Alaine Anderson, Digital Strategist and Implementer at Joining Vision and Action
Anyone who has entered the realm of website design and development knows it can be a series of complex rabbit holes and can feel like too much to handle at times. One thing that comes up time and time again is the need to test systems.
Why?, you might ask. I’m sure many of us who frequent the internet spend very little time thinking about what is going on behind the scenes of the amazing content we are absorbing.
Well, I guarantee you there is more to those sites than meets the eye. When things go smoothly, nobody pays attention. That’s how things are supposed to run. However, everyone has probably experienced a variety of issues while navigating websites. Between 404 errors or the dreaded 503 errors, a million things can go wrong. Which leads me to the main point of this blog, always test your website.
This is especially important for nonprofits and social enterprises, which often have limited time and staff for testing. I’m here to offer you tips and tricks to make reviewing your website as seamless and stress-free as possible. Sharing your mission with the world via the web is important to advancing your goals and connecting with your community; don’t let a little web bug get in the way of you changing the world!
I could write a novel on the many things to watch out for, but…
Depending on how advanced your skills are, there are a variety of ways to build a website. Content managers such as WordPress, Wix and SquareSpace are excellent options if you want to build a site quickly with varying levels of complexity. All are created to give users access to edit content but let them have a hands-off approach to the more technical side of design and functionality. This allows people with noncoding backgrounds to have not only a site, but a beautiful and functional one.
WordPress is the most popular content manager, powering 26 percent of the web in 2016, and I can see why. You can have a site be as complex as a store or as simple as a generic blogging site and everything in between. Given its widespread use and to reduce the complexity of this blog, I’ll be focusing on WordPress as I discuss testing methods. However, many of these can be applied to the other content management systems.
With all of the lovely features WordPress offers, there is a lot of temptation to download the newest and most high-tech plug-ins and themes. Before you do, here are some things to consider:
Do Your Research
A common mistake you can make is downloading something that is marketed well but gets bad reviews. Reading reviews is so important with navigating what plug-ins are maintained well and offer support to users. Even if the plug-in offers your site something that no other one will, if reviews consistently say: “site crashes” or “slows load time,” then it probably isn’t worth it.
Be a Minimalist
As much as you want a website to have every feature under the sun, it’s important to think critically about what your website will actually need. How your website runs is more important than having that new plug-in. User experience isn’t important only for getting customers to make actionable moves on your site, but also for Google ranking the website higher in its algorithm. Each new plug-in could slow down your site or not integrate well with other plug-ins.
Not only could excess affect site performance, it also increases the cost of the site itself. If a plug-in that sounds amazing costs $80 and you download it but forget about it, that’s just wasted money that could be going to something more valuable to your organization.
Keep an Eye Out for Upgrades
As I mentioned earlier, don’t forget about your website once you’re done building it. In the ever-changing web environment, there will always be upgrades happening to your plug-ins, themes and content managers, especially if those plug-ins are worth keeping. You might wonder why they change it they already work. This can be explained by how fast the web moves. It’s difficult enough to stay on top of social media trends, but with code updates and fluctuating software/hardware, there will always be a need to stay current.
Back it up
Updating plug-ins and themes is absolutely necessary when it comes to maintaining a website. Nonetheless, before hitting any update button, be sure to download backups of your site. It’s a dangerous game to leave it to chance. Sure, everything could be fine, but when one plug-in update breaks your site, you’ll wish you had taken two seconds to back up your previous version.
Not sure how or where to back up your site? Talk to your web developer; they will be able to point you in the right direction or, better yet, update the system for you.
One at a Time
More often than not, it’s a good idea to update elements on your site one at a time. This allows you to know exactly what breaks your site, if it happens. Then you can easily revert to a previous version (remember, back it up!) and next time skip the plug-in that caused problems. From this point, your site will be functional and you can troubleshoot any issues with your web developer.
Make it a Routine
One way to make testing not so cumbersome is to make it into a routine. Something my mom always told me as a child is to “pick up as you go; then it feels like less work.” Yes, she was talking about cleaning my room, but this can apply to anything that tends to build up over time. Like upgrades to a site, the longer you wait, the more there will be. So stay on top of it, and it won’t feel so overwhelming. Plus, you’ll know exactly which parts of your site tend to break more often and to watch them more closely than others.
Let me know in the comments what has worked for your organization. Best of luck, Changemakers!
More tips for your website to come! Read more blogs by Alaine here.
 Nevena Tomovic. (April 2016). More surprising statistics about WordPress usage. ManageWP. Retrieved from https://managewp.com/blog/statistics-about-wordpress-usage