The Four Horsemen of Your Small Business Website Apocalypse
Small businesses depend on their websites to drive leads, search engine results, and — most importantly — credibility. So when your website isn’t performing the way it should, or the way your customers (or Google!) expects, your bottom line suffers.
This deck includes the four biggest issues that bring good websites down, and how to fix them.
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Once, there was a time
bsite to load.
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wasn't that long ago that load screens and lengthy
' ations were common practice. But,
d and as our broadband speeds and
ave increased, our patience has
times have change
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d is now considered one of the
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Google made site
development community. 5 years ago,
performance a major component in their search
algorithm, and the weight they give
‘ creased since then.
Site load spee
Yes, that's correct:
search engine «rankings ov
So, what’s driving the sudden need for speed? More than anything else, it’s the
staggering growth of the mobile segment and the evolution of the smartphone and
tablet devices that have become staples in our everyday lives. Statcounter estimates
that about 33% of ALL web browsing now is done on these types of devices — devices
with less horsepower, less memory, less storage, and that operate on slower networks
than a decently-appointed laptop running on a high-speed home or office connection.
But even though we know deep
down that browsing on our phones
is not the same as on our
computer. we still WANT our web
experience to be similar. When we
wait for 10. 20. 30 seconds for a
website to load we get frustrated.
Simple as that. Bottom line. a
website that loads quickly is plain
old BETTER than one that doesn't
and Google is 100% correct in
their assertion that the faster site
with the superior user experience
likely deserves a better ranking
than the slow site.
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There are a lot of ways to squeeze more
perfonnance out of just about any site. Images
can be optimized for faster loading. Scripts like
sliders, videos, galleries, and special effects
can be minimized, made more efﬁcient, or
A CDN (or Content Delivery Network) can be
used to store files like images and stylesheets,
allowing web browsers to simultaneously pull
data from two servers, your web server and the
CDN, enabling faster load times.
Site caching — not generally a favorite method
for designers and developers but a “necessary
evil” in today's speed-first environment - is
also extremely helpful in trimming valuable
seconds off a site's load time.
A site running a CMS (or Content Management System] like
WordPress builds pages “dynamically" or “on demand" when
they are requested by combining page templates with
content stored in a database.
A "static" web page, by contrast, has all the information
necessary to load the page all ready in a single pre-made
HTML file. So loading a static page is faster than a dynamic
one driven by a CMS.
Essentially, caching makes your CM8driven site behave like a
static site. storing “prebui| t" versions of all your pages on
the server, allowing your site to load faster. Designers and
developers are often frustrated by caching because it can
make maintenance and debugging slower and more difficult.
But, in a world where a few tenths of a second in load time
may make the difference in being found online or not.
caching is a big help.
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In one respect, that's true. .. you're probably not a "target" like a big, high profile business
would be. On the other hand, you don't have to be a target in order for your site to fall prey
to any number of security issues
A good parallel for website security today would be the proliferation of computer viruses
on Windows machines, especially on the late 1990's and early 2000's. Why would anyone
want to hurt MY computer? The fact is, nobody cared about hurting YOUR computer-
people with antisocial tendencies used the fact that so much of the world was on Windows
to spread bad software around simply because they could. Home computers were made
useless and entire businesses were ground to a standstill primarily because they had not
taken the proper precautions to guard against such an unlikely attack
Nowadays, people with antisocial tendencies are spending their time ﬁnding security gaps
in WordPress websites. like Windows 1520 years ago, WordPress commands a greater
market share by a wide margin over any competitor and so - as with any market leader-
they have become a target.
Is it time to switch off of WordPress because it's unsafe? Absolutely not.
In 2006, Apple began running the famous “I’m a Mac and I'm a PC” ads which
claimed that Macs were safer, that they never got viruses. This was not
exactly true: Macs were only safer because there were so few of them being
sold that cybercr: 'uninals didn't see the point in writing viruses for
them. Similarly, especially at that time, it would have been a big mistake
for businesses to abandon their PC-based architecture for Macs, which
were not known as good business machines at that point and IT support
vendors for Mac were virtually nonexistent.
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WordPress sites have been targets of brute force attacks,
denial of service attacks, and malware simply because
WordPress is popular. WordPress is popular because it
works and it has a robust ecosystem of developers and
support vendors. Don’t throw the baby out with the
bathwater — systems that are safer than, WordPress are
safer by and large because they are less popular and don’t
have that ecosystem that your business depends on.
The best business decision you can make is to stay on
WordPress but get it as secure as possible/ practical.
