Successfully managing your company’s website means always thinking ahead. You always want to be looking forward to the next big change but in the meantime you need to keep your existing website functioning, attractive, and accommodating to visitors.
The best way to achieve each of these goals is to make the little improvements that really count. There is a lot of good advice out there for novice and experienced web developers and designers; these are just a few of my personal favorites. Even though they probably will not all apply to every website you are responsible for, keep these tips in mind anyway. They are likely to become a valuable part of your design toolkit.
1. Take a close look at your code
Web standards change every so often and eventually the standards will change enough that the code behind your webpage is out of date. This probably will not have a major impact right away but given enough time an out of date website will start to lag behind both in how it looks and how it functions.
Get rid of redundant portions of code, clean up blank fields, and bring everything up to date. Completely retooling a website’s code will take a lot of time; you may not have the resources at present to bring all your webpages up to the current coding standard but a little tidying up is a good start.
2. Try to improve load time
Features, content, value – there is a real emphasis on web pages to deliver the maximum amount of information as quickly as possible. The desire to deliver content can result in a homepage that lags. Prompt load time is a consideration for every web designer. Content that requires plugins in order to function correctly (such as Java applications) add several heavy seconds to a page’s load time. Unless a feature is essential to your end user’s experience of the home page in particular, consider tucking the application on a second tier page instead. Check the file size of graphic elements, too; you might be able to adjust the compression and thus the file size. Some elements can be turned into sprites, which will further drop the load time needed to display them.
3. Outsource your mail management
Wrangling bounce reports, spam messages, and all the other email-related ephemera generated by a webpage is a headache that every web developer has to cope with. These tasks can be easily taken care of by another agency. Mail management services are more affordable than they used to be. The money you spend on these services will actually free up time that is of greater value.
While this tip may not appear to have much to do with the end user’s experience of your web page, it does have impact. Your web development team should spend time doing tasks that are more in keeping with their particular skill sets. These are the things that will most improve your website over the long term.
4. Revise content
The task of revising your textual content falls into two categories. First, there is content revision that simply updates existing material and makes it relevant to your current operations. Second, content revision may be part of a greater process of website redesign. Breaking up blocks of text and giving each subject a dedicated page is a good way to streamline a site’s appearance; this is also an opportunity to add content that did not initially fit.
It is a good idea to revisit your website’s content from time to time. Updating specifics is a task that can be completed fairly quickly and it will help keep the entire site looking polished and professional. And while you are at it, check all the links listed on your pages. Verify that each is current and leads to the correct site.
5. Play in the sandbox
Sandboxing is a design term that refers to creative experimentation that takes place outside of any specific projects. This is the perfect way to keep your development senses sharp. Start a project that has nothing to do with anything you or your team is currently working on. The ideas that spring out of the sandbox may be the breath of fresh air you have been looking for. Sandboxing a project can entail experimenting with modes outside your past experience. Learning a new skill set can lead to creative collaboration and even more new ideas.
6. Use web inspectors to take a closer look
You can see the changes you have made to a web page without a lot of fuss by using a web inspector tool. There are several to choose from; Safari and Chrome web browsers even have inspector tools built in so no additional software is needed. This way you can see instantly what impact changing the CCS codes have on the final product. This live preview can save you a lot of time; once you get used to using a web inspector you will keep it close at hand.
7. Review information gathered from analytics
Take time to become familiar with all the page analytics generated for your site. All this information can give you insight into how people are reaching your site and what they do once they arrive. Review the analytics and use that information to guide placement of content and other important features. While a full implementation of the changes suggested from analytics is likely to require a full site overhaul, making a few small changes can be done in much less time and will cause much less disruption.
8. Step back from the computer
Even the best web designers and developers can feel burned out. You can refresh your sense of design by stepping away from the computer and looking at other design mediums for a while. Books are an excellent source of creative design; photography and commercial design are two other sources. A field trip to a museum or art gallery can expose you to numerous design styles at once. Stepping out from your customary haunts and spending time in unfamiliar galleries is also a good idea.
Web development has to integrate form and function; the appearance of a website has to be backed up with solid behind-the-scenes architecture. These eight tips will help you keep the front and back end of your webpages looking and functioning great.
About the Author: Lauren Hill is a contributing author for Sydcon.com a website development company based in Chicago.