How to optimize a website to really reach people and drive business? Well, there are several layers to that particular pie.
It turns out that everything from your hosting company & overall site speed, to your ability to optimize for mobile and your willingness to commit to the process of consistently turning out high-quality content matters in this digital world today.
And there is so much technological potential! Events or ads linked to sexy landing pages that CONVERT people with mysterious lead magnets. Drip or Nurturing email campaigns. Lively social media feeds and pictures pictures pictures! Keyword targeted blogs and SEO drizzled all over everything.
As you might imagine in this layered world, the term “Website Optimization” means many things to different people.
- If you are involved in running a business, you probably relate this term to a basic desire to improve the ability of your website to support the growth, health, and profit of your organization. You want to make sure that people are able to both (a) find, and (b) use your website effectively.
- If you are a website developer, you might look at this concept in terms of site speed, script optimization, making sure the site looks good on both mobile and desktop platforms, and avoiding Flash at all costs.
- If you are in digital marketing, you think of website optimization in terms of search engine optimization, content strategy, user experience, conversion optimization, and the art of getting inside the head (or even better, the reptile brain) of your customer as they proceed on their journey. You’re also likely to think of the website in terms of how it relates to external sites like social media platforms and influencer sites as well.
In fact, all of these perspectives on optimization turn out to be completely valid. Backtrack a bit on the details and you are likely to come to a logical, top-level conclusion.
“Website optimization is about giving site visitors the simplest path to the most desirable goals for both individual visitors, and your organization.”
But before you dive into any of the nitty-gritty pieces, the most important question for you to consider is…
What Exactly, Do You Need To Optimize For?
According to Merriam-Webster, optimization is “an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.” When it comes to the web and your business, the breakdown of the multiple processes that will make your online presence “most effective” has a lot of moving parts.
It is one thing to “optimize” for search engine placement, while it’s another thing entirely to “optimize” for overall, bottom-line business results. Nearly everyone in this day and age has come to rely on the internet to promote the ideas and solutions we are most passionate about, and yet very few of us can say we comfortably understand the steps we need to take to achieve success in this medium.
The short answer is you need to keep your end user experience top of mind. What do these people need to see, and how?
My intent in this post is to help you wrap your mind around the big picture, and understand a bit about ALL of the pieces that constitute the whole. You’re going to have to pick which of these aspects will earn top priority in your personal action plan, but at the end of the day, every single one of these 5 areas is important.
I also want you to understand that optimization is not a one-time deal, but rather an ongoing mindset. Because of the dynamic nature of how the internet works, even if you have found a way to make things work well in the past, this does not ensure ongoing success. It’s important not to get complacent when you get good results because tomorrow the rug might be pulled out from under you!
Continuous optimization, and the use of best practices as you post new content is going to be your ticket to a better-performing, and effectively “optimized website” in the long run.
1. WordPress Level Optimization
It is crucial to make sure your platform is set up properly, well designed and well configured to maximize site speed. You also want to make sure that the theme you choose, and any plugins you are using are up to date and secure.
This foundational level of optimization is like the crust of your pie. And you know how important the quality of a crust can be, right? It’s what the whole rest of the pie is built on.
Choosing the Best Hosting Provider
The way web hosting works is a mystery to many. But even for the general website creator, it’s worth considering that the web hosts that advertise to the masses are generally going to be slower than web hosts that focus on efficient delivery. As always, businesses focused on providing average or below service to tons of people are going to take a performance hit in favor of volume of business generated.
If a hosting provider packs thousands of sites onto a single server, that host is going to be magnitudes of order slower in delivering your site to your viewers than a hosting provider that has chosen a fast platform for their servers, has put resource limits on each individual account, and can guarantee that your site won’t slow down – even on a day when you have a glut of traffic.
You can find out more about the details of this line of thought here . Try not to be too hard on yourself when you realize this is being explained to you by a self-proclaimed “18-year-old SEO geek.” Sigh.
Choosing the Right WordPress Theme & Most Efficient Plugins
When you are considering themes for your site, it’s typical for the first consideration to go towards how good the theme looks with the kind of content you want to use. But it’s also very important to consider the quality and weight of the code used within the theme to create that look.
With a plethora of well-coded themes to choose from – you should take both aesthetic AND the performance considerations into account when making your choice.
Generally speaking, sites that offer more options to the non-coder audience will be heavier and less efficient than the leaner, more coder-oriented themes. Finding a balance between flexibility, practicality, and performance is an important part of “optimizing” your site right from the beginning.
Coding Your Own Social Media Buttons
It’s awfully nice of the social media platforms to offer those ready-to-use buttons to link back to their sites, right? Well, yes and no. Most of the preconfigured buttons have built-in service calls attached to them in order to auto-update the number of shares of the content on the specific platform.
