Building a Website in 2014?

Web design, functionality, and strategy are constantly changing. This isn’t just because new typefaces and designs are cool. Or because companies have boatloads of money to throw at new projects. This is happening because technology is changing on both the user and the search engine side of things.

Google and Facebook (among others) are competing for users who will use them for search. It boils down to them all selling advertising and gaining market share. Like any company worth its weight in salt, they are all trying to create a product that will please their users more than the next search engine. This results in each of these companies altering their algorithms continually in ‘search’ of the perfect formula that gives their users the best possible search results.

A shift has happened. Search rank used to be determined by the companies who built websites. Sites could be loaded with keywords, links, tags, etc in order to make them rank. Industries were born to help companies decode this process and some companies got really really good at it. Like, really good at it.

But a problem arose that created tension. Search companies wanted user engagement and were figuring out all kinds of ways to measure it and even providing killer tools for free so that companies could also make their sites better and track users on their site. (Side note: This is amazing content marketing if you think about it. Google gives away free analytics tools to web developers and companies to help them make their site better, but ultimately when people make their site better according to Google analytics it’s helping Google. Well played, Google.)

Search companies are attempting to measure content engagement. This means time on pages, amount of pages browsed, bounce rate, social sharing, and other things that represent user behavior. Optimized sites still matter… you shouldn’t stop uploading your site map to be indexed… but we must rethink the strategy behind the way our websites are built. User behavior and experience now matter more than ever. It should matter beyond how ‘we feel’ about our websites or any other thing that we want that would inhibit user experience.

I put together a quick list of things that should be included in your site if you are building it in 2014.

1. Your site needs to be responsive to mobile usageOver 28% of users will try to browse your site from their mobile device. The site, its font, its shape, all need to be responsive and carry a consistent experience from mobile to larger screen viewing.

2. Your site needs to communicate your brand in a way consumers will understand and find easy to read and use. If people leave your site right away because the content is difficult to navigate, hard to read, unclear, or too gimmicky your search rank will be impacted.

3. Your site needs to have a 2014 look and style. People will determine within seconds whether or not they think your site is trustworthy and worth their time. If it looks like it was built and functions like it’s 2002, your users will bounce like gummy bears after a shot of gummy berry juice.

4. Clear and concise calls to action (CTA’s) must be present. Users don’t want to play a guessing game on where to go on your site. If you want them to contact you, make it easy. If you want them to subscribe to your email list, make it easy to find. If you want them to engage with your social media pages, put those logos in a prominent place. If you want them to buy a product, place the product front and center.

The difficult part is determining what is the most profitable action for a consumer to make that they are willing to take from landing on your site. The reality may be that users will land on your site, go to your social, go back to your site, fill out your newsletter, get emailed a coupon, go back to your site, read your blog, and then place an order. The key is to maintain trust, honesty, and consistency on all of your platforms. There are many places to gain customers in the world of marketing, but there are also many places to lose them.

5. Building a website in 2014 and expecting it to be the only place where users go to find information about your brand is like building a ship to cross the Atlantic and leaving out the sails and masts. Your ship may have a crew, a captain, a rudder, the wind, and may float with the best of all seafaring vessels, but if your site doesn’t have a social content strategy, it’s not going to go far. Your content across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, and LinkedIn (the list is getting longer) will matter in getting your site seen by people searching for your product. You don’t want to fish with a line, when you need to fish with a net.

What’s crazy about this post is that it could become irrelevant within 6-12 months. Even the experts in the field of search are continually having to alter their game in response to search engine companies trying to create a better product. If I would leave you with one solid piece of advice when building a site in 2014 it would be: build with your users in mind. Write about what they care about. Use a design they will find easy to navigate. Invest in great content…good content will never go out of style.