Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Updating Your Website

April 2012

By Mike Gould

As I have mentioned previously, I am “retired” from my regular day job at the University of Michigan. But I am still working at 5 other jobs, including this one (banging out these little semi-humorous homilies every month). One of my freelance jobs is web monger – I design, build, code, and update web sites for 35 or so clients.

And what I have been doing a lot of lately is re-building sites that have been sitting around for awhile, gathering more digital dust than eyeballs. Now this re-decoration can take a while and cost upwards of many $K, depending on the complexity of the site. Why would any small business person want to go through this, I hear you ask. Long story, but I think I can condense it into a page, so here goes.

Frontage
Think of a brick and mortar store you see while walking down the street. You pass by and look in the windows, and Begorrah! (This is being written just before St. Patrick’s day – Erin Go Buy Something...) There are new things available in the window that weren’t there the last time - new shiny thingies that the storeowner hopes will grab your attention by the eyeballs and drag you into the store so she can sell you something. Same deal with your website – you should change your content on a regular basis to keep your return visitors engaged.

Most of you probably have a section of your site that updates regularly. The BizMo site is updated monthly with the latest issue, and the ads on the sidebar are updated as needed. Shameless plug - we are here (and I’m the webmaster):

http://annarborbusinessmagazine.com/

We did a major update two years ago, updating the coding, colors, layout, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) bits. The SEO seems to be working, as we are on the first page when searching Google for “Ann Arbor Business”.

Good idea: small changes regularly and large re-designs periodically. Google likes to see sites that change often - this tells Google that a site is a living, growing entity that is worthy of better rankings above a site that was dumped onto the Web 5 years ago and hasn’t changed since. And large re-designs enable you get your coding up to date, which Google also seems to like. As an example, if your site is laid out in tables (very old school coding), you need to get some CSS mojo involved. Ask your Web person about this – chances are she updated you years ago.

I should point out that the above assertions are my take on what Google likes; the Goog prefers to keep its cards close to its algorithmic chest as far as spelling out exactly what it uses to rank sites. But the above works for me and the sites I work on.

Technicalities
Another reason to do regular major updates has to do with the very fast pace of changes on the Web itself. We now have a plethora of social media sites you can take advantage of: FaceBook, linkedin, YouTube, etc. Most sites have a row of buttons that link to their social sites, and yes, Google is rumored to really like sites with YouTube presence, etc. Remember that a large part of der GoogleMeister’s ranking procedures is based on links to your site. If you have presence on FaceBook, etc., that links to your main site, Google thinks more highly of you. Again, YMMV.

Metrics
Back when I designed several of my sites, Google was not yet the 800lb gorilla it is now, and more specifically, Google Analytics was not in general use. This is reason enough to work on your site if you are not already using this. This free service enables Google to track visitors to your site and provide you with stats and such, all while attracting Google’s attention a bit more, which can be conducive to faster ranking changes, etc. All it involves is a quick registration and adding the Google-provided code to each page of your site. I do this for all my sites now.

Size Matters
Another issue is that monitor screens are getting bigger and smaller. Desktop screens are bigger than 5 years ago, and now everyone is also looking at your site on iPads and smartphones. I suggest you look at your current site on your desktop screen. Is it a narrow band down a larger window? If it was designed for 2005 monitors, it just might be. Does your site look good on an iPad? Your phone? If not, you may be a candidate for a re-charge.

On the other hand, some content works well in a narrow format. If you read any of my articles on my MondoDyne site, you will see they are in the format of a long narrow column. This is because the eye can follow text in columns better than text spread across an entire width of a page. Painful honesty forces me to admit that the width of the rest of my site needs some attention, in content as well as formatting. Barefoot cobbler’s children syndrome. I will fix this real soon now. Do what I say, not what I put on my site. (The coding and SEO is good, but the layout needs a good buffing.)

Identify Your Audience
While you are tweaking things, consider your audience. Older? Use larger fonts and/or give a means of increasing text size via buttons on your pages. Younger? Smaller type, more bells and whistles, etc. Disabled? Tweak your code for text-readers and such, and make your buttons larger so people with mousing difficulties can hit them more easily, and also enable tabbed navigation, which speeds things up for those with limited movement.

Schedule
So how often do you go through all this? I would say do a major upgrade a minimum of every five years, three if your business depends on your Web presence. And weekly to monthly minor updates are a good idea as well. Talk to your Web worker.

Mike Gould spends waaaay too much time on the Web, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.2 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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