Websites are a lot like cars, you can’t drive them forever…
You have to change the oil, fill up the gas when the tank goes empty, rotate the tires every so often. Similarly, you can implement quality maintenance and regular upgrades to your website, and the frequency with which you do them will help your site last a little longer.
In a recent blog post, we asked the question, “How long does a website last?” and determined its shelf life to be roughly 3 to 6 years (or longer depending on how well you take care of it).
How long your website lasts comes down to understanding user expectations.
Or in other words, understanding what’s evolved online and how that can influence how your website behaves and what visitors expect to see and do on your website.
Establishing these user expectations is an excellent start to discovering how you can make updates to your website to make it last longer.
There are two ways to define user expectations:
User expectations differ from industry to industry in terms of what types of features or functionality should be on a website. But how do you keep up with online changes in your industry?
There are a lot of design and functionality opportunities out there. You could miss the chance to take advantage of them if you’re not taking the time to look.
Something I try to do annually is go out and compile a list of great construction websites with notes for each on what’s cool about them. Then I go through and “score” them based on my own rubric of criteria for what makes that website so great (or crappy).
|Projects||Projects section exists but is not populated.||Projects section is populated but it’s just a photo gallery or is not sortable.||Projects section is sortable but little information is shared per project.||Projects section is sortable and populated with information for each project.||Projects section meets criteria for 4 and is creatively & attractively displayed.|
|Services||The Services page exists but is just a bulleted list.||All services are listed and described on one page,or are listed on separate pages but described in less than 200 words.||Each service has its own page and around 200 words of content, but do not have added functionality.||Services each have their own page, link to related projects, and share who to contact for more information.||Services meet criteria for 4 and are creatively and attractively displayed.|
|Employment||An employment or careers page exists.||Benefits are listed and a PDF application or contact information are present.||Company culture and benefits are described. Visitors can apply online or available jobs are listed.||Each position has a landing page with benefits, company culture & FAQs. Visitors can apply online or available jobs are listed.||Available jobs are listed and all criteria for 4 are met, plus content is attractively and creatively displayed.|
|Ease of Use||Navigation exists OR navigation is mobile on desktop display.||Mobile menu is reserved for mobile traffic. Drop down menus enable people to easily jump to pages within a section.||All of 2, plus interactive site content is logical to use. Links feel like links, buttons like buttons. Information is logically organized.||All items from 2 & 3 plus key items from other sections of the site are used to supplement information throughout.||Everything from 2,3 & 4 plus elements are displayed attractively with creativity.|
|Creativity||Site looks like someone forgot about all the pages, except for the home page.||Some pages are well designed, but not all. Site is composed well, but looks like most other sites.||Looks like a website someone cares about on the home page and some other pages. Effort was put into branding the site.||This is a site someone cares about and each page has thoughtful layout and design. It reflects the company’s branding.||Looks like someone put some serious time and thought into making this site. It doesn’t look like every other site out there.|
Through this year’s research, I found that a ton of construction websites are using drone footage in their homepage “hero image” section, and it’s super cool. But if I’d never done the research, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize this trend and explore implementing it for some of clients’ sites.
This is where your gut comes in. First, make your own list of websites in your industry you think are really great and start drawing some conclusions about what’s trending. You’re really just trying to determine if you still meet the status quo or if your site is falling behind.
If you need more certainty, you can always work with a designer or company who specializes in your industry — they’ll be able to help you discover and incorporate those trends, too.
If you’re a big picture person like me, you’re gonna hate it, but you’re going to do it anyway because you have to, and because I said you need to do it. 😆
When I say read through the content on your website, I mean actually read it. Does your content actually make you sound as awesome as you really are? Do you still talk about your company and services this way?
It’s easy to be really attached to your design or content if you were super involved in the process of building it, but it can feel very different when you come back to it years later. So I encourage you to open yourself up to the idea that it could do well with a makeover.
I did this about 10 years ago when we totally re-worked our brand tonality. I read through everything on our website, and I hated every single word on it. It was so stale and boring and sounded just like everyone else. We’re full of fun and snarky sass here at MayeCreate, and I wanted that to come through on our site. So I presented my sales/account service guru, Stacy, with a couple of new slogan ideas: “Crappy websites stink. That’s why we don’t build ‘em,” and “If you think your website’s crap, so does everyone else.” Her response? “You’re not actually going to tell people their websites are crap, right? The idea of putting that on the website makes my stomach hurt.” Needless to say, I stuck with my gut and we changed our whole marketing message to put our sass on blast. And get this — people love it.
Sometimes a little tummy ache is the only way to know you’re growing.
Now onto those more concrete things…
There’s a lot to be said for real evidence and hard numbers, so we rely on several online platforms to help determine a website’s quality in terms of functionality and user experience.
Here are the tests we use most often:
Website Grader gives a great big picture overview of your website on several assessment levels, which include performance and speed, presence of an SSL certificate, whether your site is mobile friendly, things like that — and just like in school, you’ll get an overall score out of 100.
It’s really easy to understand and offers you a ton of tips and resources to help you with what you don’t, so it’s an ideal start for the less-than-familiar crowd.
If you have a bit more technical knowledge under your belt, you can move into some of the Google tests that let you really dig into those more technical aspects of your website.
Google’s tests can be overwhelming, but they offer great tools and insights into how your website is performing.
