Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year and the opportunity to do new and exciting things.
If you have a website or blog, this is the perfect time to think about your goals for 2014. What are you already doing that works? What do you need to do more of (or less of) to be successful? Where do you want to be a year from now?
Here are 10 things you can think about today that will help make your website better in 2014.
1. Get a professional design.
You knew this one was coming, right? I’ve talked at length about how to choose a designer without ending up with a designer who sucks, how to avoid being scammed, how much you should expect to pay for a design, and even how to get a great-looking site without hiring someone. The fact is, no matter what niche you’re in or how you present your content, the way your site looks is important.
Don’t fool yourself – a logo made in PicMonkey and slapped on a free WordPress theme is not professional and it never will be. Instead of fretting about the cost, think about the benefits of solid branding, a polished experience for visitors, and the increased potential for your site in 2014.
2. Make sure your site is secure.
2013 was full of tweets, blog posts, and news articles about hacked WordPress sites. If you talk to many other bloggers or business owners, I’m sure you know someone who has been hacked, stolen, and/or injected with malware. Don’t let it happen to you!
Below are just a few ways to improve your site’s security in 2014:
Whether or not you realize it, your WordPress login page is attacked by bots dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of times each day. The bots run automated scripts to try to guess your login and password, and you'd be surprised how often they get it right.
The first and easiest way to combat this issue is the Limit Login Attempts plugin. By locking out IP addresses with multiple login attempts, this plugin provides a simple way to protect your site - if the bots can't keep trying, they're less likely to find a way in.
Second, I use and highly recommend the Stealth Login Page plugin. By adding a required authorization code to your login page (and sending anyone who fails to enter it to a URL you choose), this plugin stops the vast majority of bots before they ever get started.
If you log into your WP dashboard as "admin" I want you to go stand in the corner for at LEAST 20 minutes and think about what you've done. Seriously. I'll wait.
Let's assume that your login name is 50% of your site's security and your password is the other 50%. That means logging in as "admin" is like saying, "Here, potential hackers. Let me give you a hand!" There is absolutely no excuse.
By default, WordPress sites use wp_ as the prefix for all tables in your site's database. That makes sense, right? Except for the fact that you're basically giving potential burglars your street address!
It's very easy to change your database prefix, making your site safer from would-be hackers. Whether you choose to do it manually (link) or using a plugin (link), you'll be glad you took a few minutes to make your site more secure.
There's an amazing free plugin called Anti-Malware (Get Off Malicious Scripts). Not only does it scan your files for infections and suspicious code, but it also allows you to remove that code easily, right from your dashboard. I can't recommend this plugin highly enough - go grab it, run it once a week, and prepare to lead a malware-free lifestyle.
3. Make backups.
This one is a no-brainer, right? Surely you’re already doing this! (Except 75% of my clients aren’t, so I doubt the rest of you are much different.)
BACK. UP. YOUR. SITES. There is no way I can emphasize this enough.
Do not assume that your host, server admin, tech support person, or web designer makes regular backups of your site. Do not trust that your site will always be “fine” and that you’ll never need a backup. Do not assume that a database backup is enough to restore your site. And do not store backups inside your hosting account because they won’t do you a bit of good if your server crashes or your hosting account is compromised.
Do yourself a favor and get BackupBuddy. Yes, it’s a little expensive, but it’s easy to configure, syncs with Dropbox and Amazon A3 and a number of other storage services, and creates full backups of your entire site that you can restore by running a simple script. You will never regret having a reliable, well-supported backup solution that works.
4. Write better content.
How was your traffic in 2013? How about engagement and social shares for your blog posts? If these aspects were lacking, maybe it’s time to review your content strategy for the new year.
Wait, what’s that? You don’t have a content strategy and you’re just kind of winging it? Writing random posts that pop into your head? Posting diary entries that don’t inform, entertain, OR educate? Perhaps that’s why you aren’t happy with your traffic and/or engagement – you aren’t writing content that makes people want to come back.
A relevant intermission from The Oatmeal:
5. Get a better host.
Raise your hand if your sites are hosted with Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy, or another big name host that you chose because some other blogger said they were awesome (and gave you a handy affiliate link to use when you signed up).
