What does web site optimization mean to you? Search engine optimization Better content Better design Better page load times Better marketing Better sales Better advertising New and improved site features Better usability ? Do you notice a trend here?
Optimizing=Just a Buzzword for Making it Better Not a mystical formula or special process Every site is different When you leverage your content and site interface to best serve your audience's needs and wants while fulfilling or exceeding your business goals, your site is optimized.
Its Not a One-Time Thing The biggest point I want to make today is that optimizing a web site is not a one-time procedure. Your audience is constantly evolving, as are your content and your business goals. Your web site needs to evolve along with them, and it will only do that if your staff regularly focuses on your site and how to make it better.
#1 Optimization Resource: YOU! YOU! The most important resource in website optimization is the time and brainpower you put towards identifying what your site needs and planning how you can best provide it.
#1: Plan Your Attack ColorsLayout Search options Content presentation Branding Ad presentation/serving Blogs RSS feeds Community features like message boards or article comments, etc. You have to have a plan to make the best use of your time, your programmers'/designers' time, and create the best product for your audience.
How do you plan to make your site better? Consider your sites mission Audience needs and wants Content Business goals Usability All five of these aspects must work together to yield a website that supports the goals of your audience and your business.
Site Mission What is the overall purpose of your site? –Publication mission –Internal mission
Audience Needs and Wants Who are your online readers? How many of them subscribe to your print publication, if you have one? What's their age, sex, number of horses, number of hours spent online per week, number of hours spent on your site per week? Are they the primary caregivers for their horses? How many hours a week do they ride or drive? Do they show? Do they give lessons? All of these bits of information and any others specific to your publication/audience help you figure out how to give your audience more of what they want and less of what they don't.
Focus on Content What is it about your content that is unique? Do you update it more often than most people? Serve a particular niche? Feature well-known columnists that have a gift for striking a chord with your readers? Whatever it is that you do best is what you need to highlight on your website.
Business Goals Financial targets Audience size targets Number of subscriptions generated targets Revenue targets Anything your organization deems important enough to require a target and a timeline. If you want a successful site, you need goals that push you to improveto provide more information, better information, or good information in better waysso that you gain a bigger audience, more revenue, or whatever your goal is.
Usability The ability of site visitors to use the site without error. Good usability: Important tasks (search, register, purchase, etc.) done without errors and frustration by most people. Bad: Tasks cant easily be completed. User leaves. How does usability relate to productivity? A usable website means the user can be very productive, busily and happily searching, reading, and buying.
Consequences of Poor Usability "Launching a site that is difficult to use will deprive the business of its best customers: those that are so eager to use your service that they will visit the site as soon as they hear about it. If these users get a bad experience, they will not only be lost to you as customers, they will also be lost as potential future advocates for the site. In fact, any hopes of viral marketing will turn into a bad fever as infected users warn others to stay away from the site. "Once a user has had a bad experience on a website, it is very difficult to convince him or her to come back. Resampling is one of the hardest sells and will cost your marketing budget much more money than the modest cost of getting the website right in the first place." --Jakob Nielsen, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000402.html http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000402.html Although it's often neglected, usability is just as critical to site performance as content, audience, and good business goals. If people can't find it or use it, it might as well not exist.
Everythings Connected None of these things we're discussing mission, audience, content, and business goals, and usabilityexist independently. They all build on each other. Planning your site from the ground up with all of these factors in mind will generate a product that fulfills both your business goals and your audience's goals.
Optimizing for Search Engines One study says that 81% of Internet users rely on search engines and directories to find the information they need. Google was the search engine of choice for 55.2% of U.S. searches in April, according to a recent article on Yahoo! Finance. Its nearest neighbor was Yahoo Inc. with 21.9% of the market share. More than 90% of users never go past the first page of search engine results.
Factors Driving Rankings Keyword relevancy Inbound links Domain strength User data Content quality Code to text ratio Code quality Page information Header tags
Keyword Relevancy Article subject: Founder in horses Keyword research tool: http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword/ http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword/ Tells the number of searches done in a recent 30-day period on Yahoo, estimated values for Google and MSN along with suggested variations.
Domain Strength if someone is searching for Western saddles, all else being equal between the two sites, a domain like www.WesternSaddles.com will rank higher than a page on Western saddles on www.christysblog.com. www.WesternSaddles.com www.christysblog.com www.WesternSaddles.com www.christysblog.com If you don't already have a domain name suited to your content, get one!