While this may offer good social proof, it can also slow your site down unnecessarily. A simple way to optimize the performance of your own site is to use the publicly available image files of these buttons and insert them into your site in a format that is optimized for speed. This can drastically decrease the size of your page, and therefore speed up its performance.
Plain HTML can be up to 20 times faster than PHP. Judiciously replacing PHP for HTML for elements of your site that don’t change with great frequency is one way to ‘level-up’ the efficiency and speed of your WordPress site.
Putting CSS stylesheet information into the header of your site (as per standard recommendations) is another way to speed up page loads. If you put CSS outside of the header, it will affect the way the browser opts to display content as the page is loading.
These topics may sound uber-technical, but they prove to be important factors to consider as part of the whole process of optimization.
Optimizing for Mobile
In a world where ever more people use their mobile devices to access the web, it is imperative to take the mobile experience into account.
Image optimization and the mobile user experience will have an effect on both the technical performance of your site and (as we’ll cover later) the ability of the typical visitor to actually use your site for its intended purpose. But it’s also important to consider the user experience, or UX, of your mobile visitor.
We’ve all seen those websites where the popups are sized improperly for the screen when it’s held in the wrong position. Or the sites that have a map that’s so big that you get try to scroll past the map box, and instead you start scrolling across the map itself, then can’t get out.
Elements like font size and the way the screen real-estate is used on a mobile device contribute critical components to the mobile experience, and with the proper use of analytics, you can tell just how well your site is performing on the mobile platforms. Or not.
Optimize for mobile folks. It’s the way of the future for many people.
Deleting Old Draft Content and Spam Comments
The overall size of your site is going to have an effect on the speed. If you are prone to writing and re-writing multiple drafts of blog posts or page content, a simple way to improve the technical performance of your site is to go into the CMS and delete old content drafts that will not be used going forwards.
Spam comments (whether they are approved or not) can also be a hidden source of drag on your site speed. Use a spam control plugin to prevent this problem from building up. You can also manually delete spam comments from within the dashboard of your CMS as well.
2. Technical SEO
Once you’ve got the foundational optimization in place, it’s time to start thinking about the next layer of optimization options. As mentioned in a previous post – basic technical SEO is like putting a title on the cover and spine of your book. Would you release a book without a cover? Not likely.
Paying attention to the details of technical SEO is akin to the process of prebaking that lovely pie crust. It can be an easy step to skip, but laziness in this task will affect the overall quality of your finished product.
Title Tags, Page Titles, Image Alt Text & Meta descriptions
Using a Keyword at the beginning of your page title tag is an easy way to impact on-page SEO. In fact the closer to the beginning of a title tag that keyword is, the more impact or weight it will have on your SEO results.
Page Titles are the bit of information that give browsers the text that gets displayed on the tab of your browser. Adding specific modifiers such as “best” or “2016” to your page title can help that particular page rank better for long tail keywords, as well as making more sense to the human beings who are likely to frequent your site.
Adding Alt Text to your images is another place where a little bit of effort can go a long way. By putting a succinct description of your image into the Alt Text field, you can accomplish multiple goals:
- Adhering to accessibility standards for the sight impaired
- Providing information to users whose images might fail to load
- Describing to the search engine crawlers exactly what’s on your site
Keywords & Keyword Mapping
Keywords are always referenced by articles like this one, but they are rarely explained in context. Let’s say you have a site that is focused on food. Certain food terms are searched at a higher volume than others. By choosing keywords (both long-tail and broad match) and mapping them to your page content, you are “optimizing” that page for that particular term.
Because your Search Engine Results Placement (SERP) is largely based on the ‘relevance’ of your content to user search, mapping each page to a single keyword helps your individual pages rank better.
In addition to using this technique to optimize for the search engines, it also means you can provide a single focus for the users that are consuming the content on each page of your site.
Building a Strong Link Profile
There is a saying that you might “judge a person by the company they keep.” This little tidbit of wisdom was probably used by your elders, and it’s used by Google as well.
The more reputable and authoritative the sites that are pointing to your site, the more respect your site will be given. If you’re a science writer, and your site is referenced by NASA, NOAA, and multiple respectable universities, search engines are going to have proof that the content on your site MUST be high-quality.
Depending on the area in which your website lives, there are other factors that influence it’s Domain Authority (DA) or Page Authority (PA) as well. You can learn more about these concepts here. This idea of Domain Authority was originally developed by a company named Moz as a way to describe the site’s relevance for a specific subject area or industry.
Using DA statistics in the analysis of your competitors’ sites is a good way to tell how competitive certain keywords can be for you as well. When search engines return a set of sites with very high DA in the top result set, it’s likely that particular keyword would be difficult to gain a lot of traction on to unseat these other sites. If the top results are a bunch of less authoritative sites, you have a good chance of ranking for that term if you create content around it.