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The first thing you should do is implement a
backup program. There are a number of services
that can help you do this, including uJordPress
plugins like UauItPress and Backup Buddy and
backups can happen automatically. Be sure
though that backups are being stored OUTSIDE
your site/ server because if your site or server
are compromised, your backups can be as well.
Your next line of defense is actually in keeping WordPress and all
your plugins and themes up to date with the latest version. Often
these updates contain important security patches which can help
keep your site safe. Be sure to take a backup before perfonning any ;
major upgrades just in case something unexpected happens
It's also important to be diligent about removing any plugins and
themes that aren't being used as well as any authorized WordPress
users that you no longer need - former web vendors, employees, etc
Be sure that all your passwords are secure and difﬁcult to guess and
that you are not using "admin" as a username when you log in. Bnlte
force attacks (basically hammering at a website’s long page with
different combinations of logins and passwords until they ultimately
get in) love it when your usemame is "admin” - it gives them 50°Io of
the necessary infonnation to break your site light off the bat
BEYOND THESE VERY SIMPLE FIXES, THERE ARE A
LOT-OF MORE ADVANCED THINGS THAT CAN BE
DONE FOR YOU BYA PROFESSIONAL TO
EXPONENTIALLY REDUCE THE RISK OF BRUTE
FORCE ATTACKS, DENIAL OF SERVICE ATTACKS
AND MALWARE INFECTIONS. NO SITE IS EVER 100%
SAFE, BUTAN EXPERIENCED CONSULTANT OR
FIRM CAN GET YOU VERY CLOSE.
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We’ve already discussed how the
proliferation of smartphones and
mobile browsing have impacted
the small business website, and
believe it or not, we’re going to do
it again even after we’re done with
The average website gets a third
of its total traffic by way of mobile
users. in our practice we’ve seen
that number range anywhere from
25-45% recently and it means two
supremely Important things for
your business. ..
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And that’s only the beginning — the second way that ignoring mobile is impacting your
business comes directly from Google. As of spring, 2015, Google is blocking non-mobile
sites from mobile searches, which means that if I need your help and I pull out my phone to
find a business like yours, that I will ONLY ﬁnd your mobile-friendly competition. This
change in the search algorithm essentially ensures that desktop-only websites are
bleeding traffic every day and that the gap between me and my mobile-friendly competitors
will continue to get wider and wider until I embrace mobile.
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Of all the issues we’ve put
forth in this document, this is
the most cut-and-dry and
probably the easiest to rectify.
You could redesign your
website. Just about every
current WordPress theme is
mobile responsive out of the
box and if you haven’t done a
significant update in some
time, this is a great excuse
(more on that when we get to
the Fourth Horseman).
You could also add software to your site that would take your existing site with no changes in design or
to the desktop version and add a secondary mobile view. Often these solutions are limited with regard
to design. but don't forget that the most important thing is to get mobile as quickly as possible even if
your mobile site isn't perfect
This can be a great way to extend the life of your current site and buy you some time as a stopgap
between now and when you're ready to do a full responsive redesign
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Most of us are familiar with the idea that
different things age at different rates It's
common knowledge, for example, that my
dog will age about 7 times faster than I
do. Most people don't know, however, how
quickly their website will age.
Just like there are 7 “dog years" for every
calendar year. there are about 5 “website
years” for every calendar year. That
means that if you did your last
meaningful website upgrade 4 years ago,
your website is about 20 years old with
regard to its design, its underlying
technology, and its security.
A lot of business owners will scoff at the idea that a website that they
spent $3,000 on 3 or 4 years ago could really be that out of date, but
it’s true. The web evolves very quickly: in 2011, only 35% of Americans
owned smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center — today,
estimates are routinely more than double that. Four years prior to that,
less than 10% of Americans owned smartphones.
There are about 34% more Apple Macintosh users today than there
were in 2012 — a time span that saw lntemet Explorer lose about
tvvo-thirds of their user base. WordPress has grown from powering
about 5% of all websites to about 24% and we haven’t even discussed
the countless Google search algorithm updates and browser
technology updates. .
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First, make sure you’re following the advice already given in this deck — make sure
that your site works properly on all major devices, make sure that your web software
is secure and up to date. Then sit down with your web people and put together a
quarterly plan to evolve your site. Things that are being worked on and examined
regularly tend to age better than things that are not.
Yes, the same common sense that says that good diet and regular exercise will
make you look and feel better and extend your life, the same common sense that
suggests that a car that is well maintained will age better than one that is simply
driven into the ground also applies to your website.
The web moves quickly and, unfortunately, we can't just let our sites sit for years
unattended. The good news is though that all of the issues addressed here are
solvable — some of them easily solvable — provided that you act decisively and
build a plan for ongoing maintenance.
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