Blog - Think it First

Process

Trust The Process

May 23, 2020 - By Joe Lashinger

It’s not about buying a website; It’s about applying a thoughtful methodology to create value for your business

This post isn’t about Ben or Jo-Jo or Sam Hinkie’s 7,000-word resignation letter. It’s not about a perplexing inability to win on the road against bottom-half teams. Aside from borrowing a hashtag, this post has nothing to do with basketball.

This post is about our process; the Think It First process. We want to share it because we believe in it. We believe in the value it offers to our clients. We believe it’s what makes us different and a true strategic partner to our clients. So let’s dig in.

Yes, companies hire us to design and develop websites and consult on digital products, but those outputs are not the endgame. Our process and our experience is what they buy. The process has value because it gives structure, clarity, and predictability to our collaboration. It gives our clients confidence that we’re strategic and thoughtful in our approach. It shows that nothing we do is “one-size-fits-all” and that from-the-ground-up customization beats “off-the-shelf” templates any day of the week.

Over the years, we’ve refined our process to 10 steps:
• Kickoff
• Planning, Sitemaps and User flows
• Brand Identity and Positioning
• Content and Copywriting
• Ancillary Content
• Blueprinting
• Prototyping
• Code and Development
• Foundational SEO
• Device Testing and Launch


Kickoff

We start by asking questions and listening. We don’t start by telling or dictating. We want to understand deeply how your business works, who your customers are, what pain points you solve, your revenue models. We synthesize all of this information in the context of what we’ve been charged to build for you.


Planning, Sitemaps, and Userflows

We believe strongly in usability. At its core, the structure for a product—whether it’s a website a mobile app or something else entirely—must allow us to understand where we are as users, and where the information we want is, in relation to our position. Products that consider organization, structure, and logic consistently outperform the competition and provide tangible benefits to users.

If we’re refreshing an existing product, we’ll create an existing site map or user flow showing the current architecture. Using these artifacts as a guide, we then develop a revised version that outlines a proposed structure that includes to-be-developed features and functionalities.


Brand Identity and Positioning

There are a million articles on what a brand is. We think it’s a gut feeling. It’s look, feel, style, tone, mission and so much more—all balled up into something you can’t quite put your finger on but you know it when you feel it. We think the keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity, and accountability. Our job is to take those keys and infuse them into what we’re building for you. Tactically, that entails using existing or creating new brand materials such as logos, color palettes, fonts, and styles.


Content and Copywriting

For us, it all comes down to creating purposeful designs. When content is an integral part of the design process, each page will successfully bridge gaps from one to the next and take the viewer on a literal journey through your company. It’s succinct and fluid and cohesive; not pieced together and forced to meet a fleeting need.

This is when we direct a cooperative effort to create a “master copy” working document that outlines all existing website copy. If starting from scratch, we develop a content outline to help frame your words. Our editors provide support to fine-tune, review and make suggestions to improve the messaging and informational value.

Ancillary Content

Over the years, most businesses accumulate a variety of infographics, newsletters, press articles, webinars, videos… you get the idea. We collect whatever you’ve got, review it and propose ways in which we can use, display, archive or otherwise repurpose—because at the end of the day, this stuff can be useful to both your future users and search engines.


Blueprinting

Blueprints, or wireframes as some call them represent the design of connections between different screens within a website or product. Decisions related to the customer and/or user’s “experience” are made here, ultimately allowing us to craft a desired behavioral outcome from elements on the screen.

We take blueprinting seriously.

As a key part of our design process, blueprinting allows us to plan your site visually. But what good are hastily drawn boxes and squiggly lines representing text on a page? We go beyond your standard wireframes and produce the equivalent to full site designs without color or images. The idea is to inform layout, typography, size, and relationship while limiting distractions to keep you and your team focused on the goal at this stage: the design of an experience your customers will love. We think of our wireframing as not only a valuable deliverable to our clients but an internal roadmap for our visual designers and developers to reference as they build mockups, prototypes, and functionality.


Prototyping

Armed with our sitemap, brand, content, and user-centric design direction, we now shift to the look and feel of the site. Through a series of design mockups, we collaborate with our client to synthesize the previous six steps of the process. We make collective decisions on imagery, color scheme, video, iconography, graphics and more, taking the project beyond the written word. We create static design comps, visually producing an accurate picture of how the product will ultimately look and feel.


Code and Development

Now we’re getting under the hood. This is where things start to really come to life, as we set up a private staging environment to build. With the URL to this staging environment, you can view the product in progress. But don’t worry: no one else, not even search engines, can find it.

