How to Prep Your Website for 2016

As 2015 draws to a close, now is the time to take stock in your site and see what works, what doesn’t, and what can be changed for the better.

Sure, you can put it off until January 1st, but wouldn’t it be a better idea to start the new year with a plan already in place? It’s likely just psychological, but knowing what I intend to do for the next year can make all the difference in terms of how I approach my business when sitting down to work.

All website owners should go over the following list before the ball drops on new year’s eve, but WordPress site owners especially can benefit from the steps laid out here. 

1. Consider a Site Overhaul

It’s almost a new year—could it be time for a new look, too? I know it sounds drastic, but now is the perfect time to evaluate the look of your site and think about whether or not it’s working for you. Checking out your analytics can give you some sense of this, at least in terms of whether or not specific design elements are working like your calls-to-action and graphics.

Now’s the time to investigate those themes you bookmarked throughout the year and thought “maybe…but not now” about. Open them up, read reviews, and check out the demos. Would a new theme serve your site in an important way? Would it greatly enhance its function?

But you don’t necessarily need to think as big as a new theme, either. You can also invest in a new plugin that affects design like a custom widget or a different header image. You might want to change up your logo a bit or redesign your newsletter signup form.

Another good idea is to come up with a branded style for each of your blog posts. You can use this same style of image on every post and across social media. Coming up with a template for this now can save you time in the new year and ensures your business is presented in a seamless and professional way across all channels.

Whatever you choose to do, know that even the smallest change can make a lasting impact on how your site is perceived by visitors and prospects.

Here are a few posts with tons of great theme ideas for giving your site a refresh:

2. Analyze Your Top Performing Posts & Pages (And Copy Them)

This one’s a bit subjective, but it’s important just the same. Before the new year starts, take this opportunity to go over the pages and posts that have performed the best according to your site’s analytics and figure out what makes them so effective. Is there something on these pages that helps drive conversions? Is the copy particularly great? Is there a graphic that’s compelling visitors to click?

Go over these pages in detail and figure out what elements you can apply to your other posts and pages, as well as any new posts you write in the new year. It doesn’t have to be all that complicated, either. Maybe your best performing content all have a bold featured image. Maybe your long reads perform the best. Whatever it is these pages have in common, try to mirror that aspect on future content to make every new post your best post.

In case you’re aren’t sure, here’s a guide for installing Google Analytics:

3. Analyze Your Most Important Content (And Fix It)

Certain pages on your site are always going to receive a certain amount of traffic just for what content they’re expected to present. A few good examples include your About page, Contact page, and any landing pages you may have. These pages are all designed to do something specific, so it’s your job to evaluate them on occasion to make sure they’re accomplishing what you want/need them to do.

Your analysis should start with the simple things like checking all of the links to make sure they’re working, checking that images look good and that the copy reads well. You should also evaluate these pages to see if they could be working harder for you. Could your CTA use a reboot? Try out a new form style or get new copy written. Could your “Buy Now” buttons use a facelift? Consider a new UI kit. You get the idea.

You don’t have to spend a ton of time on this but revisiting your most important pages periodically helps to ensure you’re getting the most out of your content. Here’s a few posts about content analysis and building better content in general, all year long:

4. Implement A/B Testing on Your Best Content

You know those top performing pages we identified a bit ago? Now’s the time to take a look at them again and identify the ways in which you can improve them. While you can just randomly make changes and hope something increases their effectiveness, a much better approach is to use A/B testing.

Setting up A/B tests on your top performing pages ensures you’re squeezing every last drop of goodness out of them. I mean, you’ve identified that these pages are effective. So, why not make them work even better?

We’ve talked a lot about A/B testing here in the past, so there’s no need to rehash the details. Here are a few posts that cover the topic in depth so you can get started with setting up your own tests ASAP:

5. Update Your 404 Page

If you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to work on customizing your site’s 404 page. A fun design can make a big different here, but something cutesy won’t cut it if it doesn’t actually direct wayward visitors back along the path to the appropriate page. Input your site’s URL incorrectly a few times to see what comes up. If you have suggested searches on your 404 page (which you should) ensure these links are relevant to the content you were trying to view.

The 404page plugin is a good choice for customizing what visitors see when they type in the incorrect URL. And you can add a custom search to this page with the Relevanssi plugin.

We’ve talked about 404 pages here in the past, particularly regarding how to remove broken links and the branding opportunity they provide:

6. Develop a Content Plan for Q1 of 2016

Whether you consistently follow an editorial calendar or you just wing it, right now is the time to start getting organized and implementing a sustainable content plan for 2016. You don’t have to plan out the whole year—a month or two at a time will suffice—but having more than just a scattered list of post ideas somewhere will truly help you to build a more effective content strategy overall.

