Part Two: Updating your Web Presence Series

A Website Review – How Does Your Site Compare?
In my last article (Congratulations, Web Pioneers) I covered some background on how Internet technology has evolved. In Article #2 we will take a look at evaluating your web presence.
A website is a very cost effective way to market your products and services to a global audience and to stay in contact with your customers and clients. Like all advertising and marketing efforts, excellent websites are the product of in depth planning, logical development and the appropriate application of resources. However, even after all of your planning, hard work and expense, the biggest part of Internet marketing still lies ahead: keeping your website updated and maintained.
No matter how much time and money you have put into your website’s design, hosting and promotion,  if neglected, it will, at best provide a rapidly diminishing return.
The rate of technological change in Internet technologies is still very rapid and a website that was considered cutting-edge, even a few years ago, can appear almost comically out of date today. If it has been over a year since you have updated your site, it is probably looking stale to your visitors.
On-line marketing success, to a very large degree, can be attributed to the positive visual perception of your goods and services offerings. Not only do your customers evaluate your product quality, pricing, variety, and customer services from visual cues, they consciously or subconsciously determine the credibility of you as a merchant based on the look and feel of your website. Updating your product merchandising, or the look and feel of your service offerings, inspires confidence in your customers and clients. Also, adding new products and information on a regular basis will encourage your customers to visit regularly.
Your first move in considering a website overhaul is to compare your site to your competitors’ sites and make an honest evaluation. Use the following criteria for your competitive evaluation and to set goals for your rebuild
1.     Does the website create the right impression?
Do you like the look and feel? Does the site look professional? Does it look generic or is there some spark of individuality. Does the site use stock photography or photographs of the actual people involved in the firm? Note: There are many trends at work here…. Just like the fashion industry; what was “hip” a couple of years ago may be more than passé now. Also, keep freshness in mind: would you be more or less likely to do business with a company that last updated its New Products Page over a year ago?  Also, remember to test your best competitors on your iPhone or BlackBerry. If a site is not viewable on mobile, depending on the customer base, that could be a real problem.
2.   Is the site well organized?
Think about the impression that site navigation is giving to current and potential customers. Intuitive navigation structures quickly lead visitors to the products or information they are seeking. The goal should be to get your visitor to the info in three clicks.  An up-to-date website navigation scheme reflects that yours is a company that values organization.
3.      Does the site demonstrate a clear ability to communicate?
All websites need to be able to communicate succinctly with site visitors, customers and clients.  Effective communication gives you a significant advantage on-line and off. Writing good advertising copy, educating your visitors, demonstrating that you understand industry issues and explaining solutions are all crucial elements in growing your site traffic, increasing sales and keep your website users coming back.
4.     Do search engines like it
When you search for you competitors sites; how do they compare to yours in search ranking?
Simply changing the look of your site will not instantly catapult you first place at Google. However, it is a fact that search engines give better ranking to websites that regularly have new content.  Google’s mission is to crawl billions of web pages and deliver the most relevant information to the searcher.  Websites that add relevant content on a regular basis are scheduled to be crawled more frequently and generate a higher page rank.
5.   Does the site encourage you to return?
Are there product reviews, news and new product information readily available? Is there a highly visible offer to sign up for an email campaign that delivers news or special product offerings, sales, discount coupons, etc.? Is there a What’s New section that is current?  An outdated What’s New page is worse than not having one.
6.  Current Concepts?
The focuses of most businesses change significantly over time. Does the design and content of the site reflect the current focus of the company? Many companies now have a Facebook page; publish a Blog to Tumblr, Tweet daily and post weekly videos to YouTube. Has the site been updated to integrate and promote these new venues? Is the company information, staff list, contact us and about us page current? Check any “Time References”: Is the copyright or licensing statement at the bottom the page up to date? Are any “We have been in business for” types of statements current?
Now What?
After your site comparison study, rank the competing sites and compile a list of the best features and worst flaws.
Next, compare your list of features and flaws with your site and make a punch list of improvements to make. At this point you should be able to decide if you can update your existing site or need to start designing from scratch.
A key indicator that you should start from scratch is if your existing site is built using tables. You can identify this coding practice by opening your home page in Internet Explorer and, at the top of the page, clicking on View and then selecting Source from the dropdown. This will display the source code in the page. Next look at the source code and then look down the code until you see a <body> tag. This starts the formatting for the page. Next you will look for a table tag; it will look like this: <table>. Try it out: do View>Source on this example: http://www.keepbanderabeautiful.org/
If your site was built with tables, and this applies to all of the older FrontPage based sites, you need to start from scratch.
If you want to know why, please read the previous article: Updating Your Web Presence Series – Article #1: Congratulations, Web Pioneers….
We will discuss your options for building from scratch in a future article.
To determine if your website was built using Tableless CSS is a little bit harder, once again, we will look at the source code by opening the page in Internet Explorer and doing View>Source. In Tableless CSS you will see formatting tags that look like this: <div> following the <body> tag. Try it out: do View>Source on our home page: http://www.pixelmill.com/
If your site was built using Tableless CSS and you are happy with the look and feel after conducting your Site Comparison; you can use your punch list to update your site to be competitive with your peers. If you are not happy with the look and feel of your website and want a new, standard compliant, Tableless CSS design; PixelMill can help you.
If you have upgraded from the now defunct Microsoft FrontPage to Microsoft’s latest web editor, Expression Web, or are using a at least Adobe Dreamweaver 8 or the newer Adobe Dreamweaver CS series; Pixelmill has some great design templates to give your site a professional look and feel.
See what your site could look like today with a new Tableless CSS Template:

In the next article in this series we will be presenting a number of options for transitioning and updating older websites to current web standards….
Take Your Website to the Next Level – Transitioning to Current Standards
Updating your Web Presence Series – Article #3

One thought on “Part Two: Updating your Web Presence Series

  1. […] my last article (A Website Review – How Does Your Site Compare?) I proposed a plan to evaluate your web presence based on competitive analysis and after following […]

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