Remember when you bought your website 3-5 years ago? You probably paid $500, $1000, or even $1500 for it, and then you got to sit back and let it do its thing.
Unfortunately, this ‘set it and forget it’ approach doesn’t work anymore, at least if you want your website to prosper online. Website standards are much higher, and they’re increasing all the time. Older websites aren’t any competition for up-to-date ones, and websites that are just a few years old are already out of sync with today’s standards.
Today, there are many factors to consider when building or redesigning a website. Anyone can create a website quickly using tools like Squarespace or Wix, and normally these do-it-yourself websites work fine as temporary solutions or to test ideas. But, in the long term, basic websites need to be upgraded to utilize the current best website practices. Basic websites just aren’t good at gathering traffic or generating leads, and that’s what a website’s function should be: getting found by new prospects and converting them into customers. Your website should be your greatest marketing tool.
So, what are the best practices you need for a successful website? There are SEVEN overall factors to consider:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Though we separated these topics for organization’s sake, they all go hand in hand and lead into one another.
Your website’s design has a big job to do. It needs to showcase your brand and be catered specifically to your target audience. Poorly designed websites may look great, but that doesn’t matter if they’re not user-friendly enough for your audience. If users become frustrated with your website’s design, chances are that they’ll never come back.
This is why we urge you to research your options during the planning phase, before going with a website company who doesn’t fully know what they’re doing. Watch out for companies that have a different specialty than website development, like online marketing. Online marketing is important, but it won’t work if you don’t have a fully functional website first.
Your website’s design is also a determining factor of your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or getting found by new people. Again, a website may look great, but if it’s lacking the correct structural components like metadata and necessary redirects, then it’s going to be ranked lower by search engines and subsequently harder for people to find.
Finally, every website must have a mobile-friendly design, otherwise referred to as a responsive design. If your website doesn’t change it’s structure when adapting to smaller screens, users have difficulty using it on their phones and tablets. Responsive design is now expected by mobile users, and even Google stated that they’ll be prioritizing websites with a positive mobile experience in their 2017 rankings.
Online threats have certainly increased in quantity and complexity over time, and so has the security needed to combat them.
One of the biggest online threats today is botnets. A botnet is a group of computers that are infected with malicious software and networked together without the owners’ knowledge. Botnets typically scan the web and automatically assess websites for any vulnerabilities. If they’re found, the botnet takes over the vulnerable website, quick as a flash, and does whatever it wants with it from there. This can range from adding the website to the botnet to make it bigger, crashing the website, putting up profanity, injecting ransomware into the website’s code, or anything the hacker pleases.
At the bare minimum, your website should have an SSL certificate (HTTPS) so that your traffic is encrypted and your users are better protected. Search engines also prefer websites with SSL certificates, and they’ll rank them higher. Additional recommendations include having an active website firewall and routinely scanning your website and hosting platform for vulnerabilities.
Older websites tend to be less complex and dynamic than modern ones, and sometimes they’re only comprised of static HTML files. Static HTML websites don’t make sense in today’s environment, as they can only be edited by professional developers and sometimes only by the original developer. Most businesses today prefer using content management systems (CMS’s), as these provide website owners with the flexibility to edit and maintain their own content. We recommend using a CMS, specifically Drupal, for its high level of security. Drupal has a dedicated security team that consistently comes out with updates to better protect your website against new threats.
Website maintenance means to make regular security updates and new feature updates. Older websites typically aren’t updated consistently; that’s a large part of what makes them so unreliable.
Applying all available security updates and patches for your website’s software, plug-ins, and modules is vital to keep it secure and working correctly. Applying security updates consistently decreases your chances of being hacked by the ever-growing mass of internet threats out there. If your website is hacked then it will cease to function correctly, and it could take days, weeks, or even months to get it working again.
A new feature update is what it sounds like– it’s an update that adds new features or functionalities to the website. In some cases, it’s also considered a bug fix, which improves a functionality that wasn’t working well before. New feature updates are necessary to keep your website up to date with evolving internet trends (Growth Driven Design is also a great solution for this), and to keep every part of your website working correctly and quickly for your users.
