7 Things You Can Do for Your Site Over the Holidays

There’s not much doubt that it’s the holidays. The shopping malls are full, the roads are packed and Web traffic, for the most part, is down.

Unless you’re a webmaster of an ecommerce site that does most of its business during this time of year or operate some other holiday-themed site where there is peak season, there’s a good chance traffic has tapered off.

But as tough as quiet times like these can be on numbers, they are also excellent opportunities to get some things done. Since the day-to-day needs of our sites are lessened, we can instead focus on the maintenance and other activities that we have been neglectful of for much of the year.

So if you want to take a break from family, friends and celebrations, here are a few suggestions for how you can take advantage of the downtime to make your site better and make sure that it’s in proper working order for the New Year.

1. Update Your Server

If you aren’t on a shared hosting plan or don’t have a managed account, you’re probably responsible for updating your server software, possibly including the OS, Control Panel and other critical applications.

Like all software, these applications fall out of date, have security holes and need to be patched. However, as Web-facing applications, the need to keep these tools up-to-date is even greater than tools you have installed on your PC.

However, often times updating this software means taking your site offline, at least for a few minutes. As critical as these updates are, doing them during peak times doesn’t make sense; with the festive slowdown, there’s plenty of opportunity to update your system without anyone being any the wiser.

2. Update Your CMS and Plugins

Just as your server software needs updates, so does your CMS and, unlike your server applications, this one is almost certainly your responsibility.

Though these updates usually do come with at least a few moments of downtime, which is why many of CMSes have “maintenance mode” that takes the site offline while it patches itself, the bigger issue is the potential for error – anything from catastrophic errors that break your site to small ones that cause individual features to not function.

So take a moment, backup your files and update your CMS and your plugin. Then, when you’re done, make sure to test everything to ensure nothing went awry. If something did, you’ll have plenty of time to fix it before the problem begins to impact your visitors in a major way.

3. Fix/Adjust/Change Your Theme

Another potential hazard is updating or changing your theme. Whether you need to add a new element, fix a CSS bug or simply clean up your code, working on your theme, especially on a live site, is a dangerous job.

However, with the holidays and fewer people on the site, it’s possible to do such work comfortable that as few people as possible will be impacted, making it a great chance to give your site a new coat of paint for the new year.

One word of caution though, changing your theme completely during this time of year may cause confusion. Your visitors may not stop by for two weeks or more and too big a change may cause more confusion than it would if it were made with warning during a more normal time.

4. Change Hosts

All DNS changes take between 24 to 72 hours to propagate globally. Though there usually isn’t downtime associated with such changes, problems can occur as there are essentially two servers hosting the site during this time and one server may see updates another doesn’t.

Thus, it makes sense to make any changes along these lines during extended slow periods, such as the holidays. It may also be a good time to consider setting up CloudFlare or any other service that requires a change to your DNS, such as Google Apps.

Best of all, this is also the peak time of the year for great hosting deals, making it also the cheapest time to move as well.

5. Prewrite Content

Most likely, posting new content isn’t worthwhile this time of year. So, instead of creating content that will fall on deaf ears and be lumped into the giant pile for when your readers get back, work on writing non-timely pieces that you can post later when you need a day off or just don’t have anything to say.

Another option is to tackle a longer project that you’ve been putting off, such as an ebook or a series of posts you’ve been wanting to do.

Since you’re free of the day-to-day pressures for a bit, take the opportunity to write something fun that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had the time. You can always post it later.

6. Run a Security Audit

A security audit doesn’t have a particularly large impact on your site’s visitors (not if you’re doing it right, anyway), but it does take a good deal of time, especially if you find issues that you need to address.

Down time like the holidays are an excellent chance to buckle down and go through the motions and make sure that your site is up to code. If it isn’t, you’ve got every opportunity to fix the problems before any downtime affects your readers in a major way.

7. Plan, Plan and Plan

However, likely the best thing you can do for your site is simply plan and brainstorm.

As you go about your holiday activities, keep a means of taking notes with you and jot down any ideas you have. This time of year is often ripe for inspiration and you may be able stock your site with ideas and new plans for all of next year.

Best of all, this is one thing you can do without taking time away from your family. It takes only a second to jot down a flash of brilliance, but it’s a second that can save hours later and take your site to the next level.

Bottom Line

All in all, the holidays are a great opportunity to do both necessary and extraordinary things for your site and most of what you can do doesn’t take a great deal of time.

Rather than worrying about the slowdown in traffic, it’s likely best to try and use it to your advantage. After all, when things are quiet on a battlefield, armies use the chance to both rest and re-arm for when things pick back up – it’s a good strategy for webmasters too.

However, don’t let your site duties detract from your holidays. Remember, as with all things on the Web, real life has to come first and the holidays are, first and foremost, a time for cherishing the (at times too rare) moments you get to spend with loved ones.

So enjoy your holidays and be ready to make your 2011 even more successful than 2010.

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