The Myth of the Finished Website and How It Evolves

The web is constantly evolving every day. Web technologies change, as well as design trends, usability findings and content preferences. What does this mean?

It means that there’s no such thing as a finished website.

If a finished website is a myth, what are we supposed to be doing? What are our responsibilities to our clients or our business’s website? It’s important to realize that while your website is never finished, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be launched to the public or used – when we think of an evolving website, we should think not of complete overhauls, but of a slow and steady evolution of the site and content itself.

Let’s take a look at some of the things we can do to help our sites “evolve”.

The Design

The biggest change you can do to a site is by changing the design. However, the design shouldn’t be changed just for the sake of it. An effective web design should would like a regular product’s packaging: engaging enough to draw the customer in to check out the info, but not distracting to make the customer forget what they’re looking at – the product.

The design needs to effectively communicate your site’s purpose and every site’s purpose is to convert something – be it products, email newsletters or RSS feed subscribers. Even if you’ve just redesigned your site, it’s never “finished”. You should constantly be changing your site’s design, even if it’s just minor revisions that may not be noticeable to the average visitor.

What kind of revisions should these be? Gain some user feedback by asking your audience, your Twitter or facebook followers or fellow professionals in the field what they think about your site’s design and if anything could be improved. Is the font too small? The background too bright? Little changes like this can often be enough to gain or lose visitors.

The Content

Just like design, content can become outdated. It’s best to update and refresh this content at least every 6 months to a year. The message should be read over and over again. Is the spelling correct? Does it make sense? Should you elaborate or shorten content?

Why not use Google’s A/B Tester to test different phrases of content to see which work better?

Updating your content (and not just your blog section but your welcome messages as well) show that you’re keeping up with your site and that your site is as fresh as possible. Even minor changes such as a phrase here and there can completely change the tone of your site.

The Usability

How usable is the site? Do visitors get halfway down the page and then get stuck? Do they get lost after venturing through a few levels of your site? You should constantly watch the way your users travel your site (via usability testing or just plain Google Analytics). There’s always a way you can better organize your content and convert more visitors.

Simply moving items around can promote better usability,  for example, the most seen section of your site is the top left corner – which is why your logo, navigation and main message should touch that section. RSS feed icons are expected to be on the upper right hand side of a blog. Moving or eliminated these few expected items can be enough to frustrate your visitors into leaving.

Minor Tweaks

While you may not have time to play with your site every day, you should aim to check it over once a week. Look for better ways to present your content and ways to make your design more appealing. While you may not need to completely change everything, little tweaks build over time and make your site seem more “polished” and can offer your visitors more to look at one your site.

For example, several months ago on my old design, I decided to use a “Recent Posts” plugin. This affected my traffic so much that it nearly doubled, as new visitors who came to the site were presented with older, but still relevant, articles that they found interest in reading.

A website should never be “finished”, this thinking leads to stale, static, outdated and unusable sites.

What do you think?

Do you believe a site is every really finished? What are some of the minor tweaks you’ve made to your own, or clients’, sites that have made a big difference?