empty zoo cage with non-existent animal

Are there set & forget websites?

Does a "set and forget" website really exist?

A website you publish and forget about

Everyone would love to have the “eternal flame” website, who wouldn’t?

The idea that once your website it is out there, everyone will see it – it sounds like a great idea, but in reality it is not how it works. There are many who start with the idea of a website and think that all you have to do is build a website, publish it, wait for everyone to see it, and then leave it alone to do its thing. In reality, a website should be rebuilt about as often as a shop needs refitting in a shopping centre- approximately every 3 years. Also, a website has to be tweaked frequently to improve its SEO, just like changing signs, moving items, and running promotions would be done in any physical store. 

But, back to the answers.

Yes, you can have a “set and forget” website, or at least you can leave it alone once built. After all, it is only a matter of building it and publishing it, right?

Well, no. Unfortunately, this is isn’t the case because if this is all that had been done then the work has only just started. That’s not to say that it might not be found, but more so that visitors may not stay long enough to look at the information (or content) on the website (this drop-off is called a “bounce”)

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Websites published per day

There are approximately 1,500 new websites being published on the internet every day. The total number of active websites is reported to be between 1.5 billion and 1.9 billion. There is also an abundance of inactive websites with parked domains just sitting around gathering dust.

To put this in perspective, think of your new website as being a shiny red marble amongst nearly 2 billion clear marbles. Even though it stands out next to the marbles close to it, unless you were extremely lucky, you would have to search for a very long time to find it in this enormous field of website marbles. In reality, all the marbles are variety of colours and patterns, making it almost impossible to find visually.

Search engines make the task of finding information on the internet much easier, but you have to provide them with what they are looking for.

One of the first domains to be registered back in 1983 was itcorp.com, and it is still active on the internet. It is slightly informative, if uninspiring, but makes for a good historical example in the Museum of the Internet.

Try searching for well-known domain names on the Wayback Machine, a website archiving service provided by the non-profit archive.org community. You will see that most websites are continually being changed as you go back through the snapshots taken over time in the Wayback Machine calendar.

Something else to keep in mind – internet technology frequently changes just like computers and smart phones do.

painted depiction of the old yellow pages used for advertisin
Still life of yellow pages

Having a website is nothing like putting an ad in the printed Yellow Pages, where it remains in the same position in the book a year later. The internet environment changes constantly and competitors are always trying to improve their visibility. Search engines are the starting point to finding information on the internet. Search engines expect that a site should be kept fresh with new and updated content, or they will rank it further down the search results over time. A website can quickly become as stale as as a tin of biscuits if it isn’t maintained and kept fresh with new content.

How much goes into a making a website?

The internet is a dynamic and highly competitive environment and websites are much more complicated than many of us would appreciate.

When we talk about a website, what we are really referring to is the design that is created by code and published on the internet to be found by searchers.

In a book, content is everything. If the author doesn’t have anything interesting or informative to say, the book would probably never make it to print (yes, I know, some rubbish still gets printed).

the difference of language in books and website code

Unlike a book which uses just the technology of printing in combination with a language, a website uses other languages working together to render the website in the web browser on your device – and also some human language for you, the reader.

The content should be organised in a coherent way such that it helps the reader navigate the book. The homepage of website serves as the cover, the preface and the index. Of course, a book is more than the first 3 pages because the content is in the rest of it. Add some diagrams or pictures, and you have different elements cross-referring to each other. A well-designed and planned website enriches the experience for the reader, and this helps to make it popular by referral (which we call sharing). 

It won’t work to just plonk in some popular keywords, add some eye candy, and then publish a website. In fact, the closest example of publishing a website is the publishing of a printed book. However, just because you can publish your own book online wouldn’t mean that you would instantly have a best seller, and this still applies when using “build-your-own” website builders.

What's under the hood of a website?

Underneath a website’s glossy exterior is a lot of hidden information that robot programs on the internet scan for information. This is done by computer programs known as internet “bots” or “spiders” that crawl the internet for information to add to their lists. These lists are compiled by search engines like Google or Bing to return the most appropriate results for searches, and these search engines may, in turn, also look at each others lists to help further improve the accuracy for their search results.

It’s not just about how popular a website is, its about why it is popular. There is a lot of psychology and very clever strategies that go into making the internet what it is for us. Most modern websites are designed around the providing of a good “user experience” (or UX). This follows principles of design psychology to hold the attention of the viewer and make it pleasurable for them, if not memorable. Design of a website also includes the use of complementary colours, neutral space, font choice, wording of content, design of the navigation elements, apt pictures shown in their best light, while making the website coherent to the reader in both topic and narrative.

robots crawl for content

Content

Internet bots search for content and compile site information to make sense of websites and the content of their pages. Content should be carefully selected to make the website not just look good, but also to load quickly in the viewer’s web browser.

Relevant information in the code accompanies the readable content to help describe the topical purpose of the website, an explanation of the images included, their relevance to the page, and extra data tags to help summarise the information.

Build it right

There are plenty of website builders that enable you to make a website yourself. However, they won’t guarantee your site will rank well even if you use their templates and change almost nothing. Then there are the hidden costs – when you have to subscribe to all these expensive 3rd party services to make your website perform like the example they showed you.

Building a website is like building a car from the design phase to the working machine. If you understand everything that makes a car work, it will work well. If you don’t, it won’t.

Consider website developers as being designers, engineers and website mechanic in one. If you want your website to run well and to get anything fixed, then you really should have a website developer do it for you. Doing the wrong thing when building a website could easily turn out to be a more costly exercise than having it built correctly in the first place, and there are penalties for those who don’t do it right.

We really should consider website design as a service, not a product.

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