Volatility and uncertainty in today’s digital world are revitalizing the front door of today’s businesses. Websites are more relevant than they’ve been in a decade, since social media hit the scene in full force. Websites are back—but with a few new twists that require companies to do a bit of reinvention.
What to keep doing
1. Stay strategic
“The best websites have always been the ones that are carefully designed to support business strategy,” says Ann-Marie Harrington, a partner at Embolden. Ann-Marie founded a custom web app development firm in 1998, when websites were new. “When websites were emerging technology, it was easy for some companies to get caught up in thinking that if you just had a website, that was good enough. That has never been the case, and it certainly is not the case now. ‘Any old website’ will fail to perform. A website must be developed by applying high-level critical thinking and business strategy, or it won’t do anything to help a business grow.”
2. Design must support content, and vice versa
Websites will continue to do the heavy lifting for businesses when the graphic elements and words work hand-in-hand. This is easier said than done. “It’s not all that hard to put words on a page,” says Ann-Marie. “It’s also not that hard to source beautiful images and graphics. But what does it all mean? Why are the words chosen and what are they designed to accomplish? How do the words support the goals of the business? How are the images and design reflective of the desired user experience? These are the questions that will make or break a website. That’s always been the case, and that won’t change.”
3. Stay focused on target audiences
Even though it is the front door of a business and must be welcoming to a wide variety of people at the “top of the funnel,” a website still needs to be built for someone, and not built for everyone. “Make sure your website is designed and created with the help of people who understand business development, market dynamics, the sales process, and how today’s buyers make decisions,” says Ann-Marie. “If you are outsourcing all or part of your web development, this means you need to make sure the people you are working with are enthusiastic about learning how your business works, how you and your clients think and feel, and how your business makes money by delighting your customers.”
What to do differently
1. More streamlined and concise
Technology is changing rapidly, and website platforms are no exception. Today’s businesses have many options for hosting and maintenance. “With the emergence of high-quality platforms-as-a-service,” says Ann-Marie, “businesses can rely on more predictable safety, security, and performance of their websites without needing to hire developers or worry about code.” Ann-Marie and her team wrote thousands of lines of code when they built some of the first websites 20 years ago. “Now,” she said, “it’s my responsibility as an owner of our firm to stay on the cutting edge of the best technology tools available, and then make sure our experienced team applies business strategy, content, and design to leverage those tools to achieve the desired result.”
2. More human
Human behavior has changed, right alongside the technology. Most people now expect websites to give them the information they need, right up front. “People don’t want to dig through a lot of information. Give them what they need in a visually compelling way, quickly,” said Ann-Marie. “Gone are the days when a website needs to have hundreds of pages to look credible. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.” Ann-Marie said there is still plenty of room for white papers and other thought leadership materials, in the form of blog posts and other real-time website features. “Subject matter expertise is as important as ever. But don’t clog up the website pages that need to be accessed and absorbed within a 10-second timeframe.“
3. Faster production
Building a new website used to be a lengthy and often expensive exercise. No more. “Six months and tens of thousands of dollars once was typical for a website project,” said Ann-Marie. “Companies today don’t have that kind of time, let alone the desire to invest that level of budget and human capital into a website.” Today’s businesses usually want a new website as soon as possible, she says. “They expect a web development partner to have the business development savvy and go-to-market grit to produce a top-notch website in a short amount of time and at a reasonable price. This allows more running room for the important consultative conversations about how the business will grow. That’s the true ROI.”
Net net? Keep the best from the past, but don’t miss an opportunity to reboot your website to grow your business for the near-term future.