The Web is Alive - Predictions for the 'Net Future
By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
When Website Magazine first launched in November of 2005, it was a very different time for digital.
Although it is not necessary to outline the many data points that could illustrate the tremendous growth and development of the Internet since that time, it should be noted that while many things have changed (and others stayed the same), digital has become an essential part of business today. And believe it or not, despite some setbacks (privacy and security to name but two), it has all been for the better. This issue of Website Magazine is a special one for many reasons, but none more so than that it will provide an opportunity to look back and explore what works (and what did not - or does not).
This is an opportunity to remind our collective self of what it really takes to achieve 'Net success today, and prepare for the inevitable next steps. What readers will find in this 10-year anniversary issue is evidence that the Web is not just alive, but it is also thriving. What is more, all signs indicate it will remain that way for the foreseeable future - but there are quite a few things that must be addressed to continue this upward momentum.
Website Magazine Readers Speak
What is the most significant development in the past 10 years and how has it changed how your business operates? Share your thoughts at wsm.co/wmreaders10.
Positioned at the intersection of business and technology, Website Magazine has been fortunate to occupy a unique vantage point in our decade-long history in that our editors have access to, and early awareness of (thanks to our active community of 'Net professionals), the technology, solutions, techniques and tactics that help enterprises accelerate their success and develop efficient and meaningful - and most importantly, profitable - relationships with their existing customers and potential audiences.
This issue of Website Magazine looks at the primary areas of interest and numerous fundamentals of Web success because that is what Website Magazine is - the magazine for website success. That in and of itself is not enough, however, readers also need to know how it will change, and so predictions are included in the following pages to ensure those actively involved in the digital success of their enterprise can thrive for another decade.
There are, of course, many things that can influence the success of a business that are both in and out of its control - but when one knows what those things are, they can manage them and modify them to their ultimate benefit, bending them to their digital will so to speak.
THE BIG IDEA
Innovative ideas are the foundation of what it takes to achieve success on the Web and enterprises must remain committed to this principle. The enterprises that build their products, services and solutions with this in mind from the outset are still those that rise above, easily differentiating themselves from the competition and are those most likely to achieve genuine success in the future. There is simply no sense in being a virtual "also-ran" or digital "johnny-come-lately" as the Web has no tolerance for slightly better or somewhat different offerings. Consumers want things that are wholly and completely better in some way (be it features, price or service). There are simply too many instances of the former today, but that has, in fact, always been the case.
Website Magazine's first issue provides, perhaps, the clearest example of this (and it is something I'm still most proud of for recognizing). The feature article was "Yahoo vs. Google." At the time, Yahoo was the powerhouse, Google the disruptive upstart, and Yahoo it seemed to many was more concerned with the bottom line and satisfying investors, whereas Google was simply organizing the world's information.
In the 10 years since, their respective successes have been clear - Google has grown to be one of the most powerful companies in the word, while Yahoo has struggled, replacing CEOs as fast as the rest of the digital world changes its website designs (every few years on average).
There is not a moment in the day that Web professionals do not in some way interact with software - it's essential to the digital experience today, and the topic has been covered extensively in past issues as well as in our "Software Everywhere" channel at WebsiteMagazine.com. Explore many of the top solutions identified in our annual Digital Power Players of 2015 issue at wsm.co/powerplayers15.
What was the difference? It was likely a matter of priorities - one company's focus was revenue, the other developing the absolute best technology that it could. The "big ideas" were different for these companies and it's my personal hope that the readers of Website Magazine over the past 10 years have recognized what its talented team of contributors and dedicated staff writers and editors have always focused on - helping them create the very best digital products and experiences for their audiences and ultimately generating sustainable streams of revenue in the process. The 10-year anniversary issue of Website Magazine will be no different - what you will find on the following pages will highlight how today's Web professionals can maximize their investment of time and resources and how to create memorable, efficient and effective experiences for their users today and tomorrow.
+ 'Net PREDICTION: Enterprises that focus on creating unique and compelling products and experiences will be those that thrive over the next digital decade. Further, those that create rich and engaging experiences for users will find they become more like Google than Yahoo.
DOMAIN NAMES & Branding
The growth of the Web is reflected in the growth of the domain name industry - and it's poised for another significant round of growth in the very near future. The .COM extension still dominates the digital conversation, counting upward of 120 million active domains in Verisign's most recent report. The popular and seemingly default choice for a digital presence is being somewhat threatened, however, by the introduction of the new top-level domain extensions. And the one thing .COM alternatives really needed, they finally received.
Hosting & the Cloud
There are few things more important to the short- and long-term success of an enterprise than the reliability of its infrastructure. Over the past 10 years, nothing has changed more (and for the better) than how enterprises host their websites and applications. Discover five ways to make good use of your cloud deployment at wsm.co/5deploy.
