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Think back to your company’s first website — or one of your first, at least. It was probably built in the mid-90s, and if you’re lucky, redone after Y2K. It was top of the line when it hit the internet, and your webmaster had it under their control. It was hardcoded in programming languages you don’t understand, featured beautiful deep gradients, and probably was fixed to a very appropriate width of 800 pixels. It looked familiar to those of us that spent hoouuurrrrssss customizing our MySpace page.
Now jump ahead to 2008 or 2010. That original site is BEYOND outdated and needs a redesign, so you set out to start fresh. You hire a web designer and developer, scrap the old site, and build something new from the ground up. But now… you have more control of the content with a newfangled content management system, so anyone can edit content and add a new post to the blog — whoopee!
Follow me once more to 2018. You have years of piled-up content, half of your business isn’t reflected in the navigation menu, and that old site isn’t even close to being ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design). You then ask yourself, “Is it still relevant? Who knows! Guess it’s time to rebuild.” But where do you even start? With 10 years of blogs, countless new pages, and links across the internet, that rebuild starts to feel more daunting than ever. It’s going to have upfront costs, months of production, a team of 5–10 people (at least), and way more hours than your organization can afford to allocate to this “not everyday” project.
BUT, you persevere and launch a beautiful new website. It’s on the latest Content Management System (CMS), uses the very best practices, takes Google’s updated algorithm into account, and even meets some accessibility standards. Nice work! Now everyone can get back to their day jobs. Aaaaannnnddddd it was 100% up to date as of six months ago when you approved the content and design file. Womp womp 🙁
Time travel over. It’s 2022. That 2018 CMS is still okay, but now it’s been surpassed by the next version and, oh wait, your plugins need updating, too. Plus, you’ve expanded into a new line of business, started using a Client Relationship Manager (CRM), and you have a better handle on your audience. Now that the website doesn’t integrate with your business systems, the sales team doesn’t really see the point in spending time or money to promote it. Your team can’t remember the last time they published a blog, and it’s like pulling teeth to get someone to write one. So that great website… Not so great anymore.
Back to the original question.
You used to be able to get away with a new site every 5–8 years. There would be a few years where it felt tired, but it took that long for whoever worked on the site to either quit, get desperate, or forget the experience enough to want to do it again.
We have a better idea. Do it once, then never stop. Seriously. We want your next new website to be the last new website you ever need.
Warning — analogy incoming. What happens when you decide to add to your growing family? Do you burn your house down, along with all the stuff you’ve filled it with? Of course not. That would lead to an insane amount of paperwork, not to mention the expense. So, you clean up the clutter, make a donation pile, convert the office to a bedroom, paint the walls, maybe even add on a few rooms or knock down some walls. Don’t like the location? You’ll move. Strategically. Box everything up nicely, load it in a truck, and unload it in your new spot. But you’re not starting over.
A website can be the same. When you intentionally build a website to work with your team and grow with you, then you make a plan to maintain and update it, managing a website becomes easy. Back to the house. If you move in, then never clean it, maintain it, or prep it for bad weather, that house won’t be nice for very long.
Rather than tearing it down and rebuilding it every five years, you check in every month. You reassess every year and do small remodeling projects as you need. You get a maintenance plan, craft a strategy, and find a partner that can help execute your ideas. Working with a strategic partner means the website will be someone’s top priority, even though it may not be yours. Make sure they understand your business and can help guide you in navigating internal dynamics.
New websites are expensive. There is no way around it. Sometimes they might seem cheap, but typically, a low sticker price means you’ll pay for it in other ways.
Creating a solid, future-proof website takes a village. On the agency side, you need user experience pros, a digital strategist, a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant, copywriters, designers, project managers, and developers. Internally, you’ll need bandwidth and hours from a project manager or someone who can coordinate your team and subject matter experts. You’ll need buy-in from executives, business development, sales and marketing, and possibly the whole team. That’s a lot of time. And it’s worth it… but not if that thing you’re creating will be outdated in three years.
The takeaway? Do it once. Do it right. Then put the right people on the job to monitor, update, and improve it as time goes on.
1. Use a CMS that is easy for you and your team to update.
2. Choose your team wisely. Whether you build from scratch or hire a partner with an existing and experienced team, collaboration is key.
3. Err on the side of flexibility. Does that mean there can’t be custom-branded elements? Absolutely not. It just means choose wisely.
4. Invest in the custom features with the best return on investment (ROI)… usually tied to pages where you expect more traffic, areas of the site related to lead generation, or other important user experiences that tie into your business goals and objectives.
5. Make it lovable. It’s hard to get a team behind a website they don’t like. Requests relating to what the website should include can seem daunting, expensive, and be a major time suck. Identify the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to launch with features that you LOVE and meet your business needs. MVP doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. It means all your ideas don’t have to go live all at once. Plan them out, build on those ideas, and challenge them to make sure it resonates with your audience. Better yet, I recently heard the term “minimum loveable product.” Maybe we start calling it that. MLP vs MVP — you decide.
6. If something is broken, fix it. Bugs are normal. The trick is to find them, communicate when necessary, and fix them. Your audience will understand and appreciate the attention. Nothing breaks trust like broken links or expected functionality that doesn’t work.
7. If it isn’t broken, analyze, test, and repeat. Report monthly on analytics, look for patterns, and A/B test your ideas. No website is perfect for every visitor. Identify any roadblocks to help get to that conversion more quickly. Ask questions, listen to your audience, and lean on the data to help solve the problems you’re having.
8. Make updating the website part of the business process. New product coming out? Business expanding into another region? Shifting the way you talk to sales leads? It all matters. Write it down, bring your web partners in on the plan to estimate time and cost, build a product timeline, then share it with your organization. Letting everyone see the larger picture helps your team march in the same direction and builds upon your brand’s journey.
9. Make a plan for content and make sure it’s meaningful for your audience. Call it content marketing, blogs, newsletters, resources, or something else. Fresh content helps with SEO, and gives users a reason to come back. Figure out what to publish and when to do it, then do it regularly. Build a realistic timeline with the team you have and stick to it. You can even use a content partner to augment your team or supplement your content. Make sure the website continues to be an effective front door for people to visit whether they’re new to your brand or not.
10. Drive traffic to the site. Keep an eye on organic SEO and optimize every year. Be sure you’re using the right terminology to attract the right searchers, and stay relevant with search engines each time they update their algorithms. Invest in paid advertising! This may look like an expense to most businesses, but done right, you can see exponential growth by being present where your audience is most likely to be. Without it, it’s like having a business with no sign to tell people you exist. Connect other marketing efforts with your site or specific campaign landing pages. Make your site the main hub for all of your marketing efforts. As metrics improve and you start to see ROI, it’s easier and easier for your team and stakeholders to understand the value of investing in the website.
That’s it. Well, that’s a lot. But it’s very manageable with a partner that handles these kinds of tasks every day — someone like Stoltz! Our goal is to make every website as future-proof as possible and work with you to make it work for your actual team, not your rose-colored glasses team. Because if it doesn’t work, it’s not going to be a great website for very long.
Still feel like this is a daunting task to take on? Well, we have the right program for you! Check out our CMO in a Box initiative and see how we can be your team’s extension on your next web project.
by Mitch Kuhn – June 10, 2022