Breathing New Life into an Old Website

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Everyone working in development is bound at some time to discover they've been shelling out good money for hosting an old website that has been forgotten about.

Rather than letting this investment go to waste, you could actually revive the old site by updating it. What you do with it after that is entirely up to you. You could sell it on to a new owner, monetize the content with advertising, use the site to promote a new product or service, or simply keep it as a portfolio example of your work.

The longer the site has been sitting around, the more work you will need to do to getting working well. What follows are the basic things you'll need to check and basic steps you can take to correct any problems you encounter.

1. Make sure you actually own the rights to the site

This is not always as simple as it seems. Sometimes you may have developed the site on behalf of somebody else, in which case they may be the legal owner of the site under most circumstances.

It gets complicated if:

  • the business that contracted the original site ceases to exist
  • the client never pays for the work
  • the site was developed in partnership, and the other partner withdrew from the partnership

If the site was one you developed entirely on your own and entirely for yourself, you can do as you please. In all other cases, you should check your ownership.

2. Scan for any trademarked or copyrighted content

This is similar to the above. You don't want to have a problem from somebody else claiming you have infringed their copyright or trademark. Also you'll want to know if somebody else has stolen your content and is using it on another site.

illustration by Kyle Anthony Miller

3. Check for broken or outdated links

The web is a dynamic place and sites come and go all the time, and site owners sometimes move content around without redirecting properly. Broken links can be frustrating and detract for the user experience, so we should always attempt to fix broken links when we find them on our sites.

These are the steps to take when you discover a broken link:

  • Try to discover the new home of the content the link was supposed to point to
  • Try to find an alternative content source that would be sufficient
  • Search the Wayback Machine to discover if there is an archived version of the content you can link to.
  • If all else fails, remove the link.

Obviously also you should make sure the link is still relevant to whatever purpose you originally included it for, which brings us neatly to our next tip.

4. Make sure content and links are contemporary

If your original content was all about getting ready for the 2014 Singapore Film Festival or an article extolling the virtues of XHTML as the perfect development language, or recommending Flash as the perfect online animation tool, you'll want to update that content and the links that go with it.

The site for the 2014 Singapore Film Festival may still be online, so the link might not be broken, but it would normally be of more value to include a link to the upcoming or most recently completed Singapore Film Festival.

Likewise there may still be a few dinosaurs making sites in XHTML instead of HTML 5, and there's nothing wrong with that, but if you are extolling the virtues of technologies that most coders consider to be virtually obsolete, it runs the risk of you appearing to be obsolete.

Keeping your content contemporary and fresh is important, and an often overlooked requirement. It's most noticeable if you're talking about technologies, scientific theories, health issues, and so on. New discoveries can make your site content stop being factual, and as a publisher you have a responsibility to not present wrong information.

5. Don't forget about social media

There are two ways you can have problems about social media in relation to your websites. The first, and most common, is that your site doesn't link to your social media (and your social media doesn't link to your site). This is simple enough to correct.

The second problem you could face is that your site might point to the wrong social media. For example, you may have had a Facebook page back in 2012 and your site pointed to that, but since then you no longer have control of that Facebook page even though it still exists.

illustration by Csaba Gyulai

That's a problem because the traffic flow isn't working for you, it's working for someone else or it's working for Facebook. You should fix these kinds of problems.

You should also consider creating a new social media presence specifically for this site, as that can give you the most value from traffic flow.

6. Fix security and privacy flaws

There are things we used to do, like putting our plain-text email address on a page, that we really shouldn't be doing now. You may also have published content in a more innocent age that today would be considered a serious privacy risk to yourself.

You should check for this kind of stuff and remove or censor it. There are definitely better ways of allowing users to contact you than publishing your email address in plain text, and that image of your car showing the license plate number really should be doctored to obscure the number and any other features in the image that might put you at risk.

There's no need to be paranoid, but sensible precautions certainly won't do any harm. Failing to take precautions, on the other hand, has been known to create problems for some people.

illustration by Hurca

Giving your old site a new lease of life can be a good thing

The decision about whether to delete a site or revive it depends on a lot of factors, and it's not always best to keep that old site up and running.

On the other hand, if you've been paying to host it, it has some half way decent rank on Google, and gets a reasonable amount of incoming traffic, it would feel wasteful to squander the opportunity reviving that old website represents.

You can benefit from that positive traffic and relatively good Google rank, and possibly your old site can bring new traffic to other sites you want to generate interest in. It may be prudent to hesitate before hitting the delete button, and think about the potential value your old site still holds.

header image courtesy of Mansoor

Bogdan Rancea

Bogdan is a founding member of Inspired Mag, having accumulated almost 6 years of experience over this period. In his spare time he likes to study classical music and explore visual arts. Heโ€™s quite obsessed with fixies as well. He owns 5 already.

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