3. Content Strategy & Strategy Implementation
You want to be sure that your content (on both main web pages and “content marketing pieces”) is accurately and strategically targeted at the specific people you want to reach, inspire, and motivate. How can what you know be crafted and shared to make their experience better? How can you help them?
Content is the filling of your lovely pie. You need to make sure you’re using quality ingredients, the right proportion of spices and putting things together with an eye to the tastebuds of your audience. This is the part of the pie most people are going to pay attention to, and the part that people will be seeking. While the crust is important, people pick their pie based on the kind of filling they have a taste for.
While the crust is important, people pick their pie based on the kind of filling they have a taste for.
Using the Right Messaging & A/B Testing
Page Content, i.e. the static content that lives on your main website pages rather than on your blog or elsewhere, is usually the focus of your content strategy.
You want to make sure that your page content is not only optimized around the keyword you’ve chosen to focus on, but is also giving the right message to the right people. The simpler you can make your brand message, and the more easily your message is able to answer the questions that your target demographic is likely to have, the better your results will be.
If you are not sure what the best message might be, you can always employ a method called A/B testing. Most places you’re using content (your website, email, landing pages, etc) have the ability to take advantage of this kind of testing.
- Does version A or version B work better for my audience?
- What messaging is giving me the best results? Do your test, then refine, rinse, and repeat.
Continuous testing might be a bit onerous to enact, but it will allow you to hone in on the messages that resonate most with your end users.
Talking to the Right People in the Right Places
If you have a clear understanding of your typical “customer journey,” you will have a much easier time of combining the right PART of your message with the right PAGE on your site. Someone who finds a blog on your site as a result of a long-tail keyword search, and comes to learn about the topic they are curious about will be much better served by content that speaks to building awareness, and giving value and detail to the visitor – whether that person will ever be a customer of the company that runs the site or not.
You want to write the content for the pages on your website that have specific Calls To Action (CTA) leading to your entry-level product or service on more “purchase-intent keywords.”
Another example to bring this to a more practical level might be – a company that offers catered desserts might choose to write a blog around the keyword “pumpkin pie”. That same company might want to create a page on their site around the long-tail keyword “best catering company Austin Texas 2016” that has a CTA of “Request Pricing for your Event” for the now active-shopper to find.
What you write and where depends on what your visitor is wanting to do, and where they are in their process. Another truism to keep in mind is, “it’s all about the customer!”
Keeping Your Blog Up-to-Date, Original & Relevant
The more frequently you post high-quality and new content, the better your results in the search engine indexes will be. Google and Bing know that sites with new content added all the time are more likely to serve the needs of their search customers better than that other site that has just been sitting there with the same content for the past 2 years.
Having a regular schedule of content creation and posting is going to keep your content fresh and relevant as well. While evergreen content (stuff that never goes out of style, and continues to rank at the top of the SERPs for years) definitely provides great value for your site, you also want content that’s up to date and current as well.
Like so many other optimization tools, an XML Sitemap is something you should add to your website, and work to keep up to date. These sitemaps let search engine spiders know which URLs from your site should be indexed, and which should not.
Sitemaps work especially well for sites that are brand new and have few other sites linking to them, sites that are very large, and sites that are frequently updated. Submitting your fresh and clean sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console is a task you should consider doing, as it will help the spiders with their indexing process as well as giving you information about any errors that might have snuck into your site over time.
4. Conversion Optimization
There are clear pathways through your site, designed for conversion optimization & easy-to-handles micro-conversions (like email signups) for all visitors that land on your page. This means any $ spent on social advertising, pay-per-click ads, retargeting ads, or any kind of consciously created “inflow” of traffic is captured and used in an efficient manner.
This is often referred to as “UX” or User Experience Design, but I think of it more as an exercise in empathy. When you can clearly, but subtly demonstrate that you are able to get into the mind (or experience) of your ideal user, it’s a serious recommendation for them to use your services that go well beyond the site itself.
Conversion optimization is like the topping on that lovely pie you’ve been working on. Homemade whipped cream, with just the right amount of sweetness is the part that puts a pie over the top, and really makes it stand out when it comes to the optimal dessert.
Allow for Relationship Building during Longer Sales Cycles
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a customer say, “a web visitor CONVERTS for me when they buy my service or my product.” By opening your mind to the potential of multiple micro-conversions along the way, websites become a tool to create and grow relationships with visitors who may become customers over time.
Especially for businesses who operate with a longer sales cycle process, micro-conversions are the key to building trust.
Essentially, when you can go back and forth with your customers and over time establish a sense of integrity and expertise through well-crafted exchanges, you greatly increase the likelihood that customer will choose to buy from you when they hit the decision stage of their customer journey.
