Nearing the end of the year, we are still in a constant state of flux. Our vocabulary has forever changed, with phrases that did not exist twelve months ago, such as “Self Isolate”, “Social Distancing” the “R” rating. Our working ways have shifted into a world of webcams and background noise. We have all been pushed into a world of digital. Our meetings are now a little fuzzy and inaudible, with common phrases such as “Can you hear me?” and “Can you see my screen okay?”. It’s safe to say, we shall all forever remember the year 2020.
As we move forward, the ways that people are currently engaging with brands digitally isn’t likely to change much, even with a light at the end of the tunnel. Human nature has been adjusted to work, shop and play in a digital way – most commonly referred to these days as ‘digital transformation’. Last year, some companies had already taken to digital like a duck to water, while others were just “thinking about it”. No one predicted that 2020 would completely force this change for everyone overnight, with brands having to shift their sales processes to online within a matter of days to accommodate the new rise in online consumerism.
Winter is going to be a busy season for the digital world, regardless of product, market or sector. Whether you sell online or just want to get your brand seen and heard, your digital footprint is likely to be extensive and we all need to be prepared for what’s set to be one of the busiest periods on record for online commerce.
Below are some of my key recommendations for ensuring your website is fully optimised during peak season.
There are a set of basic but important rules that we can all follow when it comes to ensuring that your website works organically with search engines.
Firstly, keeping the content on your website current and relevant is key. If your site is all about a service that you provide, you need ensure your website reflects this within the first quarter of the home page. It sounds easy enough, but you’d be surprised at the amount of websites that get this wrong! Remember, it’s best to keep your eyes on the prize and consider your key website objectives first and foremost – this is the very reason your website exists in the first place.
Secondly, it’s important to link to other sections within your site. For example, if you are writing some copy on your ‘About’ page, a good rule of thumb when referencing the services you offer is to link through to the relevant pages within your website. Simple but often easily missed.
The number one rule of SEO, though, is to…optimise, optimise, optimise. By this, we mean populating your site with the relevant information that best describes your content. Just by adding a descriptive, reader-friendly title and description to your web pages, you are making it a lot easier to prove the relevancy of your post to search engines. Although there are zero guarantees that your information will be pulled through, search engines will typically use this to display the best content of your article. So it’s worth putting the time in to ensure you have awesome meta titles and descriptions.
A good point to remember is that SEO is not only measured in content relevance alone, but also on a number of other metrics. This can range from how quickly the website loads to whether it works correctly on a mobile device. Page speed is fundamental and can be easily affected by the content you display. For example, not ensuring your imagery is optimised to load quickly is not particularly ideal. Also, extensive video content loading on a page of your site can have a major impact on website performance, so that’s also a bit of a no-no.
Keep in mind any software or programmes working in the background that may cause the site to run slower than usual. There have been a number of times when reviewing client websites where we have spotted multiple analytics platforms installed, causing the site to download and run multiple external scripts. This ultimately results in a slower page load, which doesn’t bode well from an SEO perspective. Instead of having multiple platforms, it’s always best to limit your analytics provider to just one. Also, be sure to check that any previous testing platforms are removed from the site for optimal performance.
A number of other sources that affect page speed include your hosting provider and website visitors, but this can sometimes come from a sudden upturn in traffic. With the major switch to online hitting retailers way back in March, it’s fair to say we have seen a pretty huge increase in visitors to ecommerce websites over the past 6-8 months. This has, in turn, caused higher load on websites with hosting in place that may not be sufficient for such high levels of traffic. In other words, those pre-pandemic hosting packages! So, a critical step is to ensure the service you have can keep up to speed with the demands of your site. A real treat for your hosting provider, too!
Security and trust
In the age of GDPR, keeping your website updated and secure is paramount. When it comes to customer data, it’s all about trust and reputation. The integrity of your website is incredibly important, not only for your clients and prospects, but also for search engines.