Instead of being stressed out constantly at the prospect of creating new content and all that entails (writing the post, scheduling it, creating graphics, scheduling social media posts, etc) you can go about the process much more methodically. Plus, if you know what your weeks and months will look like ahead of time, it’s a lot easier to place your focus on creating quality content. Instead of writing posts to fulfill a deadline obligation, you can create posts that really speak to your intended audience and do a lot more toward converting your readers into subscribers and/or customers.

Here are a few posts on managing content:

7. Review Previous Posts & Pages and Update for SEO Changes

Search engine optimization is an ever-changing animal. And you have to stay on top of those changes if you want to see your site rank and perform well. While this can feel daunting (especially if you put off this sort of maintenance) it doesn’t have to be if you address it now. Before the new year begins, take a look at the most recent SEO best practices and compare how your site measures up. The most recent was a refresh of Panda, by the way, which wasn’t an update but still affected 2-5% of search queries. And remember, a plugin can be helpful here for managing on-page SEO. Something like All-in-One SEO Pack can make it so you never forget a meta description again.

For more insights, check out these previous posts on search engine optimization:

8. Evaluate Your Lead Capture Strategy

If you’re not already capturing leads on your site, now is the time to start. Don’t let another potential lead “leak” from your site ever again by implementing a lead capture strategy that works. To get started, you’ll need to get set up with a subscription service like MailChimp or AWeber. Then, add a signup form to your site. There are many plugin-enabled widgets that make this possible.

If you’ve already got these details covered, consider creating a landing page to drive conversions for a specific component of your site. Want to offer a free downloadable ebook to increase your subscriber base? Make a dedicated landing page for this very purpose. Want to do a marketing push for a specific product you sell? Make a sales page that entices visitors into clicking “Buy.”

You can even add pop-ups, slide-ins, overlays, sticky bars, and welcome mats to your site to give visitors more opportunities to sign up. Though you probably shouldn’t use all of these solutions. Because that would be intrusive. And a little weird.

A few recent posts we’ve done that can help you get going with lead capture strategy include:

9. Review Your Maintenance, Security, and Backup Plans

Another thing you need to take a look at before the year is over is your maintenance, security, and backup plans. If you don’t have a regular maintenance schedule for your site(s) implement one now. You can schedule automatic plugin, theme, and core file updates if you want but if you’re afraid an update will break your site, it’s a much better idea to go about this manually. Still, you’ll want to add it to your to-do list each month. Checking to see if there are updates at least once a week is wise.

Likewise, you should also review your security and backup plans to make sure everything’s in working order. Is your site’s security plugin working? Are you receiving proper notifications? And perhaps, more importantly, are you acting on said notifications when the need arises?

Finally, are you backing up your site regularly? Does your backup plan include restoration features? Now’s the time to evaluate what you’ve been doing (or haven’t been doing) and come up with a plan for the future. Not to worry, I won’t leave you hanging. We have plenty of posts on these subjects to help you set up and follow maintenance, security, and backup protocols.

10. Learn JavaScript, Deeply

I’d hope you’ve watched (or, at least, read the highlights) from WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word 2015 by now. But one thing everyone has been talking about without end is the homework assignment he gave developers at the end of his address: learn JavaScript.

And it makes sense. With REST API now a part of WordPress Core and the reveal of the WordPress desktop app Calypso, it comes as no real surprise that JavaScript will become a major part of WordPress in its future iterations. That’s why 2016 is the time to learn it. And right now is the time to plan how you’re going to accomplish that.

There are plenty of online courses out there for learning JavaScript, but before you shell out cash, make sure you check out some of the resources we’ve collected here:

11. Brush Up on Best Practices

When you’re caught up in the daily grind of developing and building websites, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a bit of time at the end of each year to brush up on the basics. Dive into the WordPress Codex and re-read parts that are a bit fuzzy. Do a few tutorials you come across in your blog reading as practice. This is a good way to remind yourself of the “right way” to build sites.

Shortcuts are great and all, but not if they come at the expense of your site’s functionality, speed, or security. Here are a few useful guides to get started:

12. Create Goals for 2016

This is sort of generic advice but it’s important to note. Creating goals can make all the difference in terms of how focused you are. I mean, if you don’t have goals, you’re just going to be sort of floating along, right? You might succeed, but..at what exactly? If you don’t have goals, you won’t know the metrics to use to figure out if you’re successful or not.

So, spend some time right now jotting down what you want to accomplish with your WordPress site in 2016. Increase unique visitors? Increase subscribers? Increase sales? All of the above? Whatever it is you want to accomplish, no matter how big, write it down.

Your next step is to break down this big, seemingly impossible goal into smaller steps. And each of these steps should be assigned a deadline. Make them difficult but realistic. Taking the time to do this will give you a leg up on the competition and ensure you have a clear path forward into the new year.

How will you prepare for 2016? Will you follow the advice outlined here or do you plan on just winging it into the new year? Or, do you have a different idea of preparation altogether? Tell us about your ideas and plans for the New Year in the comments below.

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