When it comes to web design & development, Malta has pretty much followed the same pattern of growth manifesting anywhere else in the western world. The internet boom in the mid-90s started seeing a proliferation of businesses building unsophisticated websites setup with the exclusive objective of having some form of online presence. These websites were usually dry and thin – something I used to refer to as ‘business card websites’ since this was their main purpose. As demand increased so did the supply from service providers. More web design companies began to open up shop in Malta and marketing and media agencies started putting web design & development service alongside other services in their portfolio.
Along the years, business requirements started changing rapidly and it soon became obvious that many companies were now asking for websites that went beyond the ‘business card model’ of the 90s. E-Commerce stepped in. Slowly, more companies started offering the possibility of having their services or products purchased online. This was a gradual but important step – that of moving from ‘being found online’ to ‘selling online’. We started seeing more e-commerce features in the front-end and back-and of website – from simple online stores to sophisticated checkout and payment gateway integration.
The more entrepreneurial went head in first by experimenting with different online business ideas some of which, I must say went bust…but that is the entrepeneurial spirit after all. Another example of businesses which were first in the e-Commerce arena were for instance some established supermarkets who offered online shopping and payment in conjunction with their free delivery service. Although I doubt this strategy increased sales directly, it decreased pressure in peak times at the tills and it paved the road for better CRM, something that supermarkets constantly work hard on – most evident in their extensive loyalty programs.
E-commerce was not the only major factor that changed web design practices in Malta. The business landscape started changing drastically in the backdrop. In the mid-2000s we saw a sharp increase in business investment in Malta, both by local and international companies, most notably in the iGaming and software industry. Competition began a steep incline, forcing businesses to become more agile and responsive to the wider business environment. This brought demand for more sophisticated online business & web development requirements. E-commerce solutions alone were not enough. New technologies – more importantly the ubiquity of mobile devices, evolving web standards in user experience coupled with more sophisticated user demands also contributed in the shift from mere online presence to agile business transactions (to be changed)
The direction of growth for Web design & development in Malta continues to follow the same path as that of international trends. The only peculiarities and differences rests with how responsive some web design companies are to keep up with the changing demands of their clients. Here are three basic trends that will continue to change the web design & development in Malta:
Social: We’ve seen the social wave beating heavily on the island’s coast particularly during the last year or two. First a handful of companies entered the scene shyly with a Facebook page here and there, then social media presence sprouted everywhere with most companies being active on some social platform or another. Apart from the obligatory Facebook page and the occasional twitter account it is quite common nowadays for even a micro-business to have presence on pinterest, Google+, instagram and others.
The next step forward is to have websites developed which include more social features on-site. This has till now been done by means of having a blog incorporated within the website. Some websites are also starting to incorporate things such as customer reviews or a forum section which lends them a more social dimension. Yet the real move towards social websites will be through building community sites and not just sites featuring and selling product and services. This means building online communities around brands by means of site structures that will start to resemble more social media sites than corporate sites.
Local: The web might have made us more global but it has also enabled businesses to be more locally oriented in their marketing. Businesses want to be easily found both online and physically. Moreover, Google has pushed geo-location data through Google maps and Google places (now Google+ local) in its search and ranking environment. This is why both business owners and website designers are paying more attention to local information. Examples of this are injecting geo-location data in the website code, incorporating Google maps, local information in the meta-data and web apps that make use of native features in mobile devices such as map search or GPS turn by turn directions.
Mobile: The mobile revolution will be one of the biggest influencers in website design during the next three years. Mobile web penetration has already rocketed upwards and mobile web usage is expected to surpass fixed broadband mobile before 2015. What this means in a few simple words is that most people will be accessing the web from smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
Now the thing is that most websites which were designed with the desktop screen in mind are not optimized to fit well in a smartphone screen. Content and layout will appear squashed or too small to consume on the go. The answer is either dedicated mobile sites or even better websites with responsive design. What the latter means is that websites are designed in such a way that they change and adapt layout depending on whether they are viewed on a wide desktop screen, a tablet of any size or a mobile phone screen. We are now already on the trajectory of this inevitable path.
If you own or manage a business and have reached or reaching a point where you need to refresh your website or better still design a new one, it’s important to keep those three trends in mind. Be sure to carefully place the geo-location information of your business (addresses, location in the meta-data, maps, link to a Google + local page, etc). Ask yourself how you can engage more your customers socially through a blog, review section, suggestion area, a Facebook widget in the sidebar,etc. Even better still, build a social community site where people can login, create a profile, share ideas & information with other members, discuss ideas or issues about your product, etc.
The last and most effective solution and investment you can do NOW for your website is to go for a responsive design and be ready for when most of your traffic will be coming from mobile devices. This will solve you a lot of trouble and money when such measures have to be made out of crisis rather than foresight.