Building a good web presence takes time

Here’s something a lot of web design clients don’t want to hear: A good website needs to be continuously updated and maintained over a period of years.

Now maybe you’re a client who doesn’t mind hearing that. If so, cool. I don’t mean to make a sweeping generalization, I’ve just come into contact with a lot of people who say they want a website that can be built, deployed and left alone.

There actually are some types of businesses and organizations where that will work, but in most cases, you really need your website to be more alive than that. I want to talk about 3 reasons why keeping your website evolving is worth the time and effort. In a later post, we’ll talk more about ways to do this even if you think it’s beyond your budget or skill set.

Listen to the feedback

One of the things that sets the web apart from other media is that it enables a two-way conversation. As you read emails and comments from customers, you’ll continuously learn what people like or don’t like about your website and your business.

Without that feedback, you’re just guessing at what people really think about your products or services. If the guesses are educated, that’s a decent place to start, but for the long haul, you can’t beat the direct connection that comes from an interactive web presence.

When you understand more about where your users/customers are coming from, you can respond, not just with web conversation, but with products and services that solve real problems. That’s using the web for meaningful marketing.

Give yourself time for good ideas to emerge

Your business changes, and if all goes well, grows, over time. You don’t have it all figured out from day one. Good ideas may seem to come in flashes, but those moments of inspiration are usually the products of many hours of hard work.

The same is true of a good web presence. Consistently working on your site and your mix of web tools allows you to act on your ideas when they happen.

In a way, this allows you to move and shift quickly, especially if you are a small business that doesn’t get hung up on red tape. But staying committed to the process of tweaking your site also gives you the time it takes for good ideas to emerge from the natural flow of your work.

After all, do you expect to have more good ideas during a 2 or 3 month process of initially building a website or over 2 or 3 years of running that website?

Everything changes, especially on the web

You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a changing world, and that those changes can affect how your business works. On the web, new tools and technologies are often overhyped, but some are legitimate, and being able to adjust when the right new thing comes along is a lot better approach than crossing your fingers and hoping what you build in 2010 will still be the right thing in 2014.

This doesn’t mean you need to redesign your site every 6 months. It’s possible for a well-conceived design to last 5 years, or more. But that requires thinking about web design less as pretty pixels on a screen and more as a framework for a web presence that will evolve over time.

But how?

That all sounds just peachy, you might say, but how do I do all this with limited time, tech skills, and money? I have a few ideas on that so stay tuned and I’ll try to scribble them down for a future post.

UPDATE: I wrote a couple follow-ups on this. One is about hiring a freelance web designer on retainer and the other is about how a content management system can help you maintain your website over time.

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