At this stage, we’re establishing the content management system, integrations, code for all forms and third-party apps and any custom functionality needed to build out the project. If we need content or data migrated from other sources, we’ll do that too.


Foundational SEO

SEO. Search engine optimization. Here we’re talking about making sure that Google and the other search engines can find your site. We optimize our projects from the start to be search friendly, including setting up proper formatting of site titles, pages, and meta tags; installing and configuring SEO plugins; hooking up Google Analytics, Search Console and Webmaster Tools to make sure the site’s getting indexed, crawled and monitored; generating XML sitemaps; optimizing images; formatting .htaccess and robots.txt files for site transparency to bots; and installing anti-spam features. We even provide a quick SEO training session so that you can manage this stuff going forward.


Device Testing and Launch

A Think it First website is a flexible and durable marketing tool designed to evolve with your business and the ever-changing tech world around us.

The landscape of web browsers and devices changes regularly and our approach is to look forward, not back. We optimize for all the major current browsers at the time of release including IE 10+, Safari 5+, Firefox 30+, and Chrome 35+.

Responsiveness is also mission-critical. Every site we build will look, feel and function properly on all the major devices: desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone.

The last piece of this step in the process focuses on debugging and device testing, launching and maintaining a 30-day post-launch quality assurance program.


The Process Comes Full Circle

By now you know you’re not just “buying a website or an app.” Our iterative, collaborative process designed to help your business put its best digital foot forward is what we offer. We believe in it and we have hundreds of projects that support its value.

So as we say here in Philly: Trust the Process. Just note that the Think it First process is proven. The Sixers’ process? Still TBD…

Design

It’s Time to Stop Designing for “The Fold”

August 7, 2020 - By Bradley Emmons

Here’s why that’s a good thing

Back when newspapers reigned supreme, there was a layout concept that publishers adhered to called “the fold.” The idea was to put the most important headlines and stories at the top of the front page, quite literally above where the paper folded, in order to attract buyers. By and large, it worked.

As the internet became a thing, and people made career moves from print layout to web design, “the fold” concept followed along, albeit in a slightly different way. Instead of representing a physical line, “the fold” became known as the initial viewable real estate of a webpage, prior to any scrolling. Everything of importance had to go above it because there was no way visitors were going to bother scrolling. They probably didn’t even know how to operate a mouse.

It’s not hard to see why this approach was flawed.

If “above the fold” is reserved for only the most important information, what qualifies as important? The usual answer was “EVERYTHING.” And you can imagine how visitors reacted to that. Oh thank you thank you thank you for bombarding me with multiple messages, six different calls-to-action and I can’t even.

Information overload is real. So too is the paradox of choice. When a visitor is immediately pummeled with too much stuff, they don’t know what to do and they check out.

It’s time to stop designing for “the fold”

Here’s why…

People Scroll

There are plenty of studies that evidence that people do, in fact scroll. And if you think about it, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple News and countless other products have trained us to do it even more. These apps have been designed to encourage scrolling because scrolling equals engagement which equals revenue. We, as a species, are anything but tired of scrolling.

The top of a web page doesn’t need to house everything of importance. All it needs to do is set the hook and encourage the visitor to progress a little further, and a little further, and a little further. That’s engagement. And an engaged visitor is more likely to do the thing you want them to do, whether that’s click on an ad or fill out a form or something else entirely.

People are on their phones

Global mobile traffic is up 222 percent over the last seven years. TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO PERCENT! That number shows no signs of slowing down either. That means the space “above the fold” is a lot smaller for millions of people. Trying to cram all of that “important stuff” up high isn’t going to work. And with hundreds of different devices, various screen sizes and a range of mobile web browsers, you really aren’t even in control of “the fold” anymore.

So now what?

Take a fresh look at your site and be honest with yourself. Does it feel top heavy? Are you throwing too much content at a visitor as soon as they arrive? Can you pinpoint a single message and call-to-action?

Then take a look at your analytics. How do bounce rates look? What about pageview times? Datapoints like these can help you understand how visitors are behaving on your site.

Finally, don’t panic. A site designed for “the fold” isn’t a lost cause. Start by evaluating your brand’s story. Revisit your messaging, positioning and buyer journey. Then ask yourself: does your site tell that story?

