Website Under ConstructionOkay, not everyone owns a car, but many people still comprehend car analogies, even in NYC. And lately I’ve been talking about the need for ongoing investments in websites if you really want them to “work.” So I’ll explain a couple things about your WordPress site as if it were a car.

Most of us would not buy a car, park it in the driveway and say, “look, I have a car.” We buy a car so we can go to work or on road trips or take out loved ones places. We buy it so it can be useful.

Same with a website. I’m glad that you have a WordPress website, which you got for your organization because you heard it was great — and it is. But you don’t just want to “have a website.” You want a website that tells your side of the story, that answers people’s questions about your organization and about your issue. You have so that it can be useful.

If you want a car to take you places, there are a few things you need to do… just like your website. Here are three.

1- You need to put gas in your tank. Your website needs content.

Your car needs gas to go places. Your website needs content to go places — it needs stuff for people to read/watch/listen to when they visit. Your home page should answer the questions like: what has your organization done lately? What are you doing next? Posting regular content builds the site over time, giving visitors a more complete picture of your issue and your organization.

Without regular fresh content: text, pictures audio or video, your website isn’t nearly as useful. Just like many people can learn how to put gas in the tank, many folks can learn to create content.

2- You change your oil every 3,000 miles. Update your website software regularly.

I drive a 1991 Honda Civic Wagon. That’s right, 1991. It’s over 20 years old, and it has 199,000+ miles on it. It’s a great, dependable little tank that gets great mileage and even survived the waters of Hurricane Sandy. All it asks in return is that I change the oil regularly. I am committed to a small regular ongoing investment that maintains the value of my overall investment. 

I could learn to change my oil, but I am too busy learning other things. So I pay someone else to do it. I know that bad things could happen if I don’t change my oil. In the case of cars, they are not necessarily visible problems until they are expensive and difficult to repair.

The same is true of maintenance for your WordPress website (along with Drupal and other content management systems). Updating the software is a skilled task that needs to be done periodically. A person needs some skills and experience, and you can benefit from a regular “website mechanic” that visits every few months.

Why do you need regular updates? Sometimes to get new features, but mostly to protect yourself from hackers. The widespread use of open source content management systems like WordPress and Drupal means there is a lot of malicious code out there — hackers want to use your site to send spam or run computer attacks on other sites. Keeping ahead of hackers is essential: some web hosts are even starting to force updates to your WordPress installation.

As of November, 2013 with the arrival of WordPress 3.7.x, WordPress will run its own updates by default (which could be a great idea, although these updates could lead to conflicts with the plugins or theme you have installed on your site).

Remember: even if you change your own oil, it’s still good to take your car to the mechanic from time to time. Websites and cars need periodic maintenance from a skilled hand.

3- Your car need a destination. Your WordPress website needs goals.

I once read in a Thich Nhat Hanh book, “don’t turn on your car without knowing where you’re going.” I have followed that advice, which is good advice. Don’t spend time with the engine running for no reason — it’s wasteful.

Similarly, don’t spend time working on your organization’s website without some goals for it. Start with who you are writing for: who are your key audiences? What do you want these folks to do? Write to congress, make a donation, march in the streets?

Decide what you want to measure in terms of traffic and interaction. Then when you’re looking at your analytics, measure progress towards your goal.

Just as “there is no general public” in any communications context, you are not working on your website for all the hundreds of millions of users of the Internet — give yourself a destination and a way to see if you are getting closer to that destination.

Other ways your website is like a car

Perhaps in that you can have multiple drivers for a single car. Or that it turns out your environmental impact is higher than you wish it was. Or that some people would rather have a bike… (think Tumblr).

If you wish to add to this analogy, add a comment, or if you’re shy you can drop me a message.