The Internet is a lot like the popular joke about the weather: "If you don't like it, wait 10 minutes." Although that change can make things exciting, it does pose challenges for keeping your Web design and content management up-to-date. As the first quarter of 2014 scrolls up, ask yourself these six questions to see how much you need to change your Web strategy.
1. Are You Still Chasing Keywords?
For a decade, keywords were the shortcut for getting Google's attention. Businesses spent serious resources identifying and pursuing the right keywords to get the most and best search real estate. It wasn't uncommon to find the same sentence seven times in one article, with sometimes hilarious results.
Google started fighting back in 2012 with the Penguin update, and has continued that fight through the present day. Its newest Dragonfly algorithm looks at the semantic space around words: synonyms, antonyms, associated terms and conversation.
2. Are You Getting An "F"?
Unlike back in school days, you actually want an "F" on your website. Visual heatmaps of websites show that people's eyes track the page in a specific pattern: down the left side, and in two arms from left to right.
Is your most important Web content in the F-pattern those heatmaps recommend? If not, it's time to update your layout to reflect what science now knows about how people read the Web.
3. Is Your Content Too Short?
Since 2005 or so, the key to blogging was posting frequent, engaging updates. That led to a best practice of 400- or 500-word articles, posted three to five times each week. It fed what Google was looking for at the time, and created a lot of sharing fodder for the beginnings of the social media era.
Google's changes to its algorithms, and the evolving nature of social media, now point to more robust and meaningful content. The best-informed businesses have already shifted to just one or two updates per week, each 700 to 1,000 words long, with engaging graphics.
4. Are You Missing Authorship?
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all important, and your site should still have the social media buttons that make it easy to share your content across the social sphere. That hasn't changed.
But Google cheats. They have linked your activity on Google+ as an author to search rank, meaning what you do with your Google+ social media affects your Web performance in a way the other platforms don't. If you don't already have authorship live and connected to your site, changing that should be your highest priority.
5. How's Your Automation?
Collecting customer data is a main purpose of your Web strategy, since just putting up information to view isn't great for generating leads and making sales. In many cases, this has meant collecting the data with one tool, then porting it—often by hand—into your contact management system.
The technology has moved beyond that, especially in the last 18 months. Whatever your data collection needs, you can find a tool that integrates your data collection with your contact organization. It's just a matter of making the time to find and install it.
6. Are You Still Hand-Coding?
From 2000 to about 2010, hand-coding was the best way to create a professional-looking site, and though there are a few major sites need that still need hand-coding because of the size or nature of what the site needs to do, that's not necessary anymore.
Custom sites are expensive to create, difficult to update and put you at the mercy of whoever wrote the code. If you're starting a website, look to modern content management systems like WordPress or Drupal, which are robust and customizable enough for you to manage in-house, and about as hard to learn as your word processor.
What best practices have stayed with you over multiple iterations of the modern Web? Tell the community in the comments below.
Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at his website.
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