A website’s performance refers to how fast it is and how well it holds up under various conditions, like spikes in traffic. People hate slow websites. Search engines hate slow websites. Even if they’re only waiting an extra five seconds for a page to load, it’s too long for today’s standards. People will move on to a different website and avoid coming back, and search engines will make that website harder to find.
Standard performance enhancements include optimizing your images, editing your amount of caching, fixing any bad requests, and using a Content Delivery Network. You can read about all of these enhancements in depth on our post, It’s 2017, and Slow Websites are OUT.
Finally, it’s important to prepare your website for heavy-traffic days, like special sales and announcements. To work as fast as usual while under irregular stress, your website needs access to extra resources. These resources are available from your hosting environment, described next.
Every website needs a host (an internet-capable server) just to exist on the World Wide Web. But more than that, certain types of hosting servers can have extra resources available for when your website needs them, like during traffic spikes.
To determine the level of extra resources your website needs, we recommend first having its functionalities reviewed. A website with complex eCommerce portals will often need more resources on high-traffic days than a simpler informative website. In addition, it’s important to review your levels of traffic on various days and times to have an idea of what to expect in the near future.
Once you’ve reviewed your website, we recommend doing some load testing. A load test is when you simulate a very high demand on your website and see how your system handles it. You can then make decisions on how to allocate any extra resources.
If your hosting provider doesn’t offer extra resources for your website’s performance, it may be time to think about switching plans or providers. You can read more about when you should upgrade your hosting in our previous blog post.
High-quality content is extremely important in digital marketing. It’s great for increasing your website’s SEO and traffic, and it encourages conversions. Old websites typically have a few pages outlining various company information, and that’s it. Content was viewed with that ‘set it and forget it’ mentality.
Informative content is a great foundation to start with, but its impact needs to be analyzed over time. How well is the content performing? Are people reading it? How far down the page do they read before losing interest? There are some awesome tools you can use to help answer these questions, and we go over our favorites in our post about how to gather user analytics. A/B testing is another helping method for gauging how well your content is performing. With this, you can have two versions of the same web page and see which performs better.
Besides having general web pages, we recommend having an ongoing content stream that’s updated often, like a blog or news feed. This way, you continuously attract, engage, and educate your users. You’re also providing good-quality content for search engines to index, increasing your keywords and improving your SEO. The more you positively engage with your readers, the more they may share your content across social media platforms, attracting even more people to your website.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
If you compare a website that’s five years old to a current website, their SEO rankings will be quite different. This is due to technological advances on the user end and by the search engines themselves.
Users have become more easily frustrated by bad performance and by content that isn’t interesting or easy to understand. Search engines have become smarter and more precise in their ranking systems. Google, Bing, Siri, Contona, Yahoo, and all the other search engines promote what they understand to be the best websites for their users.
The SEO bar has been raised steadily higher over the years, and it’s still being raised now. In order to be found on search engines, you must keep up with the current SEO trends and update your website often. All the topics we’ve covered in this post contribute to your website’s SEO. Providing a well-performing, secure website and publishing regular educational content is vital to being found online.
THE BIG PICTURE
Most companies today are still overlooking the big picture of what a successful website is and the importance of having one. ‘Cheap and fast’ doesn’t generate great results. Watch out for one-page websites and websites that focus on marketing-first approaches. A website needs to be good at everything to succeed.
If you go with a low-cost solution that doesn’t account for everything needed, you’ll most likely be kicking yourself six months after the website is live from lack of leads and traffic. You may end up spending a lot more than what you’d planned to rework, reconfigure, and redesign your website. Setting up a website the right way first is the most cost-effective solution with the highest ROI, and it’ll be most beneficial to your users and your company.
At Trail 9, we focus on great websites first and marketing second. Marketing is important, but it only works if you have a worthwhile product! Our website and marketing knowledge provide our clients with the best websites that fit their business needs. Let us know if you have any questions!