blog post | data + tech | marketing

The future of website technology

Walt Irby Team Photo
Walt IrbyDirector of Development

Web technology is rapidly changing, and where it goes will heavily impact digital marketers.

The good news is that — with the right preparation — a lot is going to get easier. The key is adopting the right new technologies at the right time.

In this piece, I’ll talk about where website technology has been and where it’s going. But most importantly, I’ll share what marketers can capitalize on now to be more empowered, efficient, and effective at driving growth in the future.

How website technology changed in the last decade

WordPress was popular ten years ago and still is now. At this point, it powers something like 43% of the web — by far the largest market share for one piece of website technology.

WordPress is also open source, so users constantly contribute to the core code and create new plugins. There are plenty of other CMSs out there now, but if you go with a paid platform, you won’t necessarily get a growing and changing solution like WordPress.

Introduction of JavaScript

To get more technical, I’d say that website technology has drifted in the JavaScript direction. If you’re unfamiliar, JavaScript is client-side, meaning it works in the browser after a page is loaded. This approach has pros and cons, but JavaScript is here whether we like it or not.

One con is that JavaScript has a heavier load, meaning pages load slower. So developers must make up for that slowness by making other parts of the site more streamlined. And as you add more and more things, the codebase gets more complex.

However, I’d say the pros of JavaScript outweigh the cons — you can build flashier things. With JavaScript, developers can create a web app experience instead of just an informational website with animation and interactive elements.

It also makes sites more user-friendly. For instance, you could do an Ajax return of search results instead of making the user go to a new page. Overall, JavaScript makes sites less clunky and more engaging.

Browser changes

Another change over the past ten years has to do with browsers. Ten years ago, we complained about accommodating Internet Explorer (IE) requirements. But now, browsers are fairly in sync.

What you design for one browser will look and behave the same on all the others. And when we don’t have to spend time making sites look good in IE, we can make them look cooler elsewhere.

Modularity

A common design trend is having every page of your site look consistent but slightly different. This maintains branding and keeps a visitor’s interest. With a modular backend, you can create standard templates but then play around with the structure and design to achieve the look you want.

HubSpot and WordPress are like this out of the box. And it’s great for developers because they can collaborate without worrying about stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve built many sites using WordPress and HubSpot — both are great editing experiences.

Balancing engineering with ease of use

Our general philosophy on web development is to prioritize both the front end and the editing experience. As developers, we are always thinking about improving the experience for marketers and balancing that with performance and security.

Comparing WordPress and HubSpot CMS

We’ve talked a lot about WordPress and HubSpot, so I want to dive into some of the ways they differ:

  1. Leveraging first-party data: The main appeal of using HubSpot CMS is leveraging your first-party data to create personalized experiences for site visitors. There are ways to plug this information into WordPress, but it’s much messier.
  1. Total cost of ownership (TCO): There’s not a huge difference in TCO between HubSpot and WordPress. WordPress might cost less upfront, but you need hosting and plugins to make it work how you want. HubSpot is pricier, but it’s an all-in-one solution.
  1. Security: HubSpot takes care of server and security settings. With WordPress, security is a concern. Developers must be vigilant about cleaning up their code and installing proper updates.
  1. Customization: This is where WordPress has HubSpot beat. You can get far more creative and fancy with full access to the code base. But to do that, you need to hire an experienced development team.
  1. Centralization: HubSpot centralizes your data into one ecosystem. You don’t need multiple tools to match everything together. And if you’re already using it for sales and marketing, it’s easy to add the CMS and get a fully integrated experience. WordPress has plenty of integrations and plugins you can use, but it doesn’t have everything rolled into one platform.

Bottom line: If you need more specialization and flexibility, WordPress should be your go-to. However, if you want something with many features and functionality already baked in, HubSpot is the way to go.

The do-it-yourself trend

WordPress has a lot of momentum right now, and that’s because they’ve rolled out full-site editing. That’s huge for marketers and their workflow. Soon, they’ll be able to do what developers do without code.

With full-site editing, marketers can control settings, styling, and content, create landing pages, and perform their own CRO experiments. Developers aren’t going away, but they’ll just be there to set up a site and be on standby for questions or more exciting additions to the site (like ROI calculators, interactive content, etc).

Marketers can also make minor fixes and enhancements themselves without having to call up a developer. Today, marketers can identify their needs for the foreseeable future, hire a development team to do the initial work, and then run the site with little need for development help.

WebMechanix House Theme

At WebMechanix, we’ve made things easier for ourselves and our clients by designing a custom WordPress Theme. It has landing page templates and prebuilt blocks, like scrolling animations, timelines, FAQ accordions, testimonials, and more.

We’ve also built in wizards, multi-step forms, and other CRO experiences. We’re working on baking in personalization, content scheduling, and other marketing automation tools as well.

