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The Art of Website Maintenance

By Gene DeFazzio
Maintaining a website is just as important as building it in the first place! Unfortunately, most designers put much more effort into the initial design and launch of a website than they do in keeping the content fresh and keeping the site growing to best serve all visitors.
A website should not be a static thing. It should be always growing, changing and adapting to its visitors. It is imperative that you maintain a commitment to posting accurate, timely information online. If people who visit your site find that the information never changes, they will stop accessing it. You've seen sites like this on the web. They resemble movie posters or ad bills that never change. Fewer and fewer visitors will return to them as time goes by.
Maintaining a website is never done: new information will always be waiting to be uploaded, old information will need to be updated, users will provide suggestions that need to be incorporated, etc. Refine your website and its contents daily if possible. Also, keep in mind that search engines look for an active site when they determine search and page rankings.
Never take your website down when launching a site redesign. There are even for-profit organizations that will do this. They take their website down and put a "hold" page that says something ridiculous like, "Pardon our dust! Our new site will go up in a few days, so be sure to check back!" NEVER do this.
Just as newspapers are committed to making sure they publish on time no matter what, just as theater companies are committed to the philosophy of the "show must go on" no matter what, you should be committed to always keeping your website operational.
Taking your website down for several days during a transition, or ceasing to keep a website updated while you wait for a new site to be redesigned or launched, is unprofessional and will make you look very bad to many visitors and potential supporters.
Visitor feedback
Keep in mind what your audiences want out of the site. Give all web users ongoing opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions for the site. This can range from putting a feedback form on your site, or asking your friends, "What do you think of my website?"
Content and design ideas
By way of search engines and referrals, check out sites for organizations similar to your own for content and design ideas. The proper use of the ideas of others is what the web is all about. This is how we all grow, by learning from each other.

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Stories and newsletters
Add stories from newsletters that have been published since your site was launched, or information from publications that have come out since the website launch. Articles such as this one are also a keyword rich source of content for your website. Look for online articles that are relative to the content of your site and provide an archive of them for your visitors to peruse.
Track results
Track the responses that result from your website. It will help you plan more strategically for future posts and online activities. Your visitors are your best source of ideas, after all, they are your stock in trade. Treat them as such and remember that responding to e-mail from your visitors is a vital part of the art of maintaining a website.
1) Get to the Point!
Web surfers hunt for quick answers. They want to know who you are, what you do and what you have to offer. Avoid extraneous graphics or information.
2) Appearance Counts.
Homemade smatterings of graphics or overused pre-fab templates are the hallmarks of amateurs and businesses not serious about their web operation. Use a clean, professionally designed motif throughout your website.
3) Content is Key!
The more useful your information, the more likely visitors will return. Use your website to share your professional knowledge. Always thoroughly describe your products. And be ready to answer questions.
4) Smaller is Faster.
Every graphic, page and script file must be downloaded to be viewed. With the predominance of slow modem connections, that can mean a substantial time to display the page. Keep your first page under 50-75k roughly equal to a 30-60 second download time
5) Economize Graphics
Reusing graphics throughout your site not only save design money but also dramatically reduces subsequent download times.
6) Contact, Contact, Contact!
Anyone can write or link a web page, so make sure your pages are branded properly. Contact information should be on every page with copyright notices and e-mail links.
7) Be A Good Navigator!
Navigation should be logical and consistent throughout the site. More than three clicks to content and most users click away.
8) Keep the Lights On!
Websites with out of date information resemble a store with no lights on. If it looks like nobody's minding the storefront, most customers keep on walking.
9) Remember Anyone Can Surf!
Some people use text readers to surf the web, others use translators, and then there are search engines. None can "read" a picture unless you give it a description. Use ALT tags that say more than "file.jpg_37k".
10) Talk to the Spiders!
 

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