Website Optimization, Website Improvement and SEO

What is a successful small business website?

magnet attracting money due to website optimization

Forget measuring traffic, hits, download speed or whatever. A successful website is one that delivers either an abundance of sales or leads you can turn into sales. This is the true "performance metric" for a small (or large) business website.

This means that measuring your website's success depends on what your company needs from your website. Is your website generating leads for your service business? Then your website is successful if it is generating enough quality leads to keep all of your service personnel busy. Until you are ready to increase your service staff, then you will need to redefine success and work on ways of increasing leads through the website.

Are you selling goods online? Then your website is successful if it is generating enough sales revenue to meet your company’s goals for the current year. If your goal for next year is considerably larger, you will need to redefine success for your website in terms of that goal and you will need to work on ways of increasing sales through the website. Don’t be afraid to set large goals and work towards them. Companies that work hard on their websites can see success much higher than the average.

What if your website is not delivering the sales or leads you need? What things does your website need to be doing to be successful, and what do you need to do to make it happen? Read on.

Tired of reading already? Give us a call (817.500.4501) and see how quickly we can get you on track.

There are no quick answers

magic wand and hat

However much we would like it, there simply isn't a magic wand or silver bullet to turn a website into a major producer. This doesn't stop people from promoting individual factors like keywords or content as the sole means of success.

The truth is that single-shot methods don't work. Why? Because a successful website needs to be doing several things correctly at the same time to produce the leads and sales any small business needs. As in your business, to focus on only one aspect is to ignore others that can damage your bottom line. Let's look at the different things your website should be doing.

Different studies of business websites have identified as many as 100 factors that contribute to website success. We have grouped success factors into seven elements of success. By focusing on these elements, small business website owners like you can make improvements in website success without bogging down in details. As your website performance improves, you can focus on more nuanced elements.

The seven elements of successful website optimization.

You will notice that a number of these elements for success overlap. By concentrating on them separately, we can address how each of them works to make your website more successful. Let's take each one in turn.

Your website needs to work well with your ideal customer and prospect

person with bags of money representing the ideal customer for website improvement

Possibly the biggest single failure in business website development is creating websites without the ideal customer/prospect in mind. It is your ideal customer/prospect-the person or business that represents the fastest, most profitable sales opportunity for your business-that your site needs to support. If your website is built around your ideal customer/prospect, those buyers can quickly and easily find what they need to make that important decision to purchase.

How do you design for your ideal customer? First, define your ideal customer. Often this is the person or business that represents the greatest return for your marketing and sales investment. Marketers call this the 'cost of customer acquisition', meaning the amount of time and money it takes to get the attention of a prospect and to persuade them to do business with your company and complete the first sale. Depending on your business, the ideal customer may simply have a lower cost to acquire, or the initial cost may be higher, but the ideal customer purchases from you repeatedly.

Once you have identified your ideal customer, talk with some of them. Talk about their preferences in websites like yours. Talk with them about what they need to know before purchasing, and how they prefer to acquire that information. Ask them about websites that they like to do business with. Put this information together with what makes your business special and why buyers should do business with you, and you will have the kind of information a web design and development firm need to build an appropriate site. You will also have the beginning definition of what sort of content should be in your website. Learn more about the ideal customer, profiling and customer-focused websites.

Making the customer experience positive and rewarding is the prime mover in your website design and content delivery. Understanding what makes up a positive customer experience tells you how to lay out the content in your website (“content architecture”), how the navigation (the menus and links) should work. It tells you the kind of content and the amount of that content will help your prospects and returning customers make buying and re-buying decisions. Even the choices of color and text fonts for your website should be made with input from your ideal customer.

Finally, arrange the content and navigation in your website so the ideal customer/prospect can complete a purchase with the fewest possible clicks. This is called being 'task oriented', and it means that your customer/prospect can purchase or re-purchase with ease and simplicity. Imagine trying to purchase something in a department store and being sent from department to department and floor to floor to find what you want to buy. How quickly would you leave and try another store? Think of your website in the same way, and make the steps to purchase compact and easy to find.

