Do You Need a New Website? 5 Questions to Ask.

Having just launched our own redesigned website, here we offer some thoughts to keep in mind if you're considering a revamp of your own site.

Flight 9 website showcase

In the past couple of years, website development standards have changed dramatically. If you are responsible for an organization's website, you've probably asked yourself what the implications are for your site. A lot of resources undoubtedly went into launching your current site and, if it has served you well, it can be difficult to think about starting over again. But if your site is more than a couple of years old, you should seriously consider updating.

Here are 5 key questions to help you decide:

1. Is your site "responsive"?

Happily, the days of having separate sites for desktop and mobile devices are rapidly fading. Instead, all (decent) websites are being created with responsive user interface functionality. This means that a site's appearance and navigation structure work smoothly no matter what size screen you're using. Images are elegantly resized and content is reordered to fit any given dimensions.

A large driver toward making this a universal practice was when, in 2015, Google made a significant change in their search algorithms to strongly favor responsive design. This means that websites lacking responsiveness are falling behind their competitors in search engine rankings, as more and more of them adopt the current standards.

Fortunately, responsive design is not inherently complicated or expensive. In fact, in many cases the new standards force a degree of structural simplicity and order that result in significant improvements for sites that may have been overly busy before.

2. Have you received complaints about your site?

If you frequently hear from customers, clients or visitors that they were unable to find what they were looking for on your website, or that they're seeing error messages, then clearly something is off that needs to be fixed. A good website service provider will help you analyze your site's structure to determine whether it's time for a total overhaul or just a few minor tweaks.

Visitors should be engaged instantly and be able to find what they need right away. If they have to work at anything, studies show they'll almost always leave the site.

3. Are you using high-quality images?

In the era of smartphones and social media feeds, users are accustomed to constantly scanning images – often dozens or even hundreds per day. In a parallel trend, website content has generally become more streamlined. Where websites often used to mirror complex print publications, serving as deep-dive informational resources, more often sites today are instead seen as core branding platforms meant to engage audiences to either seek more info through direct contact or draw customers to a brick-and-mortar retail location. The idea is to make a strong immediate impression that leads to follow-through.

What this means is that imagery carries more weight than ever. It is imperative to incorporate strong logos, graphics and photography that combine to create an emotional impact befitting your brand, whether its essence is corporate, artistic, service-oriented, or something else.

Literally millions of high-quality stock images are available online, and/or your may choose to make a sound investment in professional custom photography. A qualified professional web designer will identify and format strong visuals for your site that reflect your overall strategy. 

Remember than no one will absorb your message if you have not captured their interest first.

4. Does your site integrate social media?

We're going to assume you have social media buttons on your website. Because of course. If you don't, please call us. We're worried about you.

Besides buttons in your footer linking visitors to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, etc., social media can be integrated into your website in a number of other ways. Blog posts can be cross-posted to Facebook, with comment features that post to both locations automatically. Your Twitter posts can appear in a block on your site, as well. Make sure you're not overlooking these and other opportunities to help drive traffic and boost search engine visibility. 

5. Is your website generating traffic?

After all, that is the bottom line, isn't it? If your website isn't generating leads, then it isn't serving its intended purpose. Not only that, but a site with serious enough deficiencies may actually be driving people away. As we've seen, older sites lag behind in search engine rankings, can be difficult to navigate, and may not be providing your visitors with what they are seeking. Having a website is crucial to nearly any business, but a poor web strategy can sometimes do more harm than good, driving away the very audience you need to reach.

If you're not already doing so, be sure to track your site's traffic regularly. Tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console are great places to start. Use this data wisely to help determine whether your current site is ultimately helping or hindering your prospects.

If you've been on the fence about whether or not to embark on a website redesign, hopefully these considerations have been helpful. If you know it's time to upgrade, remember to find a website designer/developer who will help you formulate a well-rounded strategy that includes solid messaging, a simple and familiar navigation structure, and strong visuals that complement your brand.

Also, remember that your colleagues and competitors are part of this evolution, and it's important not to get left behind.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Find more F9 blog posts on website development here.

Thanks for reading!

Template Websites Grow Up

Oh, the glories of evolution! Where once we were crawling on our bellies through a sticky swamp of code, treacherous updating processes, and browser-compatibility muck, we have joyously reached the dawn of a new age in website design.

Behold the rise of intuitive site-building platforms that actually work! 

This is no small miracle.

devices illustration

The Codacious Period

Kelly and I both worked with HTML in the early days. It was cool for a while – nice to be on the cutting edge. But soon enough, with growth of the internet and the rise of scripting, many designers came to a juncture where a choice had to be made between going full-techno or returning to our roots in visual design. For a while we dabbled in Flash and CSS, but both eventually stuck with the more familiar road. Then, when called upon to design websites, we often partnered with experienced developers who were up-to-date on the rapidly changing world of coding, scripting and web construction (what’s called the back end). These projects typically provided good results for clients, but the process was frequently long, tedious and costly. 

At that larval stage in internet history, not only was site-building much more complex; site design was also far less standardized. As with all new tools, experimentation with layouts, navigation structures and “special effects” translated into a lot of people bending over backwards to repeatedly try and reinvent the entire web experience, often in a very ineffective manner.

Then things began to slowly improve.

A Little Better, A Little Faster

The advent of Content Management System (CMS) platforms such as Wordpress and Joomla, along with improvements in web-design software packages, represented a big leap forward. However, even just a couple of years ago, our experiences with these development platforms were consistently disappointing. The promises of ease, simplicity and malleability just never fully came through. Yes, things were better, but projects with any degree of real customization still required copious help from techies to fix “mysterious” errors and fine-tune sites to everyone’s satisfaction. Life may have been a bit simpler for the coders and development pros, but content designers still lacked autonomy.

Happily, we have finally crawled out of that swamp. 

Clean, Mean & Lean

Over the past year, using Weebly Pro as our preferred drag-and-drop development platform, Flight 9 has created several websites, each involving substantial customization, without the need to hire developers. It has been a sea change for us to be able to happily offer this much more affordable and streamlined service.

Whereas once upon a time creating a website was roughly a 50/50 split between content development and technical construction, instead we can now focus 95% of our energy on making sure each site looks great, navigates intuitively, and communicates effectively. Integrated small-screen optimization and a few SEO tools are included, too. Our clients get more bang for the buck and end up with sites far less likely to break or need regular technical updates. 

Website templates, once considered the playground of hacks and high-school students, have now grown into fully dynamic and customizable tools that can increase efficiency without sacrificing creativity or brand integrity. Website structures and navigation are now appropriately standardized, largely eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel and rethink each site design from scratch. 

Don’t get me wrong; developers are our friends. It was developers, of course, who gave us these shiny new tools. And not all needs can be met with templates. Many sites that require extensive multimedia, database integration, high volume e-retail or other complexities definitely must involve a savvy developer, and probably even several of them. Even Weebly (or Wix or Highwire) sites sometimes require minor adjustments from back-end pros. The triumph is that we can now expect this to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Thanks for reading!  
– Melissa