Your website is more than just a place to promote your brand and/or products. It’s arguably the single largest point of contact your customers may have with your business, outside of a brick and mortar storefront. It’s where you make your initial pitch to new visitors, share information with your community, and drive traffic to places you’d like your visitors to go.
That’s why it’s of utmost importance that your new visitors have a pleasant user experience from the moment they find you in a search engine to the day after they made their initial visit. Think of your website as an extension of your business’ services rather than a billboard. Your visitors are customers walking through the front door, asking questions, and seeing what your site has to offer.
Regardless of what type of business you’re in, your website is often the first real opportunity you have to establish a relationship with potential customers. This experience should be free of confusion, and leave a lasting impression.
The speed at which your site loads is important. If your host takes too long to establish a connection and serve the page, the visitor might just abandon your site and move on to the next one in the search results list. KISSmetrics, a site dedicated to analytics and user experience, states: "40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.”
Three seconds might not sound like a long time to most people, but it’s an eternity to folks searching for a solution to a problem with very little time on their hands.
Caching is a popular method of speeding up loading time by reducing the amount of work required on the part of the server. Instead of digging through the database each time the front page of your site is served, the CMS takes a snapshot of a page and serves a copy of it to each visitor. That snapshot is then retaken at regular intervals in order to make sure the content delivered is current.
Optimization of image files is another way to reduce page load times. By taking an image and compressing it, you're able to deliver a file that looks like the original image but takes a fraction of the time to transfer from server to client. We've outlined a list of some of our favorite image optimization solutions in a previous blog post.
Your site is only as reliable as your hosting provider. A $6/month hosting plan from a provider that crams as many customers into a crowded shared server as possible isn’t likely to be as reliable as a dedicated or private server would be. For most small business, it’s impractical to spend too much on hosting, but it is an important consideration if your company depends on your site to make money.
Not all shared plans are created equal, either. There are plenty of good, reliable hosting providers that don’t oversell their shared servers. Pay close attention to customer reviews (from third-party review sites) and remember that you get what you pay for.
Scalability is also a key concern for many sites that depend on high traffic volumes to turn a profit. Let’s say you publish an article on your site that makes the front page of Reddit. That means a lot more attention to your site and brand, but at the cost of higher traffic which can be a burden on overcrowded or poorly configured servers. Make sure the hosting provider you choose has a plan allowing you to easily scale your service should your regular traffic rate increase, and handle those sudden spikes when something on your site draws a large amount of unexpected traffic.
At the core of any user experience is usability. Your site might look great, but if it isn’t easy to navigate or follow, it’s practically useless to your visitors. Make sure there is a menu in a convenient place that is easy to read and follow. Your logo can serve as an alternative Home button, but you should still have a link to the home page within the main menu.
Your site should be accessible to just about anyone. This includes blind visitors that are navigating by way of a Braille aid or a text-to-speech program. This means making the navigation buttons on your page in text wherever possible, and using “Alt” text to describe images (or what it links to).
Colors are also a big point for usability. Pink text over a yellow background was popular during the early days of the Web when animated GIF backgrounds and rotating construction signs were all the rage, but it’s murder on the eyes. Keep to the classics whenever possible for text as it appears on a page. Contrast is key, and you can hardly ever go wrong sticking to black and white for the bulk of your written content.
There are a lot of people around the world navigating the Internet with the help of built-in translation software. If your site is riddled with misspellings or grammar that could lead to a mistaken translation, it could greatly reduce your chances of grabbing an International audience. English is generally the most used language on the Web, but that doesn’t mean everyone reads it fluently.
Spelling also has a potential negative impact on SEO, which we’re covering in the next and final tip.
Search engines are a huge driver of traffic, especially for sites that are in need of additional exposure. Your site’s content should be written in a way that makes it easy for someone to find you. Think about the phrases people use when searching for information. These phrases are often simple. They contain a few keywords that tell the search engine exactly what they want.
Unfortunately, SEO is a constantly evolving science that changes every time a major search engine updates its algorithms. Where meta tags and repeating keywords throughout the body of an article were once the rule of thumb, they’re only part of a larger strategy to earn a site (or page) rank in a particular subject so it appears near the top of the search result lists.
Search today is far more customized than it once was. Your social media interaction, previous search phrases, frequently visited sites, and even some statistical analysis based on your age and gender all play a role in the results you see when you search. The best way you, as a content creator, can remain relevant to the largest number of potential visitors is to produce good, clean content that is easy to follow and understand.
Search engines are clever these days. They have extensive algorithms that detect whether or not a site is a content farm, how relevant its business is to people in a general region, and even how respectable the sites it links to are. It always helps to arm yourself with knowledge of what search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing are up to. Often, major updates to these sites can make or break companies that don’t do enough to keep up with the times.