Brands and customers are always changing. But they change at different rates. The responsibility belongs to digital leaders to keep pace as their audiences’ expectations about their experiences transform. The call of the day: more information, more access, more participation, and more transparency.
However, one our most fundamental platforms–our websites–don’t always keep up.
A recent study by Orbit Media found that, for the top 200 brand websites in the marketing and advertising space, the average lifespan is two years and seven months. In other words, a 3-year-old website is already a grandparent.
But don’t panic or budget for an overhaul just yet.
Start With The Data
When a brand’s website lags behind CX expectations, the data shows it. We just have to listen to what it is telling us.
Some metrics erode slowly over time. Mobile use and conversion rate changes are a function of audience expectations, which change bit by bit, day by day. For these, a month-over-month comparison might not tell the story. We’ll need to look at a longer-time horizon.
Other changes are sudden. Changes in rank and search traffic often happen quickly, but they are not equally distributed across a website. Changes in traffic happen page by page. So all the little stories can easily hide in the aggregate of overall traffic data. We’ll need to dig deeper into the data.
Finally, the big clues reside in changes in the competitive landscape. To find this requires a bit of empathy and imagination. We need to pretend we are a prospect. We search, we click, we read, and we scroll. What do we see? When competitors redesign their websites, we look old in comparison.
Evolution vs. Revolution
If there is evidence that your platform is aging, you’ll find it in those places. With that in mind, here are two ways to keep up with changes in CX and visitor expectations: evolution and revolution.
An evolutionary change is an update to content and design, without touching the framework. It’s a lower cost and faster turnaround that can buy time between bigger updates. The key here is to focus your team on the top pages and keep things simple.
- Rewrite the content on top pages: For every website, a small number of pages receive a large percentage of visits. Improving these pages can improve the visitor experience dramatically.
- Remove design elements that visitors aren’t engaging with: Everything you remove from a page makes everything that remains more visually prominent and easier to find.
- Upgrade the format: If you’ve been planning on shooting some video, now is the time. It’s a powerful format that can be repurposed when you eventually redesign.
A revolutionary change is the complete website redesign. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to lead your team down this path. Just as every computer needs to be replaced eventually, every website must eventually be redesigned. Here are some high-level considerations when that day comes.
- Reconsider the platform: Content management systems are always improving. Take the time to get a demo of the latest version of your current tools and test drive a few others. Is it easy? How are workflows managed? Now is the time to shop around.
- Preserve your rankings: A redesign often means a reconsideration of the URL structure, the content strategy, and even the domain. But be careful. Any changes to URLs has implications for search ranking. Take time to do a thorough audit.
- Navigation, user flow, and conversions: The job of a brand site is to gently guide visitors, using education and evidence, toward a thank you page. Look closely at the current visitor behavior. Are the navigation labels clear? Are calls to action compelling? Or are visitors bouncing around clicking back buttons? Clarity correlates with conversions.
The digital brand leader can’t have a laggard of a platform. We need to watch carefully for changes in performance, changes in visitor behavior, and the changes our competitors make. Most of those changes come gradually, but we need to be ready for disruptions.
Then, with eyes wide open and sights set on specific and measurable outcomes, we can adapt our platforms to meet the challenge. We can experiment with incremental changes, pushing what we have to the limits before investing in a major upgrade.
Digital transformation happens gradually–until one day it doesn’t. The platforms for our brands need to be ready.