Sustainable, maintainable websites

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Smile if you’ve participated in or overheard a conversation like this:

“Our site is seriously out of date. We may need to redesign it. It’s been several years since we launched it.”

“What’s the typical lifespan for a website anyway?”

“Probably two to three years. Four or five, if you’re lucky.”

“Ok, let’s rebuild the entire thing.”

It may not play out quite like that, but it’s certainly a common occurrence.

And when that website does launch, it may very well look brilliant. But, in six months will it still accurately reflect your business as it did when it launched? What about next year when you launch a new product line or marketing campaign? How will that affect the design of your site? Even if you redesign your website every three years, it means your website will likely spend much of its existence being less effective than it could be. Eventually, someone at your organization will be embarrassed enough to initiate some changes, again.

But hold on a minute, are you seriously going to have to do this every 2-3 years?

What if you could build a website with a solid foundation, keep it continually fresh and avoid these regular redesigns? It’s possible, if you look beyond the Big Launch. Remember, websites never sit still – you, your market and your customers are changing.

We need to start viewing a website as a living, breathing entity that changes over time and needs care and attention. Instead of being reborn every few years, it should grow and change steadily. There will be times when it grows in spurts, and times where the changes are more subtle, but change should be well thought out to serve your company now and in the future.

Nowadays, of course, it’s fairly standard for a website to come with a fully featured CMS (content management system) for you or your staff to make updates as needed. But beware – without the big marketing picture in mind, these updates can lead to more of a degradation than a positive evolution. Content can easily become fragmented. New promotions come and go without being properly updated. Imagery often becomes inconsistent with the brand.

Ok, so how do we keep it healthy and growing?

Whether you can revive your failing site or you need to start fresh, you’ll have to choose an agency to do the work. And note, the first question you should ask them is not about what it should look like. Instead, it should be whether they will work with you long term to see that your site is maintained properly. You’ll need a partner to make ongoing recommendations, execute the upgrades needed, all with an overarching understanding of your brand story and objectives. A marketing agency that specializes in web development will have the breadth and depth of service to keep your website consistently intact and aligned with your brand.

Another benefit of engaging an agency for the long term is that you will have an informed, yet external point of view – an advocate versed in both the appropriate web capabilities and your market, and able to focus on how to set up your site to best accommodate changes in content and marketing campaigns in the future. You’ll ensure a well structured website and consistent updates made to it.

A good example of a high-profile company that has taken this approach is Apple (I know, always a favourite marketing example). Looking at their current site and comparing it to 12 years ago, it’s actually not that far from where it was. And yet, its content is always up to date, the design is consistently fresh and new products are prominently featured. Even though the company has changed its target customer (from computer design geek to mainstream consumer), the structure of the site remains intact. They’ve even changed their brand typeface and still held onto the main framework of their site. This is because the original designers had a well thought out strategy from the beginning.

It’s important to remember that when you’re buying a website,

You’re buying a garden, not a single meal. A website isn’t meant to be a one-time solution to a one-time need. It’s a living, breathing organism and more and more it’s becoming the primary channel for engagement with your customers. It needs to change, adapt, contract, expand and evolve. It’s where you speak to your customers at large. All of this activity, left unguarded, unchallenged and without an outside perspective, can quickly become quite ineffective.

Here are seven reasons why you’ll want to approach your website in this way:

Preserve brand integrity. Consistent support from a marketing team will keep your website on-brand. In-house teams are often overstretched and may not have the time allotted to them to properly manage the overall direction of your site. Remember, little inconsistencies can easily build into a disappointing presentation of your brand. Consistency with your other marketing. Make the most of your investments by reflecting promotions in magazine ads, newspaper ads, video, TV and radio commercials or online advertisements. Budget a monthly amount instead of a large amount. Let’s face it, it can be difficult to raise the 5- or 6-figure amount it takes to completely rebuild a website. By paying for smaller changes over time you will be able to coordinate the expenses of your website with the income you generate from running your business, organization or non-profit. Ongoing relationship with an agency. Your agency will intimately know your brand. They’ll understand you, the ins and outs of most everything that’s going on with your marketing and how to keep consistency across all your marketing channels. They may even serve fresh coffee when you visit :) The freedom to change agencies. With ongoing web development, if something changes or things seem to be going off the rails, it is much easier to switch to a different agency than if you’re in the middle of a major project. The time can be taken to make a well thought out changeover. More designed content. When you have engaged an agency dedicated to marketing and web development, you have access to high-end designers. Designed content is much more engaging and exciting. People will be more affected by – and all the more excited to share – what’s going on at your business. More opportunities to spread the word. When you make frequent updates to your site, adding new features and new designed content, you are giving people more opportunities to talk about you. They’ll be more frequently involved, and even your staff will be more interested in what’s new. What can I expect? An agency with the right philosophy around web development will schedule regular analyses of your website. They’ll want to ask, is the brand story still being conveyed in the best possible way? Do you have a consistent approach across all of your marketing channels? Is the content becoming fragmented? Website reviews and development planning may be weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the size of the organization and level of activity on your site. There will be reports, emails, phone exchanges and in-person meetings.

These reviews should include an overview of the current content and performance of your website. The agency might make recommendations for enhancements and improvements and even weigh in on social networking activity. Even if you’re maintaining much of the day to day site content yourself, the agency can evaluate its efficacy and the consistency with other marketing efforts.

When should I start? You may think it makes sense to wait until your next redesign to engage a website marketing partner. I would strongly caution against it. A lightweight engagement to start – prior to the big redesign – can help phase in the scheduled reviews and prepare for a reworking of the template of your site. Also, it will give time to build a relationship with an agency in preparation for more in depth work.

Careful timing and selection of the right team is key to avoiding a Frankenstein website, cobbled together with shoe-string programming and piecemeal content, but to creating a beautiful, evolving, well thought out platform for your online marketing.

apple.com as of October 2000
apple.com as of February 2012
apple.com as of May 2009
apple.com as of February 2012

It’s important to remember that when you’re buying a website,

You’re buying a garden, not a single meal.

A website isn’t meant to be a one-time solution to a one-time need. It’s a living, breathing organism and more and more it’s becoming the primary channel for engagement with your customers. It needs to change, adapt, contract, expand and evolve. It’s where you speak to your customers at large. All of this activity, left unguarded, unchallenged and without an outside perspective, can quickly become quite ineffective.

Here are seven reasons why you’ll want to approach your website in this way:

What can I expect?

An agency with the right philosophy around web development will schedule regular analyses of your website. They’ll want to ask, is the brand story still being conveyed in the best possible way? Do you have a consistent approach across all of your marketing channels? Is the content becoming fragmented? Website reviews and development planning may be weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the size of the organization and level of activity on your site. There will be reports, emails, phone exchanges and in-person meetings.

These reviews should include an overview of the current content and performance of your website. The agency might make recommendations for enhancements and improvements and even weigh in on social networking activity. Even if you’re maintaining much of the day to day site content yourself, the agency can evaluate its efficacy and the consistency with other marketing efforts.

When should I start?

You may think it makes sense to wait until your next redesign to engage a website marketing partner. I would strongly caution against it. A lightweight engagement to start – prior to the big redesign – can help phase in the scheduled reviews and prepare for a reworking of the template of your site. Also, it will give time to build a relationship with an agency in preparation for more in depth work.

Careful timing and selection of the right team is key to avoiding a Frankenstein website, cobbled together with shoe-string programming and piecemeal content, but to creating a beautiful, evolving, well thought out platform for your online marketing.

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