We did our first “What’s Hot and What’s Not” list for website design in 2006. And we updated the list in 2012, 2016, 2018, 2019, and now in 2021.

The focus of website efforts has changed in 15 years.

But many websites still struggle with the same issues.

What’s changed since 2006 in terms of getting websites right?

Oh yeah, that branding thing . . .

In 2006, companies didn’t yet see the website as the centerpiece of their marketing efforts. And so, the key issues were:

  • Incorporating the company’s brand “look” and “feel” into the website
  • Building in consistent brand messaging
  • Putting the brand promise on every page (because every page could be a landing page)

Fast forward to 2021 — and tying in with the overall brand look and feel is a given in website design.

But . . .  getting the brand promise clear in COPY still has a way to go. We still see the brand promise “hidden.” On some websites, you can only find it on the About Us page. What if your visitors never go to that page?

On other websites, the brand promise only appears on Home – like the company assumes every visitor will start there. But we’ve seen that anywhere from 50%-70% of traffic can start on Home. How do the other 30% – 50% of your visitors learn “why they should buy yours”?

You mean layout should be planned by strategists, rather than designers?

In 2006, a lot of websites weren’t focused on getting a response:

  • Key actions weren’t high up on the page, “above the fold” as we used to talk about before mobile phones took over
  • Page layouts needed to draw the eye to the most important elements.

Many website Home pages seemed to be poorly thought-out, like the webmaster was just blindly adding every new request to “get this on the Home page.”

The strategy behind which messages should take prominence was missing. (And that’s a marketing problem, not a web design issue per se.)

Has this improved? Not completely. We can’t assume that a website designer knows which messages and elements should get priority, especially as content changes.

Over time as new products and promotions are added, and messaging is modified, your page layouts can become a little disorganized.

Marketers – time to get more involved, especially in the order in which messages appear on Home — and deciding which messages really need to be there.

But the real challenge in 2006 was website copy

In 2006, very few companies seemed to be testing website copy. So many websites had basic problems, like:

  • Headline and lead paragraph on each page weren’t drawing the visitor in
  • The copy (mostly a page of paragraphs) didn’t look easy to get through
  • The writing wasn’t scannable (as subheads were nowhere to be found)
  • The copy was bloated — every word wasn’t there for a good reason

But . . . in 2021, we still see websites with:

  1. Boring headlines like “Solutions”
  2. Lead paragraphs that aren’t compelling
  3. Lots of big hulking paragraphs that aren’t inviting
  4. Few subheads, bullet points, and other stand-outs for the scanning reader
  5. Bloated copy – where you could remove entire sentences and not remove anything needed for the sell (or to tell the visitor something useful)

The age of the “SEO Copywriter” hadn’t yet blossomed

In 2016, everyone was learning about SEO. But few were using “SEO copywriters” – or at least having the copywriter be the final eyes on visible copy, as well as Page Title and Description for search engines.

Sadly, in 2021, although everyone knows the importance of SEO, too many companies don’t really know how effective their SEO is. Many companies assume that SEO was “done” on their website, maybe when the site was built. But no one is keeping an eye on Organic traffic and results in Google Search Console, to get a basic idea if the SEO is actually effective.  Too many times, we’re finding that key SEO elements are completely missing.

Buyer Personas driving everything in 2021

In 2021, websites should be driven by your Buyer Personas:

  • Navigation created by answering key questions of your Buyer Personas
  • Content then created for each Buyer Persona – and for each Buying Stage

And that navigation then highlights your key content.

Where websites in 2006 may have been the purview of designers or programmers, websites in 2021 can be much more effective when there’s a strategy behind everything.

Here’s our “what’s hot, what’s not” list for 2021 . . . what do you think?

website chart of what's hot and what's not

















Excerpted from our Amazon bestseller, The Results Obsession: ROI-Focused Digital Strategies to Transform Your Marketing. (Updated for 2021.)