Tips for Updating Your Website During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Alex Pomer on March 23, 2020

COVID-19 is dominating the attention of the world. And rightly so.  We're hoping everyone continues to be safe and takes care of themselves and loved ones during this  scary time.  That being said, our business continues to go on, and we feel it's also important to look at this crisis from the angle of the web to help clients and others navigate these times from an operational perspective.  We know there's are larger human narratives at play here, but we're working to stay in our lane and provide you valuable web content.

We work with hundreds of clients across a range of industries and whether you’re a running brand, a law firm website, or a pork producer, COVID-19 affects your audience and it’s important to update visitors on what adjustments you’re making as a result of the rapidly changing world we’re living in. 

We’ve worked with many of our clients over the last few weeks to strategize on the best way to get timely information to their audience. Below are a few ways we recommend updating your website during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Update Your Website Header, Not Just Your Homepage

Your homepage may be your highest trafficked landing page on your site, but it likely is not the page that most of your audience lands on when they first get to your site. Google ranks pages, not sites and when someone is searching for your organization, they’re likely to get directed to an interior page on your site, not your homepage. 

Try logging into your Google Analytics account and going to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. You can see what percent of the traffic to your site starts on the homepage. 

Because your homepage is the starting point for only a portion of your site visitors, your site header is a better place to push information about COVID-19 so that every person that goes to your site can quickly find the latest information about the pandemic and how it relates to you. 

Two options for updating your header are: 

1) Add a link in your main navigation

If your site is on a content management system, this is probably something you can do on your own.

  • In WordPress, your navigation is usually managed under Appearance > Menus.
  • In Drupal, it’s typically under Structure > Menus

If you’re not sure how to update your navigation, reach out to your development team. 

A few tips when updating your navigation: 

  • Keep the title of the main nav item short. “COVID-19” is probably enough. 
  • After you add the menu item, slowly adjust your browser width from super narrow to super wide to make sure the new menu item doesn’t make your navigation overlap elements it shouldn't. 
  • If adding the new item does cause your navigation to be too wide for its container, see if you can remove or shorten other main navigation items. For example, change “Who We Are” or “About Us” to “About” or remove “Home” and just let users click on your logo to go to the homepage. 
  • If you can’t make room in the main navigation, add the COVID-19 page to your dropdown menu. 

While adjusting your main navigation may seem like a substantial change, even if there isn’t a global pandemic, we’ve found that having a spot in your main navigation that changes regularly based on the most topical item at any time is part of a good website navigation best practices strategy

2) Add an alert bar that sits above the navigation

Having a sitewide alert bar is a great way to draw attention to a crucial issue. You may not have the ability to create alerts on your site without the help of your website development team. The good thing about adding that functionality, however, is that alert bars aren’t only useful during global pandemics. it’s something you’ll be able to utilize moving forward. An alert bar is a practical tool to have for things like: 

  • Limited hours due to a holiday
  • Promoting a special deal 
  • Announcing an upcoming event

When you reach out to your web development team, make sure your alert bar:

  • Is in a different color to draw attention to it
  • Can be easily toggled on or off
  • Can be dismissed by users
  • Can be easily customized

You can see an example of one we recently implemented for a law firm at www.manningfulton.com.  Your alert bar should draw attention, but you’ll want to keep the content on it short and quickly drive visitors to a page that can expand on the topic. 

Update Your Homepage Masthead

Even if you’ve updated your header with content about COVID-19, your homepage represents the most important information on your site and by pushing information about how COVID-19 impacts your audience, you’re indicating to visitors that you understand the seriousness of the pandemic. In addition to visitors, the homepage is also a very valuable signal to Google (and so is the nav mentioned above) about your site being updated and what it can rank for.

A few tips for updating the homepage masthead: 

  • Keep the language short to reduce a lot of text wrapping at narrower browser sizes
  • Use action-oriented language like “Explore the latest” or “Follow updates” for the button to your COVID-19 page
  • Use a high quality image - there’s already a wealth of free, quality COVID-19 images on Unsplash
  • Note when the content was last updated on the click-through page

Have a primary landing page for all your COVID-19 content

Choose a single page where you’ll post all the latest information about COVID-19 on your site and don’t change the URL. By keeping the URL of your key page consistent:

  • You won’t need to change your alert bar each time you post an update
  • Visitors can bookmark that page to quickly find it
  • Search engines will know that is the key page on your site for information about the pandemic, which is good for SEO

The page should change frequently as new information comes out, policies are enacted, and your organization has to change. Each update can be posted on your blog or news feed, but you should post a link to that new content on your primary COVID-19 page. You can see a simple, clear example of a COVID-19 landing page by our friends and client, RTI – rti.org/rti-international-response-covid-19.

Visitors will then be able to see how you’ve adjusted over time to the rapidly changing environment. 

Put 'COVID-19' or 'Coronavirus' in the URL slug for easier tracking in the future

As your organization creates more content related to the virus, having a consistent term in the URL of all your COVID-19 content will ensure that you can easily track the impact of your content moving forward. 

In an ideal situation, you should post all the related content as children of the COVID-19 landing page so that the URL structure is something like yourdomain.com/covid-19/resource-or-article-title. By setting the content up that way, Google can more easily group the content together under your primary landing page. 

Take Advantage of These COVID-19 Resources

We'll be keeping this section updated as we come across additional resources: 

If you have a recommendation for a resource to add here, please reach out to us.

Keep updating your site with non-COVID-19 information

While COVID-19 is dominating the attention of the world right now, Google’s crawlers are going to continue crawling the web and updating their rankings. It may feel difficult to write content for your website right now, but it’s also an opportunity to better prepare your organization for when the worst of this is behind us. 

The World Health Organization is pushing the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing because while staying at home is important, we’re still able to connect with each other due to the web. 

Your website is a way to both communicate with the public about COVID-19’s impact and also an opportunity for you to move your business forward in an economically challenging time – all from the safety of your home. 

We’re all in this together

Whether you’re now offering curbside pickup for running shoes so that people can stay healthy while they’re at home, a law firm that’s helping people navigate the fallout from the crisis, or a pork producer providing quarantine-friendly recipes for folks to make at home, keep your site updated and keep pushing forward. 

Stay safe and be well!

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