Part 1: Search Engine Optimization
There is no debate: Your website is one of the most important pieces of your business strategy.
Whether you define your business as B2B, B2C, non-profit, local, global – doesn’t matter. ALL companies need an online presence to reach and convert buyers in the internet age…and your website is your new storefront.
Seems obvious, right? Yet a recent survey by 1&1 Internet reported that up to 40% of small-to-medium sized businesses still don’t have a website -- and, no, social media accounts don’t count.
Maybe you’re looking to build your first website. Or perhaps your existing site isn’t performing as well as it could. Either way, You’re probably asking the same question:
What does it really take to have a great website?
The answer is…a lot! A website needs to not just exist - but to perform. It needs to attract and educate visitors, and convince them to buy.
Easier said than done, right? Well, that’s exactly why we’re here!
The first thing to understand is that your website is not an island. Successful digital strategies integrate search, social media, content, blogging, advertising, and more with the home site. We’re about a decade past the days where all it took was a URL, fancy Flash graphics, and an expensive advertising campaign to win traffic.
For that, you can thank your customer. Today’s buyer consumes information when they want, how they want, and often-times without the involvement of a single sales person. More importantly, they want to be educated - not sold to. As you can see, websites as well as other forms of inbound marketing content (podcasts, blogging, and social media) have become an accepted and expected part the buying cycle.
Unfortunately, making use of one, or even multiple of those inbound marketing techniques is a losing proposition without a proper website. In most cases, traffic from blogs, social media, organic and paid search will end up converting into leads or sales only on your main website. Without an online basecamp, it would be difficult to attract new business to one source.
Great! So, how do you ensure your new or current website is as effective as possible? We’re glad you asked!
A great website isn’t so great if no one visits it. This first chapter covers the very top of the funnel of your inbound marketing strategy: Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO is an absolute must-have for any website strategy, but it isn’t particularly sexy--as it takes hard work and consistency. These tips will provide a blueprint for increasing your organic search engine rankings.
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Building Inbound Links
You and your competitors both have the goal of reaching the top position in search engines. However, there is only one top spot per keyword phrase, so not everyone is going to make it.
So, what gets a first place ranking? One major factor is off-page SEO.
Off-Page SEO is about getting other quality websites to link back to your site. Search engines call this authority or “link juice.” The more quality inbound links you earn, the more important your site appears, thus a higher rank.
Link building isn’t easy, and is sometimes out of your control. Here are some tips to building inbound links:
- Create high-quality, educational or entertaining content. If people like your content, they will link to it.
- Submit your website to online directories. This is an easy and painless way to start.
- Write guest posts for other blogs. This is a win-win for both parties. Sites want extra (quality) content from others and in exchange; a great way to build inbound links.
- Research link building opportunities with other websites. But always check the authority of the websites that you are attempting to gain links from. We have multiple tools which allow us to check domain or page authority.
- And don’t borrow, beg, barter for, bribe or buy links.
On-page SEO is where your bread gets buttered – as far as your site Visitors are concerned. On-page SEO consists of placing your most important keywords within the content of your actual pages.
These on-page elements include Headlines, Sub-headlines, Body Content, Image Tags, and Links.
There’s a balance to be struck, here. Most businesses either do too little on-page optimization or too much (keyword stuffing). Only include your keyword as many times as necessary within your content.
- Pick a primary keyword for each page and focus on optimizing the page for that word. If you oversaturate a page with too many keywords, it will lose its importance and authority, as search engines won’t have a clear idea of what the page is about. The homepage tends to be the main offender in this respect.
- Place your primary keywords in your headline and sub-headline. These areas of content have greater weight to search engines.
- Include the keywords in the body content but don’t use them out of context. Make sure they are relevant with the rest of your content.
- Include keywords in the file name of images (e.g. mykeyword.jpg) or use them in the ALT tag.
- Include the keywords in the page URL and keep the URL clean.
- And lastly, write for humans first, search engines second. Always prepare your content for your audience and then look to optimize it for search.
Title Tags & Meta Tags
While this may be the least sexy component of SEO, it is a definite must-have. Search engines look at meta tags to learn more about what the page is about.
Back in the day, websites abused meta tags to increase their rankings by including too many keywords. Now search engines are smarter and give more weight to inbound links and page content. However, they still play an important role to an SEO strategy. Make sure to use these on all of your pages.
If you’re not a web guru, most website editors and content management systems enable you to easily edit meta tags without coding knowledge. If that isn’t the case, we’ll help you out!
The general incentive behind an XML sitemap is to help search engine crawlers sift through your pages more efficiently. An XML sitemap is simply an .xml file containing a listing of all your pages and when they were updated. It shows the structure of your website and where your pages reside.
Creating a sitemap is easy. You can find sitemap generators online that will create the .xml file for you. Once you get the .xml file, simply upload it to the root directory of your website (e.g. www. website.com/sitemap.xml).
If your website is updated regularly, make it a good practice to update your xml file at least once a month so search engines have the freshest data.
We’ve all experienced a time when we clicked on a website link that ended up being broken.
Typically you’ll see a “404 message” or “Page Not Found.” A lot of times this is caused when a page is moved to a new URL and the old link hasn’t been directed to the new page.
This is a lost opportunity! If you choose to move a page on your website, make certain that you use a permanent 301 Redirect.
In addition to keeping visitors happy when navigating your website, permanent 301 redirects are also important for SEO. When a visitor or search engine can’t find a new page, you’ll lose any SEO status the old page once had.
To keep the SEO juice following to new pages, make sure those pages that have been moved can be found again.
Part 2: Design & Usability
Now that you’re generating some traffic, your next focus is on convincing that traffic to stay on your website. It depends on the industry, but most websites have a 30-60% bounce rate on average.
