Author's note: Hi, Will here. I'm afraid that some of the things in this article are just plain untrue. Oh, I'll explain near the end, so don't be worried that you're wasting your time by reading it, because you aren't. It's just that, well, there are always exceptions to the rules, it seems. But for now, on with the show...!

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Websites are living entities that need perpetual watering and fertilization, or your digital presence will grow stale and moldy. Unfortunately, some small business owners see their website as little more than a way to post directions to their physical locations, contact information, and perhaps the business’s history and mission.

The dreaded brochure website. What a waste.

Websites are much more than static repositories of information like a phone book (do you remember those?), and need to be constantly updated to avoid negative consequences. Outdated websites cause a lot of toxic effects that negatively impact revenue, as well as the business’s reputation.

Let’s take a closer look at key ways outdated websites can harm a small business.

1. Perceived Lack of Knowledge

The first negative drawback of an outdated website is visitors won’t think you take pride in your product or service and don’t understand the in’s and out’s of your industry. Modern websites are much more than a digital storefront acting as a way find contact information or directions to a brick and mortar location, though some businesses treat them as a digital brochure.

Instead, modern websites are a way to offer valuable information and resources to your audience via a blog. Posturing by flexing your knowledge on a blog with regular updates shows your audience you have your finger on the pulse of your industry and are in the know.

2. Your Business Appears Behind the Times

Some businesses are able to pivot, adapt, and change with the times. Other businesses, however, aren’t able to adapt and ultimately fail. A prime example is Blockbuster Video, which went out of business when video streaming technologies like Netflix exploded with popularity.

If your website uses elements and design styles not present since the 90’s, you’re going to look like the Blockbuster Video of your niche instead of the up to date leader in an industry. Take a look at some websites that are relics of the 90’s to get a feel for what I mean.

3. Poor Quality Goods and Services

Yet another unfortunate side effect of having an outdated website is that visitors will suspect the quality of your goods and services are sub par. There are a myriad of factors that scare away leads, especially cold leads who don’t know much about your business. First impressions are crucial, and despite the old adage, it’s simply human nature to judge a book by its cover – that’s why magazines typically feature the most attractive people they can find.

Because a website is the cover of your business’s digital identity, you don’t want to send the wrong signals to prospective clients and customers. After all, would you really expect a product or service to be top notch if its website hasn’t been updated in years? For that matter, if you chanced upon a website that hasn’t been updated in over a year, would you be certain the business is still even operating?

4. Competitors Look More Attractive by Comparison

People love to shop around not only to take advantage of tantalizing savings opportunities, but also to make sure they’re getting the best value, the best bang for their buck, and the highest quality service. And it has never been easier to compare competing businesses in the information age where product reviews, websites like Yelp!, and digital storefronts are only a click away.

It’s a safe bet to assume a significant portion of your visitors have also visited competing businesses’ websites to make a comparison. How do you think your website measured up against the competition? Do you really want to afford the competition to make a better first impression than you?

5. Fewer Conversions

A/B testing uncovers opportunities to refine conversion rates with seemingly insignificant factors like the color of a button, copy, color schemes, and images. Even small changes can improve conversion rates to maximize engagement and action taking. Having an old, decrepit and poorly designed site can give a visitor pause and prevent them from interacting with your business.

For example, if I visited a health website accurately citing and detailing studies giving evidence to the nutritional benefits of dietary supplements, I would be more inclined to trust content published within the last few months as opposed to outdated information published several years ago. The newer the studies, content, and citations, the more readily I would accept claims and be more primed to take action.

6. Lower SEO and SERP Rankings

Google’s search and ranking algorithm is extremely complex, and based on over 200 ranking signals. Being that the algorithm is so sophisticated and intelligent, know that it understands the difference between an ancient and inactive website and a hotbed of topical information. Fresh content improves ranking signals and site relevancy.

