Dust off those pixels: your Web site may be due for spring cleaning.

Mom and me at a Cafe in Malaga, Spain
Yay mom (left) for taking me (right) on holiday! Were it not for her frequent flyer miles and instincts for exploration I'd be far less traveled. This was taken at an outdoor cafe in Malaga. The calamari was yummy. So was the ham.

After writing my last post, I went offline for 2 weeks to skibble across the Atlantic, where I saw Gaudi's wild architecture in Barcelona, the aftermath of floods in Madeira, and the enormous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca—among other things.

When I came back I returned to thousands of e-mails. My inbox was so cluttered that I'm still wondering what messages I may have missed.

Thoughts of clutter sometimes lead to thoughts of cleaning—or so I'm told. When such thoughts coincide with the chirping of birds and the sprouting of flowers, that means spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning is traditionally a time to take stock of our surroundings, get rid of the detritus and freshen up what's been getting stale over the long winter. Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise when it comes to house cleaning, but it is a task we should apply to our Web sites, particularly if you've not been caring for and feeding your site throughout the year.

Where to start: How effectively did your site achieve its goals?

Tired runners in Barcelona Marathon
Runners in the Barcelona Marathon. Did they achieve their goals? Only their times will tell.

Back when you first planned your site you (hopefully) had a purpose in mind. Today is a good day to look at your results. If your goal was to sell more widgets, how did you do? Did the site bring in traffic that converted to leads or sales? If your goal was to recruit students to your graduate program, how did that work? Did the site impact their decision?

Through a combination of Web analytics, leads from contact forms, applications, sales, etc. you should be able to measure your success and gauge how well your site contributed to that success. If you see room for improvement, you'll want to take a close look at what worked and what didn't and focus on enhancing the areas where you can make the most impact. Some of you may need to rewrite copy and offer more calls to action. Others may need to enhance SEO or improve site navigation. Different problems will require different solutions. For ideas that may help, try perusing my:

Do your old goals still apply?

When I started this blog the goal was primarily educational. While that goal remains, my site now is also meant to attract potential clients. Whether your site is for a business, university, non-profit or your own personal use, your situation may have changed in the past year. Think about whether your own goals have changed and what you might add or change on the site so that it can continue to support both your needs and those of your site visitors.

Changes in technology

Semi-enclosed passenger tricycle
Trixi's are electrically assisted pedal cycles you can ride in Malaga, Spain. On your Web site, you don't always need to use the latest technology, you just need to use that which works best for your site visitors.

Generally speaking (very generally) the Web works pretty much the way it always has. If you view a site built in 1993 in a modern browser it will probably still work to one degree or another. But the technology has also evolved. Newer browsers are beginning to support HTML 5.0 and CSS 3. Designers are experimenting with those standards, while also trying to ensure that the sites they build degrade nicely when viewed in Internet Explorer 6.0.

Where does your site stand in terms of current technology? Does it support the browsers used by your visitors? Does your site use deprecated code? Are you still using tables for layout? Was it optimized for IE 6 in a way that it will break if viewed in IE 7 or Firefox? Are you supporting mobile devices? Should you? Have you incorporated social media features? Are you embedding audio and video in the most effective manner? We have far more options today than we did when the Web began, but that also means we have more potential for conflict. A flash-based site won't run on your new iPad and your CSS3 rounded corners won't be visible in IE6.

Your site has its own unique requirements and probably doesn't need all of the latest bells and whistles. If you don't need to support mobile just yet, or aren't designing for the iPad, then don't worry about that. The important thing is just to make sure that you are using the features and coding that work best for your target audience.

General maintenance

When you first launched your site, you and everyone else involved probably read each page countless times. But typos's and other minor errors may still lurk. Now that some time has passed proofread the site again with fresh eyes. You'll be surprised at what you might find. This is a good opportunity to catch spelling errors, or tweak some copy so it flows more smoothly. While you're reading through the pages, check your links. to make sure they still work. If a page has moved or a site has been deleted you will want to replace it with a working link. You may also decide to add links to newer or more comprehensive resources in addition to those old links.

As you explore your site, put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Does your content still make sense? Are things missing that you didn't notice before? Looking at the site again after a long time can give you a fresh perspective and suggest ideas that you may not have thought of last time around.

Out with the old, in with the new? Not necessarily.

Donkey hauling produce, Agadir, Morocco
Market: Agadir, Morocco. This donkey may seem old-fashioned, but there is no reason to replace him with something new. As long he remains fuel efficient and can haul produce, he's still serving the needs of his owner—just as your historical content serves the needs of your site visitors.

Some people worry that having old pages on a site makes it look like they've not bothered to update it. But the age of a page doesn't matter as much as the information it contains. If your products page still lists that 20lb hand vacuum you stopped manufacturing 5 years ago, then yes, it's probably time to remove it. You don't want people trying to buy things you aren't selling. But you could also move this information to an historic products section where you include appropriate support materials, such as a .pdf of the user manual. This could be helpful to current customers.

I'm a bit of a pack rat, so I hate to get rid of anything that might be useful, but as you review your site, you too will notice that some older information still has value and is worth keeping. Here are some examples:

Factual information that doesn't change.

If your office has been in the same location for 20 years, then the page listing your address and phone number is probably still accurate. For pages like this, just give them a cursory review to see if all the information is correct and if anything is missing that might help your readers. For example, if you don't have a map, this may be a good time to add one. If you have out-of-date photos of the office, then perhaps a few fresh ones are in order. But otherwise that page may remain accurate for several years to come.

Press releases, news and articles

Press release are timely in nature, but they also provide an historical record of the news your organization has produced. These pages may contain valuable information that tells readers about your track record for innovation, the progress you've made, the endurance of your group, etc. Some organizations like to remove older news stories because they think that visitors will accidentally come across an article from 1985 and think it's current.

But there is an easy solution for that, especially if you maintain such documents using blogging software or other content management tools. Just make sure any news content contains the date it was published. Then you can keep this content in online archives that make it easy for visitors to browse while still showcasing what is new and what is not. In many cases this information is helpful not only for outside readers but also for your employees. If they're trying to find out more about how you launched product X in 1998, or who was the head of IT in 2001, this gives them a good start.

Recurring Events

If you hold an annual conference or other recurring event, consider maintaining archives of the event site for each year. While this year's site may showcase the location and speakers for the current year, the archives can tell the story of past years. Discovering who spoke before, watching videos or slides from past events, and other details can help readers decide whether or not to attend. Such archives also demonstrate that the event has a history of success, and as with news items, these archives offer information that may be useful to newer employees.

Evergreen Content

Evergreen content refers to information that is more timeless and less likely to go out-of-date. For example, my article, Voice and Tone: Writing to reflect your personality as well as your message (Part 1), still brings in search traffic 3 years after it was written, because the ideas within still apply today.

Reflections on social media networking and marketing, on the other hand, was written more recently but references social media services that no longer exist, such as Pownce. While some of the content in the article is still relevant, other parts are outdated.

Including evergreen content on your site is a good way to bring in traffic, because people will continue to search for such information for years to come. When they find your site, and discover it also offers other useful resources, they may also stick around to explore it further.

Don't break the Web when/if you delete pages

Barcelona Subway
Closed roads during the Barcelona Marathon prevented our taxi from reaching our hotel. Thankfully the subway provided us with an alternative way to reach our destination. Similarly 301 redirects can help guide your visitors to theirs.

The Web, by nature, is interconnected by links. When we delete pages, we also break any links that go to those pages, thus causing confusion to visitors who follow the links and headaches for those who link to us. If a page is out-of-date and you want to delete it, see first if there is a way to make it more current.

If not, then you may want to set up a 301 redirect that will automatically take users (and robots who index the Web) to a more appropriate page. Another option is to add a disclaimer explaining that the page is an archival page with out-of-date information. This can include manual links to other pages you recommend users visit instead. Users who are guided to more appropriate materials, rather than to a 404 error page, are more likely to find what they need and continue to explore the site.

I have a blog, so my site is already up-to-date.

If you have a blog on your site, and you write with some degree of regularity, then you have a huge advantage over those who maintain more static Web sites. You've been adding fresh content all year, so it probably does include current information. But what about the other pages?

Are your entries and archives easy to browse? Perhaps what worked last year is less manageable now that you have so many more posts. What about your About page? Does it reflect your current editorial policy? Are there other pages you could add that would enhance your user experience? While frequent blogging keeps you involved with your site, a spring review let's you view the site anew and may give you ideas to make your blog even better.

The colors on our site are so 2005, we need a full redesign.

Don't panic. A site review may make small problems look bigger than they seem. The key here is to maintain perspective and look for issues that truly impact your goals and the user experience. While out-of-date product descriptions can be a problem, out-of-date colors may not be. If people aren't applying to your program, don't blame the visuals. They may need some sprucing up, when time allows, but your content and calls to action are probably the areas that need the most help. Craigslist, for example, isn't winning many design awards, but it continues to be a popular and productive site. As the site owner, you may be bored with the look and feel of your site, but that doesn't mean the same is true for users.

While you may be tempted to start over with a full site redesign, in most cases you don't need one. If your site is supporting its goals, and visitors seem happy, then just focus on small corrections, updates and improvements. If the flaws seem to be adding up to a nightmare, then you may want to do a more thorough analysis, but there's no reason to look for a catastrophe unless it really exists.

