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Website Maintenance Musts

Keep your online business running smoothly with a monthly checkup of these crucial areas.

Recently, I was at the car dealership watching the mechanic work on my car, and suddenly a thought struck me: How many online business owners regularly check under the hood to make sure their websites are running smoothly?

And even if you do perform frequent checkups on your website, are you sure you're giving it a really thorough once-over? About once a month, you should "pop the hood" to perform a comprehensive checkup, find what's not working and fix it. Here's what you should be looking for:

Traffic Statistics
Your web host should provide basic statistics, but consider getting the free Google Analytics program or using the services of a fee-based web analytics company--you'll get a deeper look at how your visitors travel through your website. You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What pages do your visitors leave your website from? For example, do they abandon your site from the order page without placing an order? If so, maybe there's a problem with your checkout process.
  • How much time do visitors spend on your site, and on each individual page? If they visit your home page and then leave almost immediately, you're obviously not grabbing their attention.
     
  • How do your visitors find you? Are particular sites sending lots of traffic your way? Can you capitalize on that by somehow partnering with them? Do most of your visitors come from one particular search engine? If so, what might be the reason for that--and how can you snag traffic from other search engines? What keywords and offers in your pay-per-click ads are pulling best? Can you incorporate them elsewhere on your site?
  • What's causing any traffic spikes? Where are those visitors coming from? Is there a new link pointing to your site? Is an e-mail campaign or PPC ad performing particularly well? Could there be a seasonal reason? How can you make this a regular occurrence?
  • Where do your visitors live? If there's a lot of interest from a particular location, can you tweak your website to cater specifically to those people (e.g., by offering services in another language)?
  • What search terms and keywords result in the most traffic to your site? Can you place more of these--or other similar keywords--in your code and content to attract even more traffic?

Sales Statistics
Traffic is good, but sales make you money. Keep track of your conversion rates--the percentage of your visitors who actually become paying customers. Lots of traffic with few conversions indicates that there's some kind of disconnect between the message bringing people to your site and the message they're seeing when they get there. Look at where you lose those people and you'll see where to start tweaking and testing. Lower traffic with high conversions means you're doing the right things on your site and you need to concentrate on getting more traffic.

E-mail Response Rates
Always check your traffic and sales numbers carefully after each e-mail you send. You can find out which subject lines and promotional offers are working best for you, and even which times of day, week and year are best for your mailouts.

E-mail is still one of the most effective marketing techniques around, and you'll get the most out of it if you automate all those e-mail tasks from the start. An e-mail management system like iContact will save you time and deliver in-depth results in a user-friendly format so you can easily analyze what's working and what needs work.

General Housekeeping
Here are some other things related to your website that you should keep a close eye on:

  • Check for broken links and other technical faults on your site. Google Webmaster Tools can help with this. Another good resource for checking broken links and other factors that affect your site's performance--such as your site's loading speed--is Sitereportcard.com .
  • Search for keywords relevant to your industry to see if your site turns up in the search results.
  • Check your competitors' sites regularly to see if they're running any special promotions or have any new products. If you really want to see their inner workings you can use a paid tool like KeywordSpy or iSpionage to see what keywords they're using, and where. And make sure you sign up for their opt-in newsletters or RSS feeds--it's a great way to keep tabs on what they're up to.
  • Search the web for random phrases from pages on your site to make sure no one is using your content without linking back to you.
  • Search on your own company name and URL to see if anyone's saying anything bad about you.

A malfunction on your website can be just as damaging to your business as a brake failure would be to your car. Ideally, you should set aside one day each month to undertake a major site review. It'll keep your business running as smoothly as a well-oiled engine.

Allen Moon is the founder of On Deck Marketing, an internet marketing agency that specializes in product marketing strategies, e-commerce and online marketing.

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