A rant is no way to kick off a new guest blog, so I’ll turn off caps lock—for now, anyway.
Indeed, as I write the first of many blogs that I’ll be contributing to this space, I’ll try to keep my prosaic indignation to a minimum. The real reason is that our target audience needs more than a digital dressing-down. What they need is help understanding that their website is also their digital storefront, and needs to be treated as such.
A shockingly neglectful trend across some organizations is to treat that storefront as an afterthought, allowing it to become aesthetically outdated—many treat the concept of a redesign as a grudging, once-a-decade necessity—invisible to search engines and utterly devoid of relevant updates. I could go on about the lack of a coherent and complementary social media or content strategy, but that might be overkill.
A challenge for organizations great and small
So, let me be clear. In the digital age, a robust, well-maintained website found easily by leading search engines is a must-have aspect of doing business. The fact that there are still some businesses—albeit small ones—that exist without a website is no less shocking. They, thankfully, occupy only a tiny minority.
But this isn’t a small-business problem, or one limited to B2C- or B2B-focused companies. Even many large organizations serving customers across the spectrum neglect their websites. In fact, they’re often the worst offenders. The reason is that when the time arrives to redesign their website(s), many become bogged down in bureaucracy and decision-making by committee. They watch helplessly as otherwise great designs become watered down to produce benign and barely-navigable online experiences that only serve to frustrate visitors.
In response, many abandon their attempts at digital rejuvenation or make tiny, ad hoc changes that do little or nothing to reinforce the strength of their brand.
A better way
Consider this a call to action, or maybe even an intervention.
If your organization has become handcuffed by its digital inertia, step back and don’t panic. There is a better way forward. It involves treating your website as a core component of your business and a driver of both brand perception and revenue. This is your digital storefront and, if you’re a B2B or online-only business with no brick-and-mortar presence, it’s probably you’re only point of contact with your target market.
That’s why it’s imperative that you breathe new life into your outdated website. Start by taking the time to review your entire marketing-communications infrastructure, from your company’s core value propositions and differentiators, to branding and communications strategy. Your website is the vehicle to deliver all of this messaging and makes the argument that yours is a great organization worthy of your target market’s business. Engaging in a full re-design is pointless until you’ve covered many of these fundamental points.
Get ready to redesign on a regular basis
Website design is fluid. Prevailing trends shift constantly, which means your website will need to be redesigned every two to three years. Rest assured this isn’t some self-serving pitch from a design firm to build a steady pipeline of business—it’s merely the reality of doing business in a digital world.
We’ll investigate design trends in detail in future posts, but it’s important to note that the redesign process should be handled by a small committee composed of key marketing or operations people in your company that reports directly into one or two senior managers. You may be ready to call out a seeming contradiction here: Didn’t he just say that design-by-committee was a recipe for web design disaster? Yes, especially in cases where that committee dilutes the essence of an otherwise worthwhile endeavour by clinging to outdated approaches or yesteryear’s design principles. But in the right situation, it can work.
Your committee will likely be comprised of a small handful of marketing or operations people who will analyze the design trends I mentioned above, as well as the company’s digital requirements—asking questions about whether the business has grown to the point where it needs a more robust online retailing functionality, for example, or whether it requires a social media presence to keep pace with competitors. In most cases, the committee will then select a web design firm to develop new concepts to present to management, who will make the final decision before the rebuild gets underway.
On a side note, redesigns cost money, so allocating budget on a regularly scheduled basis will help to maintain this process and ensure that your brand isn’t left in the digital dust.
Ask yourself: Would I like to navigate this website?
If we agree that form follows function, then a revenue-driving website needs to be navigable. If you can’t find information on your website, how can you expect your target audience to do the same?
This is where it pays to hire a design firm with expertise in user experience (UX) design, especially when it comes to mobile devices. This is especially important at a time when at least half (or possibly most) visitors will access your website using a mobile phone or tablet. Make no mistake—UX should be one of the biggest considerations during the redesign process.
Another key point that we’ll review in detail in a subsequent blog (as you can tell, our online conversation is going to continue for a while!) is to integrate a user-friendly, open-source content-management system such as WordPress into the redesign. This will allow you to make content updates on a regular basis without incurring ongoing development costs.
Now… update content on a regular basis
The last point I want to cover is the importance of updating your website on a regular basis. That means developing an ongoing blog strategy, posting white papers, updating key messaging, posting to relevant social media sites—whatever content makes sense for your business.
There are many reasons for creating and posting content on an ongoing basis, of course, ranging from search engine optimization—Google’s algorithm uses the relevance and frequency of content updates to rank websites, among many, many other criteria—to using it to turn your website into a strong sales platform or a leading thought leadership hub, depending on the nature of the business.
Not sure what to write (blog), record (podcast) or shoot (video)? If you own a business or manage some part of it, you should have something interesting to say about your industry, developments within your company, the challenges and opportunities you face running a fast-growing organization—the list goes on. This content should be timely, relevant, interesting and informative. It should engage your audience and make them think: This person/company knows what they’re doing and I need to buy their products or services.
A new way of thinking
Treating your website like it’s a core part of your business may involve a change of philosophy at the management level. That revised approach will likely take time to take root, but remember: the longer your organization delays in its embrace of this new way of thinking, the greater the risk of being overtaken by online competitors (assuming they haven’t already). DON’T LET IT HAPPEN TO YOU!
(Sigh) Looks like I broke my all-caps promise. Until next time.