Launching your new website is the culmination of a lot of work put in by you, your staff and your web development partners. After months of editing content, reviewing stages of the website, populating spreadsheets with stock levels and endlessly updating product photo’s you may be tempted to sit back with a refreshing beverage and think “phew, I’m glad that’s over with.”
But – this is the just the start.
The launch of your new website is the beginning of a process of continuous investment. You should constantly be measuring your website performance to discover where you are losing sales and where you can improve the experience for the end user. There are many areas you should be looking at to keep your website up to date.
You should keep news and product releases up to date to show visitors that you are busy. Got a new member of staff? Put it on the website. Launched a new product? Put it on the website.
Keeping content fresh is key to ensuring returning visitors and keep your website up to date.
From a technical point of view you should keep abreast of updates as things change. Security exploits in everything from the operating system through to changes in end-user devices (browsers, phones etc) mean that this is a never ending task. An unpatched security vulnerability could lead to your website being hacked and there could be legal repercussions if customer’s personal data is stolen.
You should keep your website up to date with security fixes immediately an exploit is announced and fixed.
The main reasons for a security update being needed are:
Keeping your website up to date helps give you the edge over your competition. Sure, you’ve just spent thousands on your new competition-killing website and you want to sit back and recoup the benefits but it won’t be long before your competitors improve their websites. Keeping on top of design changes, social media, performance and analytics are crucial to beating off your rivals.
Customers also shop around and compare products across different sites. After price and delivery it is likely that design and ease of use become the major factors in choosing which website to buy from. Keep your website up to date with user experience tips and techniques to help beat your competition.
Changing your website regularly gives your marketing team room to be creative and push to improve sales. Maybe you have a new product you want to promote, a competition you want to run or a conference coming up Providing the marketing team tools to put this information on the website quickly should help improve sales.
It also works the other way too. If there is functionality on your website that simply hasn’t worked out or is no longer relevant you should remove it. If you are leveraging social media to keep your customers updated and you no longer send an email newsletter, you should remove the ‘sign up to our mailing list’ feature.
The look and feel of your website is one of the most important aspects that affects sales. If your site looks old and dated, visitors will leave. Your brand is important and your website should reflect this in its design.
The history of web design is one of constant change. The first web pages were simple text affairs with links to other pages. Over time technology changes to allow web developers and designers to work together to implement images, animation and sound.
Design evolves too. It wasn’t all that long ago the trend was for layouts with curved corners, background gradients and ‘gel’ buttons. Now you’ll find the top websites adopting a flatter, square look and feel. Responsive web design has become a requirement, something that wasn’t even around a few years ago.
Take a look at the image below. You can see that the design of the site has changed dramatically over time.
You should consider re-designing your website design every couple of years to keep it fresh and up to date.
The majority of websites are written using a collection of different software. After the operating system and server software comes the programming language your website is written in. There are a number of these, all with their strengths and weaknesses, but each one needs updating from time to time.
At iWeb, our language of choice is PHP and this is frequently updated with security fixes, performance improvements and better functionality. Occasionally older functionality is removed and if your website is using this, your site won’t run on newer versions. Additionally, the operating system has a lifespan and when a newer version is updated the PHP version will usually jump, requiring changes to website code.
Usually the core of the site will be developed using a ‘framework’ which is a collection of libraries that work together in a coherent way to help the developer. Over time these frameworks are updated with security fixes and other changes. Code is changed to make things work better or faster, and so the framework will need updating on your website too.
Your website might include functionality from third party sources. Many websites include Facebook’s functionality to ‘like this page. Facebook provide libraries to help developers implement these features but over time they change their code, which means that you need to upgrade your site to keep up with these changes.
The same applies to payment vendors. As more and more attention is paid to online payment security, payment vendors change their implementations, deprecating old versions and introducing changes to new ones. Again, you should keep your website up to date with the latest version or risk losing the ability to take payments.
Website development as a whole changes very rapidly and there are often better ways of achieving something than there was a year ago. Developers love making things better and so giving them an opportunity to improve their code will result in a better website for them to work on – and make for happier developers!
The reasons for code changes are:
It’s not just the server and code side of the internet experience that is changing. The way people consume the digital world is constantly evolving. Fifteen years ago websites were developed to work on desktop computers with monitors capable of a screen size of 800 pixels by 600 pixels. Ten years ago this was 1280px by 1024px. Today I’m working on a screen with a resolution of 1920 px by 1200 px – and there are much bigger screens out there.
Then came the smartphone ‘revolution’ which took consumers away from the desktop/laptop and provided them with the ability to browse and shop anywhere. There are thousands of different phones and tablets each with different screen resolutions and capabilities. You should keep your website up to date to work on as many of these as possible.
Website development techniques have changed during this period. Initially the strategy was to provide a separate website to mobile devices and desktop devices. This was difficult to manage and a better solution was developed – responsive web design.
A responsive website is essentially one page that will display differently on different screen sizes. If you view this website on a desktop computer and then on a phone you will see that it responds differently. Larger screens allow for more information but your website should also work on every size device.
If your website isn’t responsive you can lose sales very quickly. What would you prefer – having to zoom into a tiny website to see the product you’re interested in, scroll to find the ‘add to cart’ button, zoom again and then click; or simply reading and clicking on a button that looks great on your phone?
Another key reason for continuously keeping your website updated is for search engin optimisation (SEO). The top search engines are regularly updating their algorithms and changing the requirements for high ranking on their results pages. A few years ago Google ranked pages based on the number of links to it from other websites. This resulted in ‘link farming’ – paid services that would link to your website from their pool of sites. Many of these sites would be unrelated to the content on your site.
Google then changed their algorithm to focus on the quality of the content on your website. Higher scoring was attributed to good copy, relevant titles and quality keywords. If your website relied upon the link farming technique to score highly and you haven’t updated since, you’ll find your ranking will have dropped and sales will have fallen badly.
Another change implemented by Google recently is a ranking for sites that use responsive web design. If you don’t keep your website up to date to work on mobile devices you’ll start dropping off the search results.
One area you should always pay attention to is the legal requirements of selling online. The law is constantly changing and evolving, and you are required to conform to these changes or face legal action.
For example, the European Union mandated that from May 2011 all websites in the EU should request explicit permission from the visitor to store ‘cookies’ on their computers. If your website doesn’t comply you risk action from the Information Commisioner’s Office (in the UK).
Other legal areas that could have implications for your website are: