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Sure we learn from mistakes. I know the post is long but it covers some points we are currently seeing on the forum. This thread is to talk about useful suggestions for things a Webmaster should (must) do.
0. Read and keep reading
From the early stages until you reach your "guru level": read and keep reading to keep learning. The internet is alive and changes fast, besides nobody knows it all. If you are a beginner: read, research. If you are an expert, you already know you should keep reading. Webmasterworld is a great place to share and learn.
1. The beginning, be organized
Managing websites means having things here and there, everywhere, get used to it. Keep a file of your own ideas, resources and bookmarks, you will be amazed how useful those little things you find on the web might be in the future. Try to save useful data on your computer as some sites might be gone when you need that info and you will come with a 404 error. Be organized and keep track of your work and ideas.
Point #1 is the best to say this: keep your mouth shut. You will learn in time how easy ideas come and go and some folks are ready to catch them. This involves the whole idea and names for your projects. Be careful on how you test an idea before working on it. A little idea not so great today might become important tomorrow.
1.1 Don't underestimate little things and details.
2. Drafts and notes
Never underestimate how useful your drafts might be. From graphic files, logos, layouts to incomplete code, most of the times you'll need it in the future. Keep your notes and get used to make annotations of the new ideas. Great websites might take time to complete in your mind before those ideas sound great for you. This kind of organization saves time, you'll see.
Don't delete those "ugly" drafts, you might need them for your own projects or for a client in the future.
3. Organize and save your code and plan ahead
3.1 Yes, I said Plan ahead
Sometimes is better slow than quick, don't rush, take your time and plan ahead to grow. Many webmasters fail at this point and then find themselves with a website too complicated to run and a nightmare trying to move to a CMS from hand made pages, or discovering they built the site with the wrong tools.
Keep your data safe, backup your files from time to time, make this a routine. And BE CAREFUL when updating your backups. Sometimes it is useful to keep version A, B and C of the code or drafts. Trust me, sometimes you need to revert the code only to find is not on the backup anymore (only the "updated" not so useful new code). Make backups on DVD (cheap) and at least one more copy on an external hard drive. There is no excuse for not doing it, storage is cheap and if you refuse to spend money then how much do you value your own data? Consider USB backups. Avoid having only one backup: redundancy is very important.
Remember point 1.1, being organized will make your life easier and be better at keeping your data safe.
5. Online Backups
Your local data is not the only valuable treasure. Most of your files are already online, live!. If you have only one server, create a script to backup your site and download it. Some panels have their own backup tools and then you can download the file. Many webmasters have learned how important redundancy is, the hard way. Some have one server for websites and another for backup, I know I do.
Having a backup server allows you to backup your data online from one server to another via FTP, you can do this via Cpanel (cpanel backup) or zip-tar your files and then do a wget from your backup server to get the file there. This makes it easier to restore data (instead of uploading the files yourself). You might have a problem with your server AND your computer at the same time... You'll be surprised how fast one can get back on track restoring your backup to another new server and only refreshing the DNS and leaving the bad server behind. For many of us, one day offline is a thing to avoid at all costs.
Valuable data is nothing if you can't access it. The life of a webmaster requires opening accounts on different online services like social media, directories, email accounts (for submission or newsletter reception) also your personal email accounts and yes, 5 websites will require at least 1 email, so 5 websites means at least 5 email accounts. Do your best to get used to safe passwords and login. Avoid using the same password for all your accounts. Don't use the same set of passwords for your data and free services. You will learn yourself, many people use the same password to register on a free forum, and the same one on their email account. Avoid it.
Set of passwords: many webmasters have developed 5 or 10+ safe passwords. Instead of using each for different accounts, combine them together. Never use personal data (dates or names).
As you can see, new registrations will mean more data, so remember to stay organized and also the point 1.1
7. Security and safety of your local data
Keep your data safe from accidents (external hard drives hitting the floor, dust on your dvds) and also avoid having important data on your portable USB (yes, the one on your key-chain or the one accessible on your desk). Some one might stole it or you might drop it and there goes your treasure. Learn to zip-rar with passwords or encrypt your data.
Security and safety means being careful on what you install (software and extensions) and what "free" services you use, as well as where you login into your accounts (avoid free wifi spot access for important tasks). Spyware is a reality, avoid your crucial data and passwords from being stolen.
If you sell your computer remember to erase your data, format your hard drive and over write it. You don't want an stranger using your saved passwords stored on your browser. There are tools to erase and write ones and zeroes before you reinstall.
8. One man band - and working with other people
Sharing work and responsibilities involves skills, also order and having someone to trust (and CLEAR agreements). Some webmasters become a one man band doing all by themselves (design, code, articles...) This sure has its benefits as well as problems: work overload and having nobody to help you in times of troubles (only you know how and where everything is).
If you decide to work with somebody else or a team, be clear and think ahead. Make clear agreements and don't just trust people for what they say (even if they are your friends). A little idea could become the next big thing, so, leave clear responsibilities and benefits on paper, this will save you problems in the future. Some have learned the hard way and find their team split with "shared" ideas in the middle.
8.1 Test drives
Don't trow your big projects just like that. It is better to give the person, friend or company a test drive to see their performance, quality of work and time of delivery before committing with something bigger.
8.2 Read and review
If you work with a team don't just trust their work, read it. I know you hire friends and quality services but you won't want to be confused on why somebody removed you from their link lists, directories or search engine because "you" did something malicious. People stealing content or copying articles happens more often than you think (or somebody copying your content and claiming property of it). Perhaps you hire people worth of trust but sometimes people don't have clear how delicate might be to quote somebody else work or using their pictures. Some authors have their own policies on permissions.