Fears of low resale values and how search engines may treat websites that use the new top-level domains (nTLDs) may have prohibited greater adoption up to this point, but with Alphabet (formerly Google) announcing that it would use abc.xyz as its primary domain, things may change in the future.
Companies always look for ways to differentiate their brands and the experiences they develop, and domain names are becoming an increasingly accessible way to do just that. A greater familiarity with the new extensions among end-users should also drive greater adoption. In fact, GoDaddy recently released results of a study that shows in the last 18 months, customers pointing a domain name to a social media site increased by 37 percent - a rise the company attributes to customers wanting to control their online identity.
GoDaddy isn't the only company to notice the shift. Verisign also indicated they have seen an increase of more than 10 percent for domains pointing to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn in Q2 versus Q1.
+ 'Net PREDICTION: Expect a significant drop over the next decade in the number of .COM registrations and a slow-and-steady increase in the use of non-.COMs such as .CLUB and .WORK, as well as region-specific nTLDs such as .NYC or .LONDON.
WEB DESIGN Evolution
It's probably safe to say that the design of most digital professionals' first website was, shall we say, an absolute and total embarrassment - at least when they look at it today. Thanks to the sophistication of today's software solutions, design is faster, cheaper and better in nearly every way.
Designers have learned over time what excites users and compels them to take action, they understand the importance of even the subtlest interaction, and have access to detailed feedback on every moment of a user's visit, information that can be used to iterate quickly and ship products more meaningful to the bottom line of an enterprise. It is not uncommon, however, for designers to lose sight of the fundamentals. For example, applying a grid to designs gives layouts visual balance and harmony, using colors/tones that both complement and contrast well drives interest and interaction, and selecting the right fonts/typography expresses context and conveys a timeless appeal.
Design of course, is fluid, but even if there is a need to transform a digital presence, it's important to never forget the basics.
'Net PREDICTION: While software solutions for design, like those found in Adobe's Creative Cloud, are empowering designers to create faster and better, those that maintain focus on the fundamentals of design will be those that continue creating experiences for users that drive genuine engagement.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION & Content Development
If there's one topic of interest that has maintained its status as incredibly important in the minds of Internet professionals, it is that of search engine optimization (SEO). While the search engines have become very sophisticated in the way that they crawl, index and return websites, it would be difficult to argue that the practice of search engine optimization has really changed all that dramatically since the first issue of Website Magazine.
Consider links, for example - they remain the most important factor in how and where a website ranks. Also consider "content." It too is important, yet many Web professionals are still confused by the phrase "quality" content - no one serious about their 'Net success would set out to create anything less right? The lack of standards, coupled with the black box that is search engine algorithms, result in confusion and frustration today just as it did many years ago. For this reason, those most successful with the practice of search engine optimization know this: Create content that users want, create a great deal of it to satisfy every possible need and interest related to their product and service and share that content with those that are able to provide a link/citation to it on the Web. That's the secret of SEO - always has been, and it always will be.
Social Media Matters?
Most brands have, to date, struggled with social media. While some use it as their primary means of acquisition, others use it as an opportunity to engage their existing audience, and still others as a means to provide timely support. See how some of today's top brands are using social media to their advantage at wsm.co/socialmavens.
The nuances are obviously very important and Website Magazine remains dedicated to highlighting the techniques and tactics in each issue as well as online in its Mastering Search channel at wsm.co/mastersearch.
The rest of SEO, however, from meta tags to structured data, means little in comparison to providing an experience to users that is of value, and that can be discovered by users. If Web professionals want to excel on the search results pages, the focus must be on content development and content marketing.
+ 'Net PREDICTION: More than any other means of digital customer acquisition, search engine optimization will likely change the most over the next decade. Learn how to future-proof SEO initiatives on the Web at wsm.co/thinklikeseo.
EMAIL DOMINATION & the Behavior of Interaction
There have been constants of course in the history of the Web; and for Internet marketers, there has been no more productive and cost-efficient channel than that of email. Everything has changed about the practice of email, however - from the strategies used for acquisition, to the complexities of deliverability, as well as the methods used to drive engagement. What the most successful enterprises have discovered is that the activity of their audience should inform their approach. Emails triggered based on the activity or "behavior" of recipients, for example, which involves building profiles for each individual subscriber, should be the aim of every sender today.
