Visitors, Leads, Conversions
If you have ever owned or managed a website, it’s easy to spend time on tasks that have no significant outcome. When you’re trying to optimize your website for more visitors, leads, and conversions, where do you start? This article provides you a foundation in Web optimization for your website.
Two perspectives: Search Engines and Visitors
Web Optimization is meant to increase quality traffic to your web site. This optimization needs to be looked at from two perspectives: search engines and visitors. Although there is a lot of overlap in criteria, each audience has different needs.
Search engines should be the first audience you think about when planning, building, and optimizing your web site because search engines are the starting point for most web users. Without visibility on search engines your web site won’t rank well and therefore will be harder to find which results in fewer visitors.
Once your site has been optimized, visitors will automatically find it to be easy to use, navigate, and get information from because many of the rules for optimization for search engines also apply to web visitors.
Web optimization for Search Engines
Search engines have something called a crawler (or spider) that looks at the available content (text, images, documents and so forth) and determines answers to questions like:
- Does this page have a title?
- Does this page have keywords and description?
- What language is this page in?
- Does this page link to other pages?
- Has this page changed recently?
- Have I seen this page before?
- Can I determine what this page is about?
Fortunately, many guidelines exist for how to make your website friendly to search engines. Several important rules are listed below that are worth following.
Rule #1: Use appropriate titles and headings
Each page on your website should have a title tag (the text that appears in your browser title bar), and at least one heading tag (larger text that appears within the web page represented by an H1 tag). Long documents should have appropriate use of sub-headings where appropriate (represented by H2, H3 up to H6). These tags tell search engines what information is important.
Only use headings tags as needed within your document to separate content. Overuse of heading tags can do more harm than good as search engines have been known to penalize websites using too many heading tags.
Rule #2: Use navigation that search engines can read
Rule #3: Use a sitemap
A sitemap (typically an XML document) helps search engines find all the pages of your website. The sitemap.xml file is different from one you might consider a visual sitemap. Your website software usually builds Sitemap.xml files automatically when a web page is added, changed, or deleted. You can test if your site has a sitemap.xml file by adding sitemap.xml to the end of your domain. For more information about sitemap.xml files, and how to generate them, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Site_map.
Rule #4: Make content easy to crawl
It only makes sense that if search engines can read your website, you have a chance of being placed well. However, many websites use Flash or have poorly structured HTML that make them more difficult to read by search engines and so a lot of content never gets indexed.
Rule #5: Use keyword and description meta tags
Keywords and description meta data help search engines understand what a page is about. Meta tags are special tags inside a well formed HTML document that contain specific directives to search engines. When HTML first came into use as a structure language, meta tags were heavily relied upon by search engines for search placement. They are less important today, but still play an important role in web optimization.
Rule #6: Register your domain name for multiple years
To prevent spammers from artificially boosting their ranking, search engines have now started looking at domain age and included it in their ranking algorithm. If a domain is expiring in less than one year, it could be flagged as spam until proven otherwise. If you intend to keep your web site for a long time, ensure your domain name expiry is at least 2 years into the future.
Rule #7: Add new content regularly
Search engines are fairly sophisticated today and can measure the last time a website was changed. Some crawlers keep track of this info in their index, while others look at the LMH, or Last Modified Header, of each page. Content frequency plays a crucial role in web site optimization and overall search placement because websites that have new content are seen as more active and often provide the best result for search users.
Rule #8: Get other websites to link to yours
A very important consideration in website ranking is how popular your site is. Search engines determine web site popularity by counting the number of times your website address appears on the web (called an inbound link or backlink) compared to other websites with similar content. It’s not just the quantity of inbound links but the quality of them that also matters. Links from high profile websites (for example an article on CNN or BBC) contribute more towards your overall website popularity then a link from a low ranking website. Sites with more inbound links over a long period of time, and of a higher quality, receive a higher ranking in search engine results pages. You can increase inbound links to your website by commenting on blogs, sharing on social networks, or trading links with other websites.
Web optimization for Visitors
Ensuring your website is designed for web visitors is crucial to success because their experience determines how effective your website is. Once users find you on search engines, you want users to have a smooth and easy experience on your website.
Rule #1: Test effectiveness of your website design
As the website owner, you have the ability to drive user activity any way you see fit. If a newsletter signup is what you want users to do, make that a prominent area in the first screen users see. Another way to think about design is to ask questions like:
- What do I want my visitors to learn?
- What should the visitor do here?
- Is there something I need visitors to read?
- What experience do I want to offer visitors?
- What action do I want users to take?
- What do I want users to buy or trial?
Use answers to these questions to determine what content appears on pages and in what order.
The area above the fold is the first screen of information users see when they enter your site before having to scroll in their browser window. The area above the fold is different from one computer monitor to another (for example laptops vs larger desktop screens).
Given a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 (the most popular in use) the first fold is the first 578 pixels of content on your website. For more about about screen resolutions visit http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_display.asp
There are two specific types of content that provide high value for web visitors:
- Unique Selling Proposition - The USP is a short phrase or sentence that helps visitors quickly see what sets you apart.
- Call to Action - The CTA appears on every page of your website and defines what action you want users to take. Ensure your CTA provides a clearly stated benefit as well.
Rule #2: Keep navigation consistent and simple
Navigation is how visitors find their way around. Complex or confusing navigation makes your website difficult to understand.
For example, if you are a consulting company, don’t call your services “Client Capabilities” or some other combination of words you only use in-house. Use “Services” or “What We Do”. Think like your customer and make sure navigation makes sense to them.
Navigation should also be located in a predictable place on every page. Typically navigation is either horizontal at the top of a web site, or vertical on the left. If you decide to place navigation anywhere else, you force users to adopt an uncommon standard and that can drive users elsewhere.
Rule #3: Show location information
On the web, every page is a potential entry point into your website because each page can be found through a web search. If a visitor lands on one of your sub-pages, instead of the home page, they should be able to quickly answer
- Where am I?
- What is this page about?
- Are there other pages like this one?
- Can I search for something?
Many websites use something called “breadcrumbs”. The breadcrumbs or breadcrumb trail provides location information showing where this page is located in the website hierarchy.
Rule #4: Use headings and sub headings to organize content
This is one rule that applies to both search engines and web visitors equally well. Using correct heading tags helps end users understand what a page is about, and allows them to easily find what they are looking for.
Rule #5: Design your home page last
It might not make sense at first, but the home page should really be one of the last pages you design and optimize. The home page is the starting point for web users to find other content. It also has to:
- Feature content (text, images, videos) that visitors want to see
- Show how to navigate the site
- Provide search capabilities
- Inform visitors of the site’s mission, purpose, and USP
- Provide quick actions like contact you, buying something, downloading something
Home page design invariably involves a tradeoff between too much and too little content and is easier to accomplish once your website is nearly complete.
- Keep two viewpoints in mind when optimizing your website: Search Engines and visitors.
- There are 8 rules to follow when optimizing for search engines. These rules lead to higher ranked pages and more visitors.
- There are 5 rules when optimizing for visitors.