In this episode, Michael and Chris discuss why websites go down, and how you can prevent it. You’ll learn how to protect:

  • Site functionality
  • Domains/Hosting
  • Content Management
  • Website Security

Plus, we’ll recommend best practices to keep your website running smoothly year-round, without losing leads, site updates, or valuable content.

Transcript

Chris Raines: Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential, and industrial painters to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters and other trades, and this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from SearchPrimer.com, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.

Chris Raines: All right, welcome back to Grow Your Painting Business, the podcast from SearchPrimer.com. This is episode 22 and Michael is already laughing at me, or with me.

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Which one is it?

Michael Epps: Always with you. Always with you.

Chris Raines: Always with me? I don’t 100% believe that.

Michael Epps: Yes, it’s putting the headphones on for a podcast is kind of like walking out in the sun after being in a dark room. It’s like wow, there’s volume-

Chris Raines: What is anything? I can hear myself.

Michael Epps: I can hear this, yes.

Chris Raines: Okay. Michael, today we’re going to talk about the dreaded thing that happens to every website, and that is the website going down, no one can access it, and specifically this episode is about things that you can do to make sure-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Maybe not 100%, but 98% make sure, that never happens. This is a super tactical, almost a checklist, right, of things to do?

Michael Epps: Yes, and this really applies to companies of any size, but these are sort of the things that trip up a lot of businesses that depend on their websites for leads. When something happens with the website, maybe they didn’t really have it under a good IT command situation where somebody had real control over something, and this is also kind of a good checklist to go to your IT person with and talk through. We’re going to get into nuts and bolts and we’re going to talk about specific questions to ask and things to make sure are in good shape. A lot of this has to do, not just with a particular technology, but just with business practices-

Chris Raines: Yes, just processes and systems.

Michael Epps: Yes, we call it hosting hygiene.

Chris Raines: Yes, that’s right. Okay, but before we get to that, Michael, let’s tell the listeners about our free audit that we have for anyone listening to the podcast and wants a free website audit of their painting site.

Michael Epps: Yes, one of the things we do when we’re getting to know people, to see if we’re a good fit to work together with Search Primer, is pull up their website and we look at maybe a couple of competitor websites and run them both through some tools to see who’s ranking for what. That helps us understand what the opportunity is. We’re sort of not in this situation where we’re trying to get everybody in the world to use Search Primer. We really just want to work with folks we know we can help. That free audit is kind of a 30 minute phone call to do that, and it’s usually pretty revealing because people see some things about their websites and their competitor’s websites that they didn’t have. It’s free, so it’s a good thing to do.

Michael Epps: We like it for relationship building. It’s good to do to get to know each other.

Chris Raines: That’s right. If you want that free audit, head over to SearchPrimer.com. There’s a big button the very home page. It says get a free audit. Click that. There’s a form with three fields on it. Fill that out and we’ll get it started for you.

Chris Raines: All right, great, so let’s get into it. Michael, this is really tactical, almost a checklist. In fact, if you’re listening to this and you’ve got access to a pencil and a piece of paper, just go ahead and write this stuff down. We’ll include it on the show notes on the page on SearchPrimer.com, but if you’re listening and you want to just take this down, it’s a good thing to do.

Chris Raines: All right, so how to make sure your website doesn’t go down. Number one. Number one is set your domain to auto renew-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Michael.

Michael Epps: Yes, this is easy. Typically, these days, when you’re purchasing a domain, it’s often… A lot of people do, for SEO purposes, search engine optimization purposes, purchasing it for multiple years. That’s been a factor at different times in the past. I’ve never put too much weight into it myself, but I’ve seen it on a lot of SEO checklists, that sort of thing.

Michael Epps: But yes, making sure your domain is set to auto renew, that just means that wherever your domain is hosted, you’re going to have it set up so that when it has been registered for a year, instead of them having to get you to go through the checkout process again, they just say hey, can we hit your card again? You obviously want to keep the domain. If you’re managing a lot of domains, just audit them once a year and get rid of, cancel anything you don’t want. But if you do want it, set it to auto renew.

Chris Raines: Yes, easy to do. You do it once-

Michael Epps: Easy one, and I don’t… I’m not saying I’ve heard a lot of horror stories out there. It seems like it would be the kind of things where there would be a lot of those, but this is just something where if you’re going to make sure that you’re on top of things, this would be the first basic thing to think of, is not letting your domain expire.

