How to keep your website looking good

In a previous life, I worked as a web editor on a local government website, so for this blog post, I thought I would write about some of the ways you can keep your website looking good. My role involved writing, editing, proof reading and approving web pages prior to publication and educating people on web design good practice, brand maintenance and search engine optimisation. At one stage I think the website had around 900 pages, so it could be a daunting task and the team I worked with continuously reviewed the website to ensure web pages and web documents were kept up to date and monitored it in terms of usability, accessibility and compliance with government legislation.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

First impressions

First impressions really do count with websites. If someone doesn’t like what they see, they won’t stick around for long, so it is important to ensure you keep yours in working order and up to date at all times. Think of your website as your shop window – it needs to encourage people through the front door to browse your wares. Website reviews or content audits are crucial to giving your shop kerb appeal and for good search engine optimisation (SEO), that is a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results (the unpaid listings on a search engine results page.)

Contact information

Contact information of some sort should always appear on your website, namely an address, telephone number, email address or contact form. As a member of The Society of Virtual Assistants, I am required to display a UK mailing address and to be contactable by email too. On a website, it goes without saying that people will expect to be able to reach you online, so displaying an email address or having a contact form is a must have. It also appears more professional if your email address is linked to a domain name, for example toni@vaservices.org rather than toni@gmail.com. I do not display a contact telephone number or an email address but can be contacted via the contact form on this website, which is good for reducing spam email. If you choose to use a contact form too, make sure it is connected to your email address and messages are getting through. You can do this by emailing yourself or asking someone to test the form for you.

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Photo by Viktor Hanacek

Always proofread and check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. It can be difficult to proof read your own work, as after a while you become blind to what you have written, seeing what you think is there, rather than what is actually there, so again ask someone to proofread and sense check what you have written before you publish it. Alternatively, you can use a website spellchecker. Type ‘website spellchecker’ into a search engine and type the address of your website into the search box to get your website scanned for spelling errors.

Broken links are another thing that should be tested for regularly. These can occur on your website, say if you have been re-structuring your website or as the result of changes on a website that you link to and both look bad if not fixed. Broken or dead link checkers can be found online and work in the same way as the website spellcheckers described above. 

Using the copyright symbol on your web pages will emphasise that you take your rights as the copyright owner seriously. The symbol is often found alongside a statement saying ‘all rights reserved’, which means you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowable under law. You can read more about copyright in the blog post below.

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Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels.

I agonised over this wording for a long time but as a sole trader, I have chosen to use  ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ on this website. My hope is that it is warm and welcoming and gives the impression that I am talking directly to you and that you get a sense of who I am. By using ‘we’ I feel I would have been giving the impression there is a team involved here which simply is not the case.

Data protection

It is important to ensure your website is GDPR compliant which basically means you have to inform users about the data that you collect from them. On this website I have a privacy statement which advises how I use and protect personal information. There is also a terms of use statement which governs the relationship between me and anyone who visits the website. Currently I do not use email marketing but if I did, I would ensure that an unsubscribe button appeared on any marketing emails, so people could unsubscribe from these any time they wish. You can read more about GDPR in the blog post below.

This was a difficult one for me, as I rarely like photographs of myself but I have to acknowledge that as a freelancer, having a photo of me on my website brings a personal touch, allowing visitors to put a face to the name of the business. My image is a snapshot but if you can afford to get a professional headshot, do that. Some freelancers use a logo instead – it isn’t a hard and fast rule but whatever you decide to use, make sure it is the same on your website, as in any networking groups or social media platforms you use, so people can recognise you.

Carrying out a content review

The ideas above are all quick ideas for good practice but you may want to consider undertaking more in depth reviews too. You could do these once or twice a year as a project or alternatively, setting review dates on your pages and reviewing these at intervals throughout the year, will help make the load a little easier, particularly if you have a lot of content on your website.

If you know you are adding information to your website that is time sensitive, add a review date to the page at the same time you publish it, as a reminder to update or delete the page, when the date has passed. Don’t forget any documents or images that you use on these pages need to be reviewed and deleted at the same time. It is crucial that behind the scenes you keep your documents and images organised and establish a filing naming convention immediately, to make it easy for you to identify your files and quickly find what you need, particularly if you work in a team.

