Milk. Credit cards. Warranties. If you were a contestant on The $25,000 Pyramid, you would guess “Things That Have an Expiration Date”…and move onto the next block to reach those mega winnings. Other items your teammate could also have said? Small business websites. Yes, your company’s virtual hub can expire. Not only is the technology for websites constantly changing, the way customers interact with the web is continually morphing. The result? Your older website becomes a liability rather than an asset for your business. But because websites don’t come with “Use By” dates stamped on them, we talked with some website designers and small business owners to discover how to tell if your company’s website has expired.
1. It just looks outdated— especially compared to other sites
There is one simple way to know if your website has expired: go surfing. Log on and see what other websites in your industry look like. Spend a few minutes on each of your competitors’ sites, and note what your site has and—especially what it doesn’t have—compared to them. “It always helps to keep an eye on the competition,” says Jonathan Passley, president and CEO of the web design company PDR Web Solutions, “A simple visual comparison of the sites will give you an idea whether you have fallen behind in terms of web design.”
2. Your brand is nowhere to be seen
As your company has grown, you’ve honed its look and focus. Think about when someone stumbles onto your seven-year-old site. Does your unique company brand pop off the screen? (Hint: it should.) “If the first impression of your website does not resonate with your demographic, you have lost their attention at kickoff,” says James Trumbly, managing partner of the web development agency HMG Creative, who has written extensively on the impact of a good (or bad) website. “A cohesive brand image and identity is essential to gain credibility among your consumers or clients.”
Zane Schwarzlose, search marketing specialist for web design company Fahrenheit Marketing, notes that most small business websites appear boring and generic because they don’t identify their company’s unique selling propositions [USP]. “Your USP are the positive things you can say about your company that your competitors can't—[what] truly sets your business apart from the crowd. Emphasize these traits throughout your website,” offers Schwarzlose.
If you only have an “About Us” page and a few testimonials on your site, you’re missing out on a vital way to engage potential customers as well as drive traffic to your site. “Adding a blog to your site brings huge SEO benefits,” says Jessie-Lee Nichols, marketing manager at Quintain Marketing. “Every time you publish a blog post on your site, another page is added to your site map. It is one more page for Google to index and shows Google that you regularly update your site. This boosts your rankings.” Josh Waldron, website designer and founder of Studio JWAL LLC, agrees. “Outdated websites provide basic information about a business, but they rarely offer any information of value. Figure out the questions that your audience has and address them via a blog post or a video,” suggests Waldron.
4. Customers don’t know where to go on your site
Nothing will turn off a potential client faster than a website that is complicated or frustrating to navigate. Test how many clicks it takes “Patty,” your next-door neighbor, to find what she needs on your website. If it is more than three, you need a revamp. “Ease of navigation is key to pull readers into your content,” notes Trumbly. “Think of your layout like a game plan of where you want clients to look and click. A simple, organized layout wins hand over fist against dense copy, dozens of tabs, and multiple, competing messages.”
5. Your site has features customers don’t want or need
If it’s been two years since your last website overhaul, reach out to customers to see what they like and don’t like about your company’s website—and be prepared to be surprised. Elaine Costa, managing partner for Plush Swimwear, recently redesigned her company’s site, but made sure to survey customers before diving in. “Ask your customers what they want to see and what’s not important to them,” says Costa. “There are so many technologies out there these days, you can get lost in trying to guess what is critical or not. We were surprised to learn from our survey that the Live Chat and a Personal Stylist feature were not at all important to our customers, so we didn’t include these in our revamp plans.”
6. Your homepage gives your life story, your co-founder’s life story…
The most up-to-date website is clean and simple. Be honest: are those words you would use to describe your website? “The most common thing I see when clients come to me to redesign a website put in place 10 or more years ago is that their site is trying to be everything to everyone,” says Nichols. “Your homepage should be visual. It shouldn't tell your life history. Create engaging content that will lead a viewer further into your site. Learning to self-edit and letting go of wordy descriptions and corny stock photos will serve you well.”
7. Your site doesn’t cooperate with your phone
Think about your website beyond the laptop—how does it work? “All sites should be optimized for smartphones and tablets, so much Internet traffic is now originating from those sources,” Waldron points out. “Design your website using a platform that facilitates growth instead of hindering it.” Nichols agrees, noting that “mobile users account for the majority of web browsers these days and if your site isn't mobile friendly, you have lost that market.”