Added January 2021 - Slideshare version of this post! If you are a CXO, the most important things that occupy must be two things - profitability and sustainability. You can be profitable today, but can you sustain the company for the infinity? Profitability and sustainability are therefore two sides of the same coin. You will have a dud coin if you only have one embossed side.
Slideshare added (Jan 2021)
And in this stream of thought, I challenge you to think deeper now. Your CMO might be articulating ad nauseam about big data and all kinds of digital media, especially the myriad of social media that mushrooms now and then, compounded by the frequent and sometimes even senseless changes that go on on regular social media platforms. One may be legitimately even think that these changes are simply made on whims, or to show their own competition that they are making at least some progress (never mind if it is senseless and non-consequential).
So, if you really dissect all these mechanisms, you will invariably arrive at the same conclusion, that when a prospect of yours want to find something, he will likely use the search engine of choice to find the top choices. And if it is a customer of yours, he may either use the search engine of choice to find the top choices, or perhaps go straight to your website to find what offerings are possible. Some may still call or email you of course.
So what does this tell us? This tells us the "search" paradigm is very much alive and your own tool of choice to be seen on the search paradigm is to have a good quality website.
This is especially true if you are in a competitive market or in a B2B space. Even for B2C, you will still need to own your own content and platform through a website, rather than relegate your online presence to third-party social networks where you don't have ownership and is beholden to the whims of the platform and its users.
Design-crazed types would tell you that you need a pretty website with lots of visual "bang", never mind if it means it is slow and cumbersome. To others, they would tell you all about analytics and big data, never mind if it means expensive and resource-hungry both in terms of computing systems and people.
3 Litmus Tests for a Website
But really, as someone who has been a web development pioneer this side of the world since 1996, having hands-on experience for UI, UX, backend programming, and server administration, I can tell you there are 3 things to look out for.
- Speed (SEO)
- Security (SSL)
- UX (user experience)
Put a website (e.g. an agency you are evaluating, or your own) to these 3 tests, for Speed or SEO (PageSpeed & YSlow), Security (SSL test), and UX (user experience). We can help your website get up to speed, just like we did for our own.
1. Speed (and SEO)
Speed of a website is paramount. If your website is not loading in the low seconds for a FULL page load for a user, you can bet that your bounce rates will be high. Bounce rates are basically how long a user stays on your home page and other pages of the website. The higher the bounce rate means that the user does not stay long enough on a page or the website.
Many websites designed by pure designers tend to be graphics-heavy, and those graphics are unlikely to be optimized PRIOR to uploading, increasing the page sizes and load times. Such websites may look pretty to you (the client), but are unlikely to find favor with the REAL PAYING customers who have no interest, time or bandwidth to waste on "pretty" graphics. And so, all that money you spent on expensive designs are essentially wasted.
The GTmetrix test is great to find out how optimized your website is for speed as well as SEO (search engine optimization). Bad scores, slow load times, big web page sizes, and hundreds of server requests, all penalize your website for SEO. Google has published their algorithms publicly so there is no excuse in not knowing.
2. Security (SSL)
If a website is still NOT on SSL, you are left behind on 2 areas - security, and SEO. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the minimum standard for a corporate website, and especially an e-commerce site. Google also attaches value to a website having SSL set up (https://), compared to those without (http://). SSL implementation is a science and is often beyond ordinary web designers, so be sure to talk to a consultant who is familiar with server administration and SSL implementation.
The Qualys SSL test is great in establishing if your website has the right set up for security.
3. UX (User Experience)
Is your website effective and user-friendly?
For example, can your website by viewed by mobile and other users? How satisfying is the User Experience (UX)? Is your website marketed well? Is the technology sufficiently implemented?
Complexity is never pleasant. Think of a well-designed website like an elevator pitch. If you cannot explain yourself or your product in under a minute in a short travel up (or down) an elevator to an investor, you have no idea worth pursuing. Likewise, the website interface should be clean and simple and useful to human users. The content should be explanatory, and not just some huge big graphics that say nothing.
The fascinating Nibbler test is a good starting point.
Fast, Secure, Mobile-friendly, and Wallet-friendly
A good quality website (not just a fancy design) should cater to the 3 critical needs of speed (SEO), security (SSL) and UX (user experience). And if you intend to sell through your website, you need e-commerce capabilities as well. Having such qualities often mean there is a cost involved, and they shouldn't be cheap. There is no such thing as "cheap and good" in this world. Quality comes with a price, so if you are a serious businessperson, get serious with your website and its associated price tag.
There are many cost estimation calculators online, you can use them to get a gauge.
What you will notice is that if it is template-based, they tend to be cheaper. I would recommend going for template-based designs rather than designs from scratch. Most modern templates are well-designed, and you have thousands to choose from. Think about your content and website optimization more than just some vain unique design you insist upon. You will then be able to save money on essentials rather than frills.
If you are using WordPress, go to WordPress.org and look for the designs you like, and have your agency to work from there. A good web agency can also advise why certain templates work better than other, especially in the context of the 3 Litmus tests I mentioned - speed (SEO), security and UX. Some website templates are resource-hungry and incompatible with certain plugins. The fancier the features, the less compatible they may be. Be careful.
A good website helps your brand and products to be found by customers and prospects, by conforming to the requirements of search engines such as Google. It needs to be fast so that it will not turn your prospects off, or get penalized by Google. It also needs to be mobile-friendly, as a majority of users today rely on smartphones rather than tablets or laptops. A good website is made to be user-friendly, so that your users will stay, and return again and again. It will be the most valuable investment you will have made, more so than any hosted content elsewhere on social media platforms you do NOT own.