Remember that your website needs to look good on many different electronic devices also, so regularly test how it looks on computers, tablets and mobile phones – take a look at Test My Site by ThinkGoogle for ideas to improve your mobile site.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

It is important to note that just because you wrote content for a web page once, it doesn’t mean it has to stay on your website forever. You want your visitors to be able to find their way around, not feel as if they are in a rabbit warren. Consider your customer and put yourself in their shoes. Will they be able to navigate their way around your website without all of the inside knowledge of the person who designed it? Ask yourself, do you have duplicate information that could be consolidated on one page? Does your website signpost visitors to stop them getting lost and is it easy for them to return to the homepage? Link titles should take visitors to pages with a matching page title – do your link titles do what they say on the tin? Is the website divided up into clearly defined areas such as departments, events, services or tasks that a visitor may want to complete? Is it accessible to people with disabilities and to older people who may not have all of the digital skills necessary for day to day life? You can read more about website accessibility in the blog post below.

To keep your website fresh, delete out of date content or archive content you think you might be able to re-use or recycle. No one needs to read about Christmas events in July, so replace them with something new. Recognise the difference between what is evergreen content, that is content that needs to be on the website at all times and seasonal content that can come and go.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

Websites are never finished

Websites are never finished, so don’t fall into the trap of spending time and money getting online and then do nothing more with your website. Maybe allocate some time for yourself each month to look around your website and ask ‘does this still reflect my company’ and if it doesn’t, rewrite the content so it does or delete it – think of it like a fresh coat of paint, new curtains or new cushions. Following the above guidelines will help keep your website looking good and keep it in good working order too, encouraging potential clients to trust you and re-assuring existing clients that they are in safe hands. Still not convinced? Take a look at the websites below for further information.

Sources and further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Digitally present

It is hard to believe the world wide web is only 30 years old, as today it seems there is little we can do without it. On 6 August 1991, the first website was introduced to the world. Launched at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), it was created by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. On it, people could find out how to create web pages and learn about hypertext (coded words or phrases that link to content). By 1992 there were ten websites, by 1994 there were 3,000 websites (after the world wide web became public domain) and by the time Google made its debut in 1996, there were two million. However on 27 February 1995, Clifford Stoll writing in the American magazine Newsweek wrote ‘The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.’ Seventeen years later Newsweek ceased print publication and became exclusively available online. 

Illustration of a tree bearing website and social media icons.
Image by Gerd Altmann.

I built my first website in 2001 and from 2005 – 2018 worked in local government as a web editorial assistant. In 2006 the Cheshire County Council web team appeared in the internal newsletter.  It was reported we had scored a national ‘hit’ parade high, with more than 648,000 internet users having clicked on to the Council services online, helping to scoop the coveted ranking as the eighth most visited local government website in the UK. It all seems incredibly wide eyed and innocent now but at the time the world was pretty much changing in real time in front of our eyes, as we encouraged our customers to ‘do it online.’ Websites were cluttered, dis-organised, used outlandish fonts and colours, had background music, guest books and counters to show the number of people who had visited the website and it wasn’t unusual to have text scrolling or flying across the screen.

Why is a digital presence important

In 2020, Forbes reported that in 2019 alone, there were approximately 3.8 million Google searches conducted each minute, many of which were carried out to find information on local businesses.  Today many people will visit a company website and social media pages before they do anything, so a strong online presence acts like a shop window, where customers can browse, get a feel for a business, interact with a business and read customer reviews, with many people watching from a distance before they make contact or part with their money. In turn, websites, social media and other digital platforms allow businesses the opportunity to educate customers about what they do and showcase their work 24/7 to a global audience, who increasingly expect to see all businesses online, no matter their size.

Credibility

One of the main reasons to have an online presence is to increase your credibility. Without this, many people today will question your legitimacy whereas a strong online presence will help build trust, find potential customers and affect their purchasing decisions. Having an online presence is an opportunity to get the word out about what you do but if people can’t find information about your business easily, they are likely go elsewhere.

