Most clients who approach us these days for a website design project already have a site and pursue a redesign project. And, almost always, they have the same complaints. “My CMS is horribly outdated” or “The site looks cluttered.” In truth, all technology ages like everything else. And sure, business objectives may change as well, resulting in the need for new websites. But to be completely honest, a common reason a website is due for redesign or rebuilding is due to neglect and/or poor management.
This week, we’ll investigate areas where we see that poor choices (or lack thereof) lead to a steady erosion and decay of an otherwise beautiful website design and implementation project. Sure, all projects suffer from technical debt over time, but we need not accelerate that process with destructive processes and horrible decision-making.
Poor Content & Workflow Management
When clients complain about content, and most specifically organization or quality – it often comes back to poor internal policies regarding content creation and management. There are two types of clients during a redesign when it comes to content. Those who either come to the table or ask us to craft an information architecture and formulate an overall strategy, and those who don’t particularly pay it much mind. The latter set will often spend their post-deployment time making changes with no specific direction or plan. This eventually leads to a site overloaded with a cacophony of content, much in need of an overhaul.
Often, the more significant issue in content management isn’t the content itself but how it was crafted and managed. Good website operators have a series of steps or processes for properly creating, approving, and deploying content. Other operators have no process and can end up with staging and live environments that don’t match, content stuck in various levels of their workflows (draft, published, deleted, etc.), and content that sometimes is orphaned or abandoned. And don’t even get me started on the consistency of language or messaging…!
Having a strategy that you bring to the table during a redesign from day one with particular attention paid to workflows and content organization plus the quality of the content itself is a great way to avoid destroying your website post-launch, and we encourage all clients to take this topic seriously.
I was on a sales call earlier this week and demonstrated some client sites that were deployed in the previous few years, which is always anxiety-inducing for any agency owner or salesperson – the reason being that clients inevitably will ruin an excellent design with horrific management of imagery. They will put images under text with low contrast ratios or pick pictures that are cropped poorly or over-optimized. It’s such a shame!
Clients should ensure that everyone that touches images within their CMS is trained and educated about proper best practices. Also, common sense needs to apply. Clients should be instructed on appropriate usage of a CMS and best techniques for what looks good and what looks awful from a user perspective, especially concerning content on the page. This is less of a technical problem and more of a workflow issue, but it needs to be managed appropriately, or a good design will start looking bad pretty quickly.
Lack of Maintenance
When websites start slowing down, suffering from security infiltrations, or losing functionality (IE, “It just stopped working”), there is a good chance that someone was not properly maintaining the core software regularly. Things always will break, and updates may be challenging, but keeping up with them over time will make them more manageable in the long run. If you skip incremental updates, then future updates will be a lot more challenging and time-consuming. It isn’t unusual for lack of updating to result in a total overhaul or redevelopment is in order. Have a maintenance plan, hire some help, and keep things up to date via adherence to best practices. You’ll get a longer lifespan out of your website, drive better performance and stay safe, plus more secure.
Not Conforming to Standards
Nothing makes your website less friendly to users and less professional than a lack of conformity to the various standards that are required. This means failing to provide good accessibility features, ignoring data protection laws, not installing SSL certificates, slow-loading pages that won’t pass the core web vitals test… All these standards, which evolved over time, make a good website look harmful to visitors if ignored.
As time goes on, website operators must stay in tune with changes to the compliance and performance landscape and work to conform to the standards the industry is defining. I have client websites we developed more than five years ago, that with proper attention, are still operating smoothly and effectively for them. On the other hand, sites built and ignored, never iteratively improved… fail to convert effectively.
Pursuit of “Quick Fixes”
“Oh, there’s a plug-in for that” – more terrifying words have never been spoken. Clients are notorious for seeking fast, easy, and cheap fixes to problems. The promise of “extensibility” has led many to run to the plug-in directory for WordPress or their CMS of choice to find quick fixes. These quick fixes are the leading contributor to eventual technical debt.
I’m not saying that all plug-ins are harmful – but like any other asset you maintain – making proper judgments about improvements will improve performance and overall lifespan. Clients who seek the cheap way out, installing their own plug-ins along the way, not adhering to proper development procedures, inevitably will lose value in their sites quicker and run into rebuild decisions sooner than they would have preferred.
Nothing is more stressful or sad for an agency is watching a new website be butchered post-deployment. It isn’t unusual for clients to blame an old agency when we can tell that their lack of best practices probably resulted in their site taking the form they find it in. Websites can last longer than you think – especially these days. But you have to take care of it, stay current, maintain the moving parts, and most of all, culturally within your organization plan and accept the ongoing nature of being a website operator. The work of upkeeping a site never really stops – take this as fact, and you’ll get a longer usable life from your site and the software supporting it.