As I mentioned in my previous post, factors that affect how well you achieve your goals are numerous. Website performance is one of these factors. So what is it you can do with your website to get better results? Below is the list of the criteria I compiled based on the recommendations from search engines (e.g., Google, Bing) and guidelines from international communities working on improving the web (e.g., The World Wide Web Consortium).
1. Ease of access
If your website is difficult to find on the Internet, it is not of much help. To make sure you avoid this issue, you need to:
Select a user-friendly, intuitive and easy to remember domain name To help your visitors remember the website’s URL, make it descriptive and representative of the content you offer on the site. Also, make it adaptable and flexible in case you scale your website and operations. For example, instead of limiting your website’s URL to example-mobilephones.com, you may want to choose example-electronics.com in case your business grows and starts offering things that you initially did not intend or think of selling.
Optimise your website for search engines Google and other search engines provide relatively clear guidelines for optimising websites. If you have no knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO), you may first want to familiarise yourself with how search engines work. The understanding of this will help you realise that search engines are primarily text-based creatures that rank pages and websites based on algorithms. If you want to check how most search engines actually see websites, go to the Lynx text browser and search for your site. Now you will see what language search engines and their spiders speak, and you will need to make sure that your website speaks the same language. To assist spiders in crawling, indexing and understanding the contents of your website, you can do such things, such add unique, brief and descriptive title tags to all your pages and include concise, accurate and unique meta descriptions for each page of your site. You can then check whether your site has been indexed and can (re)submit your website’s content to search engines. For Google, go to Submit Your Content page.
Check and improve your website load time Even if you website is most pleasing to the eye, if it doesn’t load (and in some areas connection speed might be a real issue), it is not doing its job. Generally, 20 seconds or less is the most commonly cited cap for load time. You can check how your site loads on Netmechanic or PageSpeed Insights from Google.
Once your website is easy to access and is readable by the search engines, you want to be sure that your visitors are willing to stay on your website and hopefully also come back. You have only a few seconds to impress them. To succeed in this:
Provide informative, useful and valuable content Ask yourself a question: Why would anyone want to stay on exactly this website, bookmark it or share it?
Make your content clear and concise How much content you include certainly depends on the type of the website, but try to keep your content in digestible quantities or break it into more manageable logical chunks with descriptive headings.
Stay objective and credible Do your best to avoid factual, spelling and grammar mistakes. Your facts and figures should always be double-checked and correct. To increase user’s confidence in that this is the right place to be and to improve website’s credibility, refer to original research, reference to other respectable websites and, if relevant, include reviews, testimonials and certifications.
Create original, unique, not mass-produced content Too many website owners, particularly bloggers and affiliates, replicate the content of other websites without adding anything of their own. While this can certainly help you to produce a lot of content quickly, you are really not helping yourself, as search engines reward websites with unique and original content. Besides, if your content looks like something that is available on many other websites, the chances that people will come back or link to exactly your website are slim. So think carefully about how you will add value.
Be compelling and engaging Given that you have seconds to grab attention, you really want to be your best. Use appealing graphics, interesting headlines and include call to action by offering something valuable to your audience.
Update your content regularly You know this! Old content is typically irrelevant and thus uninteresting.
3. Site structure, usability and navigation
How the website is structured and how navigation is organised affects both user experience, as well as search engine’s ability to crawl your site and consequently your search engine ranking. Some tips for improving these elements are:
Making your site structure logical and clear Build your website with your users in mind. Make it easy for them to navigate by making your site structure logical and clear. The Forbes article by Pozin offers some useful questions you should ask yourself when creating the site’s structure. Even though we all understand that good ranking on search engines is always an ultimate goal of any website owner, Google encourages to create websites for users and forget that search engines even exist. Their thinking is that if you focus on your visitors, you are more likely to satisfy the criteria for a good website and, therefore, to rank better.
Adopt the same consistent layout through the site Strive to make navigation intuitive, simple and logical. Your visitors should at all times know where they are on the website and have an opportunity to return to home page from any page. Avoid unnecessary scrolling and check the website for dead links. There are plenty of free services that can help you with this (e.g., W3C Link Checker, Online Broken Link Checker). Alternatively, you can always use Webmaster Tools from Google. If your website is complex or if you feel your users might be interested in this function, consider including an internal search capability. Make all links descriptive and explanatory and avoid «click here» kind of links. To test how well you perform, invite expert feedback, or even better, initiate usability testing.
Create a site map for your website Help search engines see your site and understands its content. Create a site map and submit it to search engines.
4. Appearance and graphics
Before you set off to create the most captivating website design, there are a few important appearance-related points that you will need to bear in mind:
Graphics affect the look and feel of the website They can help guide your visitors’ eyes, arouse particular feelings and even motivate people to take specific action. Using particular colors, contrast, typography, font size and other design elements can produce different outcomes and visitor reactions. Be conscious about this and use these elements with care. This is particularly important because by definition all websites are international, meaning customers from all over the world may potentially visit your site. So giving some thought to color symbolism might be a worthwhile idea too.
Graphics can influence website accessibility For example, contrast can affect readability and exclude some of your audience. Large multimedia files can make your content inaccessible for people with slow Internet connections. And too much creativity around fonts can end up not displaying your content correctly on all computers and, as a result, can negatively impact your SEO.
Website’s appearance and design can affect the technical performance of your website The usage of too many photographs and images, for example, is likely to increase website’s load time, and replacement of text with images can make it difficult for Googlebot to understand the contents of the site, unless images are described in terms of «alt»-attributes.
Never let beautiful and innovative website design come in the way of good accessibility. Aim to make you website accessible regardless of the possible user impairment, platform or browser. Several countries have introduced accessibility legislations. Make sure to live up to those that apply.
Check how accessible your website is for people with impairments and introduce improvements Websites such as Achecker and Wave Webaim will help you identify critical accessibility issues and will produce useful reports (some even with visualisations), which you can use yourself to see the areas you need to improve or which you can hand over to your webmaster. Oops, looks like I will need to work on my theme and social icons.
See how your website loads on mobile devices and adjust if necessary If your mobile site is new, remember to submit it to Google and other search engines.
Test your website for cross-browser compatibility It should display correctly on the latest versions of the most popular browsers or the browsers your visitors are likely to use (if you know them so well).
6. Online transactions
If you sell products or services on your website, keep the following in mind:
Make the registration process quick or allow users to buy without registration It is better (and more profitable!) that the transaction takes place, even if that means the user does not wish to be on your database.
If appropriate, personalise transactions Repeat users will probably have a standard purchasing behavior. Study it and help their shopping be quicker and easier. You can, for example, recommend items for purchase (Amazon is good at this) or allow them to compile shopping lists where the products they buy frequently are automatically added to cart (but can easily be removed).
Offer help If the transaction process or products you are selling are complex, consider offering online assistance in the form of a chat option, telephone or email support. Banks and some online travel agents are really good at that.
Prepare clear terms and conditions Do not take your customers’ time and force them search for your terms and conditions, if they want to have a look at these.
Send your customers an electronic confirmation of their purchase Do not let them sit there and worry about whether the transaction went through. Your customer services team will appreciate that too.
Now, try to use these criteria to evaluate your website and keep up the good job on perfecting your online presence 🙂 Lastly, if you spot some obvious lacks or know of any useful tools, please comment and share 🙂