The purpose of the website has been changing at a rapid pace over the past 20 years. In the early days, websites were very text-heavy and were purely informational. There was no such thing as Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram; nobody was able to develop a platform to support large beautiful imagery and videos. In 1995, the average website page size was around 14 KB and each page took 30 seconds or more to load. Today the average web page is over 2000 KB, and it loads in just a few seconds. Take a look at early versions of the MSN and Apple websites from the mid to late '90s to see just how far we've come!
Sure websites were still used as an entertainment platform, but back them, simply being on a computer was exhilarating! Websites have gone through major reconstruction over the years, and the purpose of your website today is likely not the same as it was 5 years ago, or even last year.
So if websites are constantly evolving, how do you build a site that is successful now and will be in 3, 5, 10 years?
Keep Your Eye On the Prize
When you decide to build a new website or revamp your current website, it's easy to get sidetracked with new and exciting ideas. It's also tempting to over evaluate every last detail on every single web page. Of course, you don't want any errors, but you have to remember to keep your focus on one thing; that is the goal of your website.
We are often asked to take a look at people's websites to tell them if it is "good" or not. Our answer is often "we can't tell." We can give some general design advice or some advice on content structure, but the truth is, you can't tell if a website is successful unless you know what you are trying to achieve with the site.
Before you start a website build or redesign, first set a primary goal along with one or two secondary goals for the site. Then when you are in the design and development process, check everything you are doing against these goals. If what you are building does not fall in line with your primary and secondary goals, throw it out! Every piece of content on your site should be leading your visitors to take the actions you want them to take to reach your goals.
Producing Goal-Oriented Content
As text-heavy landing pages have transitioned to pages and pages of beautiful high-res imagery and engaging video content, the underlying function of a website has not changed. We still need to provide relevant content to our visitors. But the focus has changed from just providing relevant information to providing relevant information in the most efficient way possible. You have only seconds to grab your audience before they are backing out and moving on to the next site in the Google listings. If you can't grab people and draw them deeper, then your site likely won't meet any goals you set for it.
So when you are producing written and visual content for your site, keep asking yourself three questions:
- Is this relevant to my audience?
- If it is relevant, will the content draw my visitors in within the first few seconds of viewing it?
- Does this content lead my audience down a path towards achieving my primary or secondary goals?
There are some exceptions for middle or bottom of sales funnel content, but for the most part, if can't answer these three questions with a resounding YES, then that video, graphic, blog, or web page probably shouldn't be on your home page. In fact, if it doesn't meet these requirements, you may not want it on your site at all because it can become a distraction to your visitors.
Measuring Your Success
What's just as important as setting goals for your website? Measuring how well you have met those goals.
Once you determine what your website needs to do for you, it is vital that you set up a tracking system that will tell you if you have been successful. If you have a simple goal like maintaining a professional image for your company, then set up periodic internal website audits and external focus groups to ensure your website is depicting your company in a professional way.
If your goals are a bit more complicated, for example you want 15 leads per month from social media to visit your Promotions Page and fill out the email signup form, then you are going to have to lean heavily on analytics and reporting to track your success. Learn more about how analytics tell you the true story of what's happening on your site.
Don't Overcomplicate It
Remember, when we're online our attention spans are worse than a dog's at a dog park. So if you muddy up your website by adding too many messages or creating a complicated site structure, you will quickly lose your audience and they'll be off "chasing the next squirrel" on their Facebook feed or Google results. Focus on your one primary goal of the site and guide your visitors where they need to be with simple and engaging content.
Easier said than done, I know, but remember your website should always be evolving. So if you strike out on your first attempt, step up to the plate again and give it another go.