Building a new website can be a daunting task. From buying a domain to configuring hosting servers, there’s quite a lot to get through. Once you’ve passed the first setup hurdle, it’s then time to turn to the public-facing side of your website and what your visitors will be using. This requires an entirely different set of skills, but fear not – whether you’re starting from scratch, or reviewing an existing site, these hints will help get you working towards a great user experience.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) plays a huge role in generating organic traffic to your website. A poorly optimised website may as well not exist in Google’s eyes, so it’s vital to ensure your page satisfies these basic requirements.
Your website’s speed plays a huge role determining its rank in search results. If you’re just setting up your website, opting for a server with fast loading times is an excellent starting point. This speed boost actually has a twofold role – not only does it improve SEO, but a fast loading page keeps visitors on it. 40% of web users report abandoning a page if it takes more than three seconds to load. A slow loading page can therefore be catastrophic to your website’s performance. Ensuring your website loads quickly isn’t a one-off investment though. Every time you upload content to a page, that page’s loading time will increase.
Balancing speed and content is a fine art, but is most easily achievable by reducing the sizes of images on your site. Modern phone cameras can take photos in resolutions upwards of 4K. This resolution and level of detail simply isn’t necessary online. Resize your photos so they’re no larger than 500kB each. Unless you’re using a full screen banner, you won’t notice a drop in quality. You can store videos off-site and then embedded using services such as YouTube and Vimeo.
Another of the many aspects of Google’s search ranking algorithm considers your website’s authenticity and ‘rapport’ in the online community. So don’t let your website exist in a vacuum online. References to it, on other websites, help build your online presence. When Google sees others recognising your website as legitimate and important, it will too. It’s good practice to similarly include links directing off your website – just make sure you open external links in a new tab, instead of ending visitors’ sessions on your page.
Google values seeing your website being regularly updated. This shows that your website is alive and well, instead of being abandoned. This of course means uploading new content. Photos, blogs, reviews and testimonials, links to your projects, and details of upcoming events are perfectly acceptable options and are immeasurably valuable at keeping your website fresh. Keep reading for advice on what your website’s content should achieve.
Professional SEO goes far beyond these basic hints, but this offers a solid basis for the beginnings of your website, and can be easily achieved without the need for plugins or hours of work.
2. Content and design
Often, in guides like this, the importance of effective content is overlooked in favour of the more technical aspects of a website. While a well-optimised website will help get search engines directing visitors to your website, great copy will keep them there. A website’s content has two main goals: to inform, and then encourage visitors to perform an action. Obviously, this action will change depending on your business or organisation, but it should nevertheless be clear and straightforward – visit your business, explore your webstore, enrol in your classes, volunteer with your organisation, etc..
Your website’s content must be engaging and visually stimulating. This is normally achieved using photos and embedded video. If you’re selling an experience, visitors want to see the attraction, not just read about it! If you’re selling wine, show your (no doubt) stunning vineyard! Photos can help tell your brand story in just an instant, and develop your visitors’ trust by putting happy faces to names. Just remember to keep your file sizes down! Of course, copy remains crucial, but be sure to balance it with other exciting elements across your pages. Don’t forget, also, to break up your copy with relevant headings. Not only does this help with SEO, but it can provide some fun visual flair if you use your brand colours.
Aside from being simply attractive, your content must tell visitors what you want them to do and then facilitate this. This means the website’s internal navigation should be remarkably easy. If you mention a location, such as a cellar door, on your homepage, be sure to provide a quick link to further details, including its location and opening hours. If you’re showing off your most recently released product, offer a clear link to it in your webstore. Reducing this navigational friction simplifies visitors’ paths from the home page to the checkout or booking page. Links to other internal content should be made clear too. Ensure they work correctly and don’t include spelling errors or other typos. Using your brand colours on highlighted buttons can easily draw visitors’ attention and direct them as required.
3. Format and layout
There’s no easy way to predict the devices your website’s visitors will be using. Will they use an iPhone or an Android? Do they use Chrome or Safari? In which orientation do they use their iPad? The characteristics of your visitors’ web browsing devices is becoming increasing complex. Consider the recent launch of Microsoft Edge – another default browser to cater to! In fact, Am I Unique? highlights just how many distinct configurations exist on the internet (hint: it’s a lot!).
While it’s impossible to guarantee your website functions on each and every configuration, there are certainly several key checks you can perform to ensure maximum compatibility.
An enjoyable web experience means one that’s adapted to your visitors’ devices. Sometimes this means tweaking elements which may clutter your website on mobile devices. However, your website’s core functions must remain useable across all platforms and browsers. Important site elements like a webstore, information about your services, or a contact form are crucial though, so don’t turn them off. Instead, consider adapting page elements like scrolling banners to display fewer items or pictures on narrower screens. Be sure content on the far left and right sides of your site stacks vertically on mobile by using columns when building the page. Alterations like this will make your website mobile-friendly without reducing functionality.
Test and check
All too often, testing is overlooked – and no, a quick scroll over the pages doesn’t count. Extensively checking your website on all devices available to you can prevent headaches down the track. This means actively using your website on a phone in portrait and landscape mode, on an iPad in portrait and landscape mode, etc.. The same principles apply on desktop computers too – use your site while in full screen, smaller freeform windows, and snapped to one half of the display. These are your visitors’ real-life use cases, so it’s important to check them all.
When testing, be sure to check all page elements you expect to see are on page. This means headers, footers, navigation menus, search bars, graphics, content, and additional plugins. If your navigation menu breaks or becomes hidden on smaller screens, visitors can’t navigate across your site! Similarly, if your webstore’s purchase page doesn’t load properly, you won’t make any sales. Use your site like a visitor would, and make sure the experience is smooth and productive.
The wrap up
Remember, your website must be found by search engines, direct users effectively, and work as expected. Without these keystones, your website is unlikely to gain much traction online or be a valuable asset when found. Plan your visitors’ experience and path across the site, and make navigation as easy as possible for them.
If you need a hand or some friendly advice, the team at Purple Giraffe would be thrilled to help you polish up your website today. Happy web developing!