Pause and reflect: is your website fit for purpose in 2020?
When it comes to website design, standards and best practice change constantly - which is why it’s important to stop every now and then and give yours a bit of an MOT.
When you think about it, the website is a relatively new medium. It’s strange to think that we’re only just coming up on the 30th anniversary of the first ever website, designed in 1991 by the man who invented the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee.
They’re now such a part of everyday life and we all have opinions on them. Why is this website so ridiculously slow? Why is booking a ticket through this interface so frustrating? And my favourite: ‘Argh! Why did that button move when I went to click on it?’
It’s often the case, though, that we’re not very good at turning those critical abilities on ourselves – or, I should say, on our own websites. We’re used to their quirks and sometimes emotionally invested in them, having worked hard to agree a final design and copy.
The problem is, something that was decent enough in 2015 is now, more than likely, a bit of a relic.
Four simple checks There are a few indicators you can look at yourself to get a sense of whether your website might be due an overhaul.
First, does it work well on mobile devices? A few years ago, best practice was to have two versions of your website – one for desktop PCs and one for phones and tablets. Nowadays, it’s better to have a responsive site, meaning one with a design that adapts to fit the device on which it’s being viewed.
The easiest way to test this is to look at the website on your phone and have a good browse around. Are there images that get cut off? Is there text that’s too small to read? Does it generally look a bit nasty compared to the desktop version?
If so, your site hasn’t been optimised for mobile – not only a frustration for users (around half of website visits are on mobile devices these days) but also likely to affect your Google search ranking.
Secondly, is it showing up a reasonable position in search rankings for terms such as ‘accountants in Burnley’ or ‘construction accountants in St Albans’?
Though search engine optimisation (SEO) is a strategic job in its own right, unexpectedly poor rankings – let’s say, beyond page three of results – can indicate underlying technical issues that are leading Google to downgrade your website.
Third, if you look at the address bar at the top of your web browser you should see the letters ‘https’ at the start of your website’s address. If you don’t – if it just says ‘http’ – that’s an indication that your site hasn’t been maintained to the latest standards.
HTTPS is a mechanism that uses a certificate to confirm that the connection to your website is secure. Since July 2018, Google’s Chrome browser has flagged websites without HTTPS as ‘Not secure’ – a scary-sounding phrase likely to deter users.
Finally, there’s an obvious test: how many leads did you get via the website in the past week, month or quarter? Has that number gone up or down compared to this time last year?
Ideally, you’ll have hard numbers on file but if not, an estimate is better than nothing. If it feels as if website leads have dried up, even as life has moved further online than ever, then it’s likely your website is deflecting potential business.
DIY user testing Another quick trick to get a sense of how your website is performing is informal user testing.
Find a couple of people who don’t have much to do with your firm’s website – your partner, your mum, your mate from yoga. Set them up in front of a laptop and ask them to complete a simple task such as, say, finding your most recent blog post, or filling in and submitting a contact form.
Now, here’s the important bit: watch in complete silence. Don’t answer their questions or step in to help.
You’d be amazed at how often an exercise like this reveals deep flaws you don’t notice because you’re used to the website and its foibles.
Get a professional audit If you’re beginning to suspect that there might be problems with your website, the next step is a professional review.