When security and data breaches happen, it goes a little bit beyond a telling off. If your site is deemed as risky or insecure, then there is no doubt that your site will be penalised by all the major search engines. Ouch! All modern web browsers will also flag to your visitors that your site isn’t secure, causing a whole lot of unnecessary damage to reputation and breakdown of consumer trust. Double ouch! So the message here is…guard your customer data with your life!
Without getting too technical, it is also always good practice to have a fully qualified and installed SSL certificate on your site.This will mean that your website can only be browsed through a secure URL starting with HTTPS://. Search and SEO will love your website if you make this mandatory. The reason for this is because you are essentially making sure that any communication passed between the visitor and the site is secure and encrypted. This stops any prying eyes or pesky hackers from obtaining key data, and we are all for that.
On the subject of security, it’s always best to keep your website and content management system up to date and on the latest versions. Hackers love all the common platforms, so these can sometimes be easily targeted when not updated. WordPress frequently releases updates for their CMS. While it’s mostly for additional features, functionality or support, they are also for keeping the system secure. Whatever CMS you use, it is always good to keep on top of these updates, however annoyingly time-consuming they can be! This isn’t just to benefit from the cool new tech features, but also for peace of mind that it is keeping your website that little bit more secure.
A final point on security… Your hosting provider should be keeping a degree of security wrapped around your website, but it is worth checking that they are also securing the server and hosting that your website is sat on – just to be sure!
UX and UI Quick Wins
A key insight that we have learned from our experience in website development is that the everyday web user is almost always looking for virtual instant gratification. As consumers, we are so used to being able to find what we want quickly, so it’s imperative that we give this to our customers, or they’ll simply leave and go elsewhere.
By using analytics, not only can you easily identify the number of visitors to your website, but also where they came from and how they are interacting with your content. By keeping a close eye on this data, you can make some key decisions about how best to serve your content to your website visitors. You may even learn a thing or two about your user profiles by delving deep into their demographic data. This is always handy information to have when carefully crafting the user journey across your different audiences to maximise conversions.
The simplest of measures can instantly improve user experience, like streamlining the user navigation on your site. Whether you have a screen-stealing menu in the top right corner, or simply change the order of the main navigation drop-down to show top priority content first – it all makes a difference.
It may sound obvious, but sign posting your content is also an absolute must, yet many websites still fail at doing this effectively. Making it easy for people to find what they need on your website is fundamental to ensuring a good, satisfying user experience. Think about your primary navigation and don’t be frightened to change the order within it to drive those all important clicks and conversions. The primary navigation of your website is, well, just that…primary. The name is in the title!
A small but significant example… If you are selling a discounted product for Cyber Monday, it would be good practice to place it in an easily and quickly accessible location on the website. You may ask, isn’t that what promotion is for? Well yes, you should drive traffic directly to the product via the usual promotional marketing channels like PPC, Google and social media. But for a better user journey, there should be a quick link to the content. At the very least, there should be a homepage take over driving users directly from other parts of the website to that page. Do this, and you will see your product sales climb.
Believe it or not, the same rules also apply to content. If you have written an awesome blog (much like this one!), you will want to make sure people can find it easily. After all, there’s very little point in writing that great informative piece on ‘the environmental and ecological impact of european textiles in the fashion industry’ if no one can see it! More importantly, no one will be buying the ethically-sourced jumpers you’re promoting within the blog if it is hidden within your site. A key tactic to increase content visibility is to change your site navigation and link directly to the article or information you want users to see, even if it’s just for a short-term period to promote a certain topic or event. Website navigation is there for exactly that purpose, yet ironically it is part of a website that so few people change.
If you try all of the above tips you will likely see some great results. Whatever your objectives are, following these simple rules for a healthy website will ensure that your site thrives and search engines play nice. However, it’s always wise to take a safety-first approach. Focus on website security as a solid starting point and the rest will follow. After all, earning the trust of your customers should be the top priority for a website of any size, industry or sector.
Author: Greg Harvey, Technical Director