A few weeks ago I received something of a blast from the past – a small business client I hadn’t heard from for a full 10 years.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the website we had created for her and her counselling practice a full decade ago had stood the test of time and had managed to grow with her entire business’ online needs.
Over this time, neither I nor any of my staff had had any contact with her whatsoever – the website we had built for her all that time ago had withstood many of the technical and presentation challenges the digital world has thrown up since.
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New website browsers, multiple browser upgrades, hacking attempts, functionality additions and upgrades, even her website appearance, had all been seamlessly dealt with without an additional cent being spent on her monthly license/hosting plan.
A self-service website
Over this time too, she and her staff were constantly adding new content and capabilities without needing to bother us once for our assistance.
She had also evolved the site from the standard ‘electronic brochure’ to one that was constantly updated with new stories, product and imagery, managed eNewsletters, booked appointments and sold her product.
It was only now that she was essentially changing her business name and business model that she was considering a new website.
Even I was surprised to see that her website had lasted this long without significant renovation or replacement. It’s hard to get reliable information on but I suspect that the average life of a website and its underlying platform is four to five years. Any less and you will be up for unnecessary and significant replacement costs.
So what was put in place to allow her website and underlying platform to last her so long without intervention from us?
I identified four key factors.
1. Comprehensive content management system (CMS)
In assessing her requirements, we wanted to provide a CMS that allowed her to alter most aspects of the website herself (or her staff). Not just the pages, but menus and new areas of the site she hadn’t considered at the time – surveys, appointment bookings, eNewsletters and product sales.
Most importantly, she didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to be able to use this functionality.
2. Integrated features
A critical factor in the longevity of her website was that all the then and future features of the website were all completely integrated. There weren’t separate and disparate survey builders, CMS, customer relationship management, etc, tools; they all resided in the one system and were developed by the one organisation.
This meant that if anything fell over, the same organisation could rectify the fault easily and without charge.
3. A proprietary (company owned) website platform
There are very few web developers that don’t recommend open source (community developed and/or maintained) website platforms like WordPress, Magento and their ilk. And why wouldn’t they? They earn a living by creating and maintaining open source websites.
What they rarely recommend is proprietary (company owned) platforms like Business Catalyst, Squarespace, Wix, etc, because, conversely, these platforms are already ‘built’, bypassing developers like them and requiring only the design and content to be added.
But few smaller businesses require features that aren’t available out of the proprietary website box. In fact, like most software, they contain features that their small business users rarely use – even if they might be useful to them.
In this case we chose a proprietary platform that indeed had all the features this business could ever need and then some. What’s more, the provider improved that functionality over time for no additional charge whatsoever – an offering that – with all due respect to them, developers just can’t match unless they want to go broke.
4. Predicting future functionality
One of the secret arts of the website world that few get completely right is predicting the future functionality requirements of our clients. At the time of briefing, this client was focused mostly on being able to edit the website easily. But by understanding her business and her market, we were able to successfully predict that she would need survey builders, eNewsletters, CRM system, eCommerce and more within a few years.
Understanding these future requirements meant that we could either provide a website platform that had this functionality already built in, or there would be a small price increment when she chose to add them.
As a result this ‘future-proofing’ has saved her thousands of dollars over the 10-year lifespan of her website not to mention the time involved in co-ordinating their development.
So how future-proof is your website? And how much have you already forked out because it isn’t?
These are questions that all business operators need to understand or face spending much more for their online presence than they really need to.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.