You probably heard it before: You should treat your website as a garden. Back in the days, people used to think that a website was some kind of a digital brochure. Text it, design it, print it, leave it. Of course these days are gone and people know that you launch a website and optimize it iteratively. You have to take care of it. That’s the obvious part of the garden metaphore. But there’s even more to it. We will come to that later but for now let’s start with the basics.
The pace of the digital is in no way comparable to print
If you are still chewing on the first point and ask yourself why a website is different from a brochure, let me just recap.
1. Competition is fast
The internet is a fast moving place. Brands come and go and users are getting used to latest standards. Be it certain channels of communication, design trends, social platforms or payment services. And even though you might think, that business has always worked out fine, your competition may adopt trends and fashions with little effort—leaving you behind with a competitive disadvantage. So the sheer pace of the digital plays into the hands of the small, agile brands. It’s easier than ever for a newbie to become a successfully brand and for a settled business to become obsolete.
2. Search engines think that new is good
Search engines like established, trusted websites. But they like it when these sites evolve and are up to date, too. If you want to make yourself interesting to them, you better have a blog, regular press releases or update your pages’ content from time to time. Again, it is a matter of competition. As long es there’s millions of blogs and news websites publishing good content every day, you can’t expect a good search engine ranking by having your website static for years.
3. Security is an issue
You may think you have a commercial interest in the web. Hackers have it even more. The money they can make out of a botnet or stolen data drives a whole industry. So they are looking for holes and breaches. And no system is proof. You can try to make it less vulnerable but that usually means a lack of comfort. Use a static website with no CMS: very secure but you need to call the developer for every little change. Hard to imagine for a blog. Use a closed system like Squarespace: Pay twenty Euros a Month for something you ton’t even own. Take WordPress: it is used on almost the entire world. It’s development is vivid and fast. But it is a vault that’s lucrative to crack. And hacks come every day. Security is a race. If you want to be state of the art, you need to invest.
Websites have become cheaper but you may need to spend the saved money on maintenance.
So much for the problems but don’t worry, digital is much better than that
Yes, competition on the web is hard, but it’s not all that bad. Rember the days when you had to bin your old brochures because your phone number had changed. That’s over, now that you got your website. Go with the flow. The web is a living place.
Make it a habit to work on your website and you don’t even have to completely reinvent your website every few years. Improve it and make small changes. Of course it may look very different after some years. But that’s perfect. Just be careful not to ruin it’s flavor over time. In Germany we say „verschlimmbessern“—improve a thing for the worse. Try to measure your small changes. Which modifications did work out and which are just distractions that bloat your site. Be careful. A website needs time to settle and to evolve. Just like—you guess it—a garden.
But remember, it’s a garden not a farm.
Okay, web isn’t print, that’s clear by now. But a website-as-a-garden isn’t a farm, either. It doesn’t work like a machine you put time in and get money out. It’s a beautiful place. Make it nice. A garden is not a place to trick people in or to force them to work as you wish. A garden is a place people come to enjoy. That is the part of the metaphor I like the most.
Yes, maintaining a garden is hard work, but it’s goal is to please. If you regard your website as a garden or a park, you know that you need to appeal to your visitors. There is no way to put pressure on them if you want to be successful. You can make your math, calculate the costs of developing the site and booking a server and hiring an agency for your content marketing. But unless you count in user-happiness, you miss the point of the equation.
The flowers and the bees
Flowers got a business idea: Let the bees do the hard work of pollinating the family. But do they try to force the bees into something? Of course not, they make themselves attractive. They offer nectar in exchange for pollen transportation. And they are beautiful. Thats how things work in nature. And unless you are a lawyer—being the equivalent of a predator in the web—you have to be nice to be liked. And honestly, would you not rather spend your live growing a garden than digging a coal mine.
Oh, one more thing
I can almost hear you think: ”That’s bollocks, no one would ever think he can treat his users like crop.“ But the clients I know seem to be very close to themselves and very far from their users. They want to write copy only a member of their own staff would understand, they try to force users into surveys, they want to hide contact information and try to gather personal data for their sales department without offering a fair return (e.g. a quote). So, maybe it is one thing to tell and another thing to do.