, in comparison to the car analogy it is looking under the car bonnet and ensuring that all the plugs and elements are in tip top shape. The vast majority of bespoke websites are built in HTML and then dropped into a content management system (CMS) or they are themes/templates that have been downloaded into a CMS and then tweaked accordingly. All CMS whether it be CMS Made Simple, WordPress or Joomla update their platforms regularly and you need to keep up to date with these changes.
Again at the time the site goes live the components and modules used are the latest version but these are generally updated on a regular basis to work with newer technologies and on different web browsers and to include new and enhanced features. If these are not updated you end up with a website that is using older (and possibly unsupported) modules which can just stop working in the way that your websites needs them too. Equally the CMS will need to be updated on a regular basis.
Most people never do this and to be honest I don’t blame them. Updating a CMS and supporting modules is not something to be done lightly, a backup should be take first and you need to ensure that all the updates are compatible with each other, otherwise you could end with a website that is no longer functional and therefore stops customers and potential customers from using it. The health check can usually tell you if there are updates (subject to access to the CMS), if there are then a website professional should be commissioned to make these updates for you. If a number of updates have been missed then you may not simply be able to go to the latest version, hence a regular health check is worth its weight.
On-site Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Firstly SEO is a huge area and there are companies that are specialists in this field such as my friends at Red Cow Media and Social Jigsaw. My view is that SEO is split into two, on-site and off-site, off-site includes Adwords, Link Building, Video optimisation and Social Media (plus loads more that I haven’t got a clue about). On-site SEO though is the basics and although a web designer is not the best person to give advice on off-site SEO they should know about the on-site stuff.
Who should have a health check?
Any website can have a health check at any time. In an ideal world any professionally designed and built website should be good for at least 6 months but who knows what new technology is around the corner?
A health check after twelve months is a good starting point, as any changes made can be identified and any remedial work needed applied. It can also pick up on any content pages that have not been updated such as News. With the best will in the world so many people want to update their site with news but never actually get around to doing it, a health check can identity this and make suggestions as to what to do instead.
Once the health check report has been carried out if any potential issues have been identified the it would be a good idea to get a web designer to fix up at this time. By fixing up on a regular basis not only will it keep the website working at its best but it will help prevent any nasty (expensive) surprises further down the line. The main remedial work is likely to be updating modules and the CMS and I think this is one of the most important reason for having a health check in the first place.
A regular health check will report on what you need to do to keep your website performing at its best and extend its lifespan. If you like the design by maintaining it (and this includes under the hood) can mean that a complete new one is not needed for a few years or until you fancy a change!
Once any remedial work is done to being the site up to date then it is worth looking at taking an after care plan. This will ensure that all check are carried on on a regular basis and that the actual work to fix any thing up is done at no further expense. It may also include performance reports to tell you how many people are using your site and importantly what they are looking at. After care plans will vary in prices depending on the size and complexity of it, an average site though will be just £50 plus VAT PCM.
Again your website is one of the most important marketing and sales tools that you have and it needs to be maintained to ensure it does its job to the best of its ability.