Iterate your design, your content and maybe even your message. Learn what works, and do it more.

If you approached every business owner on earth and asked them their goals, I would fathom to guess that none of them would state their goals are to simply yell their name, address and mission statement across the business world. If that's the case then why do business owners still think it's okay for their web presence to be just that: a bonafide post-card? If most business owners got the chance to either stop and think about it, or consult experts on the situation their organization is in with regards to website and digital marketing they'd want to do better. Some just think web isn't important. Lucky for them, they have all the business they need and are leaving the rest for you to pick up because you're presenting as you should online. If you're one of the latter kinds of business owners then please read on. There may be a few nuggets in this piece for you.

In any business, the things you do evolve, the way you do them evolves, and the way you present yourself online needs to reflect this.

    It is no longer any kind of benefit to your organization to serve up a stale website just to have a website.
    Business Owner / Team Conundrum
    As a business owner and industry consultant, I've seen a lot of things work. I've seen a lot of flops, too. The most common is a business owner or board stifling the process. Often times, this is because they want to have a strong hand in content creation - or just need to be up front to approve things. Sometimes, they're just too busy and there are just too few hours in the day. Without the website already having proven it can be more than that postcard, or stale site - why take next steps and be fresh?

    The risk is that you become slow to communicate, and slow to react. It's a trickle down effect and function kind of thing. Your focus will always be required to grow the business and handle core affairs. If the process is never handled properly, and there's never a dynamic product to drive new business then we're stuck in a loop. It takes a leap of faith to move through this loop in to delivering things really well online. It's a different paradigm, and should be treated as such. Giving your website the resources, and team it deserves can add a whole new dimension to your business model. You can offer much better, and easily documented service, live chat communication, blogs about your products and really help familiarize parts of the industry with your organization.

    You already have teams around you, and they've got great ideas. You might still be missing one key ingredient to your formula. That's delivery. How do you take these ideas which are percolating to grow your business and interpret them on your site with actual content, and new functionality. With a proper team, and reliable workflows, you can build a process, and get things done. Being meaningful and active online carries as much, if not more importance than looking good. Establish an open communication protocol between your key stakeholders and your production and delivery teams. You'll learn your internal languages, and be able to focus on the actual process. At the end of the day, you're building a team to grow your business with.
    Keep your designs fresh by going back to the table after seeing what your audience wants.
    What's that mean?
    There are few things we'll experience in our lifetimes which have evolved as fast as the web has as a platform since Compuserve and AOL really began mass marketing in the mid-90s. Originally websites were kind of like post-cards or a storefront window, but online. They were generally static, and presentation was very very limited.

    These websites began getting nicer, incorporating nicer graphics and video. Sites began evolving to display properly on desktop computers, magical tablets, and phones alike. Sites which were originally not built using responsive technology that would optimize for display on various devices quickly became dated and needed rebuilding. During this period, the capabilities for a website to take on certain jobs and perform tasks became easier to access and more businesses began offering online sales, services, and rich communities.
    Fast forward to today
    It is estimated that there are almost 650 million active websites online as we are writing this article. Odds are pretty good that you're not the only one in your field doing what you do. You've got competition and even if you don't, you need to be heard. Your message needs to be clearly stated and evolve with your business. Imagery and design standards need to ebb and flow with your user demands. By viewing your presence online your users should know immediately that you are an active organization and you are the choice to go to for the goods, services, community or information that they seek. You'll be quickly left behind if you don't.

    You don't necessarily need to change it all at once. If you do, you're starting back at square one measuring user behavior.

    In most cases, once you have a solid design and platform base you can move items around and sub-in new call to action items. Alter your messaging and promotional materials and see what's working with your users. If you exercise this philosophy of iterative design workflow, it's important your development team be following best practices. Your team should not be developing on your live site, and copying files up any more. This introduces too much risk of breaking the site. Instead, leverage powerful deployment and testing automation workflows, and checks. This should ideally be done on servers which are mirrors of your actual live server environment since you do not want to introduce any surprises when going live with your new piece of functionality or website change.

    Be sure to give your test builds the attention they deserve, and test through all of the functionality - not just what's new. We recommend this be done via automation and scripting. Behat is our tool of choice for automation testing. It it lets us be sure your new build stands up, and does all of the things we've built properly. This process allows you to essentially remote control your site via testing robots. This can be anything from a big change such as adding a whole blog, new home page or contest to your site - or as small of a change as swapping a main color from blue to red. You do not want this process to cost you any down time. For visual regression testing, we like to use Backstop.js. It allows us to compare multiple sites against each other in their current state visually, pixel by pixel. This is especially handy to flush out issues which are showing incorrectly, or maybe not even at all.
    Build your team around successes
    Supporting Actors
    Just as you need a good team helping you collect this data and make sensible suggestions around it, you need good tools to collect and measure your data and solid workflow to deploy your new website features. When a website is working, it just looks like a magical thing that should just always work.

    When it's not? It's a big deal.

    People get alarms, calls get made, and overall it can get costly. Just as websites should just work, clients shouldn't need to know anything about your internal workflow. Just that it works and that it's delighting them. This means that there are no headaches or lost data when you go to launch that new gallery or blog feature. In general this functionality comes by way of using a code repository and some kind of continuous automation tool to help orchestrate some kind of script. In general it would get the new code changes, build a test version of your site, and integrate a database from somewhere in your project. Maybe from your live site. Based on the automated tests you've got built in to your workflow, and perhaps some manual tests we can safely push the new changes on to the live environment confidently knowing they're going to work properly.

    If you want to tell how cheap actual cheap hosting is - measure a slice of your company's time in an hour chunks. That is take each person's wages being notified and on alert for communication around down time and malfunctions, and add the loss of potential sales during that time. Depending on your company structure you could be looking at multiple thousands of dollars per hour for any down time. This is not somewhere to cut corners on cheap hosting, however it is not always necessary to be spending some of the amounts we've learned clients are spending for reasonably straightforward needs.
    Listen
    Build your changes based on actual data that actual users are generating. Gut feel is great but these kinds of changes can be costly - especially if you're inside the business. Dave Chapelle, my favorite comedian, refers to this phenomenon as standing too close to the elephant. I'll re-phrase but if you're standing too close all you see is a wall of grey. You need to stand back to actually see it. This is a common mistake business owners make in trying to make their own marketing and website development choices. If you're able to listen and make informed design and development choices, you'll be able to measure this data once again against a goal. Working with a skilled team who can decipher all of this incoming data and make sure your web properties are acquiring it in the first place is key to making these choices better.

    Use this feedback loop to grow your business and be sure so long as it's in reasonable scope that you're giving your visitors what they're coming for, and serving those pages up fast. 

    Be sure your site is generating appropriate data and you have a solid team that can help you make informed decisions based on this data.

    Make small changes which can be measured.

    Track the changes, and react appropriately.

    Everything around us is changing at the speed of light. Keep things fresh, and let your audience know you're their best choice for whatever it is they're seeking.