When prospective clients approach us to build a website, the initial requests we hear often go like this: “I just want something clean and modern-looking.” In fact, “modern-looking” is perhaps the most often desire we hear. And it makes sense — if you’re going to spend money to build a new website, you don’t want it to look outdated. But how can you tell if your website is outdated? While styles and tastes may vary, if your site meets any of the following criteria, you can be assured it’s time to give your site a face lift.
1. Early website design trends
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. In the early days of website design, a trendy website might have had blinking text, side-scrolling text, or a background song that played as soon as you opened the web page. Some early designs have stuck around — we’re looking at you, Craigslist — and have even become trendy again with an increase in trends like brutalism. However, the more obnoxious trends of the MySpace era, like blink tags and background music, are gone for good. If your website still makes use of them, it’s time for an update.
2. Separate mobile sites or sites built for desktop only
One of the easiest indicators that your website is outdated is if it isn’t responsive — meaning that the site responds to devices of various sizes (in other words, it displays well on mobile devices as well as desktop computer screens). We’ve discussed the importance of mobile-friendly websites before, but it’s worth reiterating that a website must respond to devices of all sizes. Even leaving SEO aside, no one wants to look at tiny print because your website scales down its desktop site to fit on a much smaller mobile screen.
That said, separate mobile sites — known as “mDot sites” because they often use m.sitename.com for the mobile web address — also lead to problems and should be phased out. These sites redirect mobile users from the primary desktop site and slow down loading times. Additionally, when web pages are viewed in certain apps on mobile phones, the redirect does not happen properly and users are left squinting at tiny desktop site text. While several large websites like Facebook still make use of mDot sites, this is no longer a recommended practice.
3. Sites designed for low-resolution screens
When you watch a movie, the easiest way to tell if it’s new is to look at the computers or phones. Does the computer run Windows 95 on an off-white CRT tube monitor? Does the phone have a large protruding antenna? Those are dead giveaways that the movie is a few years old, even if everything else in the movie ages well. Similarly, websites show their age when they’re designed for those CRT tube monitors from 15-20 years ago. Back in the Windows 3.1 days, a standard computer monitor resolution was 640×480. It eventually jumped up to 800×600 and then to 1024×768. Now, though, 1366×768 is the most common resolution, and only about 15% of users have displays with a resolution smaller than that.
If your desktop site is optimized for a display size of 1024×768 or less, it will look small on a 1366×768 and incredibly tiny on a 1920×1080 monitor. Ideally, a good responsive site will be optimized for a 1366×768 display on desktop, providing small enough margins on a HD display to not look out of place, and it will scale down for smaller display sizes. For the 15% of users who use a 1024×768 or smaller display, they won’t be left with side-scrolling isn’t an issue with responsive sites, making the larger displays the best to target on desktop.
Another resolution issue that can make your site outdated is a lack of pixel-doubled images. Apple introduced the Retina display in 2010 with the iPhone 4, and in the years since, almost all smartphones and tablets have adopted the technology and many computer screens have as well. With that in mind, the majority of your site’s visitors likely have a Retina or pixel-doubling display, so you’ll want to ensure you’re using pixel-doubled images. On WordPress, to use pixel-doubled images, simply upload an image at double the width and height of the size you wish to display it. For example, on our WordPress tips, we use 1200×1200 images and display them at 600×600.
4. Multiple sidebars
In the early days of website design, it wasn’t uncommon to have multiple sidebars on a website. Sites might have a left sidebar and a right sidebar with a “main” column of text in the middle. However, this look doesn’t really cut it anymore. Arguably, sidebars are becoming a thing of the past in general as they don’t scale well to mobile. But if you like the idea of a sidebar on your website, stick with only one at a time. And if you do have a sidebar, it’s time to let go of the tag cloud and blog roll, as those widgets have served their time and can now make your website look outdated.
5. Image carousels
Here’s where things start to get a little dicey. While the first four criteria listed above have been on their way out for a long time, image carousels are the dying website trend that refuses to die. Even though the hate for carousels is as strong as the hate for Comic Sans — and, for what it’s worth, Comic Sans is a really bad choice as it makes your website look unprofessional — carousels are still commonplace. Usability tests suggest users ignore carousels despite the fact that they often take up a large chunk of space on a website. When users do click on a carousel, it is usually the first slide anyway, so carousels rarely accomplish their goal.
Instead, consider a static image where you want to use a carousel. To make things simple, just use the first carousel slide, since that’s the only one most people will see anyway. Consider tiling the other images lower on the page.