Your website needs to work well with search engines

search engine logos

Search engines like Google, Bing and Ask can deliver a constant stream of prospects to your website, the result of organic (free) search. For this to happen, your website needs to work well with those search engines. Fortunately, the search engines, especially Google, will tell you how to do this.

Despite a history of developers “gaming” the search engines with tricks, there is no magic, no single thing that will magically move your site to the top of the search results. In fact, a number of the 'magic tricks' used in the past will now result in your website having a lower place in search results. Instead, your website needs to be constructed, filled and then operate in the manner the search engines are looking for. While these requirements have changed over time, they have really been refined, rather than massively overhauled or replaced.

If you remember that the search engines are serving their own customers, it is easier to understand the engines' need to deliver quality, authoritative, fast sites in their top search results. With millions of consumers and business buyers using mobile devices for their searches and purchases, it is also easy to understand why the major search engines make a big deal out of mobile support. They don’t want to list a website at the top of the search results and have someone go there to find the site doesn’t support their mobile device.

Getting a website to work well with search engines is called making it 'search engine friendly', and is a key part of Search Engine Optmization (SEO). Your website needs to operate without errors, to work quickly (see more below), to address topics relevant to your business with authority and accuracy (see more below), and to be constructed in a fashion (HTML headers, etc.) that enable the search engines to index the pages in the site and apply their mathmatical calculations to determine where those pages fit into their users' searches. Due to the complexity of making site 'search engine friendly', it often requires expertise from outside the company. It is also important to note that search engine optimization (SEO) that focuses on keyword use alone may not deliver the kind of results your business needs. To learn more, read our detailed discussion on search engine friendliness.

Your website needs to work properly

image of error messages not good for website improvement

Next, your website has to work well – period. Sites that are broken will not only cause potential customers to leave, but will also cause your site to suffer in the results pages of major search engines. Websites with missing pages, broken links and scripting errors are not the ideal user experience. Web pages that jitter or bounce around in the browser window due to poor loading sequences will also cause your website to suffer in the eyes of prospects and customers. Special fonts or effects that rely on your visitors having the latest browser versions or support for programming can leave empty holes in your web pages and empty holes in your bottom line if the majority of your prospects and customers run with older browsers.

Fortunately, when a website is having errors of this kind, it is often easy to tell. But it does require that somebody is looking. It also requires that somebody is looking at every page on your website. Every time your website is updated, even a single page, it is possible an error (or several) have been introduced. Unfortunately, for HTML, CSS, PHP and JavaScript, a simple typo (the wrong bracket, a missing semi-colon, even uppercase text that should be lowercase), can produce an error that prevents a visitor from completing a purchase. "For want of a nail...".

While fixing such an error may be beyond your expertise or that of your staff, there are tools that will help you find if you have such errors in your website. To learn more, read our details on website errors.

Your website needs to be fast

image of rocket representing page speed for website optimization

As you may know from your own experience, people tend to be very impatient when using the web. A study in 2015 showed that consumers expected web pages to load in one second or less. Similar studies have shown that the longer a page takes to load, the more people leave the website in search of faster service.

A number of factors can slow down the time it takes for one of your web pages to be fully displayed on a visitor's browser screen. These include how quickly your web server works, how many elements (images, style sheets, JavaScripts, etc.) make up a web page, how many directories those elements are spread across and any elements that must be downloaded from different servers.

While we use multiple tests in determining how fast web pages load, you can perform one quite simply on your own site. Using any browser, clear the browser's cache (see your browser instructions). This will ensure that your browser isn't simply loading a copy of your pages it previously stored. Check the clock on your computer and download each page. Any time the browser window is not complete, or the image of your page is jumping about as different elements load is time someone has to wait. When the page is completely displayed, check the time. If your pages are consistently taking longer than a second to load, it is time to get some help. Learn more by reading our details on page speed.

