At Clockwork, we get asked the question “How often should we update our firm’s website?” by clients and prospects all the time. I have read several articles that say “studies show websites should be updated every three years.” But these studies never seem to define the kinds of websites that were analyzed or the types of “updates” that were made.
As the owner of a firm that designs and builds websites regularly, it is obviously in my best interest to encourage clients to change their site often. However, I take a much more pragmatic approach to answering this question. Rather than give a set number of years or months as the “correct” answer, I ask each client a series of Website Update Questions as we walk through their existing site together. Based on the answers, I can determine what changes, if any, need to be made.
I break my Website Update Questions into two categories, “Design Needs” and “Functionality Needs.” To help get you thinking about your own firm’s website update needs, try answering these questions below:
- Is your website mobile-friendly?
If your website can’t be viewed and navigated easily from mobile devices, you should definitely consider an update. Although you do not necessarily have to completely change the look of your current site to add responsive design, some design and major programming changes are usually required.
- Is the design of your website “on-brand”?
Does the overall look of your site match your other marketing materials? If your firm does not have defined brand standards, chances are unlikely that your website’s colors, fonts, messaging, photos and graphics are consistent with your printed or other online marketing. I have seen many instances where the logo used on the website is different than the logo printed on business cards and letterhead, for example.
- Is the overall appearance of your website looking dated?
Most people instinctively know when something looks out-of-style… like an older model car, a vintage necktie, or a pair of “mom jeans,” there’s something about them that triggers us to think “dated.” Laptops have become thinner and lighter over recent years, so people are buying larger screen laptops than they did not long ago. Thus, the width of websites has increased significantly over the past several years. If your website has a narrow grid, it immediately sends a “dated” trigger to visitors. Other triggers include small font sizes, lots of bevels and 3D-style graphics, dark backgrounds with white text, excessive text, and cluttered layouts (to name a few).
- Is your website difficult to navigate?
If visitors have a hard time finding information on your website, they are far more likely to bounce to another site. Clear, intuitive navigation is a must-have in today’s web design. As a general rule of thumb, if visitors can’t find what they are looking for in one or two clicks, you need to rethink your navigation and site structure.
- Does your site include a blog or news section?
We encourage our clients to add a blog to their site as a means of keeping content fresh. Blogs allow for more flexibility than traditional news sections, in that you can categorize content more easily. Categories can inspire fun, short post-types, like “Around the Office,” or much longer thought-leadership articles, such as “Client Alerts,” etc.
- Are cross-links prevalent on your site?
E-commerce websites use cross-links to encourage add-on sales (“Customers who viewed this item also viewed…”). When we design professional service firm websites, we use similar techniques to engage visitors and encourage them to continue exploring the website. For example, in the portfolio section of the Connolly Brothers Construction website, the viewer is offered “Other Projects” within the category they are currently viewing (in this case, “Corporate” examples). On bio pages of the Anderson Kreiger law firm website, the sidebars offers blue links to the person’s related practice areas, case studies, news stories, blog posts, and community involvement. On the Hobbs Brook Management website, property pages cross-link with specific Amenities associated with that property (in this case, Dining, Catering, Fitness, etc.)
- Is your Content Management System (CMS) easy to use?
When we’re asked about the correct frequency of updating websites, the first thing I clarify is what’s meant by “updating.” As a marketer, making updates to the text and photos on your website should be something you can do yourself, easily, on a daily (or at absolute minimum, monthly) basis. Almost all content on your website should be editable. In addition to editing text/photos on existing pages, you should be able to add and delete entire pages of your site. If you have difficulty making changes, chances are your CMS is outdated and it’s definitely time for a real website update. Keep in mind that you do not have to redesign your site to add a CMS, but it is often a good time to do so.
- Does your site look different or break on various browsers?
It’s always a good idea to check out how your website looks on different computers (Macs as well as PCs) and on different browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari). You may be unpleasantly surprised by what you see (or don’t see).
- Does your site use Flash or other antiquated technology?
Flash animation was very popular several years ago, but Apple no longer supports Flash on iPhones and iPads. So, if the lovely slideshow on your website’s home page looks like this:
- How easy is it to search and sort your site?
Finding information quickly is a must-have on today’s websites. If your site does not include a site-wide search field, definitely add one. Additionally, consider what content your visitors are most often looking for, and build specialized search and sorting functionality to suit their needs. For example, for A/E/C firms with robust portfolio sections, allow searching/sorting by project type and/or industry type, so visitors can drill-down to exactly what they are interested in seeing. For law, accounting, and financial firms, allow visitors to find advisors by name, specialty, industry, office location, thumbnail portrait, etc.
Of all the questions listed above, “mobile-friendliness” has recently become the most common reason for updating websites. Our professional service firm clients’ website analytics show rates in the 20%-30% range for mobile visititation. That means 2 or 3 visitors out of 10 are coming to your site from a mobile device. And these percentages are rising constantly.
Your website is often the first impression a potential new prospect has of your firm, so consider all of the reasons above carefully when deciding the right time for a new site.
Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, February 9, 2015.