So you've had your web site online for a year or two; maybe a bit longer. You've drifted gradually from frequent site updates to on-the-fly posts to your Facebook business page. It hasn't seemed necessary to change your web site's content very often, so other than quick peeks to verify that it's still online and that your domain registration hasn't expired, you rarely visit your own site these days.
That's cool; right? After all, none of the site content has changed. Why shouldn't everything look and behave like it always did?
Also, you've been looking at your site through the same browser software (Internet Explorer, maybe?) for years now. Sure, it might be a few versions behind the latest and greatest, but If it ain't broken...
For a business owner, this laissez faire approach could be problematic for a couple of reasons.
First of all, fashions in web design change as fast, if not faster, than styles on the runways of Paris and Milan. What's killer one year looks stale and even absurd the next. A web site can appear to have grown a cob-web almost overnight (remember Charlotte's Web?), that screams, "Built in 2005!"
But a dated appearance isn't your biggest concern. Your business site must continue to engage its visitors who, you hope, will be able to both view it and use it as it was intended to be seen and used. Here's the issue: while you're content that your unchanged site is working like it always did, thousands of programmers are working out clever new ways to improve web coding languages. If you sit very still and listen closely in the middle of the night, you can almost hear them crowing, "Sanjay, LOOK! I just made that column float right AND change color AND auto-populate with the latest MLB scores using a single HTML tag!"
Older versions of HTML -- the lingua franca of the Internet -- are being phased out by HTML5, the latest, greatest, and most powerful version so far. This amazing language is further enhanced by CSS3, which is the newest version of the cascading style sheet (some code that can make a site written in HTML look WAY prettier).
However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the web browser you happen to be using can display all the cool features of all web sites written in these new languages. At best, it will probably display some of them; at worst, none. (To see where your favorite browser lands on that scale, visit http://html5test.com/.) And newer versions of all these browsers may display sites built several years ago differently than older versions of the same browsers.
Soooo... if you listen a bit longer, you may hear the choking sobs of web developers world-wide as they realize their best efforts have not resulted in sites that look and work the same in every browser. Because that's impossible. The best-case scenario is an "almost."
To complicate matters, in cubicles yet elsewhere, hardware designers are slaving over hot prototypes of new hand-held devices. You got your smart phones, your tablets, your e-readers, your iOS and Android this-and-thats. What fills your laptop or desktop-PC screen with style, grace, and the epitome of user-friendliness might not even show up on an iPad. Case in point: Flash animation was the be-all and end-all for web sites of the previous decade. Now, because of a fuss between Adobe, which owns Flash, and Apple, which makes the iPad, iPhone, and slew of other things based on its iOS operating system, nothing with an "i" in front of it can display Flash.
And of course, the major players in the industry (Microsoft and Apple) are working 24/7 to upgrade the operating systems that run your laptop and PC. (Windows 8 just launched, as you've probably heard. Plenty of my clients are still running XP, which came out in 2001, before Windows 7 and before Vista.) What your users see when they visit your web site depends in part on which operating system -- and version thereof -- they happen to be using.
SO HOW DOES A SAVVY SITE-OWNER KEEP UP?First of all, download the latest version of your Internet browser. If that one doesn't score high on the HTML5 test (at http://html5test.com/), consider changing to one that does. Here's a site that compares the popularity of the major browsers in use today: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp
As you can see, the statistics have shifted considerably in recent years. Chrome didn't even exist before 2008, and it's now the most popular browser. Internet Explorer, the browser of choice for over half of Internet users in 2008, now gets only about 16% of the pie. And Netscape, a very popular browser 10 years ago, exists no more, having evolved into Mozilla and then into Firefox.
Next, contact the company that built your site and ask for a diagnostic check-up. It may be time to tow your site into the shop for a design tune-up or even a complete code overhaul. Any web developer worth her salt will work with you to make sure your site remains a strong asset in the continued success of your business. If the company or person who built it is no longer available, or if you'd just like a fresh pair of eyes to evaluate your site in light of today's design and coding standards, SumSites (email@example.com, or 636.925.2564) will be happy to take a look at it and give you an assessment.
Finally, don't overreact. Over the years, I've learned that whatever the latest Internet buzz says is the must-have, hottest-snot trend, can be pretty safely ignored. Base your site updates on what you know of your customers and clients, your unique business goals, your own good common sense, and the advice of your web developer. As always, if you need input or care to discuss any issues with your business site, SumSites is happy to help.
'Til next time...
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