This means a large majority of web traffic entering your website leaves without navigating to any other pages.
Many times they may never come back. Yikes!
Here are some factors to consider to improve user experience and decrease your bounce rate.
The First Impression
Your website represents who you are and what you offer. When people see it for the first time they’re thinking:
- Is this site credible?
- Is it trustworthy?
- Is this a professional company?
- Is this company stable?
- Does this site make me feel welcome?
- Am I in the right place?
You need to ask yourself all of these questions when designing your website. Be careful not to put too much emphasis on how a site looks instead of it works – but do understand the importance of how your site appears to a first-time visitor.
“Visitors first evaluate a site’s overall design, including its use of multimedia. Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Web Watch noted: “While consumers say they judge on substance, these studies demonstrate that consumers judge on aesthetics, and get distracted by bells and whistles.” So, after spending all this time developing great, valuable content that visitors can’t find anywhere else on the Web, does this mean nothing matters but a cool color scheme and fancy flash animation? Fortunately, it doesn’t. The Stanford study noted specifically that while a site’s design is the first indicator of quality, it isn’t the only one: “…the visual design may be the first test of a site’s credibility. If it fails on this criterion, Web users are likely to abandon the site and seek other sources of information and services.”
Tips for a great website design:
- Proper use of colors: Use the right colors for your audience and to draw attention to select elements. Avoid a chaotic mix of colors on your website and instead pick two to four colors for your template and marketing materials.
- Animations, gadgets and media: Avoid anything unnecessary. Using Flash animations because they look cool is the wrong strategy. Only use media and animations necessary to help support content and information.
- Layout: Create a clear navigation structure and organize page elements in a grid fashion (as opposed to randomly scattered). Also, don’t be afraid of white space – it helps avoid clutter!
- Typography: Make sure your website is legible. Use fonts, font sizes and font colors that are easy to read. For easier page scanning, use bullet lists, section headers, and short paragraphs. If your site is English language-based, make sure information flows from left to right and top to bottom.
While design is important, don’t forget that offering great content is what your visitors are ultimately after. A well-designed website might convince visitors to take a closer look but they won’t look twice if the content isn’t useful and well organized. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Maintain ConsistencyIt’s best to keep elements on your site fairly consistent from page-to-page. Elements include colors, sizes, layout and placement of those elements. Your site needs to have a good flow from page to page. This means colors are primarily the same as well as fonts and layout structure. Navigation should remain in the same location of your layout throughout your website.
For layout structure, typically three page layouts exist for most websites: one for the homepage, one for content pages and one for form pages. For example, your homepage will have a different layout than a landing page for a PPC campaign. Keep the elements in these layouts constant. This will help keep your visitors from feeling lost.
Using the Right Images
Images can be a powerful element to any website but must be deployed wisely. For example, consider stock photography. Stock images are seen everywhere because they are easily accessible and inexpensive. But are they good to use?
Marketing Experiments performed a test comparing the use of stock photography verses real imagery on a website and each of their effects on lead generation.
What they found was that photos of real people out-performed the stock photos by 95%. Why? Because stock images tend to be irrelevant. Resist the temptation to use photos of fake smiling business people!
Take care to place meaningful images on your site. Every image is transmitting a subconscious message to your audience and sometimes the result is different from what might expect. We’d recommend looking into another study by Marketing Experiments called “Images vs. Copy: How getting the right balance increased conversion by 29%.”
Perhaps one of the biggest factors to keep visitors on your website is having a good, solid navigation system that supports all search preferences. In fact, more than three-quarters of survey respondents from a recent HubSpot study said that the most important element in website design was ease in finding information.
If people can’t find what they are looking for, they will give up and leave. Important factors in a site’s navigation include:
- Keeping the structure of your primary navigation simple (and near the top of your page).
- Including navigation in the footer of your site.
- Using breadcrumbs on every page (except for the homepage) so people are aware of their navigation trail.
- Including a Search box near the top of your site so visitors can search by keywords.
- Not offering too many navigation options on a page.
- Not digging too deep – in most cases it’s best to keep your navigation to no more than three levels deep.
- Including links within your page copy that make it clear where those links go to. *This is also great for SEO!*
The overall rule with a proper navigation structure is simple: don’t require visitors to have to think about where they need to go or how to get there. Make it easy for them.
Flash and Animation
Flash animation can grab someone’s attention, yes, but it can also distract people from staying on your site. Not only are mobile applications lacking the capability to view flash animation but many people simply don’t want to be bothered with unexpected noises and animations. Keep the animation to a minimum and only use when necessary.
If you’re in love with Flash or require animations, consider moving to HTML5. It’s a great browser-compliant alternative to Flash.
Can anyone visiting your website can view it no matter what browser, device, or application they’re using? In order to gain significant traffic, your site needs to be compatible with computers, smartphones, and whatever else is coming next!
With growth in mobile phones and tablet devices, more people are surfing the internet more than ever. Make sure you don’t miss out on any of those potential views by allowing everyone to view your site, no matter what kind of system or browser they use.
The internet has changed everything. Usage is still growing rapidly, and you need to be there when potential buyers come looking. A business website may be the most important factor in your inbound marketing strategy, but it’s more than just having a website. It’s the integration of SEO, social media, blogging, content, CTAs and landing pages that will drive traffic, leads and sales.
After all it’s these components that generate sales and revenue for your business. Inbound marketing is the key to filling your sales funnel with qualified leads and your website is where education, engagement and conversion take place.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll soon have a great website that generates traffic, leads and sales. But don’t stop there - A website never truly stops growing. Keep learning and be sure to ask for as much help and advice as necessary.