Depending on the actions taken with a business, recipients should be served with messages customized to their personal experience. The information used to determine these triggers should be demographic (e.g. age, location, profession), and include site visit history, as well as specific interactions (like a previous purchase) with a product or service. On average, behaviorally triggered emails receive a 152 percent higher open rate than traditional emails (source: Kissmetrics), making it an effective approach for enterprises. Whether it's to confirm that an action has taken place, or to simply educate or delight recipients, behavioral trigger emails deliver relevant information exactly when the buyer needs it. Since behavioral trigger emails are contextual, they are more valuable to the buyer than a generic email blast, and are the means by which brands are creating memorable and meaningful experiences for their audiences today.
'Net PREDICTION: It has been suggested that the demise of email is imminent, but all signs point to its continued use by marketers and consumers alike. The manner in which messages are delivered, however, will most certainly change as consumer expectations evolve, and as mobile (and other smart devices) become even more pervasive.
ADVERTISING, MARKETING & Demand Generation
One of the most significant differences from the Web of many years ago is the degree to which the experience can be customized. Today it is being personalized in ways never before conceived of and each buyer's journey can be unique and dynamic, changing to meet their wants, needs and interests, evolving alongside their motivations and goals. Where the community of Web professionals once was concerned purely with lead generation, today's focus is on demand generation, creating touchpoints with each buyer (existing or potential) and catering to those users over time, instead of just focusing on generating as many leads as possible, in as short a time frame as possible with as little investment as needed. Demand generation is about treating interactions with the care and consideration they demand and personalization provides such an opportunity.
Mobile & Local
Perhaps the main reason that "local" never became what many hoped was because it didn't have a conduit to the offline experience, or at least one that was as seamless as consumers needed. As smartphones emerged and became more sophisticated, mobile and local quickly became hot topics in the digital discussion. While mobile/local really plays more to the interest of enterprises with an offline presence, there are steps that every company should take in this new consumer reality. Learn more about combining mobile and local at wsm.co/molotips.
With consumers encountering numerous touchpoints on their path to purchase, marketers have an equal number of opportunities to help reinvent this journey. The programmatic trend, for example, is helping connect marketers and advertisers to the world's media supply, and uses software and technology to automate and optimize the buying and placement of ads in real-time. In other words, programmatic takes all the information it can collect about a buyer and converts that information into action - the purchase and display of the right ad at the right time in the right place.
Marketers can set specific parameters to guide the process, and even integrate customer relationship management (CRM) data to deliver an even greater level of personalization. What is important about programmatic (and the various ways it is manifested including retargeting - learn more at wsm.co/bestretarget) is that it illustrates how savvy enterprises are shifting their focus toward greater efficiency; those that fail to recognize the opportunity likely won't survive another decade.
+ 'NET PREDICTION: Advertising is under attack; personalization tactics can appear creepy to some users and ad blockers are preventing brands from getting their message in front of users altogether, which will require the industry to be more thoughtful and helpful in their approach.
ANALYTICS, PERFORMANCE & Measurable Improvements
Of all the areas of expertise for 'Net professionals, it is analytics that often get the least attention - and that is unfortunate.
There is no other way to gather the necessary insights required to change things - everything - for the better. Consider back when website activity was measured with "hits" as the indicator of 'Net success. What became clear to digital teams was that this measure of success was misleading as it counted/included everything - every image load, every page, everything - and wasn't a reliable indicator of performance. Fortunately, the Web as a whole has finally recognized that the accuracy of analytics data is as important as anything in the digital enterprise. Plus, the better that data is, the better decision-making will be and the faster an enterprise will achieve 'Net success.
Today's analytics offerings for Web enterprises are incredibly powerful and detailed. Not only do they provide a more accurate reflection of performance, they are also increasingly used to help measure the user experience. As an industry, professionals moved from counting visits and page views, to tracking a variety of detailed indicators of performance - goals, events and interactions are measured with ease and that is not something that was easily done many years ago. How many 'Net pros, however, actually use that information to their benefit? Consider an individual's choice of analytics system. Chances are high that not only are they able to identify the sources of traffic, but also what landing pages they arrived on, their bounce rate, and the journey they took down the path to conversion or engagement. This wasn't available many years ago, but it is today and it is the responsibility of every digital professional to make good use of the data afforded to them.
+ 'NET PREDICTION: It might be difficult to believe, but more and better data will require greater attention from Web professionals. Over time, enterprises (and the technology that supports them) will become better at profiling the activity of individual users, providing even more opportunities to engage users in the moments that matter.
The Web Is Alive
There are hundreds of other possible topics that could have been included in this writeup, emerging and established technologies, and proven and edgy tactics that have helped Web professionals accelerate their success. What you should take away, however, is that the Web is alive, and it is changing and evolving right before your digital eyes. The more it changes though, the more it ultimately stays the same. We as a community of Web professionals still want to create experiences for consumers that resonate but the means by which we now use have changed. As a result, it is essential that today's digital enterprises remain committed to delivering useful experiences and being thoughtful about the manner in which that is done.