Is Your Website Outdated?
Most people agree that websites need to be updated over time. But how often and to what extent? Some say every 2-3 years you need a full-scale rebuild. Others might suggest a constant stream of minor updates over time, continuously iterating and improving what you already have.
Can you afford to do either of these? Why should invest the time and money, when your website is still running fine?
There are many reasons to invest in a redesign, but I think one of the best reasons for change, and the one I'm going to focus on today is user expectations–the other UX.
What was once acceptable to users is changing. This applies to so many areas–design choices, devices used, screen size, site speed, the user interface, the ease or difficulty of adding content, and many more examples. Your site could be seen as old and dated (at best) or completely unusable (at worst).
Tech doesn’t last long. Think of your smartphone. The expectations of what a smartphone should be have evolved and changed rapidly. As amazing as the first iPhone seemed when it was released, it seems dated and unusable today.
If you tried to use one, you’d find that many apps are no longer supported; the camera lacks flash, and the drive can’t hold all your data. There’s no tethering, no second camera for video chats, no push email, and no cut and paste!
All the things you’ve grown to expect from a smartphone have evolved over a few short years. The first iPhone or Android-powered phone was a great advance in technology and user experience. But it quickly became outdated.
Websites are tech too! And like smartphones, they can just as quickly turn from awesome to #fail. Think of the ways an outdated website can fail you or your users:
- Slow to load
- Not adapting to mobile devices
- Poor or dated design
- Lacking support for new media
- Not meeting accessibility requirements
- Unable to connect to popular 3rd party programs or libraries
- Hard to update
- Become vulnerable to security exploits
- Hard to read text
- Insecure logins
- Spam hitting your webforms or blog comments
- Lower search engine rankings
- Comparing unfavorably to your competitors
The list could go on and on (any suggestions?). Any viable and relevant website needs constant attention and care. The only other option is to fade into obscurity while frustrating an ever-decreasing audience.
When your audience’s expectations for user experience outpaces what your website delivers, your brand and organization suffers.
Think of all the hard-work you have done to build up user trust. If you’re managing a website for your organization, you want your audience to know you care about their experience–that they can find what they need in an efficient and pleasing way. You want the right tone and thoughtfulness.
But if you’re like most humans, you don’t know exactly how to meet those goals perfectly on the first try. You need to observe how the site is used, gather feedback, and adjust what you offer. Maybe a large, slow loading series of images doesn’t work for an increasingly mobile audience. Or perhaps users no longer feel comfortable submitting a contact form if it’s not secure and encrypted. your site. Maybe a competitor has a fresher, more interesting design now that makes your site look dated and old.
What kind of reactions could you expect?
- Users abandon your site or service
- Audience develops a bad opinion of your company or service
- Your organization faces a lawsuit over accessibility
There are dozens of reasons why a website can fail to meet expectations, and it’s impossible to anticipate them all on site launch. Some reasons may not even exist at the time of launch!
The only solution is to stay plugged in to what your audience wants and needs. You should be gathering data and reacting–not only during the initial build, but continuously over time. The web keeps evolving so your site must as well.
Observe how the site is used, gather feedback, and adjust what you offer
Many if not most websites today run on some version of a content management system (CMS). This is another expectation that has evolved over time, from the days when users couldn’t update their site without coding or using a desktop editor such as Dreamweaver. Using a CMS, site editors can add or update content right within their web browser, typically with access to a WYSIWYG editor. Drupal and WordPress are two very popular options, along with dozens of alternatives like Squarespace.
But just like websites and smartphones, a CMS needs to evolve over time too, or risk being left behind. While simply being able to upload an image or edit text for a webpage was once enough, user expectations are changing.
Some of these expectations are changing due to improved features within these popular CMSes. Squarespace, for example, has consistently raised the bar over what a site editor should be able to do with easy to use on-screen editing and drag-and-drop tools for managing content. WordPress, with its built-in media handling and image editing tools, raises expectations for how an editor should be able to work with photos on a webpage. Drupal, with its powerful Views and Content Type tools, raises expectations on how easily a site can be modified to fit a range of services. While all of these systems improve over time, if you don’t take the time to keep them up-to-date, you may be missing out on the new features.
Other sites, regardless of CMS, also raise user expectations, especially popular websites such as Facebook. If a user can enter a URL and get an embedded video on their Facebook feed, for example, then that same person might expect their CMS to do this as well. Comparing huge company websites with access to billions of dollars for customizing their code and UX to a cheap or free CMS used on a small website isn’t fair. But once expectations get set, we have to try and meet them.
If the CMS someone uses starts to get dated or is slow to improve, it will affect the site owner’s opinion of what they have. They may start to think, “hey the Drupal admin tools look really dated and don’t have much flexibility with media”, when in fact they are still running a Drupal 6 site that is 8 years old. Or they may experience a hacked website because their WordPress site hasn’t been updated with the latest security patches.
- Site traffic may go down because the your CMS theme no longer compares to a competitor
- Editors can’t update content using their mobile device because the CMS isn’t mobile friendly
- Your organization gets hit with a lawsuit in part because your CMS makes it difficult to meet accessibility requirements
As a site owner, if you’re not investing in updates in your site content, your design and UX, and keeping your CMS up-to-date, your brand and your audience start to suffer. A good internal team of developers, designers and copywriters, or partnership with freelancers and digital agency, is crucial to avoiding these outcomes.
We know technology is moving fast. User expectations are constantly evolving. Our websites and content management systems are in danger of frustrating, disappointing or angering our users. And some new or improved website may be coming along to crush everything we have to offer. So what do we do?
- Plug your ears and go la,la,la
- Plan your work and work the plan
Let’s focus on D. Start by accepting the fluid nature of things. Change is here. Every website is built on shifting sands. It’s a hard lesson, but the sooner you accept it, the better you can plan for the future.
Accepting it is just the beginning, however. You still need to act. And the way you do that is plan for change. Budget for site improvements. Spend time on code updates. Read and follow trends. You need a plan to keep your site alive.
Of course it’s not about adding features and improving UX just to compare favorably to a giant corporation (after all, those same giant corporations are often the last to embrace new features or design). It’s about adding the features and UX that is useful to both site editors AND to their audience.
Electric Citizen primarily uses Drupal to power our client sites. Each version release of Drupal has improved features, user interfaces, accessibility, speed, and flexibility. With our move to Drupal 8, we are discovering new and better ways to do what we do for clients– both for the site editors and their site audience.
Since Drupal is designed to be customized, we like to create our own unique experience for our clients using Drupal–improving upon the already impressive set of default features. We believe in powerful, easy-to-use editor tools and better editor experiences.
But regardless of what CMS we use, we put an emphasis on mobile-first designs and content, and encourage accessibility reviews. We offer ongoing link checks and speed tests, study analytics and work on search engine optimization. Our team strives to keep up with trends in design and development, while encouraging our staff to continue growing professionally through trainings, classes and conferences.
We encourage all our clients to budget for both site improvement plans and future redesigns. Keeping a CMS up-to-date while doing continuous site improvement can be a significant investment of time and money, and we recognize that. Redesigns are a particularly resource-intensive when they happen every 2-4 years. But the truth is that websites are never truly finished.
The landscape for websites is changing fast–in technology, in design, and in user expectations. Staying relevant requires a long-term plan of action. If you can start making this part of your process today, you can avoid a lot of pain in the future. And keep your audience coming back for more.