Unlike a physical storefront, where declining business is evidenced by a lack of visible foot traffic and stale inventory, websites aren’t as initially obvious in showing their decline. Still, the majority of failing websites possess six universal characteristics that often always go hand-in-hand with declining traffic and niche authority:
1. Lack of Engagement
Most websites provide a variety of ways for visitors to interact with the content, usually via social media or blog comments. A website severely lacking in actual engagement, like Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter re-tweets, suggests a decline.
A website’s actual number of followers isn’t a good barometer for gauging a site’s current level of success, as many follow a page on social media before forgetting about it entirely, especially since they’re likely subscribed to many others as well. Additionally, buying Facebook or Twitter followers remains a practice, making follower/fan count more questionable than ever as a metric of success.
A successful website will have evident reader participation in some degree, whether it’s an active social media presence that consistently draws likes/re-tweets or visible community-driven content. An example of community-driven content would be an on-site contest with public entries, which is a good idea to inspire engagement on social media and the website alike.
2. Increasing Bounce Rate
A website’s bounce rate is typically only available to the site owner, but an increasing bounce rate nonetheless is a sign that something is wrong. A bounce rate shows the percentage of visitors who leave the site after visiting just one page, suggesting that the content, design or both is not quite appealing to them. If this number continues to grow as time progresses, it’s a sign that the content isn’t engaging, which will almost certainly lead to a failing website. Reducing bounce rate can be accomplished with an easier-flowing layout and more engaging, targeted content.
3. Incohesive Message and Style
Successful websites ride on a unified message and theme, providing visitors with a very clear and coherent vision that makes navigating easy. Be sure to enforce clear brand identity. For instance, a website specializing in eco-friendly gardening tips should stick to the topic at hand, as opposed to having a random section about TV shows or media. Jumping around from topic-to-topic shows a lack of direction that’s usually associated with a failing website.
Speaking of style, sites that have an overstuffed design also tend to suffer, particularly because of slow load times. For example, both Amazon and Walmart saw a revenue loss of 1% per 100ms of site load delay. While these are corporate giants with more customers than any small business by a significant margin, it really showcases how slow loading times and cluttered pages can turn visitors off. When choosing a style or theme for your site, prioritize fast loading over it looking pretty. Ideally, aim for both, though.
4. Lack of Promotion
As a good rule of thumb, if it takes two hours to craft a blog post, then you should also spend two hours promoting that post. Apart from highly established sites, getting eyes on content requires some extra effort.
Specifically, reaching out to niche-relevant influencers with the content is a good practice, especially if you already link to their site as a resource. Pestering other site owners with your content will become bothersome to them if the content is dull, but quality website owners do not neglect an opportunity to post quality viral-potential content, so make it so. There are a variety of ways to promote blog posts without coming across as a nuisance, including highly personalized emails and social media advertising.
5. Catering to the New and Experienced Alike
Ambition is a good thing, for sure, but with websites, it can result in an overwhelming feeling for visitors if no clear vision is applied. When learning an instrument, one starts with the basics, like elementary chords and how to hold the instrument — they don’t just jump to learning “Stairway to Heaven.”
Similarly, a website should make up its mind early in deciding who it will cater to. Simultaneously catering to experts and newbies can tend to result in inconsistent content, so deciding on a specific level of experience for the topic at hand prior to writing the content is highly recommended. Sites that don’t do that are often stuck in limbo when trying to identify their target audience.
This isn’t to say it’s impossible to cater to both the new and experienced down the line — it’s just not recommended for a new or struggling site. Once a site reaches widespread recognition, then it could be a good time to implement how-to sections or tips for the experienced, but to start out it’s always advised to narrow the editorial focus to one or the other.
6. Over-Emphasis on Timeliness
Websites often compete with one another to get “first dibs” on a particular news story or blog feature, when in reality most readers could really care less if one blog is 10 minutes ahead of another in posting something. Sites that rush to get a story out with only timeliness in mind often suffer from bland and generic content.
Content that shows original research and comes out later, as opposed to one that just states the basics in an attempt to get out ASAP, is more valued, especially as crowdsourced-driven sites like Reddit already provide the basics in a timely fashion regarding most topics imaginable. Focus on providing original and enthralling content, as opposed to just caring about who gets “first dibs.”
These six signs are usually indicative of a failing website. If your website possesses some or all of these characteristics, then it’s time to re-evaluate its aspects. Still, with tactful rebranding and refocusing, a failing website can certainly turn itself around.