Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 Key Features of 2015 Best of the Web Winners

How does your site measure up versus the best of the web?

Each year Rochester Business Journal publishes it's Best of the Web awards - for top performing and designed sites in the Rochester area.  They publish a summary of all the nominees and give some detail into what went into these sites. In this article I will look at some of the objective results from those statistics.

I hear all the time from customers "I want my website to be the best", or "I want it ranked at the top of the search engines" or "I want tons of hits".  But how do you know if your site measures up? What are reasonable results for your efforts?  What should you expect to spend to get those results?

One way to look at it is to base your evaluation and investment on what the best in the industry have done.  So let's examine some results we can glean from the Best of the Web article in 2015.

Let's start with average age since last overhaul.  Best of the web nominees ranged from 6.25 to .17 years age since last overhaul - but here's the kicker - the overall average for all nominees was just 1.15 years. That's right - the very best were overhauling their sites pretty frequently.  There are great reasons for this - chief among them is that web technology changes frequently.  New browsers and platforms are released yearly or even monthly.  Sites have to adapt to different screen sizes and experiences as mobile makes a huge inroad. The most frequently cited overhaul reason was to adapt to a responsive design that would work on either a phone, a tablet or a desktop.  That's one example of a changing environment but we can find so many more, from new web technologies to offering more sophisticated interactive experiences.  The lesson learned here is that building a website is an ongoing process - not a one time project.

The next statistic we'll look at is number of hits per month. The site with the least number of hits was 150 per month, and the site with the most was over 2.5 million.  Obviously this means that the overall number can vary widely, but the average among all the sites (barring the one outlier of 2.5 million) was well over 77,000 hits per month.  If we put the outlier back in it's over 150k.  In any case it means that sites that performed well were achieving numbers well over 50,000 hits per month.

So what about initial development cost?  How much should you invest if you want to build a best of the web nominated site.  Again, there was a wide range of costs from $2,500 to $80,000.  Many of the larger sites didn't publish cost to produce - frequently because their site was developed internally and they didn't track it. For those site though they frequently listed staffing levels of well over 10 people to build the site and maintain it.  The average cost for those reporting for initial development was $25,128.  The way websites are developed, and the way companies think about their costs, this may be less than accurate.  The reason is they frequently think of their own resources as "free", where in fact they do have a cost, and more importantly they're probably thinking only of the last overhaul, rather than the total cost of ownership (TCO) of all website development to date. But let's say that this is representative of major website project costs - even if not TCO.  How's your budget for web development?  Close to that?  If not you may not be getting what you want.

Next comes ongoing maintenance costs.  Good websites are constantly updated and  maintained, the minimum cost was zero (I find that hard to believe - they probably have internal staff maintaining the site and aren't counting those costs) and $50,000.  That's right - some of the large sites pay as much as $50,000 per year to maintain their site!  The average expenditure per year for those reporting was around $7800.  What is your annual maintenance budget?  Do you have that price range in mind when determining what your website spend will be?

Let's finally look at staffing.  The number of people working on the sites ranged from 1 to over 20 in the case of the site with 2.5M hits per month.  The average staff that oversaw site maintenance and development was 4. Now they may not all be full time - but most sites listed out who did what and there was significant work being put in. I'd hazard a guess and say that these labor costs weren't factored into the site costs, based on comments in the website descriptions.  So in addition to the above paid maintenance costs, many of the best of the web sites had additional internal labor costs to maintain. And if they're employing that many people to maintain the site, you can bet that they're constantly updating and keeping the site relevant.

Some keyword analysis from the judges comments show these words trickling to the top, indicating their importance in the overall rankings of the sites. I'll exclude words like "site" that don't really indicate anything about the value they were looking for:
  • Design (50 times), usually associated with the word "clean".  They are looking for uncluttered, easy to navigate and pleasing page design.
  • Content (40 times), in the end a website's value is determined not by how pretty it is - but by the relevancy, usefulness and indexing of the content itself.  Content is king.
  • Social (34 times), How well the sites were integrated with and reflected their social media use and branding was highly important to sites.
  • Easy (32 times), Usually associated with the word "Navigation".  How easy is it to get around the site, find the content you're looking for.
  • Home (30 times) - referring to an attractive and inviting home page design
  • Mobile (30 times), Responsive design and a nice look and feel on all platforms was an important consideration. With over 30% of traffic now generated by mobile devices this is key.
  • Other important keywords included Link (31 times), Media (27 times), Responsive (22 times), Slideshow (17 times), Scroll (17 times).  These all indicate key features the judges thought were important enough to mention in the comments.

Some info on the statistics themselves. There were 37 sites reporting, only 35 gave counts on hits per month, 24 gave initial development cost numbers, 28 gave maintenance cost numbers.  The rest of the statistics were completely filled in by the 37 respondents.

So let's develop a quick checklist:
  1. When was the last time you overhauled your site?  If it was over 2 years score a -1 if under two years score a 1
  2. How many hits per month are you getting?  If over 50,000 score a 1 if under score -1
  3. What did you spend to develop your site initially (or in the last overhaul)? If your budget was over $25,000 give yourself a 1, otherwise -1
  4. What is your budget for maintenance costs per year?  If over $7500 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  5. How many people within your company help maintain the site?  If over 3 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  6. Is your site responsive - does it operate well on a phone?  If yes, give yourself a 1, otherwise a -1. 
  7. Do you have a well executed and integrated social media plan that is reflected in your site design? Give yourself a 1 if you do, -1 if you do not.
How did you score? Positive or negative?  If you scored negative and you are dissatisfied with your site's results and performance, you can identify where you may have gaps based on the negative scores you achieved.  If you want a full evaluation of your site and a more complete analysis of performance vs benchmarks, contact for more information.