Looks Can Only Get You So Far

Shiny Internet“We need a new website. Ours is so old.” – This is a relatively common sentiment in the online development and marketing industry. While there are a good amount of “old” websites still out on the web, the most recently created sites are developed with current and future trends in mind, primarily concerned with the multitude of devices being used to view their website.

I think the bigger problem is what “new” means to most people. I’d say for the common web user, creating a new website means either a full design update, a major platform migration, or both.

New platforms and coding standards are now set up to handle graphics, video and animation more than ever before. Having a clean and easy to navigate site will be immediately great for new and returning users.

But aren’t we overlooking the most crucial part of what makes a successful website perform? That would be the content. What’s the point in driving quality users to your fancy new website if you don’t have anything to say or resources for your users? Getting users to your site is one piece of the puzzle, but I’d argue that keeping them there is even harder to accomplish.

New web technologies, faster internet speeds and the ability to access the world wide web from practically any place on earth has changed what we are capable of accomplishing on the front end of our websites, but it seems to have also distracted us from how important our content still is.

I have a few ideas about why design aesthetics have taken over as the biggest concern for business and their web presence and why some of that focus should be shared with other areas if you want to get quality traffic to your site and keep it coming back for more.

The Old Days of the Web

In the web’s infancy, graphics handling capabilities by machines and browsers were very minimal. Add in the slow internet connection speeds with early modems and it was a recipe for a pretty long day of surfing the web, even if you only wanted to view a few pages. The basic use was to be able to display information on a world-wide platform.

It wasn’t until the mid-90’s that the usage of standard JPEG and animated GIFs started to see a rise. Updates to the HTML coding language (HTML 2.0 in 1995 and HTML 3.2 in 1997) added more flexibility to layouts by supporting tables, image maps, and form-based file uploading.

As technology started improving, more graphic based websites started showing up (one of my favorite examples: http://www.warnerbros.com/archive/spacejam/movie/jam.htm). Though still limited, users loved the interactivity and creativity these sites allowed, as the internet was finally more than “just text”.

Search Marketing Beginnings

When I joined at Hall in 2001 (about a century ago in the web-world), there really weren’t any established services for “Search Engine Marketing” as we now know it. At the time we knew that online searches through search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves) displayed the results based on their guess as to best matches of the search to a site’s content.

We called our service “Search Marketing,” and it wasn’t long before we incorporated a results driven approach based on our ability to increase a site’s overall traffic. Even then we asked, “What’s the point of getting people’s attention if we’re not catering to what they came for in the first place…information?”

I remember our earliest sites using the least amount of graphical elements as possible as the standard internet connections at the time would take a long time to load and process them (remember this is at the point when GIFs and JPEGs were becoming all the rage).

The approach seemed strange to a many in the industry, but our successes in the search marketing area quickly proved to us that quality content and information about a service or product is just as important, if not more, than the graphical presentation.

Content has Legs

As mentioned above, I still run into “old” websites that continue to rank well based on the quality, quantity, and relevance of their content.

I’ve often heard this from clients competing with such sites, “HOW can they be beating us in search rankings?” Our reply has always been consistent: “You need to provide your users with quality content about the services or products you offer.” If you’re not doing that then you probably don’t deserve their traffic.

Blog Posting is always a great way to add content  to your site as it’s listed and tracked as “new” from the date it’s published. The advancement of CMS websites now gives users access to almost all of their site’s content. Take advantage of this, frequent updates and refreshed content will always help your search based performance.

Improved Network Connections and Technology

Faster internet connections and improving computer technology (be it desktop, tablet, or mobile) has lent a lot to the “form over function” approach of a lot of web developers.

Now it’s more possible than ever to create a fully interactive web experience, be it with animations, videos, or even “multi touch” on tablets and phones.

The best part is that current coding standards and updated web browsers now allow for larger graphical areas and images ALONG with the ability to present text in various ways.

Even a few years ago we were limited in what fonts we could use for web text. Some developers found a workaround for this dilemma by simply converting text to graphics. This, however, jeopardized any search results since search engines could not crawl images the same way they would text.

User Interaction

The best way to approach a new website is to find a balance between quality, engaging content, and a satisfactory user experience.

Knowing your audience and what they’re looking for is a big piece of the puzzle, as you can approach your site’s UX as a realistic user.

Using an analytics service such as Google Analytics can really help you see how your users interact with the avenues you’ve presented and how effective they are or aren’t.

It’s important to keep in mind what it is you’re selling for a service or product. If you specialize in a specific product, you can use an effective combo of detailed, interactive elements along with relevant content to get the best of both worlds.

One thing’s for sure… the World Wide Web isn’t getting any smaller and competition will always be increasing.

The only way to keep up with your competition and industry trends is to consistently add value to your site in the form of updating content, blogging about specific topics, or even adding new pages and avenues for users to learn more about the products and services.

Getting new users to your site is tough, give them a reason to come back.