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Site refresh: The life of website. 

As we creep towards almost thirty years since the very first website was launched, the way we interact with the internet and the way that websites now look and behave has transformed massively. Thankfully, the responsive and interactive pages that we see today are a far cry from the clunky, brightly coloured and Flash loaded pages of yesteryear. However, website evolution is less about big jumps, but rather about small incremental transformations.

Once a website is launched, it unavoidably requires regular maintenance and upkeep and will always be evolving. Some changes may be aesthetic and striking, while others will be subtle changes such as security updates that ensure the protection of the customers’ details. Like a well-oiled machine, all great websites rely on continuous improvement and maintenance, ensuring that they are on their best form to represent and serve a successful business.

Functional and secure.

As modern technology evolves, so too do online threats, making it essential to stay on top of security updates regardless of what platform yours is built with. As that same technology progresses, is it important to maintain plugins (both default, store-bought and custom-built) and add new functionality, in line with industry standards.

Collaborating with your web developer and hosting provider to make sure upgrades, security patches and bug fixes are promptly integrated. Staying ahead by updating at regular intervals, in a piecemeal fashion, will help you avoid one big set of changes that could possibly force you into temporary downtime.

Analytics are your allies.

Analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Crazy Egg and Hotjar will provide you with a great resource for assessing the running condition of your site. If everything appears to be operating perfectly, there is no need jump into a site refresh: as they say, if it aint broke, don’t fix it! But if your analytics reveal issues with your site speed, or a high bounce rate on any particular page, then certainly action is required.

Regular data monitoring in this way will help you to establish what needs to be improved. A successful refresh starts from understanding where your site is doing well and where it needs improvement. By looking at metrics from both an on-page approach using analytical data, and off-page using SEO tools, you will be able to better understand how your site is performing in relation to your competitors.

Perform your own analysis.

Making time to perform a periodic MOT of your website can be invaluable when it comes to catching problems that might otherwise have been missed. Be sure to inspect your pages every once in a while, making sure that content appears as it should. Check that your call to action buttons, menus and forms are working well, and observe whether the user flow feels smooth and uninhibited. Catching something that may have gone awry in an update means that you can reduce the risk of an issue affecting your conversion rate.

Is your website optimised for all device screens and web browsers? Does the written content of your website still reflect your current goals and marketing strategies, or could it do with a lift? Are there dead links or out of date advice tucked away in your blog? Are your contact details and about us pages an accurate reflection of your current information? Check through for dates that are no longer relevant, and obsolete information within your copyright data, privacy policy and terms and conditions.

Your best advisors are right in front of you.

Beyond the hard data provided by your analytics, the perfect balance is struck by concentrating on what is right for both your business and your customers when considering a refresh. You already know your business but rather than presume to second guess what your customers want – why not ask them or seek informed opinions from people outside of your business bubble. You may not always love what you hear, but at the end of the day, the customer experience is key. By gathering information right from the source, you can make sure the customer journey is correct and as streamlined as possible.

It’s always worth checking in with your direct competition too. Keeping track of what competitors are up to will allow you to observe what seems to work well, and of course what doesn’t. Noticing when they add new functionality to their website gives you an opportunity to stay in the forefront of the crowd. Ideally it will be your website that is always one step ahead of the game.

Defining goals and planning ahead.

Before you gear up to get going on your site refresh, understand what your goals are for the new iteration of your website. Use the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) to identify the drive for your action points, before you plan their implementation.

Are you looking to increase sales; the time each visitor spends on a page, or to improve the site as a whole? Perhaps your goal is to achieve a better user experience that is more engaging, or you are in the process of implementing a re-brand that needs to be reflected on your website.

Pinpointing your motivation will steer the choices you make next and guide you towards a plan of action. Is it something you can do on your live site with the minimum of fuss, or will you need to work on a development site alongside your live one and migrate data over when ready? Test the go live process if possible, and always have contingency plans and backups in place if your refresh results in some hitches.

A change of theme.

Full or partial re-themes are a great way of keeping sites looking fresh over time without rebuilding everything from scratch and should be informed using a combination of best practice techniques, while monitoring analytics and user data to catch any spanners in the works.

If you are using a Content Management System like WordPress, or an e-commerce platform like PrestaShop, in which theme files are separate from your website data and database, a re-theme will be a far easier process. Make sure any development of your theme is done using a version control tool such as Git, and SASS/SCSS syntax. This will make it easier to update and work on your site months and years into the future without the need to unnecessarily build on top of theme content that already exists.

Or a fresh start.

As the industry and markets evolve, so must businesses, and this means that sometimes a full site re-build makes the most sense. This usually comes about when a move to different or more capable platform becomes the best choice for a client who has outgrown their current one. Whatever you uncover for the to-do list when weighing up if it’s time for a site refresh and even if it’s a bit fiddly to implement – it all boils down to recognising that when your website is the best it can be, it is the surest route to happy customers and growing sales, which is always worth the effort!

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