As web designers, we strive to build a stunningly perfect website that works around the clock to earn revenue for our clients. As web designers with experience, we also know that there is no such thing as perfection. Things can and just will go wrong at some point. By knowing and preparing for the most common of these pitfalls, you’ll be able to handle them quickly with grace and dignity.
No matter what website ailment you face, it can be fixed, and most within minutes. It’s usually the panic, anger, and other things that get in the way that drag these situations out. This is why we say the best thing you can do, no matter what happens, is to relax. Take a moment before reacting to step back from the situation. This way you’ll be able to get a better assessment of what’s happened and how to carry forward. It will also make you look more professional to your end customers and you’ll find yourself out of the situation quicker than you thought possible.
We’re firm believers that there is no such thing as a purely original idea anymore. We would also argue that good design is built on the iteration and improvements of other’s work. That said, blatant copy-theft (word for word copy and paste) can have real detrimental consequences to your website you may not have considered. Perhaps the biggest consequence is SEO hits. Google hates duplicate content with a passion. And it makes sense. How is Google supposed to send you to the best answer to your search query if there are thousands of copies of the same exact material?
During your time in business, you may face instances where you’ve either been called out for using similar content, or you’ve realized someone else is using your exact copywriting.
Our process at Wichita Designs is to generally hire a third-party copywriter for most of the work we do. This allows us to be cost-effective for our clients while rotating between copywriters for consistently fresh ideas, but also because they can remain a neutral party which is often helpful to translate ideas that will resonate with an end consumer. We generally then also use tools or website plugins to verify all of the copy we use on a website is original. That said, it’s not perfect, and as hard as we may try, we still run into instances where material could be conceived as similar to what has been done in the past.
We’ve even run into issues with our own website. In fact, just this week one of our local competitors sent us an inflammatory email which raised an issue with a few bullet points on our site, that were fairly close to their own. While we don’t really compete with them on any level, and our services and pricing are fairly polar opposite even within the same niche, we’d never want our clients to mix or confuse the two of us. The bullet points in question were approx 20 total words on a 1500-word page, so the risk of being penalized for duplicate content by Google was probably low, but it’s important to realize it was still a risk either way. That said, it was simpler to take the high road and remove the offending content immediately.
You may also run into situations where you discover others have used your exact content. We’ve even been a victim of this as well, in fact we have a local competitor that has even stolen our business name. You have a few options though. You can send the business owner a polite email requesting the material be removed along with a link to your site and a link to the offending page on theirs (although we generally see this as less effective or just ignored), you can file a formal complaint with their hosting provider where under certain situations they are required to pull the offending content, or the simpler option might be to just iterate your own work and make it even better. At the end of the day, as long as the theft doesn’t cause harm to us or our own clients (especially in terms of SEO), we usually just consider it as flattery that someone would want to copy our content or ideas. It means we have probably created something people really enjoy and see as inspiration.
Don’t get us wrong, we totally understand it can be easy to get upset. Your website is your baby and it’s natural to want to defend it (and some brilliant ideas do deserve a good defense). But anger won’t help anyone at the end of the day. The biggest recommendation we can offer is to relax. Take a moment to breathe and realize life is just too short to let a few words on your website form enemies or start wars. You could be using that time to focus on your clients. Fixing offending content is as simple as highlighting and rewording right? If you are ever in this situation, it may be time to refresh the offending content anyway.
The art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fast-changing animal. In fact, just last year we saw Google change their algorithms almost twice daily on average. Google has to update their search algorithms to stay ahead of those that take advantage of it, but also just to give users a better overall experience. Because Google keeps their algorithm secret, we are forced to make very educated guesses when forming SEO strategies. Google does often announce upcoming changes in general, but much of the exact science is still very much trial and error. Google also has complete control over their services, meaning they could, in theory, remove your site without notice from their search engine at any moment for any reason. It can be scary and feel defeating. If you’ve been throwing hard-earned dollars at SEO services, it can also be enraging. We get it. That’s why we use only Google-approved SEO strategies to avoid as much risk as possible where possible.
Because SEO changes are fast-paced, it will always be somewhat a game of cat and mouse. We’ll constantly be learning, experiment, and evolving to keep up with what Google has up its sleeve. While your SEO rankings will naturally fluctuate, we always strive to keep you as high in the rankings as possible. We also learn from and share best practices with the industry as a whole, because collectively we are more agile.
Broken Website or Downtime
When your website isn’t properly loading, your business loses money. It is important to realize however that just about every website will face some form of downtime (a period where the website doesn’t load as it regularly would) at some point. Though minimal, we often use periods of time to perform routine maintenance. This allows us to implement the latest security updates, software versions, etc. It might just be that we are completely overhauling a website and the downtime serves as a transition between the two.
Things do happen though. Important settings can be unintentionally changed. Updates can break things. Scripts can go ‘rogue’. Servers can suffer from hardware/software issues.
The best things to do in these situations? You guessed it – don’t panic! We typically find that situations are made worse when you panic. The last thing you want to do is to start making more changes to try to fix what you don’t even know is broken. It also makes it more difficult if we need to step in to investigate on your behalf. We typically start by analyzing what has changed on the website that might be causing the issue, and then we start to work backward. In some cases, it’s just easier and faster to restore to the most recent website backup. Backups can be restored within minutes and can be the quickest way to get a website back on its feet. The downside to restoring from backup is that you could end up losing any new data since the last backup time period.
Nobody wants to deal with a hacked website, but preparing yourself for such a situation now could help you down the road. We typically advise our clients that every website can be hacked with enough time and resources. We go to great lengths to make sure all of our clients are protected to the best of our ability, and although we’ve never really faced any major hacking instances, we know the risk is very real. Just by scanning our server logs looking for nefarious activity, we can easily people looking and poking around for targets.
So what can you do? Work with your web designer and hosting provider to assure the latest security practices are in place. We won’t go into detail here because it gets pretty technical quickly, but essentially you want to make sure software updates are getting applied quickly, logs and firewalls are being monitored for suspicious activity, and the obvious things like using strong passwords. In the event of an actual website hack, restoring from a website backup can be helpful, but it’s important to understand that it may not fix the underlying issue. Essentially you want to uncover what door was left open and made your site an easy target.
Knowing What You Don’t Know
With any website today, it’s important to understand that you’ll eventually face issues nobody considered, and others that are beyond your control. We’ve been around for a couple decades now and our experience has allowed us to prepare for a ton of situations. Even then, we know that our industry depends on constant change, and as such, we look forward to evolving to be able to handle anything thrown at us down the road. Now when the next hurdle comes your way, you’ll be able to take a moment to step back before reacting.