Design

Traditional Wireframing Sucks

June 12, 2020 - By Bradley Emmons

Here’s why most wireframing sucks, and how we make it better

Wireframing is a crucial part of the digital application building process (read: “Trust the Process”). It’s how we represent the design and the relationships between different screens. The most important job a wireframe does is enable us to make important decisions related to the user experience, ultimately allowing us to craft a desired behavioral outcome from elements on the screen.

Most wireframing, however, sucks.

More often than not, a wireframe deliverable is a bunch of boxes and some squiggly lines. It’s static and unclickable, foregoing any sense of interactivity and realness. A client looks at them and thinks… Ok… these look… fine? Best case, they trust you and let you do your thing. Worst case, they start to wonder what they’re paying for.

Wireframes have a historical place in multi-disciplinary teams. Back in the late 90s, most graphic designers (often from the world of print media) didn’t really understand the nuances of interfaces and didn’t yet have to worry about designing for multiple screen sizes and devices. Interaction designers came from software and were used to making terminal-esque interfaces that were, uh, less than aesthetically appealing. So in order to make sure the end result was palatable, the interaction designer would make a pig, and then the graphic designer would put lipstick on it. And as designer Christina Wodtke so eloquently notes, wireframes like these always came with a hedge: “These don’t imply layout,” (to which she responds, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. How could they not?”).

Unfortunately, not much has changed. So how do we improve wireframing?

Blueprint Prototypes > Wireframing

The Think it First design process is not common. We’ve thrown out the term “wireframe” in favor of “blueprinting.” Much like an architect who uses blueprints, we want to help to bring your digital home to life. When you look at blueprints, you really start to feel where the build is going. You start to experience it. Blueprints show which way doors open, where the kitchen island is… even the toilets resemble toilets. The point is, these elements are the content of the blueprint. They could appear in different shades of blue to show depth and relationship. And it’s done so that everything is structurally sound from the get-go, before anything is built. Our clients love this.

The more we can bring a wireframe to life, the better the sense of the final outcome our clients enjoy. In terms of a final design, a Think it First blueprint isn’t really missing much. Color, final graphics, and imagery are the only elements purposefully left out. This is done to limit distraction from aesthetics in order to focus on the real structure of the design.

Blueprinting also helps us figure out functionality dilemmas earlier in the process. It allows us to test on various devices sooner rather than later and make iterations and changes easier to execute.

Is it a legitimate time investment? Absolutely. But it’s 100 percent worth it.

Starting with Content

In the wireframing world, you’ll often see squiggly lines equal future content that hasn’t been written yet. Some efforts might go as far as using lorem ipsum placeholder text. Both of those efforts are weak.

Conversely, we believe content comes first. You simply cannot design with a purpose without the content first. It’s the cart before the horse; the square peg in a round hole. Your site’s content is the story you’re trying to tell. Waiting until the end, hoping everything will fit in the allotted real estate doesn’t make much sense. That’s why we work with you to help write your site’s content first. Armed with it, we’re able to design and develop around your story instead of confining it.

We Now Have the Tools

We’ve seen hand-drawn napkin wireframes, Google Slides wireframes and everything in between. But now, we have the tools to create what we really need to create. We believe that prototyping is the future and powerful design products like Adobe XD, InVision and Figma get us there. By being able to rapidly prototype in conjunction with the design we get a feel for the final product faster while weeding out UX obstacles. With the right tools, we avoid developing unnecessary features, remove technical roadblocks, improve usability, increase the likelihood of user acceptance, and coordinate better with what matters most: your business goals.

It All Adds Up to Value

By shifting our mindset from wireframing to blueprinting and by starting with content first, we’re able to deliver value at a stage that typically struggles to do so. This value evidences itself to you, the client, as less future iterations (aka, time and money saved), fewer functionality mistakes (an end-product that feels and works great) and a better sense of the final outcome sooner in the process (you guessed it, time and money saved).

Process

Questions We Regularly Get (And You Likely Have) – Part II

May 9, 2020 - By thinkitfirst

Earlier this year, we shared Part I of our “Questions We Regularly Get (And You Likely Have)” piece. Let’s get going on Part II!

How will I know if anyone is visiting my site?

Crucial to any digital product is the analytics under the hood, namely Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both of these products are free.

Google Analytics will show you how people are arriving at and behaving on your site. You’ll be able to know where they’re coming from, what devices they’re using, how long they’re staying, what content they’re engaging with, where they’re leaving and so much more.

Google Search Console will show you how your site is performing, in the eyes of the almighty Google. It will identify errors, broken links, and other things that you can fix to improve your standing.

If you already have GA and GSC accounts set up from a previous site, great. We can use those. If not, we’re happy to get them up and running for you.

