When the Internet started to become popular and Microsoft noticed it, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. I thought it would be a great way to deliver brochures with no printing press or bindery complications. I thought I would never have to call a customer and let them down ever again because, hey, there isn’t any paper to reorder. No custom ink colors to remix. No special bindery supplies to beg someone to overnight to me. Nirvana!
Fast forward five years and things started to get complicated again. First, it started with CGI scripts. Those were fun. Bulletin boards, guestbooks, forms, and the like made it possible to make your website interactive. A couple more years later and we are using SQL and tapping into corporate databases. Nobody knew what they were doing but we were doing it. Guess what? Things starting to break. Sites would go down. E-commerce would stop working. All of the sudden, real programming and database management replaced the printing press and I was back to dealing with unhappy customers when things would have issues, which they inevitably do when it comes to technology.
The point I’m trying to make is, things are much more complicated today. Even a typical brochure site will be on WordPress or some other content management system. It requires a MySQL or Maria database, which complicates things. The more you complicate things the more things have the potential to go wrong. Now I know what my grandpa meant when he didn’t want power windows on his new Cadillac: “Just one more thing that is going to break.”
Websites and Web Apps are Organic
Sometimes I pine for the days of simple HTML websites because once a project was complete, it would not change. It stands to reason that if nobody touches the code nothing should ever break. However, today’s websites, web apps, and the servers they live on are like living things. They are organic. In order to keep your sites, apps, and servers secure, you have to update them. The moment you update something is when the trouble potentially starts. Web development professionals (at least the good ones) try extremely hard to not break things when updating their code. Even with proper testing, some things get past us, especially if the server is updated. A great example of this would be dealing with your web host upgrading PHP to the latest version because the old version isn’t supported anymore. This will most certainly break any older WordPress sites that haven’t been updated to the latest version in a while. Other things can be subtle such as your site being moved to a new machine when the old one is decommissioned. The person moving your site might not know that it requires a special PHP module for that custom piece of code you had written a few years back. What truly sucks is finding out it has been broken for a while and you didn’t know about it. How do you mitigate this fact of web life?
Regular Website Checkups
The answer is you’re going to need to look at your website or app at least once per month and put it through its paces. Make sure that site search engine is working. See if your logo scroller is scrolling. Test your Forgot My Password routine. Place an order with a real credit card and go through the user experience. “If I haven’t changed anything, why should I look at it?” you might say or “Once a month is a lot of work and I don’t have time.” For the first response, see above. Things will change. Security holes will be patched. Software will be upgraded. Remember, your app is organic. For the second response, consider hiring a professional developer that will take a proactive look at your website once a month with a custom checklist you create with him or her. If your business relies on sales leads or orders from your website, your website IS your business. Give it the care and feeding it deserves and it will pay you back handsomely.
In the future, I will talk about how to automate this type of testing for more complex applications.
Today, Google launched web.dev. Enter your website and give it a spin. While it can’t tell you what functionality is broken, it can tell you where you can improve on your website.