We’ve all been there. You go to your website, and you just get this “meh” sort of feeling. It might not be obvious why, but inevitably the words “My website sucks” come up. Quickly following this is a desire to abandon the old website and start fresh on a new one. New platform, new code, new design — pick any of them. You might have even gone through this cycle multiple times. Even we went through this recently. Let’s take a look at why this happens, and whether you really need to set fire to the entire thing, or there’s something else happening.
This is probably one of the most common reasons we’ll hear for someone saying their website sucks. They’ll say “it looks like a website from [insert year here], it needs to look new”. Usually, they’re not wrong, but it’s easy to turn this into a repeating cycle where your website gets this complete redesign every year or so. Which is funny if you think about it. Your website is supposed to be a reflection or extension of your brand. Does your brand change every year or two? If not, why does your website?
The usual culprit comes down to design fads or trends. Some design fad comes along, whether it’s glossy buttons, image carousels, or parallax sliders that are eye catching and become the next “my website needs one to look modern” sort of element. There’s a rush to implement this new element which looks modern until the next element comes along…. and the process begins again. So what’s the alternative? Just having a website that looks old?
Not quite. If your site does look like a generic site from 5 years ago, it probably does need some design help. Instead of starting with what’s the coolest new web design trend though, start by breaking out your brand guide (what, you don’t have a brand guide?? We can help with that). What do your printed materials use as far as design elements? Start there so your website isn’t a snowflake within your brand, but becomes an extension of it. Focus on the content of the site and what’s the best way to present that content. Every time you add something to the design, ask yourself “what’s the point?” If it’s “it’s super cool”, you probably don’t need it. As a designer and developer, it pains me to say it, but having the slickest most bad-ass interactive wabsite doesn’t mean it’s the best website for you. Take a look at a website like Craigslist. The design flat out sucks. It’s boring, it’s ugly, and it doesn’t look like it’s been updated since the day it came out. But you know what? That website kills it. It’s easy to use, easy to navigate, and always has fresh content. Content is king (more on that below).
Another common reason people will have is that one of their clients or customers tries to use their website on a phone or tablet, and give up because it’s such a bad experience. No sweat, it’s not intentional. It just means your website is pretty old (the original iPhone came out in 2007). The nice thing here is that as long as your design is solid and you haven’t been following those design fads, this one is actually fairly straightforward to tackle. It’s something we do all the time.
In short, this requires retrofitting your site for responsive design. What this means is that your old site was probably made to viewed on a desktop compute that’s roughly 1024 pixels wide. What happens is that the basics of that design are kept because although it might not seem like it, people still use desktop computers to view the web. Crazy huh? But in addition, we add code to your website that, based on the screen size of the device that’s viewing it, it’ll take the content that’s already on the page, and rearrange it to make it easier to view on that device. As a common example, if your website has a main content area and a sidebar when viewed on a desktop, on a phone it’d probably be collapsed down so the main content would be the full width of the screen on top of the sidebar, which would also be the full width of the screen. This is the most basic example. It might hide certain content, show other peoples of content, collapse it down to an off screen menu, etc. It might also go the other direction and when viewed on really big screens, more content might be shown. Pretty cool huh? And in this retro fitting, you can keep that original desktop design (depending on how good it was) and just add the pieces you need. One codebase that serves all sorts of devices without necessarily having to do a huge complete rebuild.
We’ve seen a lot of this when working with our clients, though as time goes on, we’re seeing it less and less. Websites that fall into this category tend to be older websites where everything is hard coded into the site. Practically, this usually means if you want to change something, you’re either picking up the phone and calling a web developer, or having to write an email. Regardless, you have to compile a list of the changes you want, get them to someone that knows code, and then when they’re able to get around to it, they make the changes and push out the new code. Hopefully you guys communicated correctly otherwise you may have to repeat this a few times. Another situation might be that you have the ability to update your site, but it’s so difficult to use, a programmer has to do it regardless.
Bleh! The tools are out there to allow you to update your own website. The solution here truly does involve new code, though you can keep the same look of your site if you wish. Basically, someone (like us), would go ahead and take the look and feel of your site, and rebuild it onto a content management system (CMS). There’s a ton of them out there, but some of the more popular one’s you might have run across would be WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. Regardless of the platform, your site is built on top of one of these, which allows you (or anyone else you want to have access) to log into the website and access special pages where you can edit pages, posts, and other content using a WYSIWYG editor, similar to whatever desktop writing app you might be familiar with without needing to know any code. Pretty cool, huh?
