Don't Crash the Party: How to Ensure Your Website Stability?

Website_Stability

Did you realize that it takes internet users less than half a second to determine whether or not they like a particular website? One of the biggest mistakes most business owners make when it comes to building a website is failing to take the time to make it reliable.

If a website takes too long to load or is consistently crashing, it will be difficult to garner quality sales leads. Rather than rushing through the website development process, you need to take your time. By ironing out every detail of your web design, you can rest assured that your site will function properly.

Read below to find out more about how to keep your website stable and reliable.

Be Mindful of Coding Errors

One of the most common causes of website crashes is coding errors. Even the slightest error in a line of code can lead to high levels of instability. Some business owners think they can handle this complex job alone, but this is usually a recipe for disaster.

Working with an experienced programmer is the only way to ensure all code written is both functional and bug-free. Once the website has been constructed, using programs like PagerDuty - Papertrail log management is essential. With this program, you can find out about any errors on your website and address them before they cause crashes to occur.

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If your website got hacked, how would it affect your small business?

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Website maintenance falls into two categories:

Content updates to keep it topical and currentSoftware updates to keep it secure and stable in an ever changing environment

The first one is usually given priority by most small business website owners and current content and regular updates are important for all sorts of reasons like search engine optimisation and keeping your customers up to date. But really, keeping your hosting and site software up to date should take priority in the interest of keeping your website secure.  

Quite simply ... if it's out of date the hackers will know the vulnerabilities and will know how to get in. All they have to do is find your site. Updates and patches 'plug those holes' and it's important that they're installed regularly.

Most small business owners mistakenly think that their website is low profile and unlikely to be a target and take a 'why would they bother with my little website approach?' I liken it to a situation I experienced a few years ago where my modest and ageing hatchback was broken into while parked in between two very high end and very shiny new cars. Quite simply mine was easier to get into. The other two were secure with alarms and far more up to date and sophisticated security.

Every website is potentially a target irrespective of it's size and out of date software just increases the risk because it's an easy target. Cyber crime is big business and the reasons for hacking into a website are many. If you want to know more about why, you can read about it in an earlier post 'Why do hackers hack?'.

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Why do hackers hack?

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I've had to deal with a few hacked websites and this is the question that I get asked most frequently. Why do they do it?

All websites are potentially a target ... however small. The motivation of the hacker is fame and fortune. A hacker isn't necessarily looking for financial details. They want to access your website so that they can use it for various money making activities and also gaining notoriety among the cyber criminal community. There are various financial gains to be had from hacking a website:

sending spamadding malware to a website so that information can be stolen from the computers of visitors to your website.phishing activitiesusing your site for their own SEOusing your website to attack others on the same hosting accountpassing on the access to other hackers for financial reward

A hacker is also looking for notoriety among other hackers. They're then able to market themselves within that criminal community.

If a hacker gains access to one website of several on a hosting plan, they may not place malicious code on the original site where they gained access. They're more likely to infect one or more of the other sites on the hosting plan keeping the original point of entry open for future use and re-infection.

Once they've gained access they will install something called a back-door shell in various places on the hosting account giving them access to all the files on that hosting account and therefore access to all the hosted websites. So even if you've managed to locate and remove the original point of entry, the back-door shells provide an alternative means of access so that they can keep on re-infecting your website.

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How do you stop your small business website getting hacked?

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The bad news is that you probably can't guarantee it never will be. The good news is that there are a lot of simple things you can do to reduce the chances. This post is by no means comprehensive, but its intention is to give you a few 'easy to implement' first steps to help keep things secure.

User Account Names & Passwords

When you're installing your CMS make sure that you pick an obscure username. If you're building your own website and haven't considered security you're very likely to leave the superuser as 'Admin' or some similar default name set during the installation process - after all, we all get fed up with remembering umpteen different combinations of username and password. Don't! Make sure you pick something obscure that cannot be guessed or linked back to you or your website's content. If you leave the superuser account name as the default any potential hacking attempt can be made with brute force tactics on the superuser password.

Once you've picked a strong superuser account name make sure you employ the same principles to your password. Make sure it's unique and you haven't used it elsewhere. There are lots of free tools available for generating passwords. Try http://freepasswordgenerator.com/ which will generate passwords depending on your chosen criteria of letters, numbers and symbols and also of varying length.

Site Software Updates

This is an important one. Once your chosen site software has been 'out there' for a while the weak points will have been identified. Not only by the developers but also the hackers. The CMS developers are constantly patching these and it's very often a simple one-click process to keep it current. Make sure you do. 

As well as the CMS software make sure that you keep all plugins and components up to date as well. 

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How often should you update your small business website?

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There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to keeping your website maintained, but if your a small or start-up business with a relatively new website, there are a few things you should bear in mind.

You probably put a lot of time and thought into your website when you launched your business. You most likely invested a good deal of effort into developing that all important content that was going to communicate your message to your potential customers. You also probably canvassed many opinions about the website - family members, friends ... the dog! Then the big day arrived, you launched your website and you started building your business.

At that point your website possibly took a bit of a back seat. Understandably, you were busy networking and delivering to your new clients. However, your website, although not the only tool within your marketing strategy, is a very important one and your website's maintenance should be ongoing. Six months to a year in, you will have more understanding of who your customers are and it is worth spending a little bit of time re-evaluating the relevance of your website's content.

Here are a few important points to double check and maybe adjust:

Is the website getting found? Whilst there are no guarantees to Google page rankings, it is worth spending half an hour or so checking if your new website is moving up. Are the keywords that you chose initially, still relevant? For example, you may be targeting a specific market sector or your offerings may have changed as the business has evolved. Make sure your content reflects this.Is your key message or mission statement still the same? If it's changed it may be worth adjusting the layout of the site to reflect this. For example, maybe one of your supporting services has become more relevant to your potential customers and may warrant a mention on your website's landing page.Do all the links still work? There is nothing more frustrating to a website's visitor than a broken link. If your site does contain links to an external source, make sure that they are still current.Are the images still looking fresh? If you have photographs of products, make sure that they are current and that products shown are still available.Is the factual and logistical information still up to date? You may have new staff that have joined your team. You may have additional geographical locations that you are able to service. Make sure it's accurate.

These are just a few points that you should be addressing routinely. Only you will know the frequency with which these areas need to be updated. But aside from this, adding fresh content to a site is always a good idea. A frequent site visitor, will notice if the content is stale and out of date. Apart from anything, you can keep in contact with existing customers by alerting them to new content as well as directing any potential customers you are nurturing to your new content.

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