[Simson Petrol https://unsplash.com/@simson_petrol]

Welcome to part 2 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 a you just own an older website that no longer serves its function.

If you’ve had to hire a developer to fix a broken or malfunctioning website within the last 6 months, you need to be aware of the cascading implications so that you can respond strategically and minimize your costs.

There are many overlapping reasons to operate a business website:

  • Establish and communicate the brand, vision, and mission
  • Build relationships with customers (real-time chat, forums, documentation)
  • Generate leads (email opt-ins, shopping carts, commenters, downloads)
  • Provide education and outreach
  • Deliver great products and services
  • Many others

A properly functioning website should, at some level, contribute to the process of converting prospects into leads or sales. When a website becomes unavailable or delivers a broken experience, the ripples extend beyond the costs of repairing it.

From a purely financial perspective, broken or malfunctioning websites increase operational overhead. At the same time, if the website includes an online store, then sales will also be lost. A situation which drives customers to your competitors.

If the website goes down during a marketing campaign, that investment will be lost (because you’re paying to have people click to your website) and the damage to your brand’s perception could be significant (first impressions are lasting impressions), not to mention that your marketing and lead generation strategies could be set back months (marketing is about momentum, lose momentum, lose conversions).

Your brand will quickly become associated with a “low quality” user experience, which in turn, will increase your marketing costs as you attempt to entice people back to your website. Not to mention, it could subconsciously affect your perception of your brand, and how you or your employees speak about your brand.

Who feels comfortable promoting a broken or out of date website?

Finally, from a technology perspective, a website that malfunctions or crashes suggests that the core platform the website is built on should be assessed for its ability to grow with the business. A poorly written WordPress Plugin or Theme will continue to cause problems until it’s removed and replaced. Legacy web applications built with server-side technologies will continue to cause problems until they are modernized or rebuilt.

Search engines record when URLs are not accessible, and if the errors are consistent enough, then they will be downgraded in the search rankings. Further damaging your ability to reach your customers.

In a chaotic and fluctuating marketplace, businesses that can strategically cut expenses (or avoid them) and redirect those resources toward more innovative products and services will outlast their competition.

The chance that your website will experience a loss of uptime increases significantly without daily monitoring and backups.

In some cases, websites built with WordPress are causing errors because of a new feature that automatically updates the core files and plugins. While this feature sounds like a timesaver (if you’ve maintained a WordPress website for any length time you understand the pain). Left unattended, however, new versions of software increasingly run the risk of failing when part of a larger stack of technologies.

In the event that your business encounters a website failure, consider that a warning alarm for C-Level stakeholders who should prioritize understanding why the website failed, to realistically estimate the costs and risks of different solution scenarios, and then find a service provider that can transition the website to a platform that better supports your business and its internal operations.

When I refer to “platform” I’m describing the core technologies that the website is built on and who manages the website. Self-hosted websites are managed directly by the business, whereas “Managed” websites are supported by a third-party vendor.

  • Static HTML websites (no server-side processing occurs. Self-hosted or Managed.)
  • Dynamic, database-driven server-side websites (WordPress, Drupal, and Magento. Self-hosted or Managed.)
  • Website-as-a-Service (Wix, Squarespace. Managed.)
  • Website-less (Social Media and third-party services. Managed.)

One of the factors that you can use to identify which website platform to adopt pivots on whether your marketing strategy includes content that you want control over. If you operate your own website, the content that you publish is owned and controlled by your business. You have direct access to the data and you determine what security and privacy are implemented to protect that data.

The dominance of Social Media networks recently has given rise to small businesses shifting away from investing in database-driven websites and opting instead to curate feeds or channels on various networks, such as Instagram or Facebook, where they can invest their time (their most abundant resource) into social engagement. This has also given rise to software vendors (i.e., LeadPages, Unbounce, HubSpot), who provide complete lead generation, marketing, and sales funnel services to businesses without the need for a website.

This website-less approach to building an online presence is reasonable because it reduces upfront and ongoing labor and maintenance costs in addition to generating leads. This approach comes with a hefty trade-off, those platforms own your content and mine your relationships. They own the engagements you have with your customers, and they own the data that you and your customers generate by using those networks.

In the case of Wix, if you opt for the “Free” version, they own and control your website. According to Wix’s Policy on content ownership, “As a user, you waive any claims that you may have against Wix with regards to your site being used in marketing or promotional material.”

For those businesses that will not publish much content, and simply need an online brochure, then a simple online presence is sufficient. The new Website as a Service providers deliver a solution that reduces costs and removes the distraction and frustration of maintaining a website.

Businesses that intend to produce content, whether that’s images, blog posts, products, videos, tutorials, etc. should own their own website.

If your website has recently encountered errors or downtime, then this is the moment to begin a website modernization project. The longer you wait, the greater the risk of a serious service disruption.

It is very risky to launch a new marketing campaign when the reliability of your website is in doubt. It is very risky to launch new products and services through an unreliable website. 

That being said, you could create a marketing campaign based on a modernization project, which would allow you to include your customers in the process as well as build up anticipation for the launch.

The ways in which businesses use the internet evolve daily, and you need to decide if your website can support your business’ growth or if it has reached the end of its life.

New competitors entering your market are at a distinct advantage because they aren’t burdened with legacy IT investments.

To remain competitive, your business needs to stay on the curve of technological innovation and strategically eliminate, divert, and invest in solutions that out-position your competitors. For some businesses, eliminating the hassle of managing a Self-hosted website makes it worth the added expense of outsourcing, whereas, for other businesses, the revenue generated by the website makes it worth having an in-house webmaster.

Keep in mind. Website redesign or modernization takes a few months to complete (depending on your needs), you want to look closely at your marketing and sales data to identify the optimal timing to launch a new website and synchronize the project with your business activities.

Have you recently experienced a website failure that caused your customers inconvenience or resulted in lost sales or data? What was your experience like?