Saving you time

An online presence can also help increase internal productivity within your company, reducing telephone calls meaning staff are not constantly being distracted. At the same time, it helps customers find useful information such as your location or opening hours at any time of day or night, which ultimately provides better customer service for them. 

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Image by Gerd Altmann.

Top tips for building your online presence

First impressions count

Websites and other online services need to have a clean, modern and professional looking design, so no scrolling text, flashing images, crazy fonts, flying text, background music or emoticons – those days are gone. However, it is also important that your website is not style over substance, so beyond aesthetics, you should ensure you are providing valuable information to your customers, rather than posting for the sake of it. Sharing news updates about your company or maintaining a regular blog, where you provide original content related to what you do or the industry you work in, is important in bringing customers to you and ensuring they see you as current and relevant. Plan what you want to share ahead of when you want to share it, rather than thinking it and doing it in a rush the same day.

Branding

Use branding to clearly establish who you are, what you represent and what you stand for. Think BBC, Coca Cola, Virgin, Marks and Spencer – branding is your identity and should be instantly recognisable to your customers wherever you promote yourself, whether that be online or in printed material.

Ensure you can be contacted

If people are searching for you online they will expect to be able to contact you online too. Ensure your website has a contact email address and/or contact form and make sure these work by sending yourself a test email or asking someone to send one for you. If you are happy to be contacted by telephone or post, make sure these details appear on your website too. Alternatively, you can ask customers to book a call by using a Call To Action (CTA) button on your website or by using an online calendar such as Calendly and if you work from home but don’t want to share your home address online, look to obtain a virtual office address.  Where contact information can be added to social media, you should ensure it is added and kept up to date there too.

Identify top tasks

People visits websites with a specific task in mind and if your website doesn’t help them complete those tasks, they will leave quickly and go somewhere that does. Considering the top tasks of your customer will help you identify the pages you need to include, content to feature on your website, page headers and sub headers to help them find their way around and a logical structure to each page’s content. Your website navigation menu needs to be easy to find and all key tasks need to appear in this – having links hidden away where they can’t be found doesn’t benefit you or your customer. 

Writing for the web

Writing for the web is different to writing for print, as we read differently on screen than on paper, so before posting anything online, you need to tailor how you write for an online audience.

  • Use everyday language and plain English.
  • Proof read, sense check and spell check what you write by reading your writing aloud to yourself. It can be difficult to proofread your own writing, so if possible, ask someone to proofread for you too.
  • When you’ve finished writing, leave it for a while, return to it and read it through again – you will be surprised how much of your work you can still improve.
  • Do not use words and phrases that people won’t recognise or provide an explanation if this cannot be avoided.
  • Explain all abbreviations and acronyms, unless they are well known and in common use, for example VAT.

You can learn more about writing in plain English in the blog post ‘Plainly Speaking’ on this website.

Reading a flyer, brochure or book is a very different experience to viewing something on a screen. Printed materials need to be eye catching to entice people to pick them up but people read differently online, scanning what has been written to find information of interest, so anything posted online needs to recognise this. And remember, there may be times when a customer may need to print something from a website and they are not going to thank you if a document is beautifully designed but uses all their printer ink.

Accessibility

Remember, people with disabilities and older people are your audience too. You can learn more about this issue in the blog post ‘Making digital technologies accessible to all’ on this website. And although the number of older people who are digitally connected continues to rise, there are still around 5 million people over the age of 55 who are not online. Don’t forget to design your online services so they can accessed by people of varying ages, abilities and requirements and consider alternative ways to communicate with those who may not be online, to be sure you are not excluding them.

Undertake regular link checks – broken links, regardless of whether they appear on your website or an external website you may link to give a poor impression. Free broken link checkers can be found online.

Learn from experience

What do you find most frustrating about the websites you visit? Don’t fall into the trap of designing the same for your customers.

Keep your website fresh

Remember, websites are never finished, they are not a static thing that you create once and then forget about, they always need updating. The same applies to social media. It isn’t enough to set up pages and leave them – both need to be nurtured and maintained and have life breathed into them regularly. Neither is there is a one size fits all solution, so remember to always consider your target audience, always consider what you want to achieve by having an online presence and if this changes, be prepared to change what you do.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.