Websites are living communications channels that change and evolve along with the companies and organizations for which they serve as an online presence. But there’s a difference between websites that are in a perpetual state of change and sites that appear to be incomplete.
In fact, your website should be in a perpetual state of change. One of the biggest advantages of online channels such as websites and social media is that you have the ability to update them constantly. As your business adds new products or services, or as your customers’ needs change, or as the surrounding world creates new opportunities and information, you should adapt your messages to make the most of the change.
Having a site that’s incomplete sends an inherent message that you’re not able to keep up with change, or that you’re struggling to provide information that customers want to see. Neither of those creates the impression you want to convey.
It might help to stop thinking of your website as an electronic tool, and start considering it as another physical location of your company or organization. When clients, prospects, or other curious types visit your website, it’s as if they’re walking through your offices. Each page is like a different department — some have the flash and energy of your marketing or sales team, while others have a more down-to-business flavor, like your accounting department.
When you have unfinished pages, it’s as if the visitor wandered into your offices during a major renovation. Where the engineering department is supposed to be, she sees unpainted drywall, ladders, and cables running every which way. The executive suite will look regal when it’s complete, but right now, it’s a dusty, noisy mess. Accounts Payable is doing its best with everyone crammed into a quarter of the normal space and surrounded by boxes full of files.
You probably wouldn’t allow an important prospect to tour your facility when it looked like that, because you’d be concerned about putting your best foot forward. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t allow that same prospect to visit your website if substantial parts of it are missing. After all, it means you’re not putting your best foot forward.
What often happens is that a company begins with an ambitious plan for its new website. The development team creates the basic architecture and designates the individual pages that will make up each section. The next task is populating those pages with copy, images, or other items. Unfortunately, the people assigned to that task already have full plates, so the extra job of preparing material for the website falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Or, the others in the company who need to supply that information don’t regard it as a high priority.
The result is pages that end up saying nothing except “Coming soon,” or that feature cute little clip-art drawings of highway barricades accompanied by messages like “page under construction.” Neither of those “solutions” to missing content is a good idea. Your navigation promised visitors that the page existed, and you’ve just let them down.
Other common signs of incompletion are copy that references information that will follow when the information isn’t there, or content that includes a long-ago date — such as “Our 2013 product line” when my calendar suggests we’re currently in 2016.
Does that mean you should delay the launch of your new website until every single bit of information is in place, every i has been dotted and every t has been crossed? Not at all. Instead of posting those “coming soon” or “under construction” pages, leave the pages off your navigation. Don’t make them visible to visitors. They won’t notice their absence, because they have no way of realizing that you plan to include them. As your team completes work on each of those pages, your IT team or web developer can bring them to life. Your site will grow more complete as each is added. Meanwhile, you’re not disappointing site users by dangling directions to content that doesn’t exist.
Keep what’s incomplete out of sight, and customers and prospects will never know that you’ve missed your deadline or failed to devote the time needed to fill in all the blanks. Instead of calling attention to things that make it appear that you don’t have your act together, you’ll be able to present an impression of confidence and authority.