5 Years Worth of WWW Evolution

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

I just got back from a meeting in New Jersey with one of our long-term client (going on 11 years).  We launched their site in 2000, and did a full redesign and Cascade Server implementation for them in 2006. Now, in addition to online billing and account management enhancements, they want to do a redesign of their five Web sites.

One of my tasks was to present ideas for improvements to their sites in order to bring them into this decade. Admittedly, I had a hard time finding things that needed fixing since in 2006, Beacon did really great job on the redesign, and this client has done a fantastic job of keeping the site looking very professional and modern. While they’re not looking for a start-from-scratch redesign (just a “face lift”), it got me thinking about ways that the Web has evolved in the last five years. Below is a comparison chart that, in my opinion, is what Web development was like “back then”, and the way it is now.

Circa 2006 How it is Today
Most popular browsers: Internet Explorer 6/7. Netscape is still around, but losing market share. Firefox and Safari are on the rise. Google Chrome is just a fleeting thought in the minds of billionaires. Internet Explorer 6 is virtually dead (thank goodness), and Internet Explorer 7 is walking towards the light. Firefox is now the most popular browser, and Google Chrome didn’t exist in 2006. Also, Internet Explorer 8 is all the rage (for those who accept what comes with their computers), and Internet Explorer 9 is in beta. Safari (and Firefox) rule the Mac world.
Everything must be “above the fold” (in the visible region without scrolling). If users couldn’t see it, they didn’t know it was down there. Users are much more Web savvy, and know that there’s more good stuff if you scroll down.
The smaller the font size, the more text you could fit “above the fold”, even though it was sometimes hard to read. Font sizes are getting much larger, thus allowing more users with sight issues to use the Web effectively.
Popups are a great way to highlight small pieces of information without the user leaving the parent page. I bet you have a popup blocker installed (I have two for comfort). Popups are being replaced by JavaScript/CSS-based overlay windows and IFRAMEs.
Web site visitors are willing to read the information you provide, and click several times to get where they’re going. The sheer fact that what they’re looking for exists on your site is perfect. On a functional Web site, if a user can’t quickly do what they came to do, they’re frustrated, or gone. Today, it’s imperative to get a user to where they’re going in 1-2 clicks.
Homepages are for showing off your company’s news, photos, and advertisements. The more stuff, the better (as long as it remains “above the fold”). Your homepage must grab a user’s attention and quickly provide them with access to what they came for (such as a login to manage their account). Only a few news stories are necessary, and a clean, uncluttered look is king.
Users are more willing to figure out how to do something on your site, like “Register for an Account”. This function could be buried on a Tier 2 page. Users are looking for those very simple, catchy phrases to guide them, such as “I want to…”, “I need help”, “Get Started”, “I am a… (consumer, business, etc.)”. Simplicity and fewer words are what attract users, who demand information and functionality quickly.
Your mobile phone is just that…a “phone” (though it may have a camera). It probably flips open and shut. If it has a Web browser, the sites it can bring up are few and far between. But who can even see a Web site on that tiny screen? I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to my smartphone. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one (given the amount of people who were up at 3am a few nights ago to pre-order Verizon’s iPhone). There is extremely high demand for your Web site to show properly on a mobile device, including smartphones and tablets. Does your site have a mobile version?

Again, this is my perception of how it was, and how it is. Your opinion may differ. But the one thing I’m certain of is that Web sites need a refresh every so often to keep up with rapidly-changing browsers and standards, user demands, and the ever-evolving mobile world. And if you have a beautiful site now, it doesn’t have to take a complete re-do…just a face lift can fast forward your site to today.