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Three Things Every Website Needs

Published November 20, 2018

The web is no longer in its infancy. At the end of the second quarter of 2018, there were almost 340 million domain names registered across all top-level domains (.net, .com, .org, etc), and that growth is accelerating 2.4% each year. With numerous free or inexpensive platforms like WordPressSquarespace, and Shopify becoming more powerful and more accessible every day, everyone is becoming a web maker.

But while it is increasingly easy to build and launch your own website, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. With that in mind, here are three features that every website should have.

Security (SSL Certificate)

Have you looked at the URL bar of your favorite site recently? Depending on your browser, you may see a big, green ‘Secure’ message on some sites, or a big, red ‘Not secure’ message on others.

Google is making a major push toward a more secure internet. They have already confirmed that a security certificate is a ranking factor for their search results — websites with an SSL certificate are already ranking better than their insecure competitors — but it doesn’t sound like it will stop there. There are some rumblings that the ‘Not secure’ message will become even more prominent, possibly even asking a user if they are sure they want to proceed.

Prominently being flagged as an insecure website may be enough to scare away some existing customers, and almost certainly scare away prospective customers. Protect your business by protecting your users.

How Do I Get an SSL Certificate?

Most website hosts can install one for you. Most hosts will likely charge you a small yearly fee to get you set up and maintain it, but some empower you to secure your website for free. Here’s a brief look at some of my favorite hosting providers:

  • GoDaddy SSL certificates start at $60/yr (but it renews at $75!).
  • 1&1 certificates start at $30/yr.
  • BlueHost certificates are $50/yr.
  • DreamHost offers a few free options, but their paid option is $15/yr.
  • HostGater advertises their certificates as $40/yr, but may be included in your hosted package.

For the more tech savvy among you, there are some free alternatives that are worth checking out. I’m using the the widely respected Let’s Encrypt on this site.

Analytics

We live in the age of big data. Information rules the world from politics to Hollywood to web development. One of Netflix’s earliest breakout hits was created using its own data.

House of Cards was created originally because Netflix saw that people who like watching things with Kevin Spacey also liked watching things directed by David Fincher. Realizing this, they brought the two together to make a show that catapulted the company’s value, and showed the world they should be taken serious as content producers. 

How Do I Get Analytics?

No one is expected to create the data-gathering system that powers Netflix, but there are dozens of easy-to-use and easier-to-install analytics tools. The biggest one by far — and the one I’ve used in all of my projects — is Google Analytics. How to use Google Analytics is a topic that could cover several blog posts, but here is a good guide to getting started.

Mobile Friendliness

In the age of smartphones, every website should be mobile friendly. That means your website should feel and function just as well on a phone and tablet as it does on a desktop. In a world where more people are browsing the internet on their phone than on their desktop, this is imperative.

As of May 2015, more search queries were performed via mobile devices than desktop devices. That’s almost four years ago, and the rate of mobile use has only continued to grow, although Google and Bing have not provided any hard numbers. In fact, in some parts of the world, the only way users can even access the internet is via their cellphones. In India, 70% of users have no other means of connecting to the internet. It’s 67% in Indonesia and 37% in Mexico. Even in the U.S., that number is as high as 12%.

If the above did not already convince you, how would you feel about an SEO boost? In April 2015, Google started penalizing sites that were not mobile-friendly. Some in the SEO circle were calling it ‘mobilegeddon,’ as tons of sites plummeted in their Google rank. Today, Google isn’t just rewarding websites that are mobile friendly, they are crawling all sites with a mobile-first approach. That is, the first thing the Googlebot sees is what your website looks like on a mobile device. If it’s not good, that’s not good for you.

How Do I Become Mobile Friendly?

If you’re not sure if your site is mobile friendly, I recommend running it through Google’s very own Mobile-Friendly Test. If everything checks out, you can rest easy. If it fails you, don’t worry too much. It might not be the end of the world.

If you’re on something like a WordPress or Shopify site, using a theme, and haven’t overly customized it, becoming responsive may be just a few clicks away! Look through their theme library (either free or premium) for something you like labeled responsive. Install and activate, and try the Mobile-Friendly Test again. Chances are most modern themes will be responsive even if it isn’t explicitly labeled as such.

If you’re on a custom website, it may cost some more money to make responsive, but it probably won’t break the bank (and it should certainly have a good return on investment). Just call up your favorite developer or agency, and they can help evaluate.

Responsive vs Mobile Friendly

Some of you may be more familiar with the concept of responsive design, where your website adapts to the size of the screen. This is a perfectly valid approach to mobile friendliness, and generally considered best practice, but it’s not the only approach. Amazon, for example, has a completely different site for their mobile users.

For most small businesses (and even large businesses), I’d still recommend the responsive approach simply for cost-effectiveness. You only have to maintain one codebase, there should be no problem finding developers who understand it, and it’s likely that whatever platform you’re on already has a canned solution.

Conclusion

The three things every website should have are an SSL certificate, analytics, and mobile friendliness. An SSL will give you a small SEO boost and peace of mind to your users. Analytics will give you the power to make informed business decisions moving forward. Mobile friendliness will give you a massive SEO boost, and bring you to a far wider audience than you would have otherwise been able to reach. For a fairly small investment, you will see great returns.

This post covers only the surface of these issues. If you’re interested in learning more, have a question, or find something I missed/got wrong, leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @SirCaseyJames.