Websites Are Like Gardens: 18 easy maintenance tasks during social distancing

Image of garden and shovel

The other day I was out in my garden pulling weeds and tending to the soil so that my soon-to-be-planted vegetables and flowers will flourish. Just like gardens, your website also needs regular attention. And, since you are all adhering to social distancing measures (right?), now is a great time to spruce up your virtual information garden.

More people are staying home and accessing the internet so, it’s likely they are also visiting your website more. Here is a hit list of easy tasks you could accomplish right now to make your website more inviting to your virtual visitors. Just do one or two a day and, before you know it, you’ll be done!

CONTENT

  1. Check each page for accuracy, grammar, and typos. Remove or update outdated information.
  2. Update your mission and vision page so that it reflects your current practices.
  3. If you are collecting and storing personal information or analytics from your visitors, which pretty much every site does (think cookies, donors, and members), you should have an up-to-date privacy policy explaining how you collect, use, and store visitor information. And, require everyone who has access to your data adheres to the policy. See this example of a simple privacy policy.
  4. Check for broken links and fix or remove them. Use this easy online tool to help you find them.
  5. Test and update your site navigation (menus, footers, sidebars, widgets, etc.) and improve where necessary. Make it easy for visitors to find information on your site. How do they look on mobile devices? How about in different browsers?
  6. Update your staff and board information and resolve to keep it updated whenever changes occur.

DESIGN

  1. Add unique page titles to each of your webpages.
    Why are page titles important? Page titles are metadata elements used by search engines, browsers, and accessibility tools to read and understand what your webpage is about. Title tags are used in three key places: (1) search engine results pages, (2) web browsers, and (3) social networks.
    NOTE: Metadata is “data about data.” That clears it right up, eh? Basically, it is information that is about other data. So, a page title is information about a webpage, it is not the actual content displayed on the page.
  2. Add a “Contact Us” page that uses a form for visitors to submit. Make it easy for your visitors to contact you or subscribe to your communications. It is a best practice to use a web form to collect visitor inquiries rather than posting an email address in clear text. Email addresses posted on a website are easily harvested by spam robots and used for disreputable purposes. Adding a contact form varies by platform. Check your platform help for specifics. Contact forms vs email address.
  3. Design your site using a uniform look and feel. Don’t be a “Frankensite.” Choose a color palette and stick with it throughout your site. Use the same font types and sizes throughout your entire site. Two font types are best, but no more than 3 font types should be used, ever! Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) for various page and paragraph headings. For example, when including a title for a paragraph, do not insert normal-styled text and make it bold. Apply a heading style instead.
    Why? Headings help visitors read and understand the structure of your site. This is especially important for accessibility. Also, search engines use these heading tags to recognize key words and to understand what your site is about–this will improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  4. Review your call to action buttons and links (e.g., Donate, Join, Take Action) to ensure they are prominent on your main page and available from every page. Don’t forget to check how they look on multiple devices—desktops, tablets, phones.
  5. Add a search box to your site and ensure it displays on every page. Having an effective search box helps visitors find what they are looking for on your site.
  6. Include appropriate ties to your social media sites. Make it easy for your visitors to share your content to their social media.
  7. If you are using WordPress, keep your plugins current and delete any plugins that are not being used on your site. Outdated and unused plugins can be a security risk and may also crash your site.

ACCESSIBILITY

  1. Make sure you have good color contrast between background colors and text. Use this online color contrast validator to check your site. This is important for meeting accessibility standards.
  2. Review all your images and add missing ALT text tags.
    What is ALT text and why is it important? The primary purpose is to provide an alternative description of images for your visitors who are sight-impaired or otherwise unable to visually identify an image. It also applies to situations where visitors are using screen readers or a web browser that blocks the display of images. ALT tags also provide better context and descriptions to search engines to help index images properly.
  3. Is your site using a responsive design? A responsive website is a design that allows your website to adapt to the size of any screen it is being viewed on. Test how your website looks in different browsers and on different devices, such as, desktops, tablets, and phones; adjust as needed. Use this online tool to find out if your web site is mobile friendly.
  4. Repurpose documents, such as PDFs and Word documents, to an HTML-based webpage or blog post that is readable within your site. Anything that is meant to be viewed onscreen and not printed should be in an HTML webpage. There are many reasons for avoiding posting PDFs on your website. PDFs and other document formats frequently take people away from your webpage and are difficult to navigate, especially on mobile devices or for people with disabilities. Your annual report that is long and printable is an example of when you would post a link to a PDF file. Items such as directions to your refuge or a list of volunteer opportunities should be posted as an HTML webpage.

NOW KEEP IT GOING

  1. And last, make a schedule of regular maintenance tasks for the year! These can be organized by timeframe, for example, do XYZ monthly, do ABC quarterly and so on.