Like a new car, a website starts to decay and lose value the day it launches. While it is a best practice strategy to have a maintenance plan in place for keeping it up to date, most companies do not have the time or resources, causing them to wait until their site is not meeting their needs before revisiting its design and functionality. So, how do you know when it’s time to update your website?
1. A Dated Design
Today’s websites just look differently than they used to. This is largely because they tend to be more graphic centric and less cluttered, creating a clean and simple aesthetic. Design choices like rotating carousels and aggressive use of banner ads are no longer in vogue (in part based on data showing them to be ineffective). If you are uncertain about your website design, consider prominent, popular sites to see how they differ from your own for comparison.
2. Not Mobile Ready
In January 2017, ComScore reported that 71 percent of all minutes spent online are spent on mobile devices. While it is possible your site does not have a huge mobile visitor base, it is still important to have a mobile-ready, responsive design because you can be sure some portion of your users are looking at your site on their phones. If your site doesn’t work properly, that’s a knock on your brand.
3. No Content Management System (CMS)
Back in the day, website content was loaded into a site as HTML, essentially programmed by developers. This was fine because the money for web projects typically came from an IT budget and the sites were managed by the IT department. However, with marketing departments now taking over responsibility for websites, and more than 1,600 CMSs available, today there is no reason you shouldn’t be using one to manage your website. A CMS enables your non-technical staff to manage website content without bothering IT.
4. An Outdated CMS Version
If you are already on a CMS (and to be honest, by now you really, really should be), you need to make sure that you are staying up to speed on its different versions. This doesn’t mean that you must be on the absolute latest version, but you do have to be mindful of updates telling you there is a security issue and you need to upgrade to protect your site. Ignoring these updates is a path to getting hacked. It is also wise to update your CMS version because it is going to give you the latest functionality that has been released. For example, DNN is constantly improving upon its product, its older versions being highly technical while its newer versions are more marketing-centric.
5. Declining Data in Analytics (or worse No Analytics)
By minding the data, you can tell when your user base is not interacting with your site the way you want them to and you can pivot accordingly. If your data shows declining traffic patterns or a drop in conversions, either could be a sign of a decaying website that needs a refresh. Sites that do not track data and analytics at all are inexcusably missing an incredibly valuable function (and in the case of Google Analytics, a free and easy one).
6. A High Bounce Rate
A bounce rate is a data point that indicates the percentage of users leaving the site after hitting only the page they entered the site through. This can mean they didn’t like what they found. However, the challenge with bounce rates is figuring out the reason for the bounce. For example, did the user find what they were looking for right there on that first page? One way to determine if this is the case is to look at another data point – average time on page. The longer users spend on a page on average, the more likely they are engaged in the page’s content and the less likely they didn’t like what they found. While any page that breaks the 80 percent mark should be reviewed, if your overall site bounce rate is above 80 percent, you’ve got a problem.
7. Broken Links
Broken links inevitably grow over time, and are a sign of site decay. As a best practice, you should regularly monitor your pages for broken links, particularly given there are inexpensive and readily available tools that can monitor them for you. Broken links tell your visitors your website is out of date. Whether it is or it isn’t, users who find them may not give your site a second chance.
8. An Absence of Social Media
Companies have been leveraging social media through their websites for years and the absence of popular brand icons can be a message to visitors that your organization is behind the times (as well as a missed opportunity to provide content where your users might be). This doesn’t mean your social media icons should dominate your homepage (which is considered a bad design, as it takes a captive audience and steers them to pages where they may be instantly distracted). Adding icons as part of your footer can be enough to raise your hand to having an additional presence on social media. However, the best use of those platforms is to make it easy for your visitors to share your site’s content. This increases your reach, and can attract new visitors back to your website.
9. Trouble Finding Content
Website visitors expect to find exactly what they want on a site, and fast. If you are getting feedback from visitors saying they are having trouble finding what they need on your website, it could be an indication that your information architecture is lacking. It could also be an indication that you need to update your website’s search functionality. If you have a large volume of content, take a cue from online retailers like Amazon, and implement a facet-based search where users can drill down into your content by applying filters.
10. Stale Content
Finally, a glaring sign that your website is out of date is stale content. Are your pages as relevant today as the day you published them? It’s not uncommon for 20 percent of your pages to account for 80 percent of your traffic. Pay close attention to those 20 percent and really think hard about getting rid of or improving upon the other 80 percent. The SEO experts at MOZ say this “cruft” can hurt your performance in Google results. Do they really serve you or your users? Is it relevant and valid content? Is it really important that you have that article from 2006 on your website, or is that just a distraction from modern content?
Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that once their website is up and running, that’s the end of their website project. The truth is that the completion of a website launch phase is just the start of the website’s “maintenance” (or better still “growth”) phase. A great strategy is to have a proactive maintenance plan in place (at Engage we refer to this as Engage Evolution) to keep ahead of all the items noted above. As noted in the car analogy, your site is going to devalue with time. With a car, you can extend its life with regular oil changes and maintenance. The same is true in a sense with your site. Investing in a proactive maintenance approach can extend your site’s life and hold that next major overhaul and investment at bay.