The quiet summer period has been a good time to take stock of my website, and changes in expectation and technology since I first built the site.
So here's my top ten of what I, and no doubt thousands of other businesses, ought to be doing to make the site follow current best practice.
First though, make sure your site, no matter how big, is using a content management system (CMS) that separates layout from content, rather than a "page design" application. I use Movable Type, but you might choose an Open Source alternative. Having a CMS makes making changes across the site far easier.
1. Implement multiple cascading style sheets to support different devices (eg mobile, printers) and users (eg visually impaired). If you're not using CSS, it's time you started.
2. Make sure that all the HTML is the latest XHTML. Often this will be just a case of tidying up (lower case tags, use of quotes for parameters, closing stand-alone tags), but it will make the site far more usable on non-PC devices.
3. Improve accessibility using automated tools (such as Bobbie), manual checks and ideally disabled users. Does the site make sense to a screen-reader or other accessibility technology?
4. Increase usability. It's amazing how many sites suffer from poor usability. It may be just a poor choice of colour or layout, bad menus or even poorly written content.
5. Use RSS and web services. Any information which has a time component (news, press releases, events, blog, industry comments) should have its own RSS feed so that users can subscribe to the information and pull it down automatically onto their PC (or phone) whenever it is updated.
6. Improve customer contact. Should I make it easier for potential and existing customers to contact me? I already have a web-based contact form and e-mail, but how about a call-me-now button, a link to my Skype phone, or a live-chat feature? Forum might help, particularly as the user base for my software products builds up.
7. Answer questions on site. What about an updated FAQ or search function, or a natural language query service? The forum could help here too.
8. Improve search rankings. Search engine marketing can sometimes seem to be an end in itself but if your site is really useful to your customers then the chances are it will work well with search engines too.
9. Monetarise the site. Every quarter I get a cheque from sales generated by simple links to relevant products. Why not link into a few more affiliate products and make that cheque a little bit bigger?
10. Deal with 404s. What happens when users get the dreaded "404 - Page Not Found" error. Checking the site logs is cumbersome but Movable Type now lets me generate a link check page in minutes. Why not make the 404 page useful anyway? Give it a link to the site map and a site search form so that the user keeps trying to find what they were after, rather than moving on to a competitor site.
Websites are now a critical part of most purchasing decisions. Take a fresh look at your website and find time to bring it up to date. n David Burden runs his information consultancy, Daden Consulting. Past articles can be found on his blog at www.daden.co.uk/blog and he can be contacted at email@example.com.