Not only does new content aid SEO endeavors, but it also improves user experience, which is Google’s number one priority. Things are aways changing and evolving in any industry, and publishing content that responds to the latest developments in your business’s niche helps bolster your ability to deliver information to an audience that demands the latest news.

7. Losing Face

Last but not least, having a website that hasn’t been updated in months is just plain old embarrassing. I’ve heard some people say things to the effective of, “We’re launching the new website soon. Until then, don’t look at the old one!”

Not only does this claim communicate unpreparedness and ineptitude, it also causes the missed opportunity to solve a lead’s problem, which is the core of any business’s value. Obsolescent websites can cause the website administrator or small business owner to lose face, but a current and modern website establishes authority.

Final Thoughts

Competently managing and nurturing a website is no simple task. The honest truth is that it can suck up a lot of time and energy, especially if you’re learning everything as you go if you lack foundational web design and digital marketing skills.

To make matters worse, attempting to navigate social media marketing channels without experience can waste time better spent on running your business. If you need help navigating the digital marketing ether, reaching out for the help of a competent digital marketing professional will help increase your business’s bottom line.

And Now, The Truth

This article was written in early 2019, and up until late 2018 I really believed all of this to be true. And really, every point listed above is true except one - the fact that your site won't rank if you don't keep it up to date (number 6).

Earlier this year I got a sneaky suspicion that I could rank a site specifically on a few key attributes, and I set out to test its validity.

Now, to be fair, maybe I've stumbled upon an anomaly, but I don't think so. I think it's just the normal way that search engines work.

You'll understand shortly.

My Experiment

If you've been a fan of mine for a long time, you may remember the days when I didn't have the brand Red Canoe Media. Back then it was just me, Will Hanke, and my little website WillHanke.com. It wasn't an exciting website, and I just used it as a place to blog and seem legit. There was no real brand, just me doing stuff to promote myself.

Then in 2012 I launched a new website, which at the time was called 'Where is My Business'.

That was a horrible idea, but it drove me to rebrand again to Red Canoe Media, which is what you see now.

During that changeover, I left the WillHanke.com website up and running, but I abandoned it as far as updates. That was 2014.

Since then (5 years), I've added one blog, or maybe two.  The site still runs on a theme from 2010. It's not mobile friendly. I added HTTPS in 2017.

For my experiment, I wanted to see if I could get the site to rank for major terms in my city like 'seo expert st louis', 'seo st louis', and related terms.

And in a matter of just weeks, it did.

In fact, I hit the #2 spot for 'st louis seo expert' (4.8 Million results in this query) with just two site modifications.

  • Modified my title to 'St Louis SEO Expert Will Hanke'
  • Added an additional H2 with 'St Louis SEO Expert'

Prior to the experiment, my site ranked on page 7 for the term. That basically means no traffic.

The second thing I did was to build 8 links to my website from high Domain Authority sites. Nothing great, but the results were fantastic.

In fact, this one thing is what I account as the big 'needle pusher' that got my site to move up so quickly.

Link building is probably the most overlooked and unused SEO tactic there is out there, and this little experiment is proof.

Today, about a month later, with no other changes, I'm still in the #4 position. I'm not actively doing anything to keep it there.

So What About All That Nonsense Above?

Well, it's all true. My site still sucks. It doesn't look great, it's still not mobile friendly, and it doesn't really convince anyone to do business with me. In fact, in its world of competition, it looks pretty bad. Ok, really bad.

So while it is possible to rank an old website that has little or no updates, I wouldn't recommend it.  In fact, had I not made the few changes and built a few links to the site, it'd still be considered stale and wouldn't rank at all. So in theory I did update it and therefore it wasn't really an abandoned site any more.

But still, it was a fun test.

What If You Just Update It Now?

Well, I've thought of that. What if I make it mobile friendly? What if I optimize it and put it on a nicer theme, spruce it up a bit?

Yeah, that's probably in the future, but for now I'm enjoying the 'lab' side of it. I've got a few more tests I want to run to see if I can get it to the top spot without those updates.

And if I do, I promise I'll share how I got it there.