Chris Raines: Yes. Number two: make sure your hosting has back-ups in place.

Michael Epps: Yes, surprisingly website back-ups have not really been a given. A lot of websites, we’ve just over the last year and audited, gosh, I think about 40 different websites to see what their hosting health is. We found a couple where we had different types of back-ups that we were using, so using WordPress plug-ins to run a back-up procedure, and finding out that the plug-in was not as dependable as we need it to be.

Michael Epps: So what we’re recommending now is, go ahead and let the hosting company… Most people are not hosting their own website, right? Most companies… Now if you’re a Fortune 500 Company, you’ve got an IT team, this podcast if not relevant to you. But if you’re $5 million dollar a year business to $25 million dollars a year and you got a website, and somebody built it for you, and if you have trouble, you check in with them, a good question is hey, website guy, what back-ups are in place? We recommend having those in place at the hosting account, whether they’re hosting it or it’s on one of the more… Typically, these days when you talk to a web designer, they might say yes, I’ll host your website, but most often, they’re just using their hosting account-

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Epps: At one of the big hosting providers.

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Epps: People are not really setting up servers in their offices as much as they used to because there are just too many benefits to cloud-based back-ups-

Chris Raines: And security concerns with doing your own-

Michael Epps: Yes, faster DNS propagation. There’s just a lot of reasons not to have a server in the closet anymore.

Michael Epps: But having… If you’re on GoDaddy or any of these other ones, it’s just an add-on service and it’s easy to do-

Chris Raines: Worth every penny.

Michael Epps: It’s essentially a setting and 100% worth it.

Chris Raines: Yes. Great. Next on the checklist is make sure you have SSL I’m place on your website, so this is a security thing-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: So talk about SSL.

Michael Epps: Yes. SSL is a secure connection between the computer that’s accessing your website and the hosting account. It’s just a… Think of it as an encrypted handshake between those two machines when they’re talking to each other to show somebody webpages on your site. The reason this is important is it’s a best practice for search engine optimization, but it also adds a level of security.

Michael Epps: You want every benefit possible in terms of not being able to let information that’s being interacted with… If users are sharing information via your website, you don’t want your users’ information to be exposed. And, also just for security of the website itself, you want to make sure that anything that’s functioning and operational on your website adheres to SSL practices.

Michael Epps: For example, if you have any third-party plug-ins running, having SSL, you’re going to get a flag when you view the website in a browser if any of those features or tools that you’re using are not up to standards. SSLs are good sort of… sets a high bar for making sure that the website is safe and that users are going to have safe browsing experience. Gosh, we’re even going through right now and reconfiguring some SSL just to address some errors on our own websites. This is a moving target. It’s something that’s been kind of not a big deal years ago, but in the last two years, has become an absolute requirement so SEO, not just for big, established companies, but for everybody.

Chris Raines: Yes. All right, next on the checklist is don’t use a CMS that is outdated. What do we mean when we say CMS, Michael?

Michael Epps: Yes, so CMS is of course Content Management System. That’s WordPress, back in the day, Joomla. These days, maybe the October CMS for Laravel, Craft CMS. There are a lot of different platforms for taking a hosting account and having a base of code running on it so that people don’t have to sort of reinvent the wheel. I want to blog post, I want a page, I want to upload an image. A lot of the sort of common tools for handling content and pushing them out to the website are called Content Management Systems.

Michael Epps: But here’s the deal. This stuff is using a lot of supporting technologies. For example, if you’re running a version of WordPress, you’re using some underlying version of PHP. If you are on a really old version of WordPress, well you might be on an old version of PHP that suddenly becomes no longer supported by your hosting account, and they’re sending you messages letting you know, hey your website is going to be subject to problems if you don’t get on the new version of PHP.

Michael Epps: Having a CMS that’s old just creates a lot of problems. Really, these days, every website should be completely rethought in terms of the back-end stuff being up to date every two years. I’m sorry to say that to business owners because it’s like man, something else to waste money on that’s not value-producing. We totally get it and we’re not saying that to try to sell websites, but I am saying I’ve had a couple of Joomla websites walk in the door, and it’s like wow. This is old. I don’t think we can work on this. I don’t think we can do SEO on this. I’m sorry.

Chris Raines: Yes.

