Is your website old-fashioned?

May 18, 2012 Posted by workingdesign in Web Design

It seems like only yesterday when you wrote and developed your new website. But time flies; web years are like dog years. Your three-year-old site may seem fresh to you, but chances are it could be surprisingly out of date.

You may have heard about “brochure-style” sites. Or Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0. Sites developed in the 90s and early 2000’s were a lot like online brochures. They featured “covers” or “splash pages”.  Their content was written and structured much like any piece of standard print material. This is Web 1.0. And there are remnants of it all over the web.

Things have changed. Welcome to Web 2.0

Interactivity has replaced one-way communication. The front page of most contemporary sites functions as an interactive table of contents. Strategic marketing, key messages, calls to action and directing visitors around the site all come into play. The visual design, points of entry and structure of a home page and a website are entirely different from anything you see in print materials. Writing for the web is its own form, distinct from other ways of telling a story.

And, visitors to your site can talk back. They can comment on your blog, send you mail, participate in polls, make donations, sign up to volunteer, buy things and more. This is Web 2.0 and it has made what came before virtually irrelevant.

Beyond that, you need more than a website. You need an online presence that’s informed by an online strategy. More about that later.

Why worry about the latest web trends?

What prompted us to write this blog was a website audit request from a highly successful and longstanding not-for-profit organization. Their campaigns have been winning for decades. Their small and devoted base of volunteers has been using the same methods for years and getting great results. Phoning, printed direct mail appeals, door-to-door, word-of-mouth, printed brochures and cards were the standards elements in use.

However, the organization’s younger members know that the days are numbered for the traditional outreach campaigns practiced by the group’s founders. And, they’re concerned that hard-won victories and organizational strength could be lost if the group fails to reach a new generation where it lives: on the web using social media. They asked Working Design for an assessment of how effective their website is and recommendations for improvements.

Here’s some of what we told them.

The web as an organizing channel

The role of the internet, a website and social media has become key for everyone: individuals, businesses, institutes, social movements engaged in political action. It’s almost impossible to connect effectively with audiences without a considered web presence and strategy.

In 2012, it’s essential to understand and use the full array of online tools available to us.

What are the tools? Why a website is not enough.

So, is your website old fashioned? Yes, if it’s only sending information one way and if it’s the only element in your online presence. If it doesn’t embody some or all of the following, your online profile needs attention.

A website is the foundation of an online presence. It has tremendous potential and capacity to present text and visual information ranging from the latest news, images and appeals to detailed archives.

However, a site cannot exist in isolation from other online channels. That would be like a house without electrical lines or water pipes.

Email is, for many people and organizations, the primary online channel for sending and receiving information. For businesses and member-based organizations an email address list is one of the most important ways to reach your audience as well as direct it to your website.

E-newsletters take email one step further. They use email delivery to drop a news package into your audience’s inbox. Depending on their purpose, e-newsletters typically link subscribers to further information, usually found on the website.

A blog housed on your website is another potentially interactive tool.

Social media offer an array of platforms for organizations to communicate with their audiences. Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular platforms in the world and both are augmenting and replacing email as main ways of reaching your audience.

Texting is the channel of choice for an increasing number of people. Many rarely use email, favouring Facebook, text messages and Twitter for immediate information.

Being mobile. All of your platforms need to be accessible via mobile devices. The growth in sales of smartphones and tablets in the past two years is phenomenal and the trend undeniable.

It’s all so complicated.

If you’re getting the sense that communication has become more complicated, you’re right. The upside is that this new environment offers greatly expanded scope. However, along with the broad reach and immediacy offered by online communication comes a set of challenges and potential threats.

Key opportunities

  • Websites make information available to all potential users – from key constituents to casual observers– all the time and wherever they are located.
  • Online communication has changed how we do business from one-way, push marketing to interactivity and dialogue. This means establishing and nurturing relationships with clients, colleagues, consumers, members and the general public
  • The information can be easily and quickly updated and shared
  • Engaging audiences through a website and other online channels allows immediate, targeted contact which helps build and connect a constituency of clients, collaborators, committed supporters, buyers, subscribers and more.
  • There is almost no limit to the information types that can be housed and presented on and through a website: the latest news, policy papers, research, historical information, videos and photos, downloadable documents and media kits, podcasts, live streaming, and so on.
  • Online tools can assist in fundraising and membership drives
  • Online hubs such as blogs or virtual gathering places such as Facebook, can facilitate discussion as well as build and engage a community of users which includes donors, members, supporters, potential volunteers and others interested in your message
  • Ongoing development of a database of users who can be contacted via email or texts for a range of reasons such as event notifications, action requests, volunteer opportunities, emergency appeals and more.
  • Being in touch and staying top of mind with your audience
  • Collaboration – your site can have password protected areas available to certain members in order to facilitate information exchange  such as collaborating on articles, research and sharing information.

Key challenges and threats

Along with the opportunities come an equally daunting array of challenges. If they’re not addressed intelligently, they could turn your online strategy into an organizing and marketing disaster.

Here are a few of the challenges you need to know about:

  • Building a comprehensive strategy to successfully develop and manage communications across the array of possible channels and platforms from website to blog, e.newsletter to twitter and more
  • Developing organizational know how and capacity to update and manage online information requirements
  • Lack of an integrated and current online strategy places an organization at a disadvantage in relation to competition and future growth
  • Poor damage control can cause mortal wounds. Instead of deploying your online communication quickly and effectively to diffuse a problem, poorly chosen commentary or tactics can fuel the issue and make you look bad
  • Outdated content on chosen channels and platforms can damage an organization’s credibility

A checklist for your modern website and online presence

How can you tell if your site is old-fashioned? This brief checklist covers some of the essential elements and functions of an up to date site. Of course, it depends on the purpose of your organization or business. Not all sites will have all these features.

Your site should :

  1. Outline and detail your organization’s main issues, key messages and calls to action
  2. Clearly highlight what your clients, members and the general public want to know
  3. Direct users to your main offers and create opportunities for them to interact with you directly and immediately. Typically, at least one call to action per page
  4. Allow you to gather contact information such as email addresses, phone numbers and more of clients, colleagues, supporters and potential volunteers
  5. Present current text and visual information and be easy to update
  6. Point to significant recent and past accomplishments
  7. Present in depth information
  8. Be fully search engine optimized so people can find you on the internet
  9. Raise funds online
  10. Act as a sign-up point for an enewsletter
  11. Advertise events
  12. Present a range of videos and photos of your projects and your people
  13. Allow users to share the site’s news, images and videos to their contacts through a “Share” tool
  14. Feature a blog so you can write about your areas of expertise
  15. Have a Twitter feed to let people know what you’re doing and to have a presence in your target area whether its your industry or organization
  16. Link users to a Facebook page or to Twitter
  17. Showcase news stories from various media sources about your activities
  18. Feature inbound links from other websites
  19. Have lots of internal links connecting users to other pages on the site
  20. Facilitate users finding information on the site through a “search” function
  21. Allow specific users access to password protected areas in order to share information and collaborate on research, writing and more
  22. Be part of an integrated marketing strategy that employs social media and social networking, content development and distribution

In my next blog about what goes into a modern website, I’ll discuss some tangible things you can do to to have an up to date website and online presence.

posted by kris klaasen