Website Makeovers: How to Know It's Time
Friday, June 25, 2010 at 1:32PM
Julie Senter in Associations, Small Business, Web development

I've been spending a lot of time on websites lately.

Yes, I read a lot, but that's not what I'm talking about.  There's been a palpable shift in the services my clients are requesting, a shift that's been so fast and so pervasive that I think it's worth noting.

Most tell me that because dollars are tight, they need to cut out anything that's not mandatory.  They consider a website mandatory (as do I) and want to make sure that if that's one of their only means of communication, it is robust, current and optimized to the fullest.  So these days I'm spending a lot more time strategizing website development and optimization than I am pitching reporters or building media kits.

Most are looking for the Web to serve as their base camp of communications activities, a cost-effective means of communicating with customers and volunteers.  Plus, many reporters comb the Web and blogs for story ideas and sources, so it also serves as back door media relations.

What's been a little surprising is how long some of them have gone without a redesign.  One of my clients was still using a design from 2002 - and paying through the nose for monthly hosting and service!  With all of the advances in technology, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to have a stale, static website these days.

So you may be asking how often you should change your website, right?  Good question.  How often are you changing out your computers?  A good rule of thumb is to review your website needs on the same schedule.  You may not need a complete overhaul, but, as my mother often says, a little freshening up never hurts and keeps your beaus (customers, members, volunteers...) interested.

Here are some questions to ask during your next review:

Does your site look dated?  You don't need eagle eyes to spot old sites.  You know one when you see it.  Is it boxy like a Volvo?  Is there an abundance of clip art?  (Or my favorite, clip art that moves?) Is it jam-packed with conflicting boxes that don't show visitors what you consider most important?  Is it flush left on the screen or 800 x 600 pixels in size?  Static sites look old and make your organization look out-of-touch and irrelevant.

Does you site say everything about your organization that you want it to say?  Look at everything your site is projecting: its content, its images, its organization.  Is everything on your site relevant?  What's missing?  If you've got a new product that's not featured on the site, that's a major fail!  If you're a member organization or volunteer group without a photo gallery showing your members in action, that's another major fail.  Think about your primary two or three audiences and what type of information they will be looking for on your site.  Make sure it's there!

Do you have a blog?  Whether you accept comments or not, you need SOME way of posting news about your organization that can be distributed through an RSS feed.  Period.  If you don't know what an RSS feed is, it's a very simple way for people to have news from websites delivered to them.  Think of it as a personal, on demand, online newspaper with the meaty information you care about and none of the fluff. Read more about RSS.

The other big, and extremely relevant question, is cost.  What does a website cost?  My unoriginal answer:  it depends on the originality and quality of design and the bells and whistles needed.  Duh.  But the utterly fantastic news for all small businesses, associations and nonprofits is that there are numerous free and low-cost options.  You give up a little originality when you DIY, but you can easily set up a complete site on blogging Web sites like Wordpress or Blogger.  There are other open source (ie, free) content management systems that you can use to build a site with a little elbow grease and a book from Amazon. If you want someone to build the site for you, costs could run from $750 to well over $20,000 (again, depending on design and bells & whitles).

At the very least, consider setting up a blog on a free site and linking to it from your current site.  This will enable you to add fresh content even if your current site doesn't have a robust content managment system and you don't have time to build an entire site. 

In my next post, I'll list some helpful questions you need to contemplate when redesigning your site.  And please, if you've seen some awesome association, nonprofit or small business sites on your journeys, share them with me.  I'll gather the best of the best and include them in a subsequent post so we can all learn from other successes!

Article originally appeared on Senterline Communications (http://senterline.net/).
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