Michael Epps: If you’re ready to push down the gas and invest money in marketing and you can’t do it because you’ve had this sort of, almost negligence, well, that’s not a good situation to be in. You need to be no more than 24 months out on any kind of platform or technology for your website, ever.

Chris Raines: Yes, and a lot of people use vendors that have developed their own custom CMS, and that’s okay as long as that vendor is actively updating that CMS to new web technologies. That’s why you need to get in touch with those people, and say what’s the status-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Something like WordPress is going to be updated automatically-

Michael Epps: Right.

Chris Raines: Because it’s an Open Source platform.

Michael Epps: Well, these days, yes. So automatic updates on WordPress is a good thing that’s happening. It’s kind of like having your phone update itself-

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Epps: Auto-magically and not hassling you with like hey, you need to do this new update. You got to do this now. But you know, if you’re running some version of Expression Engine or Craft CMS, and it’s kind of set up to be… Craft CMS 2 or something, you know, 3 is not going to happen on its own. It’s not just going to magically appear-

Chris Raines: Yes.

Michael Epps: So that are questions to understand. You need to understand what CMS your website’s built on. You need to understand what version it is. You need to understand. . . and I don’t always recommend going with the newest version. Sometimes there are new features that are being tried out. Let that stuff live in beta for a year. That’s fine. But understand and make sure that you’re in the sort of sweet spot of a modern, contemporary CMS.

Chris Raines: Yes. Then next one on our checklist has to do with that, but it relates to plug-ins. This is most common-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: In something like WordPress where you have a lot of plug-ins that add functionality that the core of WordPress doesn’t have, but make sure that all those are updates. Michael, why do we need to make sure our plug-ins are updated?

Michael Epps: Yes, keep plug-ins up to date. This is especially for WordPress folks. There are a lot of different things that Open Source technologies allow and enable that is really good. One is that you can have an SEO plug-in like Yoast, that’s available for WordPress. It’s taken the capabilities of WordPress and helping it go further with some code that you add to the website just by selecting and installing a plug-in and saying hey, I want to turn this on.

Michael Epps: If you let those things set there and not get updated, this is probably the number security problem with WordPress is outdated plug-ins-

Chris Raines: Yes.

Michael Epps: Every day, we’re updating, I don’t know, 20, 30 websites just going through and hitting plug-ins. A lot of the plug-ins now are doing more self-updating, so it’s less of an issue than it used to be. But, this is the stuff that isn’t necessarily set up on its own to work correctly-

Chris Raines: And it’s not-

Michael Epps: It’s good to understand.

Chris Raines: And it’s not good to just set up your plug-ins to auto update. That’s good, but you have a lot of plug-ins are free, and so you have someone that creates plug-in for WordPress to use, and then it either didn’t catch on like they wanted to, or they just stop updating it-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: And then suddenly, it’s been a year or more since they’re updated the plug-in, and that’s where you start to get vulnerabilities-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: And so, a good thing to do, Michael… What do you think, Michael, maybe every month or every two months, look at all your plug-ins and say when was the last time this plug-in was updated? If it gets more than say, six months, you can start to think about-

Michael Epps: Yes. Yes, I think anything… You know, we’re updating every two, three days, every site. That’s typically a situation where we’re going in and seeing that a plug-in that we use has a new version and we’re updating across websites. But, you do have to retest when you change these things.

Michael Epps: So yes, I think a good starting point would be what you said, every 30 days going through, and saying how do we feel about the health of these plug-ins, and looking for any alerts. If you have a website person, someone you can delegate this to, just ask them the question. Hey, how many plug-ins are on our website? When’s the last time the oldest one of them was updated? If you’re looking at something that’s six months old, then you may be looking at sort of a zombie plug-in that’s not really being actively managed. It’s just out there on a bunch of machines and being actively used, and we’re all putting our life in the hands of someone who’s walked away from something months ago without telling anybody.

Chris Raines: Yes. A plug-in, you can look at a plug-in as a big target for hackers to use to get into your system.

Michael Epps: Yes, that’s right.

Chris Raines: This next one on the checklist is related to that, but make sure there’s no inactive plug-ins in use.

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: What do we mean by inactive plug-ins?

