Why You Should Do a Technical Audit Before a Website Refresh

Tools & Tips

Why You Should Do a Technical Audit Before a Website Refresh

Briteweb April 23, 2021

Before starting any project, it’s important to do an audit of the existing assets and get a good sense of what you’re working with. The same is true for websites. Web developers will do a technical audit to find out as much as possible about the current state of the website before they dive in.

There are a few reasons an agency will perform a technical website audit before jumping into a project:

  • To know as much as they can before they start working
  • To keep expectations realistic on both the client and developer sides
  • To see which aspects need to be changed due to new and emerging practices in tech

What is a technical audit?

A technical audit is a process that evaluates the performance of a website and where it can improve. Like any other type of audit, the digital team or agency will go into the site, run a few different tests and come back to the organizations with a recommendation on how to move forward with either a website refresh or prepare for a website redesign. 

Why is a technical audit important?

If you’ve decided to work with an agency to support your website, the team needs to know what they’re working with before they decide to take on a project. A website audit is the equivalent of a check-up on your website, highlighting its strong points and where it needs improvement. The technical audit is the first step to a refreshed website or an updated digital presence.

Think of it like renovating your home. Prior to beginning any home improvement work, the renovator will need to undergo an initial assessment phase to know what does or does not need fixing. Once they’ve done this, they can begin planning what to change and provide you with a quote. The technical audit is equivalent to an assessment for your organization’s online home: your website.

Here is your website technical audit checklist:

1. Providing access to the server

Before anything, a developer will need access to the server to see what’s going on behind the scenes. This way they can look at the code and audit the overall hosting environment. Every host will offer a different set of features, but a lot of the older hosts don’t offer the same flexibility as some custom hosting solutions. This audit includes looking at how a certain content management system (CMS) is installed and how updates are pushed through to the server.

2. Pull in developers to audit the server stack and CMS

The next step is to loop in developers to look at the overall structure of the CMS. For example, in WordPress, there are a lot of ways to build the CMS and build out custom fields for the user. At Briteweb, our designers choose to build websites (including our own!) in a flexible way where we can always edit a module easily. 

The old school way of auditing the server stack requires a web developer to come in every time there was a change to be made. There are still sites that function this way but they tend to be more time-consuming to manage and less efficient as a result. 

This is also where you should audit the plug-ins. “Having a very bloated list of plug-ins is one of the biggest tech debts ever,” says Vincent Ly, a full-stack developer at Briteweb. In the front-end, there’s hijacking of your performance and in the back-end, it affects the way you manage content. 

Having a very bloated list of plug-ins is one of the biggest tech debts ever.

3. Website audit report

The audit report will include everything from hosting and CMS to HTML code and stylesheets.

This is a very important step because a lot of sites have pre-built themes that need to be addressed. “The biggest disadvantage of that is that everything is contingent on the developer of that theme,” says Ly. “If we wanted to make even the slightest change, we would have to go in and override things.” Additionally, the next time a premade theme receives an update from the original developer, it will override any changes made to individual websites. 

4. Audit the code base

At this point, your agency or developer will check the quality of the code in the front and back-end. Usually, this is where you check if the site is using a JavaScript or CSS framework that is still considered the industry standard. If it’s not, it’s going to be much harder to maintain and it’s no longer supported by the developers that initially created it. That means security issues or unfixed bugs are bound to occur. 

5. Technical SEO audit 

Accessibility and SEO can be assessed at this stage using a tool like Lighthouse to give developers a good indicator of the loading in the front-end. If there are issues that are getting in the way of the page loading properly, such as images that are not optimized properly or scripts that are blocking, this is where you would find them. You can identify poor SEO practices at this stage. If you’re finding bad traffic analytics or an issue with page crawling, you’ll flag those issues at this stage and be able to fix them in the website refresh.

Technical SEO audit sample from Lighthouse

Source: Google

6. SSL lab

This stage is to ensure the organization has a valid SSL certificate for their site that’s encrypted properly. SSL certificates indicate if your website is compliant with the standard of security for the domain. If it’s not secure your site will lose credibility, turn away users, and risk dealing with SEO issues.

7. Compile recommendations for the site

Once you’ve gone through the website in great detail, it’s time to make a list of recommendations on how to proceed. If the plug-ins are unused, serve no purpose, or inactive, that’s a great thing to add to the list. Other recommendations may include optimizing unnecessarily large images, consolidating scattered posts, and maintaining a code base. Next, it’s time to present your ideas. Depending on your organization, you may hear from a digital agency you’re working with at this point or you might be presenting your findings to the rest of your team.

8. Set up website locally

This final step is to get the developer to set up the site locally. This will make the website run faster and usually ensures a smoother workflow for the future. 

One of the biggest reasons to do a technical audit is to understand the time and resources needed to support a website before heading into a project. It is the best way to understand what currently exists, what’s possible, and who you’ll need to bring on to rebuild, update, and maintain your site full-time. A technical audit will save a developer and designer’s time in the long-run and save your organization time and dollars down the line. Partnering with a developer or agency to perform these steps will help lead you to a successful redesign or refresh.

If you have any questions about technical audits or want to talk to our team more about the process, let us know! We’re always here to help.

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