There was a time when you needed a site because — well, because you needed a site. That seemed reason enough. The site was a catch-all for anything that felt like, maybe, it might belong on a site. You built it once, and pretty much left it alone –- except when you decided to add some more stuff that seemed like it probably belonged. That was how it was done. That was, also, then. This is not then. This is…you know.
Now your site has a specific function. A reason for being. A purpose. Yes, it might accomplish more than one task – informing customers about your product range, alerting them to useful news, helping them locate a dealer or connect with like minds – but in the end, now your site is designed to complete an over-arching, specific, marketing function. It might be growing a customer database. It might be e-commerce. It might be soliciting donations, providing directions — or it might be pure brand engagement in the form of entertainment. Whatever it is, the over-arching function for your site is the single most important influence on its design – throughout the process, from wireframe to live. That doesn’t mean it can’t do other things. It just means it should be designed with a single goal as its ultimate mission.
Some brands are in a position to build multiple sites for multiple audiences, or multiple aspects of a campaign or product – each site, potentially, with a different over-arching mission. It happens more often than you might think, and can be a good strategy for the right product, and with the right budget support. But not everyone has that luxury. More often than not, you’re building just one site. And chances are, you’re building a site you’d like to have around for a few years. So choosing a mission for your site is an important decision. You have to choose one you’re going to live with for awhile.
It also means, from now on, there’s a very good chance you’re building a site that contains a number of elements designed to keep people interested, and coming back over time. The days of “set it and forget it” are gone. The social and sharing tools of Web 2.0, along with advances in content delivery, have influenced people’s expectations for your site. They’re used to interactive experiences that feel immediate. From now on, your site is a living, breathing thing that changes and updates regularly — with new information, news, entertainment, and features that keep people interested over multiple visits. Online videos, podcasts, blogs, forums, and RSS feeds are just a few of the tools available to help keep people coming back. As technology and user preferences evolve, there most certainly will be more and different tools. But it’s a good bet they’ll all have one thing in common: They’ll only work well if the content stays fresh.
Back then, in the catch-all site days, designing a site was like decorating your office with a painting. You picked the painting, hung it on a wall, and there it was. Aside from an occasional dusting, there wasn’t much left to do. But now, and from now on, building your site is a lot more like decorating with live plants and cut flowers. You spend a lot of time choosing the right plants for the space and light, and choosing flowers for color and mood — until you get just the effect you’re looking for. But to keep that effect from withering, you need an ongoing program of maintenance, and fresh content.
From now on, a solid plan for ongoing content creation and regular updates is a critical component you can’t afford to overlook.