Content Quality, Inbound Links, User Data High-quality content= –High usage of your site –High number of links back –Higher search engine rankings
Code To Text Ratio Related to keyword density on the page Related to overall code used to display the page So… less code is better
Cascading Style Sheets Generally result in lighter code than standard HTML The style sheet is cached by the browser, meaning that in the page code all one has to do is mark a paragraph or other element as part of a named style. Then the code that controls its display has to be downloaded only once, not once per paragraph, and the page itself is much lighter without all the display markup. Consistency and ease of global changes are additional benefits
Optimize Images Too File name Alt tag Title tag Longdesc tag Dont: Dont: Do: Do:
Code Quality Code that does not adhere to W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards can cause spiders to leave your page, never finding that valuable content. http://validator.w3.org/ Download time analyzer: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/servic es/analyze/ http://www.websiteoptimization.com/servic es/analyze/ http://www.websiteoptimization.com/servic es/analyze/
Page Information A web page can specify its title, description, and keywords through META tags that do not display to the user (except for the title appearing in the title bar at the top of the window). These tags should be optimized for search engines as well. Title
Page Information: META Description Not all engines use this, but it's valuable for those who do. Brief description that characterizes your page and highlights your special focus. If you don't have one, or if the engine prefers to show terms in context, the description will usually be pulled from the text nearest the most "important" uses of the keyword. Example:
Page Information: META keywords Not used by all engines, but help for some as long as the words also appear in your text Code example: Code example: Good for displaying variations on search terms such as "horse health, horse health care, health information for horses," etc.
Header Tags Search engines place more weight on text inside header tagging. Used to denote headlines and subheads
Optimizing Usability Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. –Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design? –Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks? –Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency? –Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors? –Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?
There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty.
A Little Experiment Grab the least Web-savvy person you know who is not familiar with your site and park them in front of your computer. Pull up your Web site and ask them to do some of the basic tasks someone should be able to do on your site. Do not help, encourage, discourage, or direct them in any way. Sit behind them and tie your hands down if you have to.
Its OK, Theyll Learn… While some might argue that people will get used to a design and learn to use it more effectively, Nielsen offers this observation: "Usability can improve error avoidance substantially more than skilled [experienced] user performance."
KISS The overall message of most usability recommendations? Keep it simple, stupid. Give people what they want, when they want it, looking like they expect it to look, without cluttering them up with things they don't want.
Think like a user… Avoid internal jargon and organization The user hasnt always done it that way Example: Posting of content by issue because once upon a time, the point was to feature your magazine's content on the web and sell magazines. Now not too many people care about content by issue, they want information on a topic and the issue date is largely irrelevant clutter.
…But remember you arent one You know too much. One of usability's most hard-earned lessons is that "you are not the user." If you work on a development project, you're atypical by definition. Design to optimize the user experience for outsiders, not insiders.--Nielsen How? Back to user testing. Find out what your users really want from your site.
Keys to Usability Communicating clearly so that users understand you. Users allocate minimal time to initial website visits, so you must quickly convince them that the site's worthwhile. Providing information users want. Users must be able to easily determine whether your services meet their needs and why they should do business with you. Offering simple, consistent page design, clear navigation, and an information architecture that puts things where users expect to find them.
Common Violations PDF files for online reading Not changing the color of visited links Non-scannable text Fixed font size Poor contrast between text and background Page titles with low search engine visibility Things that look like ads
Common Violations Violating design conventions –Nielsen: Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don't have to worry about what will happen. Instead, they know what will happen based on earlier experience. –The more users' expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users' expectations, the more they will feel insecure. –Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience states that "users spend most of their time on other websites." This means that they form their expectations for your site based on what's commonly done on most other sites. If you deviate, your site will be harder to use and users will leave.
Common Violations New browser windows Not answering users' questions Frames Gratuitous use of bleeding-edge technology
…And More Common Violations Continuous animations Complex URLs Orphan pages Long scrolling pages Lack of navigation support Nonstandard link colors Outdated information Last but not least: Long download times.
So What DO You Do? Nielsen: "Usability plays a role in each stage of the design process. Main steps: 1. Before starting the new design, test the old design to identify the good parts that you should keep or emphasize, and the bad parts that give users trouble. 2. Unless you're working on an intranet, test your competitors' designs to get cheap data on a range of alternative interfaces that have similar features to your own. (If you work on an intranet, read the intranet design annuals to learn from other designs.) intranet design annualsintranet design annuals 3. Conduct a field study to see how users behave in their natural habitat. 4. Make paper prototypes of one or more new design ideas and test them. The less time you invest in these design ideas the better, because you'll need to change them all based on the test results. paper prototypespaper prototypes
What To Do, Continued 1. Refine the design ideas that test best through multiple iterations, gradually moving from low- fidelity prototyping to high-fidelity representations that run on the computer. Test each iteration. 2. Inspect the design relative to established usability guidelines, whether from your own earlier studies or published research. 3. Once you decide on and implement the final design, test it again. Subtle usability problems always creep in during implementation.