Regular care and feeding of your Web site

Stuffed monster in a cage over a shop window in Spain
Web sites are like pets. You can't just stick them in a cage and ignore them. (No stuffed animals were harmed while shooting this photo.)

Ideally we'd all maintain and care for our sites on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. How often we should do this depends on the nature of our goals, our content and the scope of our sites. Alas for many of us time slips away, or we don't have sufficient staff to keep up. Others spend the little time they have just updating the necessary bits and may not have the opportunity to really review the site in terms of its overall performance.

A spring cleaning review gives us the chance to really look at how our site is doing as a whole, and to approach it from a fresh perspective. After we've gone through the process we can also get a sense of whether our normal maintenance and review schedule is on track or whether we have to make time to care for our site more frequently.

How is your site performing?

Are you able to maintain it as often as you like? Do you have tips to share with others? Do you measure your results on a regular basis? What did you learn from your last site review? Please share your ideas and questions in the comments below.

Resources for the care, feeding and maintenance of your Web site
Fan me on Facebook—Follow me on Twitter

We all know these blog posts don't get written as frequently as I'd like. But that doesn't mean you need to go weeks without hearing me babble. Over on http://www.facebook.com/heidicool, I'm sharing one tip per day, usually as a short paragraph with a link to something interesting I've found in the blogosphere.

At one tip per week day it won't clog your Facebook stream, but hopefully you'll find something useful. And for more links (and ramblings that may not always be related to the Web) I usually Tweet and reTweet a few (or several) times per day at @hacool. (I also have links to more accounts on My Social Media Profiles page and am now also babbling on Buzz.)

P.S. All the photos in this entry were shot on my recent holiday. I've not posted many yet, but there are a few more in my Spain, Morocco, Portugal collection on Flickr.

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11 Comments »
  1. Great pics. Looks like you had a wonderful trip. Helpful tips. I will review my website today.

    Comment by Dave Cunix — April 5, 2010 @10:46 am

  2. Dave, Yes it was fun, but it already seems like it happened long ago. I look forward to hearing what you learn from your site review.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — April 5, 2010 @12:53 pm

  3. Great article. Very well written. Definitely a worth one reading it. I will recommend the links you shared here to my friends too. Thanks a lot for sharing them here.

    Comment by Joel — April 15, 2010 @3:46 am

  4. Nice post and very helpful too. I will definitely review my website. I look forward to get such type of beneficial stuff from your side in future too. Keep the good work continue..!

    Comment by Payal — April 19, 2010 @6:26 am

  5. Well, first of all, let me say I'm slightly jealous of you for taking this trip! I find one of the best things, which can be frustrating at times, about web design is that a web site is never truly finished. Technology is ever changing, as is a websites purpose, visitor demographic, etc etc. I find myself never completely satisfied with a design as well. There is always one more thing you can add, or change.

    Comment by Ryan Cowles — April 25, 2010 @2:30 pm

  6. Ryan, The trip was fun, yet I hate how trips go from future plans to memories so quickly! The Web is really bitter-sweet that way. Unlike print, it's great that we can correct things if the first version isn't perfect. But then there is always more to do. I think we're always pondering ways to improve things so the key is to just focus on the most productive changes. Cheers! - Heidi

    Comment by Heidi Cool — April 26, 2010 @9:25 am

  7. good contents can i copy this contents to my website http://www.agriya.com

    Comment by sathe — May 4, 2010 @10:23 am

  8. Sathe, Thank you for asking. I'd prefer you not copy the full article, but you are welcome to write a short summary, include a few quotes and link back to the main article. This way your readers still get access to the information, and they can visit the original source. Cheers! - Heidi

    Comment by Heidi Cool — May 4, 2010 @11:17 am

  9. time to plan another trip then......somewhere plus Bali next year....it seems the miles are there if we can pool them.

    Comment by Mom — June 29, 2010 @6:55 pm

  10. Mom, another trip across the Pacific sounds like a good plan. You've now also given me a hankering for some Nasi Goreng. Though in revisiting this post I'm also reminded of that brilliant Spanish ham. I should have eaten more of that while we were there. It seemed to combine the best qualities of prosciutto and those country Smithfield hams that Grandma Marge used to get. Yummy. FYI, if you go to http://www.gravatar.com/ you can set a photo to be tied to one or several of your email accounts so you'll get your own picture when commenting on (most) blogs.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — June 30, 2010 @2:38 am

  11. I have found that a website is an organic entity, the more you pay attention to and feed it the more it grows. That may sound stupid but the sites I have that I tend to do much better than the ones I have walked away from. To keep it simple never think of your site as complete, think of it as a perpetual work in progress.

    Comment by Shy Entrepreneur — June 3, 2011 @6:40 pm

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