Budget
Do you have web design in your budget? Maybe web updates were in there for 2014 and maybe you’re thinking it’s safe to let it go for a year. Not so. It’s a blessing and a curse, but web design’s like home improvement. It never ends. And it’s actually a lot of fun once you’re into it. If you’re ready for fun (I know you are), I’ve got three ways you’ll be spending in 2015 to keep your site looking fresh, relevant and secure year round.

Buy a Stock Photo Subscription

It’s time to get serious about decent pictures on your site. Visual content is incredibly important for hooking readers on social media. Pictures are the spark of life on otherwise stark and text-heavy articles. But they’re frustratingly difficult to obtain. You’d think it’d be easy with an Internet flooded with pictures. But you don’t own those pictures on Google Image Search. And you cannot promote your business with images you don’t own. For most content, copying and share it as your own for commercial purposes is stealing.

But you need images. Need. You can feel the need when you finish an 800 word blog post, preview that text and wonder what’s missing. If stealing other people’s photos is wrong, and your own photos turn out like junk, I guess you’ll just have to buy them. That means using stock photo sites like iStock and Shutterstock. With a monthly subscription, you’ll have the freedom to illustrate your blog posts with attractive, appropriate images stress-free.

Now, don’t go wasting precious dollars on those awful, plasticky posed shots of handshakes. Look deeper at the stock photo catalogs for images taken on-location using natural light. I’ve been pleased lately with fresh updates to iStock’s collection.

If you blog as a private individual, it’s easier to use Flickr and the countless free image resources sites for your images. A lot of those allow you to use images under Creative Commons licenses. These are flexible for personal use, but more restrictive when you’re a business trying to blog for marketing. When you purchase quality stock photography, you can use your purchased images with much greater flexibility without worrying about copyright.

Look for a monthly subscription to run you $160-200 per month for hundreds of image downloads. You can typically buy packs of 4-5 images for about $160 if you want to avoid a subscription, but I’d way rather have the freedom of a subscription.

Purchase an SSL Certificate

When you buy a domain name and hosting at GoDaddy, you get offered an SSL certificate. For most of my online life doing websites, I ignored that offer with all the others. In the rush to get something awesome out the door, you don’t care about anything but kick-starting your online presence. I’d wager most people hadn’t even heard of SSL until Google’s announcement earlier this year that it would be lightly weighting it as a factor in search engine results. I know I watched a few lessons on YouTube to get a better grasp of this important technology.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, software that stands between your website and your customer’s computer. You can read my post for details on how it works. Your customers benefit from having their interaction with your site hidden from public view. Nobody needs to know how much time customers spend creeping on your About page. Except you, and you get that data from Google Analytics. You especially need SSL if you handle sensitive customer data like credit cards and email addresses.

There’s an ever increasing threat from hackers big and small looking to scrape this info off your site and sell it on the black market. Yikes! SSL prevents all that. Adding SSL as an element in its algorithm, Google’s saying, “Hey, we want to show safe and useful search results so we can make more money from the ads. You want to be in our search? Be secure.”

Getting the certificate is pretty easy, call your website host to get started. A certificate from GoDaddy is something like $70 per year. But don’t forget that adding encryption will change your URLs from HTTP to HTTPS. You may need to spend a little extra with a technology firm to create 301 redirects.

Invest in Content Development

Alright, this isn’t a web design or tech thing. But it sort of is. Adding solid visuals to your blog posts adds richness, but it won’t do anything if the core written content isn’t rich with useful information to start with. Content development isn’t just the blog posts you write in-house. Taken further, it’s the complete package of blog posts, long form content, social media, visuals and anything else you can combine to make great communication. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Paying for content development means working with creators to make things your customers will find cool and useful. This could mean hiring a marketing agency to write blog posts, hiring moms to write recipes, paying for research you can use in marketing, even getting a photographer to provide the visuals. You can do these things on your own if you have the skill, but not everyone is a great photographer or expert cook. Your blog is better when you bring other people in. Just remember, people expect to be compensated for their good work, typically with money.

Two More Things

There are a few other buzzwords out there you’ll hear more of in 2015. Look for e-commerce and online invoice payment to go mainstream for even single person operations and for small businesses to experiment with brand communities online.

I’ve seen more and more requests for online payment systems from service companies looking to find more direct revenue and value from their websites. And customers used to paying bills online for large companies increasingly expect similar options from small businesses. With online form builders like Formstack and WordPress tools like Gravity Forms, you can build interactive web pages designed to integrate with PayPal and payment gateways like First Data and Authorize.net without any advanced coding skill. That means anyone can learn it and the experts can build these pages faster. Of course, these tools have their own costs and fees you need to balance against actual returns.

And brand communities? Those might actually be a 2016 thing, but I think we’ll see a lot of talk in marketing circles this year about using the Internet to make those work for smaller businesses. A brand community is the group of customers who love your company and the lifestyle around it. Think Harley-Davidson. There’s an ocean of conversation about motorcycles online. Harley can’t host all of that talk, but they work hard to encourage discussion and build up their own tribe. Of course, they’re a huge company with a huge following, but the same community building tools they use are increasingly available to small businesses.

All of this good stuff comes with it’s own cost. Features that were add-ons last year are must-haves next year. If you redesigned your website last year, you might spend the same this year on additions. Worth it? Depends. But be prepared to talk about these with your marketing and web folks in the very near future.

Not sure what improvements to make on your website in the new year? Try out our website self-audit tool to figure out how you stack up and what needs to change in 2015:

Web Audit - How does your website stack up