Michael Epps: Yes, so a lot of themes for WordPress and a lot of just basic installations WordPress include a lot of plug-ins. Almost to show you the idea, there’s always been one in WordPress called Hello Dolly. It doesn’t do anything. It’s like to show you hey, this is where a plug-in goes. Here’s a simple plug-in. It’s good to clear anything like that out. Think of it as sort of like you get a new Windows computer back in the day, and there’s a bunch of marketing stuff installed as software and you had to uninstall it. It’s kind of like that, but not nearly as bad.

Chris Raines: Yes.

Michael Epps: It’s just a little bit of a hassle to go in and make sure that stuff gets removed.

Chris Raines: You should have the minimum amount of plug-ins you need.

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Okay. Let’s talk about hosting, next on the checklist. Make sure your hosting is fast.

Michael Epps: Yes, and this kind of gets over into the realm of sort of best practices, but there are so many changes in the last six months that fall into the realm of pages working quickly that it’s a reasonable statement to say that if you’re on hosting that is not very fast, you’ve probably seen either severe drop in your rankings, or your website is anemic in terms of lead generation compared to what it could be and should be, relative to your business and the value that you offer in your market.

Michael Epps: I think this is kind of a go, no-go type of question on whether or not websites go down. Sometimes they’re not down, they’re just slow. These days, the ramifications for slow serving webpages are more than ever. We’ve had people call us and say hey, our website is not showing up. What should we do? You guys build websites. Could you take a look at it for us?

Michael Epps: We’ll say yes, yes. It’s working, it’s just really… it’s on a painfully slow account, and so we’ve rebuilt a lot of websites. We’ve moved a lot of websites. Sometimes just move them to faster hosting and get a lot of benefit out of that. Sometimes your website is not down. It’s just slow. But, you can avoid that on the front end.

Chris Raines: Yes. The next three, we’ll kind of glaze through these because it’s kind of set it and forget it, do it one time-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: And then make sure it’s done. Make sure there’s a good payment method in place for your hosting.

Michael Epps: Yes. And, something you need to do… It gets really hard in the sort of speed of the way things are coming and going in a typical day, and most growing businesses. Typically, credit card is handed off to somebody. They get their problem solved and card is handed back or… Things move very quickly and documentation is not always the first thing to do. Well here’s the problem. Those cards expire and you’ve got to maintain and understand what all is running.

Michael Epps: Here’s an example. If you’re, for example, using… And this doesn’t just apply to your website hosting, but any hosted element that supports your lead generation capacity. Let me say what I mean. It is common on a website to have a trackable phone number that’s integrated with Google AdWords, for example, so that you can measure performance and not lose tracking because somebody’s picking up a telephone. But you can have integrated tracking. Well, if that toll free number is running in some place, and you put $50 into an account with a transaction a year and a half ago, and that account tanks out, and the accounts payable person who paid for it is no longer there, and so an email goes into a black hole and you have a payment method loaded that has expired, you’ve got money. You’re ready to pay it. You’d love to pay it, but you don’t know about it.

Michael Epps: You’ve created your own problem. What you’ve ended up doing is putting a dead phone number on a website because that number is going to stop working. You’re going to have phone calls going into the oblivion. You’re going to have leads that are just evaporating. All the work has been done to attract that lead, to build your brand, to build content in your website that’s attracting the right type of customer. They found you, they read your service page, they’re ready for a free estimate, and then poof. You did not have the right things in place for your trackable phone number.

Michael Epps: This is an avoidable problem. What we recommend is make a list of all the hosted items that are supported on your website and maintain proactive confirmation that you’ve got a good payment method in place. Understand it. Track it. It’s as easy as putting together a spreadsheet and just being organized, but you’ve just got to do it.

Chris Raines: And then beyond that, I will add to that, make sure that… Because all payment method expire, by nature, and so, making sure that you have… All of the hosting, billing platforms, call tracking, will send you an update if your payment method has been rejected or if it’s about to run out. It’s as simple as creating an email address to service all of those-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: Accounts that’s not tied to a person at your company, but rather something like billing@GoEpps.com, billing@MikesPaintingService.com-

Michael Epps: Yes.

Chris Raines: So that no matter who is there, they will have access to the proper email address and it’s always open, no matter who happens to be there running finance.

Michael Epps: Yes, absolutely. You can have an alias that will always go to someone and that’s a great way to handle it. That’s a great idea.

Chris Raines: Okay. Next on the checklist here. Remove inactive user accounts for your CMS.

Michael Epps: Yes. It’s really easy when someone leaves if it was somehow controversial for them to leave the company to make sure they don’t have access to anything, but a lot of hiring and firing is non-controversial. But guess what? You need to treat that person’s credentials like you had to walk them to their car on their last day.

Michael Epps: What I mean is, just because you trust someone, is no reason to let their access to your website stay active. Unless they’re going to continue work as a contractor, and be paid, and unless there’s a continued business relationship there, you need to remove that user account. You need to make sure that any handling of content or any content that was published on the website is devolved over to another user that’s set up in your website. That’s a good way to kind of make sure you don’t lose anything that that person did, but you’re just pushing it over to a different author, where appropriate.

Michael Epps: If you need to keep them on as the stated author of any content, and they had access to your website, that’s fine, but you need to spike those credentials. You need to change the password and not provide an update to the user of the new password. The reason it’s important to close the door on things like that when people leave is because these are often one of the little weaknesses of getting access to a system. Somebody gets access to a username and password. Suddenly they’re in the website, and then they’ve really got access to quite a bit that you don’t want someone who’s not a part of your company and never has been, to have access to.

Michael Epps: The problem with old credentials is they just hang out for years. Maybe somebody reuses a password they’re used in the past and gets picked up and it’s essentially been successfully fished out and provides access. Yes, even if you trust them, that doesn’t matter. It’s really irrelevant. Appropriate hygiene is close the door.

Chris Raines: Yes. Yes, as soon as they leave. Okay, last one here. Have an email address for current employees or active client content. I’m not actually sure what this one means, so why don’t you explain this for us, Michael.

Michael Epps: Yes, it’s real typical for… If you have an employee who has set up an account, maybe they’re arranged for iStock photo account, or some other element of your website, or your creative process, or your lead generation process, and so, it’s sort of tedious once someone has left to go in and change all those accounts because maybe you’ve got access to it, too. Maybe they’re the primary, but you’re the secondary, so it doesn’t really create any immediate problems to keep those old pieces of contact information active on various platforms and accounts.

Michael Epps: We use stock photo accounts from everywhere. We have different types of video hosting accounts. Gosh, for a website project, we’ve probably got 10 different things that are all over the place. Well, if there is someone with the company when we go through and create those things, and then they’re not with the company, we’ve got bad contact info there. So yes, using something like Billing@ as you mentioned earlier, would kind of solve this problem, too. But essentially what we’re saying is, use email addresses or use a primary contact of someone who’s with the company. Even if you’ve got their credentials, even if you’ve got their username and password, even if you’re a secondary on that Wistia account anyway, and it’s not really a problem. Go ahead and clean it up. Tighten it up. Lock it down. Make sure that anybody who’s part of the critical path for any of these supporting elements for a website…

Michael Epps: You know, like for example a Typography account. You may have custom typography that’s been purchased for your website. You don’t want some… Just because it’s small, doesn’t mean it’s not important. You don’t want your website to look all jacked up one day because your typography account went away because you didn’t get the alert because it went to an old employee’s email address.

Michael Epps: Keep things current. Track them. Keep up with it. Make sure payment methods are in place and are good. Proactively identify where you’ve put information so that you know what… You can schedule things for review and maintenance, but just not shooting from the hip. Being on top of some of this stuff, leaving a little breadcrumb trail for yourself for where you’ve put things, and where you’ve selected to utilize different hosted items for your website that might be supporting elements. They’re all mission-critical to showing your website the way that you intend to, so good documentation, making sure things are not left in Zombie Land. Those are all best practices and things that are going to help you keep your website going down and make your lead generation capability more dependable.

Chris Raines: Awesome. Well that’s all the time we have for this episode. We’ll list all of these on the podcast page at SearchPrimer.com so you can just take that, plug it into your task management system and get the security you need for your website. One more time, if you want that free website audit we talked about at the beginning of the show, just go to SearchPrimer.com, there’s a big button on the first page, get my free audit. Go ahead and hit that button and submit your website and we’ll get after it and get you a free audit.

Chris Raines: That’s all the time we have this week. We’ll see you next time.

Michael Epps: Thanks, Chris.

Chris Raines: The Grow Your Painting Business podcast is a free service of SearchPrimer.com. Visit us today for more information on how you can grow your business using the latest tools in digital marketing. SearchPrimer.com.