Now that we’ve covered the key signs that your website isn’t serving your business as well as it should, let’s get further into what can be done to improve this.
We asked ARC developer, Ross Davidson, to weigh in on some common questions and how to ensure your website is meeting the mark. Here are his insights.
“How often should I be redoing my website, or creating a new one?"
Firstly, let’s define some differences between a “redesign” and a “rebuild”. In general, a re-design addresses the look and feel of a website, leaving most of its functionality unchanged.
A rebuild, on the other hand, can affect the heart of the website and have a notable effect on its functionality. This could involve modifications to content management systems, servers or infrastructure, core business logic in the codebase, database schemas - usually, these are done alongside changes to the look and feel.
The industry consensus seems to be that a website should be redesigned at least once every three years. Waiting any longer could grant a competitor the opportunity to get a leg up on you, through web or design methodologies that you wouldn’t yet have implemented. Additionally, redesigning ensures that your site has a fresh, new look and feel that’s modern, relevant and consistently loyal to your business’s core values. To stay competitive, we suggest either updating or fully redesigning your website every 2-5 years on average.
You might choose to redesign your website (versus completely rebuilding it) for a number of reasons. One reason is your site not adapting to the platform it resides on. On Web, this could be because:
- Your site is using old, outdated markup standards (HTML4 and not HTML5).
- It has outdated front-end libraries that are starting to cause issues with modern browsers.
- It doesn't properly work with mobile touch inputs.
- It's slow in general - speed is an important factor for users these days, due to Internet being so much faster.
- It doesn't support modern standards like open graph tags, search engine optimised markup, or responsiveness.
- The site can't meet demand- whether from the public, or from the company itself.
- A complete code overhaul shouldn’t really ever be necessary, unless your site has been built in technologies that you’re desperate to get away from such as obsolete infrastructure or poorly aged engineering. If your site was compromised in an attack or something of that sort, an overhaul may be required.
"Which website base guidelines should always be followed?"
- Keep it simple. Developers love to over-engineer things, at least the good ones do (it's how they learn). A good way to keep things simple is to list the primary functions of your website and stick to them. Also, forget about making the next Facebook, YouTube or Instagram - such websites take years and many developers to build. The only way to achieve something of that sort is to create milestones, and slowly expand one's service offering over time. Rome wasn't built in a day, so implementing phases can help you stay focused on what’s important.
- Consider skills availability. Be it in your country's job market, or in the teams already at your disposal. Many companies have over-invested by adopting a cutting-edge technology, only for there to be no developers who are skilled in said technology available to work on it. This can lead to understaffing issues or at worst, taking a loss and committing to a rebuild with more widely adopted technologies.
- Leave the pizzazz for later. In some cases, adding animation and liveliness to your website too early can impact the engineering decisions made. This is good to take note of, but it shouldn’t happen if you have an experienced developer/team. They should structure things in such a way, so as not to be overly inflexible. If this consideration is made beforehand, these items can be added on at a later stage.
- Websites aren’t a ‘one size fits all’. Websites can be created in numerous ways, and each type has its pros and cons. Different things work better for different jobs. Always keep your website’s primary goal top of mind, to guide you in the decision-making process.
"Why should I get a developer to build a website for me when there are so many free templates and themes out there?"
Here are some things to consider before choosing to use free templates and themes:
- The theme could incur performance issues, due to trying to accommodate several business types, instead of yours primarily.
- There are many positives and negatives to using Content Management Systems (CMSs). The biggest consideration here is that if you were to create a Tumblr or WordPress site (hosted online), you're incapable of changing anything that hasn’t already been considered by the CMS itself.
- Often, companies find themselves incapable of adding specific functionalities to their own websites, due to limitations inherent in the CMS they’ve adopted. Whereas no such limit exists with a custom-built site, and the path toward adding features and improving the site is far more direct and uncomplicated.
- Themes are re-usable, and used by many. Perceived professionalism can be impacted when someone sees your site using the same theme as your competitors. While some imagery will change after customisation, your site will still resemble many others in terms of structure and fundamental styling. There's little room for you to truly make it your own.
- Many themes use older technologies to support working on as many platforms as possible. This can have a negative impact on performance, as well as not adhering to modern standards as often as would be ideal.
- There’s a lot more risk involved with using freely available tools, if you’re not a developer yourself. If you’re in a situation where the platform can’t achieve what you require of it, you’re left at a standstill due to not having the development chops to customise it- that is, if the platform even allows for such modifications in the first place.
- They don’t always make considerations for SEO, which can affect how your website ranks on search engines. Support for custom domains is often limited on many packaged CMSs, whereby they don’t allow for subdomains, or may force you to use their own domain in your website’s address.
"What are the most common web development best practices to adhere to?"
- Use widely adopted technologies. Popular libraries or technologies generally have the benefit of being supported and maintained by large numbers of developers, which results in the code being better tested and less likely to have support for it dropped.
- Mobile is just as important as desktop. Mobile should be considered from the get-go to prevent unforeseen issues. This includes responsiveness across a variety screen sizes and devices, removing hover-driven events that would only work on desktop, making bigger touch areas on buttons, and catering to HTML 5 integrations such as GPS, media playback, call links, and camera use. The slower hardware on mobile devices should also be considered during development, as not doing so could result in slowdowns or even crashes.
- Identify which aspects of the website will need to change in the foreseeable future, and communicate them with your developers. Modern websites are made up of so many different parts so they aren’t, by nature, easily editable.
- If you require the ability to freely change parts of your custom-built website without any extraneous developer assistance during the build phase, the developer will have to prepare to add a facility for you, the client, so that you can do so. Because of this, it's your responsibility to be transparent about your needs from the start.
- Consider whether you’ll be offering an app in the future. Modern websites have options available to share code between themselves and a mobile app. This can greatly reduce development times due to not having to maintain both an app and website independently from each other.
- Always have empathy for your visitors. Any debt incurred through exploiting their patronage, even if it's just in the form of their page view, will remain at the back of their minds for a long time to come. Users are more intelligent than you realise, so respect their time by providing value and convenience.
- Be reactive, monitor engagement, and obtain testimonials from your website’s users. Iterate on their feedback, and perform periodic tests to determine efficacy. This can be done at the scale of a single landing page, or the entire user journey through your website, and the desired conversion you want to lead them to. The best websites are those that don’t settle, and constantly try new things (with user-based evidence to measure from). Tools like FullStory and Analytics go a long way to help with this, as do user interviews.
"My website is live - now what?"
Once your website is live, don’t neglect its existence. If you want customers to find your website, you’ll need a marketing strategy with identified channels to bring in traffic. This can be done through a variety of SEO efforts, maintenance updates, feature improvements, on-page content updates (such as blog updates) and monitoring site performance.
Doing the above will ensure your website is always up to date, relevant, compliant, and of course, has a high likelihood of being discovered by your desired audience.
That’s it! We hope we’ve made it clear what makes a website better, and provided helpful considerations to make before starting your business’s web development project.
Remember to keep your potential customers in mind at every touchpoint and prior to all decisions made, to ensure the highest affinity with your desired market.
If you need a website redesign or rebuild with your customer as the sole focus of the process, email us today on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Arc Interactive on Facebook, Twitter or on Instagram.