Technology

Diamonds and puppies are forever – but business websites aren’t: Control Shift

Andrew Sadauskas /

Over recent weeks, a number of SEO experts, including regular SmartCompany contributor Jim Stewart, have warned that the next major Google search engine update is likely to be rolled out on April 21.

According to hints dropped by the search giant through its official Webmaster Central blog, websites that aren’t mobile friendly and use a technique known as doorway pages are set to lose out. Previous Google updates promoted websites that regularly add original new content, while penalising ones that use spammy backlinks.

In response to one of our articles on the topic, one user questioned why periodically updating your website is a worthwhile business expense:

The problem that I have with this whole “business owners need to make sure they have a mobile-optimised version of their website or a responsive design website in order to preserve their traffic” is that it is (just) another cost the business owner has to bear just because someone said so, many businesses invested in websites believing it to be a onetime investment and have never embraced the notion of regular changes and updates, a colleague has just spent six days making his old site responsive and it is unlikely that this investment will ever see a return.

Certainly, such views are far from uncommon in the small business community.

Of course, every business is different. How important your business website is in the grand scheme of things will vary significantly from business to business. In some industries, having an up-to-date online presence will directly (or indirectly) lead to a lot of business. In others, it will be less important.

Nonetheless, there are four key reasons why it’s better to treat your website design as something that has a use-by date and needs to periodically be refreshed, rather than something you can afford to set and forget:

1. Search engines and social media sites periodically change their rules

Search engines such as Google and social media sites like Facebook rely on complex mathematical algorithms to decide which sites end up in their users’ newsfeeds and search results, and which ones don’t.

In the case of Google, a large part of the reason why it became the world’s most dominant search engine over its early rivals, such as Excite, Alta Vista, Meta Crawler or Lycos, is because the results it served users were more relevant. Likewise, Facebook beat MySpace in part because it was better able to control the amount of spam its users received.

Over time, spammers and scammers figure out the algorithms social media sites and search engines use, and devise ways to game the system, as is the case with Google’s doorway update. In other cases, the sorts of websites users want to visit changes – for example, because more people are now browsing the web from their smartphones.

When these changes happen, the likes of Google and Facebook update their algorithms to compensate.

Hopefully, when you first put your website online, it was optimised to be as Google and Facebook friendly as possible. However, unless you re-optimise your site as Google and Facebook change their rules, there is likely to be diminishing returns on the amount of traffic they drive to your website.

2. Customer preferences change

As I mentioned above, a large reason why Google and Facebook change their algorithms is because people in general change how they use the internet, as new technologies come on to the market.

For example, what people expected back in the 1990s with a dial-up internet connection is very different to what they’ll accept today with broadband. Likewise, a website that works well on a 17-inch computer screen doesn’t necessarily translate well when viewed on a five-inch smartphone screen.

And with new technologies emerging on the horizon, from augmented reality to smart TV, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

3. Opportunity costs

While it’s easy to see how much a refresh of your website will cost, it can be trickier to work out the costs of lost opportunities.

For example, as I discussed a few weeks ago, there are still many business owners out there who are under the false impression that smartphones don’t matter much to their business.

Yet most of these same businesses regularly take phone orders, bookings, reservations, quotes, customer service or sales calls over the phone, perhaps along with a little cold calling or warm outbound telemarketing.

And in many cases, those customers are using their smartphones to make those calls. Keep in mind a quarter of Australians no longer have a fixed-line home phone – they’ve gone mobile only.

So how easy is it for them to go from asking their phone something like “Ok Google, find me a steakhouse in St Kilda” or searching on their phone for “plumbers in Mitcham” to making that valuable call?

Yes, redeveloping a website is a business cost – but so is a missed customer.

4. Security risks

Finally, there are a lot of hackers and scammers on the internet – and they’d like nothing more than to hijack your website.

If you haven’t updated your website design in a while, there’s a fairly good chance it relies on an out-of-date content management system or other technology. If this is the case, there are probably dozens of well-documented vulnerabilities that have long ago been reported and fixed that lurk beneath the surface of your website.

There have been some nasty bugs detected in recent years, such as Heartbleed. Attempting to store sensitive customer information (such as credit card details) on websites where such vulnerabilities have not been patched is a recipe for disaster.

Make no mistake: There is such a thing as a website that’s dangerously out of date. Relying on such a website for your business well and truly exceeds the risks associated with any update.

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Andrew Sadauskas

Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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