Sorry, there is no excuse for this, if you value your work and you consider to get some income from it, you must know exactly what's on your websites, where it comes from and who did what.
Many respected webmasters have said this before: work hard, create your own content. It is better to have a long lasting website (with X income) than a big shot that ended up nowhere quickly. Create respectable relationships with other webmasters. You won't be able to do this if you have copied content. Trust me, there are sites paralyzed because nobody serious wants to exchange links or worst, to work with them. Once you get big you might have the opportunity of making contests or having your own advertisers, that's when the bomb might explode if you don't really have built your own castle. As you can see that "castle" might become your own prison if you break the rules.
9. Online security
Take a look at your website from time to time, daily if possible. Review the stats and check your files on the server. Remember, servers (shared or private) are not bullet proof. You already know about the hackers attacking sites and replacing content.
Not every attack is that clear. There are cases where hackers inject code into websites sometimes replacing entire pages or parts of your code, like affiliate ids or pub ids (Adsense) then part of the money goes to their pockets. Also, there are cases where the attack leaves code that makes itself invisible but hijacks the page and shows any kind of random content. In other cases their htaccess file is compromised redirecting visitors from time to time to other websites.
The online security begins with the kind of services you choose (research first, like +Xcompany +sucks). Search for references and also take care of your passwords and where you login to avoid your data being intercepted. Checking your stats and your income reports daily helps you detect strange traffic changes.
9. Protect your income
Valuable websites and work worth money. It doesn't matter if you planned it or if your non commercial website became commercial, your income is very important for your website survival and yours as well.
Protect your income keeping on the hard work, nothing lasts forever and if you stop working, is very possible your rankings and income will drop. Doing questionable things puts your income in risk, remember to create your own work and be careful with others people work published on your website.
Read point #8. Protecting your website is the beginning to protect your income.
Don't tell your friends. Yes, there are many cases where sharing this information meant having an account suspended for invalid clicks coming from "friends" who tried to help you to earn some more money.
10. Low profile or not
This is up to you, you decide. Revealing YOU are the one behind X website might be a good thing if you know how to deal with it, it links you to the brand and is useful in conferences (hey that's Jim!) or to get more work and $$. You might become part or essence of the brand just like your website giving conferences per example and getting clients. But choose carefully choosing to promote your website, yourself or both: you can't control what others do, like point #9 where friends get your account closed.
Going public could compromise your privacy. Some will see you as "the competition to track and defeat", it also makes you vulnerable to personal attacks when people don't like what you do or the decisions you make regarding your website or content. NEVER use your own identity on your forums, you as a person and a brand together might become a nightmare to manage in certain fields.
There was an example here at WebmasterWorld where a webmaster struggled with an user who took his pictures and made fun of him altering the images and text. Just as you publish a picture of you, anyone can grab it and make a funny graphical joke about you. This doesn't mean you have to hide, just think about it.
11. Forums and you
Opt for an alter ego, never use your own personal data on forums, remember you could be dragged into a fight or be the center of the jokes and there is no easy way out of it. Having an alter ego makes it easier to deal with discussions as is very hard to take it personally this way.
12. Keep record and prepare for attacks
Research and learn how to track an identify. A malicious user might be behind certain attacks, as a protection, you should identify the ips of the sender when somebody use your contact form or when they register on your forum or public services on your site. Is not about invading the privacy of the users, is about identifying them to understand them (like a CRM) and also for your own protection.
You'll be surprised how an user might react if you prove you remember him after one year when they ask you a new question.
Keeping your emails handy (and the right email client) might help you to see between the lines and discover your competition asking for prices and valuable data acting like client interested in your services. Is not about becoming paranoid, remember point #1.1, trust me, when the troubles come you will need all sorts of data to identify where the attack came from.
The list can grow, I surely forgot some points. I bet some of the suggestions appear obvious and meticulous but yet, many webmasters fail to include them in their work routine and then the problems appear, those little things won't seem so little.
Give something back to the community. Many webmasters helped you along the way when you need it, remember them and do the same too, cooperate. The funny thing is how uninterested help might bring opportunities too, little projects today might overcome your own. The world is a small place.
We webmasters seem to have an extra sense to detect people who only want the cake for themselves, be kind, accessible and honest. If you ask for help say thanks and also share how the advice worked and how you managed to solve the problem. Many times good webmasters help on the forums and we never hear back from the users until they have a new problem, guess what, we won't be interested on helping such kind of people again.
Many work relationships are built from trust and personal behavior (how people act) that's why some won't link to your site, remember, create your own content, work hard and be honest.
[edited by: explorador at 6:45 pm (utc) on Dec. 15, 2009]
#0 for example. Reading costs me time and money and I've found that "doing and figuring out why what happened happened" works much better. Of course it took years of reading to get to that point and figuring it out became simple because of reading so much. Reading is great but will not help you hone your skills, doing and trying to understand with real examples is a must.
I'd add a #12.
#12 - If you think you can simply spend money and pay other people to do everything for you, such as "build me 20 websites", there are very knowledgeable webmasters who will always outrank you and so your glass ceiling will always remain lower than it could be. Learn it all yourself at least once if this applies to you.
I obviously still read WW, and contribute semi useful stuff, but I tend to ignore the other half trillion places time (which is money) get lost!