Dont Make This Mistake Don't defer user testing until you have a fully implemented design. If you do, it will be impossible to fix the vast majority of the critical usability problems that the test uncovers. The only way to a high-quality user experience is to start user testing early in the design process and to keep testing every step of the way.
More Usability Topics Reading on the Web: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html Writing for the Web: http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/ http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/
Enhancing the User Experience First make sure whatever you're considering really will enhance the user's experience with your site, and isn't just giving you something new and fun to work on. Not all technologies fit all sites and audiences.
A Few Enhancements RSSBlogsPodcasts Social bookmarking Folksonomy Chat rooms User-generated content: –Message boards –Article/blog comments –Vote on content value –Product reviews –Wikis
What Will You Have Done? Make sure the new feature really fits your site. Then the skys the limit!
Developing new features Might have to outsource to get those skills Test, test, and test again!
Metrics What people actually do online is often different than what they say they do, or would do if given the chance. Metrics can tell you what people are really doing and how they're doing it. Key: Find the person in your organization who loves pulling and analyzing this stuff, because most people don't.
A Few Aspects of Metrics What can be measured What you should measure How to measure it How to use that information to make your site better
What Can Be Measured Pretty much anything a user clicks or types on your site can be logged and measured, along with the time in between. Let's start with some of the basics, such as: –Page views/impressions –Number of unique visitors –Number of repeat visitors –Average session length –Does anyone track hits anymore?
What Can Be Measured: Editorially Popular pages Click paths Entry pages Exit pages Bounce rate Search terms Error codes
What Can Be Measured: Engines Top referrers Top search engines Search terms Amount of traffic generated by search engines (%) Paid search advertising performance
What Can Be Measured: Ads Ad impressions Clickthroughs Clickthrough rates
What Can Be Measured: Marketing/Sales Number of sales Sale revenues Conversion rate Paid search advertising
What You Should Measure What's important to your business? That's what you should measure. The overall statistics are important to maintain an broad picture of things, but the details will vary depending on your site's content and goals.
How to Measure It Many, many choices Just starting out? Try Google Analytics, its free…
How to Use That Information to Make Your Site Better Identify things you're doing well so you can capitalize on them Identify problem areas that need fixing Identify trends that tell you your audience's needs are changing
Examples High traffic in a topic area might stimulate you to do a special newsletter on that topic. High traffic in a particular general message board might suggest splitting that topic area into subtopics. High bounce rate on homepage might cause you to trim down and focus your message so that it gets across more quickly and clearly, hopefully resulting in lower bounce rate. High number of views of a new feature (i.e., a blog) leads you to develop more features along that line. Low percentage of traffic from search engines might lead you to work on search engine optimization. Decreased sales might lead you to promote a more appealing deal to your users. Consistently low traffic at a certain time of day might lead you to roll out any site changes at that timeless server load and fewer users possibly being inconvenienced during the switchover.
Usability example: QuickFind Initial location high in nav links People were using a lot; this is good, right? Not necessarily… It was also generating a lot of errors. Why? It was an empty blankpeople thought it was a search box and typed words into it. Since it was only designed to accept numbers, that didnt work so well.
Why It Didnt Work/Results We violated consistent design principles: rulewe had given them something that looked like a keyword search box but didn't work like one. Here's a snapshot of what we were seeing: –In 10 days of traffic: 693 uses of this form, 30- 40 errors/day = 48-63% error rate. Ouch. –We moved it down out of the first screen. –Results (6 days of traffic): 141 hits, 10 errors total (max, estimated) = 7.1% error rate. Much better!
Wrapping Up A lot goes into optimizing a web site, but much of it is the same resource that goes into optimizing your magazineusing your goals, content, and knowledge of your audience to plan out and maintain a quality product. There are additional considerations brought on by the technology and interactivity, but don't be daunted! Those are just opportunity for innovation. And improving your website is one of the best possible things you can do to improve your brand.
A few additional resources Search engine optimization: www.seomoz.org www.seomoz.org Usability: www.useit.com www.useit.com A List Apart: For People Who Make Websites http://www.alistapart.com http://www.alistapart.com