[Image. Jayphen Simpson https://unsplash.com/@jayphen]

Welcome to part 1 of 3 of our series Keys to Understanding Website Modernization for Small Businesses. In this series, I’ll be exploring several business factors, tactics, tools and strategies that will help you identify if your business would benefit from modernizing its current website investment. From finding the right people, to clarifying your internal systems and processes, to providing the features and services that your customers expect; I’m providing actionable items and steps that you can implement immediately with the purpose of helping you take control of your business website whether you’re a solo freelancer, a small business or you just own an older website that no longer serves its function.

Website modernization can turn neglected websites into productive assets

The internet has been an integral part of business operations for a couple of decades now, and that means many businesses have paid for and continue to maintain a website as part of their branding or marketing strategies. But what proportion of businesses actively use their investment to reach new customers or position their products and services in the right venues?

One clue comes from the number of employees in an organization. According to SME Research and Statistics, almost 75% of businesses in Canada have less than 10 employees.

In my experience, businesses with less than 10 employees tend to lack the processes and resources necessary to actively engage their website. This is especially true for businesses whose products and services are not internet related.

There is a considerable gap between the goal (of having a website that customers regularly use) and the reality that many businesses experience (a website with high bounce rates and no conversions).

If your business’ website hasn’t been updated since it was built and launched by the developer, this could be a symptom of a lack of clarity around:

  1. How to use the stack of technologies that web applications are built out of
  2. Who in the business becomes the internal stakeholder of the website and online presence
  3. A workflow within the business that produces valuable content on a regular basis

It really is true that modern websites are a complex mix of different technologies that require a broad range of skills to properly use. When the developer hands a completed website over to a business, often there is a “training” session, links are bookmarked, and a quick walkthrough is presented. 

For many businesses, that’s the last contact they have with their service provider and contact with their website drops off from there. I’ve heard some clients say…

I had to manage our business website, and I didn’t have the skills or confidence to do anything. I tried to log in and look around, but it was confusing and I didn’t want to break anything.

If staff aren’t trained and no direction or support comes from management, then no one is going to log into the website to create new content or update outdated content. Regardless of how far these technologies evolve; the inclusion of WYSIWYG editors, better-designed UI, streamlined menus, etc., businesses struggle to find people within the organization that can bridge the gap between the web stack and business operations. There are options for finding the right person for the job.

Outsourcing Website Management and Administration

One trend that has emerged recently is the introduction of website service providers. Just as enterprise IT is rapidly moving towards the “as-a-service” model for infrastructure and software, there are vendors that provide real-time website administration and management services. At Uplyft, we provide several packages that take care of the maintenance operations of websites.

For some businesses, it makes sense to externalize the Webmaster role to a third-party vendor that manages the day-to-day operations of their website. This is especially true for websites that handle financial transactions or deliver a service to members because they require 24/7 Security and Uptime monitoring.

If your website handles mission critical functionality, it should be monitored in real-time.

For other businesses, there are staff members that might be sufficiently trained and eager to integrate the stack of tasks that come with managing an online presence. The key is to make on-going training and support easy to access and empowering for your internal stakeholder.

As website developers and websites become more sophisticated, the documentation and training materials for them have evolved considerably as well. Agencies are now providing video tutorials to their clients built right into the website. Staff and contributors can learn how to use new features or walkthrough training whenever they need it.

Our favorite WordPress Theme Developer, Elegant Themes, recently launched a completely redesigned portal for their documentation. Each feature and function of their software comes with a video tutorial, a detailed description, and an example.

Imagine if your website had a searchable documentation and training system for your staff and stakeholders.

If you have maintained a relationship with the developer that built your website, ask them about re-tooling the administration interface to include updated documentation, links to videos for commonly used functions, and other resources you need to re-engage your website.

Small businesses will need to evolve if they intend to keep website maintenance in-house. I agree with Amanda Sonerland (Clutch, Small Business Websites Survey), who says, “Instead of viewing a website as too costly or unnecessary, a small business should see a website as an investment for their business. Once built, a website can have an incredible return on investment (ROI), especially in the long term”.

However, it comes down to execution. So, on top of building a thoughtful website (and maintaining it), businesses also need to re-think how they engage with their customers (potential and current) through the website they have. New business processes need to be created and that comes from a top-down commitment to deliver value through quality content.

Build a strong team that shares the responsibility of producing and releasing content

If your business is within the 1-9 employees range, you will find greater success if at least 3 people are trained and committed to working together to produce high-quality content. The team should be a cross-section of roles and responsibilities with at least one member who is C-level. A team that includes a key decision-maker within the organization can move quickly and efficiently to achieve milestones and deliverables.

What content is created is specific to each business and the customers they serve. The most noticeable trend is the use of video to deliver content. Many industries use video as their primary content platform, and their customers, as a result, have come to expect high-quality video, which they increasingly consume on mobile devices.

I think many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) with an older website or no website sense how much the internet and business practices have evolved in the last 10 years and it seems incredibly daunting to start. According to Clutch, 30% of small businesses don’t even have enough capital to invest in a modern website.

What I suggest to business owners is that if the business model can take advantage of web-based technologies, whether that’s automating portions of lead generation and client onboarding, selling products, or to streamline bookkeeping, then plan for and build a website that promotes good internal business practices and great social engagement practices.

Make it easy for staff to use, and staff will use it.

If your business just needs a simple online brochure, a basic digital presence, then design and build a website that looks great on mobile devices (with an excellent Page Speed score and AMP version), and provides basic contact information and examples of your work. You don’t need fancy hosting or technologies for that, you need a website service provider that will monitor the website and ensure that it isn’t hacked and damaged.

Does your business struggle to integrate its website into day-to-day operations? How have you improved your website to better serve your business?