Author Archives: Kevin

About Kevin

Kevin Fukawa is a web consultant, developer and project manager who has been building web sites and implementing online technologies for health care and non-profit clients since the late '90s. Continual learning in such a fast-paced and evolving field keeps him energized and excited about the web, mobile and social media.

Your new website requires maintenance. Really.

If you’ve just launched your new website, you’re probably feeling pretty good. The content is up-to-date, you’re using the latest version of WordPress (your open-source Content Management System (CMS) of choice), and your domain name and web hosting are prepaid for the next twelve months. You may be happy to think that you don’t need to worry about the back-end aspects of your site for quite a while.

My clients are often surprised when I advise them that their site needs regular maintenance right from day one. This post explains why.

A true-life tale of internet smut

A few years back, Monkey Hill was involved in providing communications services to a large, high-profile health research project that was using its website as a key recruitment tool. Although their website was quite new, I noticed that the site had been hacked and was displaying pop-up ads for Romanian massage parlours and Viagra. Further, these phrases actually appeared in the Google search results for the organization. Not great for their reputation! After bringing this to their attention, the client hired us on the spot to fix the site’s vulnerabilities and add ongoing site monitoring and maintenance to our contract.

The fact is, while your website’s CMS may be up-to-date and secure at the time of launch, you can’t ignore the ongoing care that it requires. You can spend much more time and energy trying to recover from being hacked than by being prepared in the first place.

The internet is alive, so step lively!

tomatoesIf you visualize the web like an enormous garden, your website might be represented as a single tomato plant. If you want your plant to survive (or even better, thrive) you wouldn’t just stick it in the ground and walk away. You’d need to ensure your plant receives enough water, nutrients and sunlight while removing any weeds in the area. You’d also need to be on the lookout for threats to its survival, such as pests and disease. Your website requires the same type of care.

The WordPress platform itself is a complex program, continuously evolving and growing. New features are being added, bugs are being fixed, and security issues are being discovered and patched on an ongoing basis. This applies to WordPress plugins and themes too. It just isn’t possible to provide all the benefits of a powerful and user-friendly Content Management System without having some pretty complex functionality taking place under the hood.

An ounce of prevention

The best way to avoid problems with your website is to take the proper precautions. This includes ensuring the following:

  • WordPress’ core files are up-to-date.
  • Plugin and theme files are up-to-date.
  • Website doesn’t use any insecure plugins or themes – a knowledgeable WordPress developer will know or be able to find out which ones are to be avoided.
  • Hosting with a reliable, secure and responsive web host – you can take all the security precautions in the world, but if the server your website is hosted on is insecure, so is your website.
  • Create off-site backups of your website files and database at regular intervals. Some organizations can do this once a month while others require daily backups – it all depends on how often your website content changes.
  • Regular scans of the site for malware.
  • Monitoring the website for malicious activity – failed login attempts, password recovery attempts, SQL injection, database overflow attempts, etc.
  • Monitor your website’s uptime. Having your website crash or be unreachable on a regular basis is a sure sign something is wrong and may be the precursor to a major outage.
  • Passwords are strong, ideally containing a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. (Having passwords like “password”, “pa55w0rd” or “abc123” are just asking for trouble!)

Getting set up

It’s not uncommon that the group who builds your website might not be the same ones who help you maintain it. Some developers are simply not in the maintenance business. Other times, clients don’t want a long-term service arrangement with a company that didn’t meet their expectations during the build.

Whether I’m the original developer of my clients’ websites or not, I always recommend site maintenance as an essential, ongoing component. Please feel free to contact me for a quote for ongoing WordPress website monitoring and maintenance. I can also provide hosting services through one of my partners (based in Canada or the US) if your current provider is not meeting your needs.

Photo courtesy of Regan76 under this Creative Commons license.

Geek speak: Mobile web design explained

One of the most important recent trends in online communications is the focus on mobile or mobile-friendly web design. But what does it really mean, and why should you care?

people using smartphonesHave you ever been frustrated by trying view a website on your smartphone? Either you can only see a tiny fraction of the page, or you can see the entire page but everything is so small it’s impossible to read or use. Yes, you can pinch-and-zoom, then scroll from side-to-side so you can read the website’s content, but the experience is like trying to read a magazine through a keyhole – not exactly ideal.

Today, an increasing number of people are using a mobile device to visit websites, such as a smartphone (like the iPhone) or a tablet (like the iPad and iPad mini). The statistics clearly reflect this trend to tinier technology: By 2012, up to 70% of Canadians were using mobile devices1, and 69% of all Internet users did so through a mobile device.2

Many sites that were originally designed for the desktop computer monitor really don’t work well on a 4-inch smartphone screen, leaving mobile users frustrated and disengaged. That’s where mobile web design comes in.

Simply put, mobile web design – also known in the developer world as responsive web design, adaptive design or mobile-optimized web design – is about building websites so that they look good and work properly for visitors no matter what device they’re using. In fact, some developers take a “mobile-first” approach, believing that if you can create a great web experience specifically for a smartphone screen first, it’s easier to adapt that for larger screens rather than the other way around.

Mobile web design makes a huge difference to the website user’s experience. If a site is mobile-friendly, it will look good in both portrait and landscape orientations on a smartphone or a tablet, it will be easy to read, and the navigation will be simple to use. The experience should be just as satisfying as it would be if you were using a larger device.

For one example of how mobile web design works, you can take a look at our Monkey Hill website. Look at it on your smartphone, or, if you’re viewing a site on your desktop or laptop computer, try minimizing or resizing your browser window. As you shrink the viewing area, you should see the layout automatically adapt. (Unfortunately, if you’re using an outdated or non standards-compliant browser such as an old version of Internet Explorer, you won’t notice any difference. If you’re stuck using IE8 or earlier due to IT department restrictions, I’ll blog about a solution shortly.)

If you’re looking to bring your own website into the world of mobile, your first step will be to get an assessment from an experienced developer about what’s involved. A great deal depends on how your existing site was developed. In a best-case scenario, going mobile-friendly will simply require changing a few rules in your website’s stylesheet without having to touch any of the underlying code. At the other extreme, you may be looking at a complete overhaul: migrating to a different Content Management System (CMS), completely rewriting your HTML, reprocessing all your graphics, etc.

Either way, you can’t ignore what your key stakeholders are doing. If you want to engage with your audience, you need to be where they are, and increasingly, that’s on mobile.


Photo courtesy of Phil Campbell