Struggling with what to do with all the data? As a certified SharpSpring™ agency partner, we give our clients access to a suite of high-power digital marketing tools to drive more leads, convert more sales, and prove ROI just like the Fortune 500 companies do it.

What if we end up wanting to change or add something to our scope?

That’s a good question that we’ll answer with a question: “Why?” We want to be sure that any additions or requested changes to a site-in-development are aligned with the site’s role in relation to your business. Provided we reach consensus, we’ll scope out a change order. We’ll only begin work on the request with your written approval.

How compatible will the product be across devices and browsers?

We design for all major devices and browsers. Obviously those trends change, so we keep up. Ultimately, we practice responsive design, ensuring that our products look, feel and function appropriately on any screen. If, on the off chance, you need to support an older device or an older browser, we can make that happen with some additional planning and scope.

What exactly do you mean by “information architecture?”

Information architecture is the relationship of how all the different pages of a website are related to each other. We communicate this visually through a Sitemap.

What is a Think it First Blueprint?

It’s our take on the wireframe. We feel that traditional wireframes and their simple boxes and squiggly lines don’t effectively communicate any sense of realness or interactivity. The more we can bring a wireframe to life, the better the sense of the final outcome you’ll have. In terms of a final design, a Think it First blueprint isn’t really missing much. Color, final graphics, and imagery are the only elements purposefully left out. This is done to limit distraction from aesthetics in order to focus on the real structure of the design.

Blueprinting also helps us figure out functionality dilemmas earlier in the process, allows us to test on various devices sooner rather than later and make iterations and changes easier to execute.

Don’t see an answer you like?

First and foremost, we are here to help. Our work is completely custom and every new client poses a unique set of challenges we love to solve. We also try our best to educate and inform you along the ride with us. Let’s talk about your ideas and how our work can help them materialize. Reach out to us!

Business

Humblebrag Time: Think it First Named a Clutch 1000 Firm

April 16, 2020 - By Joe Lashinger

Here’s what that is and why we think it matters

Want to know a secret about most business awards?

They’re pay-to-play opportunities that usually happen in one of two ways. Either the business applies and pays an application fee to be considered or it’s “nominated” and asked to purchase a branding or marketing package in order to “receive” the award.

Yuck, right?

There are, however, awards programs out there that are above the board, transparent and data-driven. The Clutch 1000 is one of those programs—and we’re pumped we made the 2019 edition* and as a part of its Best Design Firms list.

*Yes, we know we’re about six months behind on sharing this news, but times like these are anything but normal. Cut us (and everyone!) a break. 🙃

What makes the Clutch 1000 legit?

In short, it’s entirely client review based. Firms that make it have no influence. Clutch is a B2B platform that uses verified client reviews to create authentic ratings across 400 industries. They do the reaching out. They have real conversations with clients like ours. We’re not even a part of it.

That’s why we’re so proud of our perfect five-star Clutch rating. It doesn’t speak to who we know or how much we paid. It speaks to our work, our team, and the value we provide to our clients. To them, we say thank you.

And just in case you want to read some of our reviews…

Development

Three Simple Reasons Why Accessibility Matters to Your Business

March 22, 2020 - By Jamie Trueblood

Accessibility is an increasingly popular topic amongst web design and development circles—and for good reason. At a high level, accessibility is about making your site, your app, your product usable to everyone. Yes, that includes people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech or visual disabilities, but it also includes those without. (Think the elderly, someone with a broken hand that will eventually heal, rural users with slow connections.) Software developer, Isaac Zepada, says it best:

Now it’s easy to picture a business owner hearing that and thinking, “That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t apply to my customers. I’m not going to invest in something that doesn’t impact my bottom line.”

That picture, however, is wrong.

Whether you think so or not, accessibility matters to your business. Here’s why…

Legal Implications

Google “web accessibility lawsuits.”

Top result? eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY: “A 2018 analysis by international legal firm Seyfarth Shaw, the number of federal lawsuits filed in response to web inaccessibility was almost three times higher than the year before – it spiked from 814 to 2,258!”

Second result? The National Law Review: “When Good Sites Go Bad: The Growing Risk of Website Accessibility Litigation.

Still on the first SERP? Fortune Magazine says you can be like Queen B: Beyoncé Was Sued Over Her Website Violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. And You Could Be Too.

The point is this: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that services available to the public can’t exclude those with disabilities. And while the law doesn’t explicitly talk about the internet, it is “broad enough that the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that the lack of accessibility for websites may be a violation of the ADA.