WebMechanix House Theme benefits

  • Speed. We can spin up a whole new site with our House Theme in a few clicks. We then finesse the branding and design to a point where our clients can fully run with it. Soon, we’ll speed up this process even more. A new WordPress feature coming soon will enable global changes to fonts, font sizes, weights, and colors.
  • Get content in quickly. Another advantage of getting sites spun up fast is that our clients can begin adding content immediately. Unfortunately, uploading content is one of the number one reasons site launches get delayed, and this Theme helps reduce the chances of that happening.
  • Provide an intuitive experience. Client marketers can hop in and enter content or fleshing out layout ideas with little to no training. We’ve given all the blocks specific configuration options, balancing the need to provide enough settings but not so many that marketers are overwhelmed. In addition, we’re constantly extending our Theme, adding more features to make the editing experience more intuitive.
  • Eliminate the “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem. Most of our clients have trouble keeping people in check. Many folks are editing the CMS at once and adding in random code. This can make sites super slow, and issues are challenging to troubleshoot. With everything built-in, it’s much harder for marketers to make mistakes or even need to install plugins.
  • Give developers time to work on cooler things. Our Theme allows developers to focus on building cooler, more interactive, animated blocks that often get pushed to the back burner. Working on those sooner in the lifespan of a project gets our clients a polished, sleek site up and running faster.

Two real-world site redesigns using the WebMechanix Theme

I’m sharing two examples of sites using the WebMechanix House Theme to give you a sense of what’s possible.

1. Withum

First up is Withum, a tax, audit, and advisory services company.

Their site is massive — one of the larger sites we’ve had to redesign, and we did it all with our Theme blocks. We had to get really creative about fitting the content into the blocks we built. But the Theme ultimately saved a ton of time and made for a far more engaging website.

Everything you see on the site was originally hard-coded. And with such a content-driven business, marketers were wasting so much time going back and forth with developers and limiting their competitive edge. Now, less tech-savvy folks can make near-instant updates to virtually anything on each page.

2. Zelis

For Zelis, a healthcare financial system, we created a savings calculator as part of their redesign.

Zelis has a WordPress site (they’re using our Theme), but the calculator is actually a HubSpot form. Our Theme blocks support components of both platforms at once.

This project is a great example of how we used the time savings we had upfront from using the theme to develop something extra to boost engagement and demonstrate product value. With the calculator, users sell themselves on Zelis.

And Zelis marketers are gathering all the data visitors input. So you can fire events based on the information they provide and retarget them or use them to build lookalike audiences. Conversion events or journey events are baked into the WebMechanix theme, and we have a direct integration with our custom Google Tag Manager, seamlessly tracking attribution.

Important considerations for a new CMS

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re getting a new CMS or planning a redesign.

One is personalization. There are mixed opinions here — some site visitors don’t like it — but I think it will only get more and more powerful.

Another is full site editing. It saves companies time and money, and it makes for more efficient web development projects in general.

There are some new design trends to pay attention to as well. For example, crafting slightly different pages from the same shell is popular. You keep visitors engaged by changing up the organization of blocks on the page and adding more dynamic pieces.

Interactivity is a big deal now, too. Rather than boring, static pages, you’re seeing more quizzes or ROI calculators. A good example of this is Betterment. On its homepage, a widget shows how much you can save for retirement by investing with Betterment — spelling out their exact value proposition.

Watch out for these redesign “don’ts”

I’ve been in the web development world for a while, so I’ve seen some big mistakes — particularly around site redesigns.

And the biggest one is coming to the table knowing what you want. You need to come up with a list of requirements and a general idea of how you want your content to look.

Even if you don’t change a word of your existing site, you’re still taking it from one design and placing it into blocks or sections on a new design. So it’s never just one-to-one.

I’ve seen so many instances where a mockup is approved, and everyone’s excited about it. But then the development team implements it, and the content doesn’t fit the new modules. The project stops, and everyone goes back to the drawing board.

You want to ask questions like:

  • If we use a template on 50 pages, will blocks of text change from page to page?
  • What will x design change mean for page layouts?
  • What’s the story we want to tell?
  • What messages are we trying to convey?
  • What’s the ideal customer journey?
  • Are we going long-form with our copy or short?

Another mistake I see people make is that they want to copy what a huge company does.

Everyone wants product pages like Apple. But Apple has a giant budget, and most B2B businesses don’t have the same slick products to sell. Plus, Apple already has significant market penetration. If you’re a newer B2B company or category creator, you don’t have that level of awareness. So, it doesn’t make sense to copy that design.

You need something that will educate your buyers and persuade them to even consider your technology. That should influence the amount of copy you write, the images you choose, and more. Thinking through the customer experience can help you avoid this trap.

Start planning your future

If there’s one takeaway I can give, it’s to start planning for the future. There are tons of opportunities around the corner. Companies prepared to take the leap will get and stay ahead of the curve.

Start thinking about what experiments you want to run and what tools you want to build. Developers will have the time and space to work on wizards, forms, animations, calculators, and other engaging experiences, and knowing what you want upfront will set everyone up for success.

If you want more specific web technology advice, feel free to schedule a call with one of our specialists at WebMechanix. And if you want to learn about digital marketing trends, watch some of our previous Growth Clinics on our YouTube channel and sign up for our next session. They’re held every Wednesday at noon ET.