Going technical again, this one analyzes how your content loads for both mobile and desktop and shows how long it takes to load the first pieces of content on your website. You can also get a detailed report of items that need your attention, AND you can run it for each page on your website. Woot woot! The report can be a bit of a beast to comb through, though.
Less technical, this one focuses primarily on, you guessed it, how friendly your site is with mobile screens, as well as how fast it loads on a smartphone. It’ll even tell you when content isn’t fitting on your page quite right, or if you have an iframe that isn’t set to the right width. Added bonus: the report here is much easier to digest than PageSpeed Insights.
GA gives you all the details about how visitors on your website are behaving. For instance, if your traffic is declining or your bounce rate is increasing, that’s a good indicator that something with your website isn’t quite right.
There are a bajillion things to explore in Google Analytics, so much so you could take a week-long course to learn it all and still not fully grasp its capabilities. I know, cause I did that. If you want to know more about the power that lies within the data you’ll find in GA, feel free to dig deeper on our blog.
Google Search Console tells you how many terms your site is being indexed for and what those terms are. It also alerts you of errors and other issues on your site as well as their level of priority for correcting.
You get to see at least 12 months of data, which is a vast improvement over the 3 months we had access too before this update. Having that much more data makes it so much easier to spot trends.
A few years ago, we were seeing a ton of traffic going to a really short blog post about how to revive sidewalk chalk as a marketing tool. We thought we were the coolest and smartest people ever to be publishing such a hit post and were halfway to planning more like it, until we went into Google Search Console to see what queries were pulling up this particular article — “sidewalk chalk” was the term that was serving up the article. Usually people who are buying sidewalk chalk are not the same people who are buying websites, so this was a red flag to us.
After looking at Google Analytics, we saw people weren’t behaving very well on that page — they were only there for a few seconds and then left because the article wasn’t what they were looking for. Eventually, we made the decision to just take the article down.
So the article we were first celebrating was actually skewing all of our data. Needless to say, we stopped writing articles about sidewalk chalk and sandwich boards…
Investing in your website every 6 years versus every 3 years is a huge boost for your bottom line — but there’s a big gap between year 1 and year 6. Google changes annually (if not quarterly…or monthly…or weekly…), so to reach that 6-year goal, you’ll need an annual budget to make improvements to your website and keep it up to code.
Pretend for a moment that your website is your car: when you bought your car 3 years ago, it didn’t have Bluetooth, but maybe now it’s something that could be extremely useful in your day-to-day. Or those heated seats you’ve been craving — now’s the time!
Similarly, year 3 of website life is an ideal time to start exploring upgrades you can make to adapt to any changes in business growth, website trends, mobile responsiveness, and WordPress updates so you can further improve user experience as well as efficiency in maintaining and adding to your site. Maybe you’ve grown rapidly now you need an easy-to-update staff section with featured staff on each service page, or you’ve started offering a new service so you need to add a whole new page to your Services section. Whatever it may be, now’s the time to make your changes.
Much like years 1-2… maintain, maintain, maintain. Give the ol’ girl a tune-up to ensure it’s still easy to use for both visitors and those who make updates to it.
DISCLAIMER: This is not an exact, to-the-day kind of an estimate. If you were good to your site and took loving care of it, it may not need a full redesign this year. If that’s the case, good for you. Give yourself a pat on the back and brag to your buddies about how on top of it you are with your website.
A lot changes in 5 years, though, technically speaking. She could still be a beauty on the outside, but the engine will probably need some work. So go ahead and budget at least for a template rebuild, just in case.
As I mentioned before, it’s tough sometimes to take the leap with a new website after putting so much work into the one you’ve got. I get it. As a child of cobblers, I never got new shoes and thus learned to make the most out of whatever I had and was completely okay with that.
So when it came time to examine my own site and face the hard decision of whether or not to redesign, I had a hard time. We’d updated the content to match our personality, yes, but the look of our website, while our clients complimented it all the time, was not very progressive. So I decided it was time, and we started the redesign process.
Once we kicked the outdated site to the curb and launched the new one, our traffic doubled within three months.
Doing all this work is time consuming, and as a business owner, it can hurt a little to take on unwanted challenges. But keeping your website updated and potentially making that not-so-easy decision to redesign your site can pay off in spades, clearly.
We went from having roughly 11,000 visitors a month to 22,000. As we continue to improve our website and add content, our traffic continues to rise. We currently have nearly 30,000 visitors come to our site each month. Further proof that if you do what you can to meet Google’s standards, Google will reward you.
Keeping your website up to code with user expectations (and Google’s) isn’t just about keeping up with the Joneses — it’s about putting yourself at the forefront of your industry by keeping up with technology so you’re ready for whatever changes come your way. Cause if you don’t do it, your site’s not going to work with all the cool new updates and features you want on it later.
Your web developer can help you with all of the stuff we’ve talked about — you just might have to give them a push to get what you need, because sometimes their attachment to the website they’ve built makes them a little less than eager to change it.
Redesigning our website was a huge boost for our business, and continually updating yours is a huge boost for yours. If your web designer isn’t taking a deep dive every year into looking at this stuff, or at least helping you do it, then it might be time to part ways and find someone who will.
Monica is the creative force and founder of MayeCreate. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics, Education and Plant Science from the University of Missouri. Monica possesses a rare combination of design savvy and technological know-how. Her clients know this quite well. Her passion for making friends and helping businesses grow gives her the skills she needs to make sure that each client, or friend, gets the attention and service he or she deserves.
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