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    January 26, 2020      

10/15/2002 - Tips on how to keep your web site fresh!

A feel of “freshness” in a Web site is the result of many, mostly subtle, elements all being kept up to date. Every page in your Web site begins life fresh and new. The links work. The written references in the content are current and accurate. The page design is nicely integrated into the overall scheme of your Web site.

Then you put a new page into your Web site and it begins almost immediately: insidious creeping staleness. As time passes, your site structure changes, language evolves, and other Web sites disappear, leaving your lovely new page littered with obsolete information, dated slang, dead links, and outdated references. Just one staleness cue can ruin the impression of freshness, even when everything else is perfect. As a result, maintaining freshness can be a real challenge for the small-business Webmaster for whom managing the Web site is necessarily a low-priority activity.

Cues to Freshness
Freshness requires attention to detail, so if you decide that you will not have time to keep the site as fresh as you would like, I suggest that you especially avoid using some of the strong cues such as holiday themes and date stamps.

Holiday Themes
Changing your site to fit the next holiday—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so forth—tells your visitors that you are on top of things—unless the theme is still in place the day after the holiday! Be sure you are ready to make the change to the next holiday, or back to normal, right on time.

At the bottom of many Web pages is a claim of copyright. When the calendar rolls over to the new year, hundreds of millions of Web pages instantly appear out of date because the copyright year isn’t current. Make sure your copyright dates get updated immediately after the calendar changes.

Text References to Dated Materials
Articles and other written information in your Web site can hold subtle, but revealing, references to dated materials. References such as “Last week’s story in the New York Times concerning Governor Cuomo…” are a dead giveaway that your site’s content has not been updated in a while. To fix such problems, make sure you screen every new article for references that suggest a particular time, and remove any that you can.

Dead Hyperlinks
Nothing says stale like a dead link. You can manage links easily using the Verify Hyperlinks command in the Microsoft FrontPage® Web site creation and management tool. Verify Hyperlinks automatically checks all the links in your Web site and lists all the ones that need your attention. This process is simple enough that you can do it daily if necessary. Many Web-based link checkers also exist. One of my favorites is Dr. HTML; this site checks your pages not only for broken links, but also HTML syntax, download speed, and more.

Inconsistencies and Writing Errors
Using different terminology in different locations in your Web site to refer to the same item suggests staleness. Such inconsistencies can easily result from different authors working on different pages, or from the same author working on the site at different times. If you find an inconsistency, you can use the powerful Search and Replace command in FrontPage to easily and quickly make corrections throughout your Web site.

Dated Forum and Guestbook Postings
Visitor forums can be a great service to visitors in some cases, but if you do not have an active community of visitors who post regularly (daily at least), the stale postings might warn away savvy visitors. Unless you get daily postings, I recommend deleting the forum from your site. A similar argument can be made about guestbooks.

Use of Current Slang
Slang might be necessary if you serve a cutting-edge group of visitors. The problem is that slang varies with the times. What was “rad” a few years ago is now “sweet.” “Dissing” people was the ultimate insult a year or two ago, but we rarely hear the term today. If you must use slang to connect with visitors, be careful to review materials on your site periodically, with an eye toward bringing them up to date or clearly flagging them as archived to keep the antiquated language from turning off your visitor. (Is “turning off” still cool?)

Static Style Elements
The style elements on your Web site include background colors or images; logos; menu buttons; character fonts, styles, sizes, and colors; overall page layout; navigation buttons; and link styles and colors. If these style elements never change, visitors can be solidly reassured that you are still the same great company they have come to rely on—or they can be bored into rejecting your monotonous sameness. You must determine how much change in your style elements your visitors need and want.

Static Content
Having the same content always in the same place in your Web site can sometimes give visitors the impression that the lights are on, but nobody is home. If you have a feature story on your front page, change it frequently. If you have a fairly static body of information that you present to visitors—say, a series of articles on wallpapering—rotate the articles through a “featured” article that changes every day or two and repeats after a month or so. That easy change can offer sufficient variety to satisfy your visitors.

In the wallpapering example, the typical customer interaction might consist of two to five visits: one for planning, one for purchasing (hopefully!), and perhaps a visit or two more for assistance during installation. Once the paper is up, that customer is not likely to visit your site again soon, so the content cycle starts over for the next wave of visitors.

Managing Freshness
Freshness management is about change, so take a good look at every page on your site and determine which of the pages are likely to change, when, and how often. Then create a review schedule that meets your specific needs.

To create a review schedule, choose appropriate categories for your site, and then classify each page so that you will automatically know when to review it. Typical categories might include the following:
  • Review these pages daily.
  • Review weekly.
  • Review monthly.
  • Review annually.
  • Review on the second Tuesday of each month.
  • Review after adding a new vendor.
  • Review after updating products.

Intentionally thinking about freshness will help you remember what to watch for as you build and edit your Web pages. Make sure somebody in your organization is assigned the specific responsibility of completing the reviews, and your site will remain fresh and cool!