Most small-business owners and freelancers know that they have to have a web presence in order to be relevant in today’s marketplace. Without your own URL, potential clients and collaborators not only can’t find you, but they may wonder if you really are the professional you claim to be (or if you really even exist at all).
But if you’re not a graphic designer, it can be hard to know how to make your website look great, function well, and tell visitors who you are using primarily visual cues. It can also be hard to know, even after you’ve built a site or paid someone else to do it, whether it’s helping or hurting your business.
In other words, how do you know if your website is worthless?
Natalie Andres, a Los Angeles-based graphic designer and developer and the owner of Hole Punch Design, says that the functionality and goals of your website — and therefore, its design — depend largely on what kind of business you’re running, and where you are in your professional journey.
“Different people have different needs for their website,” she says.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store and an existing loyal customer base, for instance, and you’re simply looking to start selling your merch online, you can get by with something that’s aesthetically pleasing and functional. Same goes for if you’re, say, an interior designer who primarily needs a place to exhibit your portfolio. If, on the other hand, you’re a new business and your website is the first point of contact the world has with your brand, you’ll want to focus more on SEO and social media links.
But before we get into all that, let’s take inventory of your existing website. There are a few steps towards finding out if you’re smoothly sailing, or if it’s time to revamp your online presence.
Critique the Aesthetics
Trendy website design changes about as often as trendy clothing design. That means that the on-trend site you put up five years ago with all the new widgets and looks and tools might make the site look totally dated in 2018, giving potential customers the sense that your business or services are also not particularly current.
“What is popular is always changing with website design,” says Andres. “Anything a little too gimmicky gets dated really quickly.”
For instance, websites that hearken back to the good ol’ days of the internet — the 1990s — are currently having a moment. But that moment will likely be over within the next year or two, and then you’ll be stuck with a site that just looks like it’s two decades old.
The same goes for colors and fonts. Since modern design favors a sleeker look, and since web fonts are constantly being upgraded, Andres says that using “too many different colors, or… not taking advantage of new web fonts” are clear indicators that your site was last updated around the same time as your MySpace profile.
Critique the Tech
In addition to taking a hard look at your site’s aesthetics, you’re going to want to take a hard look at its functionality. Your site should modify itself for phone screens, and not rely on outdated html that doesn’t allow for pictures to upload smoothly. It should also not cause said pictures to look pixelated. Pictures should be smoothly streamlined with text, and neither text nor images should look like solid blocks when they appear on the screen.
Also, be wary of being overly text-heavy. “Pinterest and Instagram are so big that if you don’t have catchy images on your site, you’re going to fall behind,” says Andres.
Check Your Calendar
If you’re still not sure whether your website is worthless or not, take a look at your calendar. Have you upgraded your site within the last year or two? Or has it been more than half a decade?
“I would say [most websites] need updating within about five years,” says Andres. “But, if you have a good solid foundation that is not too gimmicky, not too trendy, that is timeless, you can have that work for as long as 10 years.”
Still, she says, even if your site’s look remains passable, it’s important to incorporate tech upgrades and make sure you’re in step with modern capabilities.
On the flip side, be careful of over-updating. “If you’re changing your site every two years, you don’t have a consistent brand,” says Andres. “Maybe add a feature, remove a feature, or clean it up, but you want to have some consistency.”
If you have found, after reading this article, that your website is indeed worthless, tune in tomorrow for part two of this series: coming up with a solution!
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