When you invest in accessibility you’re protecting yourself from potential legal action. (NOTE: We are not lawyers. This is not legal advice.)

Search Implications

Amongst 200 other ranking factors, Google values accessibility. Sites that don’t meet accessibility standards will get dinged. If search matters to your business, accessibility matters to your business. There’s really not much more to say.

It’s What’s Right

We praise companies that reduce their carbon footprint, improve working conditions, invest in local communities and generally practice good corporate citizenship. We praise these actions because they are right. Adhering to accessibility standards should be no different. (In fact, it’s probably easier to get your website up to snuff than it is to do those other things.)

Companies should follow accessibility best practices for all the reasons we’ve discussed, but if for no other reason, they should do it because it helps people. As more and more of our daily life gets powered by the internet, being part of the effort that ensures that everyone can benefit is the right thing to do.

Business

Questions We Regularly Get (And You Likely Have) – Part I

February 27, 2020 - By thinkitfirst

Do you offer Maintenance?

The answer is yes — of course! A Think it First website is a flexible and durable marketing tool that’s designed to evolve with you and the changing tech world around us. And our goal has always been to help you get the most from your website investment long after launch. Today, it’s so important to keep your site maintained, updated, and secure so that you present an optimal experience to your customers on all the devices they use. Investing incrementally in maintenance is the best way to protect your site’s overall appeal and value, keep you safe and secure, and spot and fix bugs on the regular.

Contact us about Hosting and Maintenance Plans

So what is my role in all of this?

This is going to be your website so we ask that you remain involved and responsive for the duration of the project. We will do most of the heavy-lifting, and keep you updated about how things are going and what we need to keep the project moving forward. Some of the things we will need from you: Access to existing accounts and passwords for certain services like DNS registry, old websites, FTP, etc or introductions to the parties that have access to these resources.

Your involvement is critical to help keep the project on track.

What if I need to put things on hold for a bit?

We get it, stuff comes up. If at any point you need to put the project on hold, we can pause. Once you’re ready to get moving again, there is a 5% restart fee to continue.

Why do you use WordPress?

WordPress is open source content management software and currently powers over 30% of all websites on the internet. The project is contributed to by tens of thousands of developers all over the world and has grown from a blogging platform to a fully-featured CMS option when executed correctly. WordPress allows us to develop flexible and customizable websites to modern standards and observes web development best practices. Furthermore, the community of web developers that use WordPress reaches far and wide and allows us to tap into this collective intelligence and bring that wealth of experience to your project.

How long will it take to appear at the top of Search Rankings?

The time it takes for your website to appear on page 1 of Google depends on a number of factors. It depends on the search phrase people are using to find your website and the number of other websites that are also available for those search phrases. Nobody can truly say how long it will take for your website to appear at the top of search engine results pages (including people who actually work for Google), however, there are a number of factors that can improve your chances. Building your website on WordPress is a good start as WordPress has some great Search Engine Optimization fundamentals built-in. Creating unique and interesting content on a regular basis for your website is also critical to increase your visibility amongst search engines. Launching your website and then forgetting about it is a surefire way to get lost amongst the noise.

We are happy to talk to you more about your search engine strategy, just reach out.

How will I know if anyone is visiting my website?

We will install Google Analytics / Search Console software on your new website in order to see a wide range of statistics about your website including the number of visits, page views than the amount of time people are spending on your website. If you already have these accounts on an existing website, great! We can use them instead.

What happens if I want to add some features to the website while you’re building it?

We like to be flexible and responsive to your needs, we also like to deliver what we promise within the timeframes and budgets we have allowed. If you ask us to add new features to your website while we are building it, will most likely ask why? If we all agree that your new request will help us achieve our objectives then we will be more than happy to oblige.

If this new feature is something you would like to add to your website but is not directly tied to your original objectives, then we will suggest a change order or possibly we will schedule it for a second iteration of the website once it has been launched. Change Orders will be priced at a blended creative rate of $125/hr. The blended creative rate is a mixed rate including strategy, marketing consulting, graphic design, and web development. The scheduling of a new phase after the initial launch of the website will require a new proposal or an ongoing maintenance plan.

How compatible will the new website be across devices and browsers?

The new website will work across all major, current browsers and devices at the time of release. If you, or your client base, require support on browsers that pre-date 2016, we can accommodate these specific technology requests with additional effort.

How many design comps will we receive for review?