Now raise your other hand if your load times, uptime, and site performance have been kind of sucky throughout 2013. Oh wow, a lot of you have both hands up. Interesting!
The good news is, you aren’t stuck with a host that doesn’t meet your needs. Even if you prepaid for 2 or 3 years in advance, as is common with Bluehost. Check your hosting company’s terms of service – you are generally entitled to a prorated refund if you cancel. Which means you can go find a better host and stop putting up with a slow, laggy site that’s down every five minutes.
I won’t even recommend a particular host, lest I come across as biased. Just avoid GoDaddy, 1and1, any hosting company owned by EIG, and any host that looks like it’s run by a guy in his mom’s basement, and you’ll be just fine.
6. Audit your plugins.
While you shouldn’t be afraid of plugins, there’s also such a thing as overindulgence. Go through your site’s plugins to see what you need and what you don’t. Get rid of any inactive ones. Replace any that haven’t been updated in the last year. Lose the ones that aren’t working the way you thought they would and take a few minutes to find something better.
If your site takes forever to load and you aren’t sure why, install the P3 Profiler plugin and run a scan. It will show you exactly which plugins are dragging down your site most, giving you a great opportunity to get rid of them and/or replace them. (And yes, I’m aware that I’m telling you to install a plugin in order to get rid of plugins. But trust me on this.)
7. Set some goals.
What is your website’s purpose? What do you want to do in 2014 that you haven’t done in 2013? Do you dream of opening your own business? Getting a book deal? Writing for a major website or publisher? Now is the time to make decisions that will get you closer to those goals!
Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself you can’t. I just finished my second year of running a semi-successful company and I never could have done it if I wasted time on “can’t.” Instead, start focusing on what you CAN do, right here at the beginning of 2014, to reach whatever goals you may set for yourself, whether they’re business goals, personal goals, or both.
8. Diversify your content.
The internet has become a very exciting place in the last few years. Back in my day (puts in teeth, takes arthritis medicine) you had to have a ton of resources to get into things like online video. Thanks to technology, though, that’s no longer the case!
Maybe you want to start a podcast in 2014 or post some YouTube videos. Maybe you want to start making your own images for your blog posts. Maybe you want to try a Google Hangout where you can chat with readers and/or other bloggers in real time. People love seeing more from their favorite bloggers and business owners than paragraph after paragraph of text on a screen – this is a great time to try new things and see what sticks. (Speaking of which, I recently worked through my own paranoia and posted my first YouTube tutorial – feel free to laugh at my accent here.)
9. Make it easy for people to find you.
There are a lot of opinions out there about what, where, and how to share online. Some people, like my good friend Jeni (@theblogmaven), recommend removing or minimizing your “follow me” icons to focus on building your email list. Some will tell you to limit your social accounts to the few you like most, while others (like Pat Flynn) think you should “be everywhere.”
I don’t really care how you choose to engage with your audience. It makes no difference to me. But make sure whatever methods you use are obvious and easy for people to find. If you want me to use your contact form, put up a contact page with a link in your menu. If you want me to email you, put your email address on your site! If you want me to follow you on Twitter (I’m @nutsandbolts by the way – I love Twitter!), put an icon or link or button somewhere.
10. Learn from smart people.
They say you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So if that’s the case, it seems to me you have three choices:
- You can spend time with people who know less than you, making you the smartest in the group. But where do you go to learn anything new?
- You can spend time with people who know as much as you, meaning the playing field is fairly level. But how do you ever get better?
- You can spend time with people who are smarter than you, making you the dumbest in the group. And you will work your butt off every single day not to be the dumbest in the group anymore.
If you don’t have a mastermind group, mentor, or go-to guru, I urge you to make that your #1 priority in 2014. Don’t expect people to give you their time for free – it’s cool when that happens, but it’s not always possible. Instead, seek out relationships that will challenge you to blog better, run your business better, and just be better in the new year, even if you’re paying for them.
That doesn’t mean you should shun those who aren’t where you are; it just means you should make every day worthwhile. And that might mean helping others at times and helping yourself at other times. Honestly, that’s probably the best balance you could hope for in 2014 – making the internet a better place to learn, work, play, and live.
What are you hoping to accomplish with your website in 2014? Are you ready for a new year to begin, or do you still have some planning left to do?