For example – if you post a blog or a paid ad to bring someone to your site, and when that person clicks through to your strategic landing page – you can offer them a piece of valuable information in exchange for their email address. They call this context a “lead magnet” for its ability to draw in the leads.
When the person gives you their email, and you immediately deliver their content – this interaction begins the process of building trust. Later on, you drop some knowledge on that person through another drip-nurturing email perhaps by delivering some timely advice to them based on what you know of the journey it is likely they are taking in the moment. You’ve helped them again – more trust points.
Finally when you have an ad or email asking them to give energy in some form back to you again, hopefully, the warm fuzzy feeling that’s been building subliminally over time will influence their choice and they’ll willingly and happily acquiesce to your request. This is how the “inbound methodology” builds mutualism, and eventually, conversions. Everybody wins.
Use Your Landing Pages Correctly
Tying specific landing pages to the keywords a user searches on, or the keyword in the social ad you’ve posted means that there is a consistent thread between the link a user clicks on and their expectation of the content they end up seeing. You can ‘optimize’ your landing page by using things like dynamic keyword replacements.
If a customer might search either on “furniture installation” or “office move” – you can direct this traffic to a single landing page with an opt-in form, and a consistent design. But based on they keyword in the link clicked, you might change the headline on the page to more closely match the intent of the visitor as indicated by the keyword they were using in their search.
You also want to optimize your landing pages for a smooth flow of progress from clicking onto the page straight to clicking on the CTA contained on that page. Landing pages should be branded to resemble the rest of your site, but ideally they will not share the same navigation. Like a funnel, you want a wide inflow into your page, and a narrow outflow from it. By including only a single forward path, you increase the chances that your traffic will flow in the direction you intended.
Consider the User Experience (UX)
Having continuity in the experience of using your site is more important than you may imagine. The pathways through your site should lead users from the most general to the most specific actions. I like to think of a smooth UX as a website that has good feng shui.
Maybe you run a website that sells products or services online, and you’ve chosen to use a tool like PayPal to process transactions instead of an e-commerce cart that integrates with your site for the purpose of simplifying the design and code of your site. However, this can create an interrupted user experience. And an interrupted experience is much less likely to complete.
If I put items in a shopping cart and the end purchase is just the last step in a string of smoothly experienced pages, I’m much more likely to make it to the end purchase. If i have to go into PayPal and I have to look something up to complete my transaction – I confess, I’m fickle. I might just abandon that cart and leave to chase the next squirrel in my life. Conversion rates improve dramatically with a well-designed UX.
Another tool some websites use to improve their UX is personalization, read here how this subtle tactic can improve the feeling of your website and lead to a higher conversion rate.
5. Measurement Optimization & Results Tracking
Measurement planning and tracking codes have been made & implemented to close the circle of analysis. This kind of optimization is of the intelligence kind – and is designed to help you make better decisions as you improve your website month-over-month with various marketing campaigns, specific content marketing, and activities that have an effect on your sales funnel as a whole.
Technically – analytics aren’t really a part of the pie itself. But they still play a critical role in the process of optimization as a whole. When you see an empty pie plate, with even the smallest crumbs of crust gone, this will tell you that people really liked your pie. If half the pie is still sitting in the plate – you’ve got some work to do next time around.
Proper and active use of analytics is the final secret to closing the loop in the marketing process. It is the method by which you can clearly define ROI, and report accurately on the results of all of your digital marketing activities.
When you are looking to work with a digital marketing firm, the quality (not the quantity) of the analytics delivered can tell you a LOT about the quality of the work being done behind the scenes on your behalf. In addition to your bottom line business results, comprehensible and intelligent analytics are the most valuable thing you can ask of a marketing firm.
Good digital marketing firms will always deliver regular reports over time to let you know how the work they’ve done is panning out. Great firms will not only give you reports on a regular basis but will also craft custom analytics that can answer your most pressing questions in a way that is easy to understand.
Avinash Kaushik created some memorable terms to help you understand this difference: Reporting Squirrels vs Analysis Ninjas. Learn why he thinks a Digital Marketing and Measurement Model is one of the most important website optimization tools of all.
The simplest path takes a lot of energy & expertise to build.
From the crust to the topping, to feedback from your audience, websites are a multi-faceted beast these days. Making a website (or a delicious pie) optimized from top to bottom is not an easy process, but one that’s well worth the effort. In the ever-changing world of digital marketing tools, trends, and tactics, we are here to help you navigate the web. If you like how we explain things, please feel free to visit our blog often and subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date.
We live in an interactive world and if you are counting on the internet to drive any degree of business success, you must begin to understand the best ways to leverage the many aspects of both your website as well as the activities and content posted in your social networks.
Hopefully, this post helped you to understand the many different tools, methods, processes and goals you’ll want to take into account as you consider your own journey towards crafting a more “optimized” site.
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