Your website needs to contain useful, informative content relevant to your business

folder in file drawers representing content for website optimization

Visitors may find your site through clever search engine optimization (SEO) or through paid ads or through off-site content (see below), but once they get to your site, they need to be informed. Whether it is product/service information needed to make a buying decision, or confirmation of things they learned elsewhere (see below), or some information about a product or service they have already purchased, people need to be drawn back to your website. The basic truth is that it typically costs less in time and money to persuade someone to buy from you a second time. So keeping buyers interested in your website and therefore your company and your goods and services can pay off for you again and again.

Once again, your best source for advice on content is your ideal customer/prospect. Talk with your customers and find out what sorts of things they would like to know about, from special offers to sales to warranties to parts to ....? And by all means, keep the content relevant to your business. "Seven Strange Things About House Cats" may get a lot of visits to your site, but unless you sell cats or cat-related goods or services, that traffic will not do the same good for your business that relevant content will. Learn more by reading our details on content and by reading about the ideal customer and customer profiles.

Your website needs content in other locations

social media icons, important for website optimization

Small businesses can no longer depend on just their website to bring in prospects. Studies indicate that buyers increasingly come to company websites to confirm what they have already learned about the company and its products elsewhere. This means that your website and its content should not come as a surprise. Your website should be a well-thought-out part of your marketing. A common message, similar tone, even color scheme and image use should be consistent across all of your marketing.

Where do you put your content outside your website? Everywhere you put information about your business and your products/services. Your advertising, even in the yellow pages, your videos, your brochures and other sales collateral, and most importantly today, in your social media postings, from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, all should reflect your central marketing message and consistent information about your company and its products/services. Read our details on offsite content.

Your website's look and feel needs to be attractive

artist's palette, brushes and paints representing good design for website improvement

Your website needs to be aesthetically pleasing. However, this doesn't mean pleasing to you, or your designer. It means pleasing to your ideal customer/prospect. Talk with your customers. If you don't have any customers yet, talk to the people you think would make ideal customers. Try out colors, fonts, layouts and content on them. Remember, what you want to create is the ideal website experience for the people most likely to buy from you. Pretty or cool is not what matters-pleasing your ideal customer/prospect is what counts.

Remember that website design covers much more than any pretty pictures on the home page. Good website design means that your ideal customer can immediately recognize they are in the right place when they arrive on your home page. It also means they can quickly and easily find the information they need to make a purchase (or re-purchase) decision. Your website design needs to be about your ideal customer, not about what anyone else thinks. Read our details on visitor design expectations.

Your website needs to tell you what's happening

graphics of web analytics

You need to know what visitors are doing – and not doing – on your website. For this, your site should be reporting to analytical tools, such as Google Analytics. There are both free and paid analytical tools, but the most important issue is to start collecting data. Once you have a picture of what is happening on your website, from the numbers of visitors to their source and their activities, you can then measure the effect of each change you make, not only to your website, but to your other marketing activities that may bring visitors to your website.

This does not mean that you need to become an expert in web analytics. You can get some help in understanding the basics of your analytics program's output. There are consultants who will assist you with this. But you do need to understand some fundamental issues with your website - how much traffic from where, what visitors do: what pages they visit, how long they spend on each page and especially how they get to a conversion (sale, lead generation, etc.). To learn more about this topic, read our discussion on web analysis tools.

A major advantage of using web traffic analytics is that it an assist you in many of your marketing efforts. By using links to your website in emails, social media, direct mail, brochures, and so on, you can track both the amount of traffic and the percentage and amount of purchase from each. This will give you better insights for planning future marketing activities.

Get started on making your website more successful

sprinter leaving the starting blocks

Working on these factors will help your website perform better on the major search portals. Once you have quality traffic, improving your website will help visitors become prospects and customers. Improving the percentage of visitors who buy will improve the profitability of your traffic.

Some of these elements you can test and work on yourself. Take the discussion above as a starting point. You will need to decide whether the better advantage for your business is to do this yourself or to hire a consultant and focus the time on your business. Some of the more advanced topics require not only training and experience, but expensive tools. See our discussion on getting started on website optimization, or our services and prices page to consider your choices. Whatever you choose, choose to get started soon.

Last updated April, 2018

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