Web Best Practices 2022 – Shelter from the Digital Storms

Security, Searchability, Simplification, and Speed

The winds of change whip through the digital space at a famously ferocious clip. Often exciting new tools appear on the radar only to flutter away in the blink of an icon. As a digital agency whose stock in trade is designing best-in-class websites for the financial sector, we keep a finger stuck out in this digital wind, constantly adapting to the latest standards and implementing the most practical solutions for our clients. In our business, we must be as attuned to the gentle breezes of incremental innovations as we are to those Category 5 storms that revolutionize our field. 

We adhere to a simple principle to keep us from getting distracted by a quickly passing thunderhead. Our guiding light is the “Rule of 4S “ Security, Searchability, Simplification, and Speed. If a new tool doesn’t improve at least one of these aspects of your website, it’s likely not worth spending our energy on. With that in mind, here is our 4S-approved shortlist of web design best practices for 2022.  

Headless Web Development – Security, Speed, Simplification

The swirling eye of the current digital storm – is what is known as “headless,”  “decoupled,” or “JAMstack” website architecture. Headless web development builds on the decade-old trend of using a Content Management System (CMS) database tied to the front-end design, but now the backend CMS is wholly separated from the front-end. With a headless web build, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can deliver any type of content you want – blogs, photos, portfolios, payment interfaces –  and it is up to designers to decide how to present it. 

If that makes your head spin, think of the CMS as a slide projector, and the API is the ray of light beaming your old holiday slides onto the living room wall. The cringe-worthy images coming to life is your Javascript or HTML website. There is no connection except that beam of light – the heavy lifting gets done by the projector’s motor. 

This headless revolution is a digital storm that packs a Category 5 wallop of benefits:

  • Speed –  Sites load and react much faster because they don’t need to pull all the resources, and there is no redundancy in the infrastructure. 
  • Security – Since there’s no connection between the front and back end, there’s not much for a hacker to breach, which means they offer a high level of security.
  • Simplicity – Developers and designers can now focus on what they do best. Once the backend infrastructure is in place, the sites are easily scalable, and designers can pull from any number of tools to create the beautiful masterpiece they’ve always envisioned. 

The headless storm is still gaining strength, but many household name commercial websites have already gotten swept up in the tempest. There’s no doubt that this will be a landscape-altering technology adopted widely in the coming years.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance – Security, Searchability

ADA Compliance is one of the gathering storms of web development. As early as 1990, the first set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was established to set a standard for ADA compliance. Since then, the guidelines have stayed apace with the evolution of digital technology (in August of 2020, there was a WCAG 2.2 update, with another update expected in 2022). 

WCAG requires that all electronic information and technology be accessible to those with disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual, to understand and interact with the online world. The web is an increasingly crucial resource, and access to information and communication technology is imperative to all people. Therefore, thorough ADA Compliance should be integrated into your website from the earliest stages. If you need further incentives consider:

  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) – With intentional ADA compliance, you are signaling to your users and stakeholders that you are serious about your DEI values and are doing the necessary work to make your business accessible to everyone. 
  • Legal – Accessibility is both a legal and social justice issue, with over 2352 web accessibilty lawsuits filed in 2021 alone. Robust ADA compliance protects your business against legal action and the resulting PR.
  • Searchability –  The Google search algorithm rewards sites that provide a good user experience. Therefore, the best sites get the best search results, and accessible sites rank as “the best of the best” since they are the most readable, easy to understand, and intuitive to use. 

In practice, even with WCAG 2.2 in place, there is no legal definition of an “accessible website,” so it is ultimately left to individual companies to prove they are doing their best to ensure compliance.  As code and design solutions continually change, so too will the WCAG. Therefore every site should be routinely audited and remediated to ensure compliance. Keeping up with the shifting requirements can make your head spin, but take comfort in knowing that your users, stakeholders, and search results will appreciate and reward the efforts. 

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) – Security & Searchability

SSL has been putting the S (for security) in HTTPS for years. It is the standard-bearer for secure encryption and remains a venerable part of web best practices. 

Whether you are making business transactions with payment information, posting proprietary content, or sending messages, sites need to be secure. Unfortunately, hacking takes many forms, and malignant folks constantly find new ways to steal information. You need an SSL certificate for security alone, but other strategic angles to implementing SSL certificates are worth considering. 

  • Authority – When users see an SSL certificate, they automatically understand that they are playing in a safe space. Establishing trust with a user is crucial to their continued engagement and adds professionalism and authority to your site.  
  • Searchability – The Google algorithm prefers secure sites. Google’s web browser, Chrome, even stops users before visiting a site that doesn’t have an SSL certificate. This extra step is a disaster for your search rankings, and since 75% of Googlers don’t look past the first page of search results opting out of an SSL certificate nearly guarantees weak performance. 

Suffice to say that without an SSL certificate, your site is a quickly sinking dinghy adrift in the vast Google sea, surrounded by hungry sharks just waiting to sink their teeth into your private data.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Searchability & Speed

Like SSL Certificates, SEO is not a new concept, but it is an area that is constantly evolving, and new approaches are bearing ever more fruit for those who are masters of the craft. 

The idea behind SEO is to predict what your ideal end-user might be searching for and incorporate as much of that content into your site as possible. Imagine your website and competitors as a giant field of wildflowers. SEO is the sweet nectar you use to ensure your desired end-user bee comes straight to your wild web flower. Most people know about using keywords to sweeten their SEO, but there’s more to this search wizardry than stuffing as many relevant words into your titles and content. 

Here are a couple more SEO tricks to consider: 

  • Image Optimization – This is creating and using images in the ideal format for user engagement. Following guidelines for image optimization (size, titles, tags, file names, etc.) improves searchability by giving search engines more information to help them find you. Furthermore, optimized images speed up page loading, which helps retain users and improves search rankings.
  • Links and Linking Structure – In SEO, the general rule of thumb is that the more links connected to your site, the better. Internally, your linking structure helps Google determine the highest value content, while any external links to your site increase traffic and boost your search results. We love links!

Incorporating smart SEO into your site is a no-brainer for improving searchability; yet another strategic use of SEO is for reputation management. We use SEO as the first defense against negative news and false information. A robust SEO strategy not only helps you get found but also helps you control the information that Google unearths. 

As technology evolves and integrates ever more deeply into our lives, it is essential to consider the experience and security of your audience – meaning, both the clients interfacing with the site AND the Google algorithms making business-changing decisions somewhere in the webbed ether.

While the list above is by no means exhaustive, each of these tools or practices, headless architecture, ADA compliance, SSL, and SEO all score high on our 4S test. Each of them significantly improves the end-user experience while enhancing the effectiveness of your website through better Security, Searchability, Simplification, and Speed. Of course, the weather systems of technology remain unpredictable, but we believe incorporating these best practices into your digital strategy will prepare you for whatever is on the horizon.  

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