I have built many websites over the years, both for myself and for clients; during this time I have made many mistakes which cost me time when fixing them and as a result it also cost me money. I’ve put together this list of my biggest mistakes, so hopefully you can avoid making them.
I do not go into the design or content aspects of building a website, more the foundations – since without decent foundations all else will fail anyway and to be honest if I picked at all the design and content mistakes I have made over the years, you’ll be a year older by the time you finish reading.
When I first started out I went for the cheapest hosting I could find, at the time this was Hostgator, and they were fine – until my website grew… As soon as I began using more resources than I was allowed on my supposedly ‘Unlimited’ account my website was suspended. Luckily, after multiple emails to support they did allow me to download all of my files.
I then upgraded to a VPS, I actually didn’t go for the cheapest because I didn’t want a repeat of my Hostgator experience, and instead I took up a plan with ‘A Small Orange’ which was $80 per month. All started well with ASO (A Small Orange); until all of my outgoing emails were going into peoples spam folders and the server was constantly going down. Their support was ok but to this day the emails never got sorted, they were persistent in saying it was a problem my end (SPF records) but I triple checked and all was as it should be; needless to say when I eventually moved host the emails were working fine so maybe they gave me a blacklisted IP with my VPS… Who knows?
When I was looking for a new host I stumbled across a review on ASO over at Web Hosting Talk; the review wasn’t too bad but I did find out one thing, the owner used to be the CEO of Hostgator, which said a lot.
So I started my hunt for yet another host, but this time I done it properly I read reviews and performed some thorough research as well as talking to various sales departments – after hours of searching I decided to go with ‘Wired Tree’. I’ve now been with them for 3 years and I am and believe I always will be happy with them. Their support is awesome and their servers are very reliable, they even have a 100% SLA (ASO didn’t even have a 99.9% uptime SLA which is the norm these days).
The majority of my sites are hosted at Wired Tree, but I also required a server in the UK since a lot of my clients are based here and their SEO agencies recommended it; luckily I struck gold first time around with ‘CatN’. They provide clustered web hosting where the standard cost is £5 per month and then you pay for what you use (which is cheap) if you go over you limits – no account suspension. This means if one client has a huge spike in traffic there is nothing to worry about, it is truly scalable hosting.
This is probably the most important thing on this list, without decent web hosting your load times will suck; and it will cost you more money in the long run and stress.
Content Management Systems
When I built my first website WordPress was nowhere near as big or as good as it is now; the only real CMS’s around were Drupal and Joomla – I never got on with these so I decided to build my own…. What a mistake that was.
Over time clients wanted new things added to their site, and since it was my own CMS I couldn’t simply install a plugin I would have to manually build it – you can imagine how long some of these requests took to build, and how clients faces dropped when they were told how much it would cost.
I almost always use WordPress now, unless I am building an ecommerce website in which case I opt for Magento; and if you do not use a popular CMS than I am sorry to say this but you are a fool.
Implementing changes and the benefit of thousands of plugins makes improving and adding features to a site much easier than it used to be. The amount of time I wasted building my own CMS and then eventually moving all of my sites to WordPress is depressing to think about.
For a long time I set clients up with custom domain emails directly in their cPanel on my server, at first this was working ok until my client base grew. Over time it felt as if I was spending more time sorting out email issues than I was building websites, every other day I would get an email along the lines of “Hey Ricky can you setup the pop 3 account on my phone / Outlook”, “I seem to be getting a lot of spam” or “Hi Rick, please can you set me up another email address”.
The truth is the cPanel email is ok if your clients actually know and feel comfortable with accessing cPanel and adding accounts or getting the pop 3 details (and know how to use them); but in reality very few clients do or want to since it’s a different world to them inside cPanel even if we think it’s easy.
Now I recommend Gmail to clients, they offer very cheap and reliable email for custom domain names, and it takes the hassle away from me – email is easily connected to client’s phones and with the Google Apps for Business control panel, clients can easily add new emails and manage their own accounts.
I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I have fiddled with my WordPress permalinks (URL Structure), each time I made a change I would lose some of the authority or SEO weight on all of my pages, even though WordPress re-directs pages it’s a well-known fact that 301 re-directs do not pass all of the link juice the re-directed page had.
In hindsight it would have been much better to have spent a bit of time figuring out the best URL structure and I highly recommend you do too instead of just doing it on the fly. Think long and hard about your site and where you see it being in say 5 years’ time.
It is also the same with domain names, I know how hard it is to find the perfect name – mainly because domain squatters have snapped them up, and I know how frustrating it is thinking of the perfect name only to find it’s already taken and the website is nothing more than a pile of ads.
I am technically guilty of being a domain squatter since I own quite a few domains I am most likely never going to do anything with. Whenever I used to start a new website the first thing I would do is buy a domain name; I would spend the whole day thinking of a name that was available and buy it – only to think of a better name a week later when the site was nearly finished.
Now, I tend to build websites first while thinking of a good name so instead of spending just one day pondering over domain names I spend a few weeks, I write down every name I think of and then use a bulk domain name checker to see which of them are available, then remove the ones that have been taken already and pick my favourite out of the rest.
The truth is, in the past I have been extremely lackadaisical when it came to updating; be it plugins, CMS updates, cPanel updates on my server or basically any other type of update – yes even Windows updates…
This has recently cost me a lot of time; after migrating all of my websites to a new dedicated server I gave every site a check over by visiting the front end – everything seemed to be working fine so I changed all the DNS settings and away I went. A week later a client I hadn’t heard from for a while required some changed to their site, so I logged into their WordPress admin and…. Nothing, every page want blank or which is more commonly known as ‘The white pages of death’.
Luckily to fix this particular case all I had to do was manually update the WordPress core to the latest version as the version I was using contained functions that were not supported in the newer version of PHP I was using.
I also fell victim to the TimThumb hack which caused a client site to get laced with ‘Viagra’ terms and pages; again a simple update fixed this.
Learn from this, I know I have – update your core framework, plugins and scripts the day a new version is released!
Other Things to Consider
Sure it’s normal for websites to change their designs now and then to keep up with modern trends, but the amount of time I have fiddled with my designs in the past is ridiculous; not only would I make my sites look a bit more modern I would also alter the places where things were and change the navigation – this made repeat visit usability a bit challenging since everything was in a different place. It also wasn’t too great for SEO, I always noticed a dip in traffic when I changed design on a large scale – even if all the URL’s remained the same.
It will pay in the long run to have a proper think about where things should be on your site, people do not like change.
You should also ensure that the design of your site fits in with your content, for example if you are making a children’s game website you need to make it look fun and appeal to kids which isn’t necessarily how modern, professional websites look.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes, I know if I were reading this now I would have done a lot of things differently.