You can even take it further than that. Let’s say you run a muffin shop and you’d like to be able to set the hours your business is open, and have it automatically tell someone whether or not your muffin shop is open this second? Or your have a number of stores and you’d like to be able to edit a location so all you have to do it fill in their phone number, address, and other information, and it’s all formatted for you anywhere that location might appear on the site? This is what separates people who simply download a theme and change a couple settings to build your website, and having someone build a custom theme that’s tailored to what your website needs. This level of custom theme development is what we do here at Figoli Quinn & Associates. It takes a little longer and is a little more involved than just grabbing a theme and tweaking some colors, but it makes the editing process easy and straightforward, so you’ll actually go in and edit the content on your site. Which brings us to the next point…
Even when a website is on a fantastic easy to use and customized CMS, it’s amazing how quickly the content can become stale. This is something we’ve struggled with, and continue to struggle with, though we’re trying to get better. And while it’s easy to try to blame it still on technology or some tool, sadly, it’s just a combination of either being too lazy to update content, or not creating the time to do so. Like many others, we started out with the good intention of “let’s have a blog and share our ideas with the world!”. And low and behold, after a couple weeks of continuing to sit down at a blank screen trying to come up with content, in our case we’d come to the realization that:
1. It’s hard to write content about yourself
2. I could either sit here and write content, or do design or development work that actually gets us paid
And with that justification, any motivation to update content goes out the door. With us we’ll also post work we’re doing for our clients along with blog posts, but the story is the same either way. Having to make time to do something that doesn’t help the bottom line right away when we have other work to do. It’s so easy to fall into “what’s the point?”
The point, at least for us, comes in two main areas. One of the easiest and most tangible ones is Search Engine Optimization. We’re not talking the slicked back hair guy trying to sell you a $2000 a month retainer to populate your website with shady back links. We’re talking the down to earth “content is king” sort of organic SEO. The more you put on the web and the more you update that, the more search engines think you might actually have something useful to talk about.
For the longest time, our web search rankings have sucked or just been non-existent. We didn’t work on it, didn’t updated our content, and didn’t think about how people might be looking for us when writing content. As a result, we’d never come up in searches. About a month ago we updated our website. We didn’t do a big redesign. Instead, we structured our content so it was easier to navigate and had a clear hierarchy, we added more content, and we started being a little more aware of how people might try to find us. After about a month, this miraculous thing happened. We found out that when we actually started putting a little effort into our website, we started to show up in Google, even breaking the top 10 for some of our keywords.
We’re still pretty new to this new leaf of ours so we can’t claim too much success, but it’s pretty motivating to see this return so quickly. Unfortunately, it’s not something we can think of as a complete project and move on to something else, which is something that applies to any website. Your website content isn’t just a project to complete, it’s that awful ongoing project that never ends. So what are some good ways to try to stay on top of this?
Start an editorial calendar
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or use any fancy tools. At a bare minimum, it’s literally “I will hold myself accountable to write X amount of blog posts every X days / weeks / etc”. Or whatever the content might be for your website. Set a reminder, write it on a calendar… whatever helps you remember. But stick to something at a regular interval, probably no less than one piece of content every other week.
Start with a title
This is something I’ve been doing lately, and has probably been the biggest help so far. Normally, I’d find myself sitting down going “I need to write something, brain please come up with a topic”, and it would just be a waste of time and I’d struggle. I’m not a writer, and forcing that sort of creativity just isn’t in my toolbox at the moment. So instead what I’ll do is if I have a moment of “Hey, that might be good to write about”, I’ll open up WordPress, start a new post, and only fill out the title with that thought. That’s it, just the title, and I’ll save it as a draft post, and go back to whatever I was doing. When I feel more inclined to write more, I’ll good back to that draft, and maybe add an outline, then maybe go back later and start filling out the text. At any one point though I may have 3-6 draft posts that have only a title / topic, but they’re thoughts that are now written down that I’ll come back to later. It works for me, maybe it’ll work for you.
If you’re in one of these camps, feel free to contact us. We’ll work with you to figure out what’s causing a problem with your site. Maybe it’s your design. Maybe it’s the lack of a CMS. Maybe you just need someone to remind you to update content (or write it for you). Whatever the case, we’ll help you with what you need without any extra bullshit attached.
That’s a good sign you need to talk with us.