Written by Giles Bennett
So, January, may be nearly over, and Dry January is probably a thing of the past. If you're in a healthy mood, though, why not give your online store a bit of a health check to get it ready for the new year. Here are our eight top tips for a quick once-over of your store :
1 - Check you're safe and sound
In your site's admin panel make sure that the only users listed as administrators are accounts which you recognise, and delete any which look suspicious.
If you're a Magento user, 2015 isn't going to go down in history as Magento's finest year, from a security perspective. Take a moment to pop your site into the very-handy Mage Report website to get a quick run down of whether all relevant patches have been installed for your site. If any are missing, get in touch with us and we'll be happy to get you on the straight and narrow.
2 - Get up to date
For many retailers, once the Christmas rush and January sales are out of the way, things tend to quieten down a little - although naturally it depends on what you're selling. It's a good time to give your store a little MOT - after all, you want it working smoothly for the rest of the year, and if there are any little niggles arising from an upgrade, which is frequently the case, then it's best to find them out and solve them at a quiet time of year than at a busy one when you'll have better things to be worrying about.
The latest version of Magento is 188.8.131.52 (well, technically, the latest version of Magento is 2, but that's a whole different story). The latest stable version of Wordpress is 4.4.1. If you're running on anything which is more than a version or two behind these, then you really need to get up to date - not least to ensure that you're covered from a security perspective.
3 - Check your mobile performance
Use Google's Mobile Friendly Test Tool to analyse your site and make sure that it's performing as well as possible on mobile devices - since the changes to Google's algorithms last year, this is now all-important, and if your site doesn't perform well on mobiles, it will be relegated in the search results on mobile devices.
4 - Check your sitemap
Your site should be set up to automatically generate a sitemap.xml file for you - this can normally be found at https://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml, and should normally be generated by the site nightly at around midnight. It's important that it's doing so, as whilst you can leave search engines to find pages for themselves, a sitemap gives them a list of all pages that you want them to index.
5 - Check your shopping feeds
If you integrate into Comparison Shopping Engines such as shopping.com, Shopzilla, Amazon Product Ads, or if you use Google Shopping to send product information to Google Product Listing Ads, then your store should be exporting a regularly-created feed of product information to keep price, description, stock and availability information up to date. Find out where these files are - you should be able to access them through your browser - and make sure that they're up to date, as all too often we see feeds which haven't been updated in months, so people are spending money on ads for products which they don't stock, or orders which they can't satisfy.
6 - Check your site speed
Use online services such as Pingdom's Page Speed Tool here or that of Gossamer Threads here to analyse your site's speed and get recommendations for improvement. You'll also be compared against other sites so you can see how well you rank.
7 - Check your domain's DNS records
DNS is the internet's address system, and when a new visitor comes to your site, their browser first looks up your site's IP address through the DNS. The faster it can get that information, the faster the visitor will get to your site. Use MX Toolbox's Domain Health Check to see if there are any problems that need rectifying.
Whilst you're at it, also check if you've got SPF records set up (this webpage will help) and also check if you've got DKIM records set up - this site will give you a random email address to which you can send an email, then you can click on the button below the email address to view the results.
If you're not sure why DKIM and SPF are important, read this article on how DKIM can help keep emails out of spam bins, and this post on what SPF records are and why you should be using them.
8 - Check your robots.txt file
Whilst a sitemap.xml tells the search engines what to index, a robots.txt file generally tells them what not to. A properly formatted robots.txt file will keep files and folders out of the search engines' indexes which shouldn't be included, as well as blocking some spiders completely if you wish - whilst the search engine spiders don't have to obey the directives in a robots.txt, and there's no easy way of forcing them to, if you continually
9 - Check what's indexed for your site
A little known hint for Google is that searching for 'site:hummingbirduk.com' will return all pages from that site (searching for 'site:hummingbirduk.com robots.txt' will return all pages about robots.txt from the site, and nothing from any other site). If you do this, you'll be presented with a list of all pages that are indexed in your site. Check down them, making sure that the titles of each page are the right length, the descriptions aren't being truncated, and that pages that shouldn't be included in the search index aren't showing - if they are, move straight on to the next suggestion and...
10 - ...check in with Google Search Console
Previously known as Webmaster Tools, if you've not got your site set up in Google Search Console then you're missing a trick. It'll give you lots of useful information about the number of impressions and clicks that your site receives for various search terms, as well as highlighting any security or other concerns about the site. You'll be able to submit your site's sitemap, as well as check that your robots.txt is set up properly to only block things you want it to block, and remove any URLs from the search results that shouldn't be there, as well as dozens of other useful pointers for your site. As free resources go, it's a bit of a goldmine!