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 articles that say things like “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, it is obviously in my best interest to encourage clients to redo their site often. However, I believe websites should be overhauled as infrequently as possible. Rather than give a set number of years or months as the “correct” answer, I ask each client a series of 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 & Content Needs” and “Functionality Needs.” To help get you thinking about your own firm’s website update needs, try answering these questions below:
Design & Content Needs
- 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, hairstyle, or kitchen décor. Similarly, website design trends evolve rapidly and respond to changes in the way we use the web (such as mobile visitation) as well as aesthetic preferences. For example, homepage “sliders” were all the rage for many years, but now large background videos or single images with bold messages have gained in popularity.
- 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. 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. And your site must be as easy to use on a phone as it is on a large monitor.
- 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, on a project page of an architecture site, visitors should be offered thumbnails of other projects similar to the one they are currently viewing, as well as people associated with that project. On law firm attorney bio pages, visitors should be encouraged to click on the person’s related practice areas and news posts.
- Is your Content Management System (CMS) easy to use?
Making updates to the text and photos on your website should be something you can do yourself, easily, on a regular 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 website update.
- How easy is it to search and sort your site?
Similar to the navigation question above, 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, role, specialty, industry, office location, etc.
- Does your website need to integrate with other technology?
Websites are the hub of all marketing for most professional service firms today and often need to “talk” with other applications. For example, when people fill out a form on your website, that data should be captured and (ideally) integrated with the firm’s CRM or email marketing tool. Similarly, event registration and job applications should be available on your website and seamlessly integrate with any third-party tools you use.
- Is your website accessible to people with disabilities?
Introduced in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in all areas of public life. More recently, private companies have been sued because their website was not easily navigable by people with disabilities. Although there is no definitive web accessibility standard provided by the government at this time, web designers should refer to WCAG guidelines when designing and building websites so everyone can access them. It is something we should all strive to do.
If a site is designed and built well, I generally advocate for making small, regular updates to add features and functionalities incrementally to extend the lifecycle for many years. Your website is often the first impression a potential new prospect has of your firm, so consider all of the questions above carefully when deciding on the right time for a website redesign.