We produce one (1) set of design mock-ups provided for consideration. TIF has spent years defining a process to produce accurate, strategic designs based on all of the knowledge gained about your organization in the early discovery steps as well as Think it First’s combined industry experience. This design set will include the home page and a select group of secondary pages needed to convey the overall design intent. We also include one main design plus the opportunity for you to make up to two rounds of revisions.

What is information architecture?

Information architecture is the relationship of how all the different pages of a website are related to each other. This is communicated visually through a sitemap.

Example of a TIF sitemap

What is a TIF Blueprint?

A TIF Blueprint is an interactive prototype (or wireframe). It’s a “blue” and white version of your website that is designed to prove the functionality and features as they will work in the browser. TIF Prototypes are not your average wireframe. They are very polished, however, design elements such as color and imagery are not applied at this stage. A pivotal point in the project, the prototype is built to allow all parties to make final decisions on the functionality as well as add critical input to the important design and style of the website.

Example of a TIF Blueprint

Any other costs I should be aware of?

We strive to make the price quoted in our proposals all-inclusive; however, there are times when other incidental expenses may occur. In these instances, we ask that you reimburse Think it First for all out-of-pocket expenses incurred in performing our jobs. Potential incidental expenses may include, stock photography, video or custom fonts.

Part II – coming soon!

Development

How Secure is Your Company’s Website?

January 8, 2020 - By Jamie Trueblood

Most businesses don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s fix that.

Nobody needs to be convinced that web security matters. We all read the latest breach headlines. We all know a colleague whose company’s site was hacked. But what most businesses don’t know how to do is gauge the security of their own site. That’s usually a result of not knowing where to start.

So let’s start.

Here’s a quick checklist that can help a business establish a baseline for the security of their company site.

Who Has Access?

This is a crucial first question to ask. We can’t tell you many times we’ve gone under the hood of a company site to discover a bunch of admin accounts for people that don’t even work for the company anymore. That’s a security risk. An equally big risk: a single admin account shared by multiple people. Yikes. Bottom line: get a count on who has access to your site, what permission levels they have and then determine what, if any, action needs to be taken.

Passwords, Passwords, Passwords

qwerty. password. drowssap. password1234. This is not a Michael Scott joke. These are some of the most common passwords in the world. Yet the overwhelming percentage of security issues stem from lousy, weak and flat out stupid passwords.




Once you have a grasp on who has access to your site, institute a password policy. Require them to be complicated and consider a corporate password manager like Lastpass or 1Password. Then establish a mandatory password change schedule.

This all may feel like overkill, but we humans are, in fact, the weakest link. Strict password policies can help.

Backups?

Imagine this situation. Someone on your team is making some changes to the company site. They break something and the entire site goes down. They’re not sure what they did. You could spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out and fix what went wrong or you could revert to a backup point that launches a version of the site as it existed before the breakage.

The majority of the quality web hosts like Flywheel and WPEngine run automatic daily backups. Some require manual backups. Either way, find out what your setup is and develop a backup frequency.

Plugins

Plugins are a part of what makes WordPress great—but they are not immune to bugs or security holes. As a site admin, ensuring that all your plugins are up-to-date will reduce security risks. Review your plugins monthly and update accordingly. Pro Tip: run a backup of your site before you update core plugins just in case there are incompatibility issues.

What Version of WordPress Are You On?

The answer needs to be “the latest.” Running on the latest version of WordPress ensures that you’re taking advantage of all the CMS has to offer and its latest protections. A quick look at the release history and notes will reemphasize why this matters.

See That Little Padlock in Your Browser’s Address Bar?

That means that this webpage is secure. thinkitfirst.com has a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate that encrypts communication between your browser and the server where the site lives. SSL encryption is critical on sites that accept sensitive user information such as payments, but it really is necessary on any website these days. In fact, Google Chrome will now warn users if the site they are going to is not secure. Not a great look.

But pay heed: just because you have an SSL certificate running on your website doesn’t mean that it is configured properly and fully secure. Certificates can expire, too, so keep an eye on how the certificate renewal process is set up.

Where is your Site Hosted?

Basic hosting plans can seem like a great solution, because you get what you need for less. But often, critical features (like backups) are add-ons that drive up the cost. Managed hosting plans from providers like Flywheel, WPEngine, and Pantheon include these because they, like us, understand how important they are. They will also handle updates to WordPress’ core codebase as well as other security features that can end up saving you a lot of money over the long term.

At the end of the day, web security is a never ending fight. But by following even a few basic strategies, you’ll be doing more than most.

Now go change your passwords.