In the early days of the internet it was common for businesses to have relatively static websites. Simply having a presence that told people what you did and how to get in touch with you was enough, and the online realms of commerce and community hadn’t merged yet.
Well, those days are over! Because technology and consumer behavior are shifting so rapidly now, businesses must deal with the challenge of keeping up. Successful websites now are those that are truly useful to the visitors. They offer a reason to keep coming back. If visitors to your website don’t see anything new after a few visits they may not return.
So how do you know if it’s time to update your site? That’s the easy part. Depending on what kind of business you do, if you haven’t made some changes within the last day to the last week, it’s time to update. The more difficult questions are how much should we update, and how? It could be as simple as adding a few keywords to some web copy, or as intensive as designing a new site from the ground up and integrating it with your database. I divide updates up into three categories: content, layout, and overhaul.
All websites should be updated at least weekly. This is fine for say, a local zip code company. Many sites however, are updated several times an hour based on the type of relationship they’ve created with their customers. Updating more frequently means more work, but when done right it can really pay off. It may be tough to come up with new content, especially for small and medium sized local businesses, so here are a few suggestions:
• Promotions- Put up a printable coupon or a discount code, or just announce a sale that they can’t find out about anywhere else.
• Testimonials – A picture and experience from a real, live satisfied customer is a great thing to post. Try adding one a week. You can even link to third party sites that have positive reviews about your business.
• Informational articles – You’re probably an expert in your business and have valuable information to share. If you’re the local landscaping company, try posting a few how-to gardening articles. You can even offer to show your customers how to do it the next time you come by.
If your site works but it’s just ugly, you need a layout update. This involves changing the general look and feel of your site. If your website is template-based you may be able to do this yourself, but you don’t want to make it look too different because you could confuse people. There needs to be some consistency between old and new. A professional graphic or web designer will know how to give your site the best look, even if they simply recommend an appropriate template for you.
At some point, if your business is successful, you will outgrow your first website. You may need to add eCommerce functions or scale up to handle more traffic, or move your hosting in house. Overhauls are heavy on the technical, content, and design updates and require significant resources to be done properly. They often coincide with complete rebranding events for the whole company. When you reach this point, you can’t afford for your site to look unprofessional, outdated, or cookie cutter.
Updating and SEO
Occasionally people worry that updating their sites will hurt their search engine positions, however when done right, updates have a positive effect on your Google rankings. The algorithms search engines use are designed to put the most useful sites at the top, so better content means better rankings. If you already enjoy a good ranking, you can hold onto it by ensuring that you maintain the proper keyword density in any new copy and using redirects that seamlessly pass visitors through your old page addresses to any new pages you have created.
Finally, I recommend that you start using a website analytics package. They track useful statistics about your site like how many visitors at what times and from what regions. For most small and medium sized businesses, Google Analytics is the best option because it’s free and provides most of the data you’ll need. Website analytics can be a powerful tool for understanding what’s working for you and what needs to be updated.