Get Up-to-Date! – 12 for 2012!
Here we are in the latter half of 2011 and there are an incredible amount of Websites on the Internet; each one unique in its design and functionality, its content, markup, features and in loads of other ways too. However, even though each website is completely different, there are certain needs that must be fulfilled pretty consistently, right across the Internet and regardless of the website. This article aims to examine 12 common elements that your website MUST have just right, to compete. They are in no particular order of importance (because they are ALL important!).
1) A Great Navigation Menu
- Its link styling – the :hover, :focus, and :active elements.
- The logical and meaningful use of lists to properly organize your links into a great and wholly understandable menu.
- You should even go so far as marking the current page so that the visitor knows where they are NOW.
You must get your visitors navigating around your website smoothly making sure they are always aware of where they came from, where they are now and where they are going to navigate away to, based on your menu-structure.
2) A Simple, Meaningful and Well-Formed Title
By “meaningful title” I am specifically referring to the title element of your website (that is the words that are contained within the <title></title>); it is this that’s shown in the title bar of your browser. Ideally the content title should come before the site (this helps search users find stuff like your main content heading, instead of seeing your site name over and over again) and, if at all possible, each page should have its very own title. An example of an effective title is shown below:
<title>12 Things Your Website Needs in 2011 | VodaHost web hosting</title>
The Title element should also always contain one of your keywords as a great deal of SEO comes from the title element of your website. Your title must always be relevant to the content that follows it and should always be simple and descriptive, so that the Googlebot and the other Search Engine spiders can pick up on the meaning of the content that follows and better place it in their results.
Note: You can use a “hyphen” ( - ) to separate the parts of the title but the “vertical bar” (or “pipe” ( | ) used on this site is our favorite way of doing things.
3) A Method of Contact
Offering a means of contact is ALWAYS necessary. It gives all your website visitors a feeling of legitimacy and security; it’s a really great thing to do as a service to your visitors (if they want to contact you they should be able to).
Offering a phone number and address is good, if possible and a contact form is a nice option instead of a mailto: email link that not all your visitors will be able to use anyway (because they may not have set-up a mail client like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird).
Unfortunately you should use a secure form since some visitors, robots or people are just up to no good. It has been argued that client-side spam filtering negates the need to protect your email address on the Web, but your address can still be harvested and put into use. There is no winning this war — not as long as common account names like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org can be put to use as soon as you register a domain name — but it doesn’t mean we should make it easy.
4) A Sitemap for your Visitors
Please Note: In this section I am referring to a HTML sitemap for human visitors NOT an XML sitemap for the Search Engines.
You must have a sitemap, even though not all of your website visitors will be well-served by a site map; Say, for example that you have a basic, five page site with a clear, consistent and readily available navigation menu. You could probably do without a site map (surely it can’t be too hard to find all those five pages). How many sites stop growing at five pages, though? Experience over time has taught me that domains tend to grow as new needs inspire new pages or applications.
If you aren’t yet convinced, also know that many users will seek a site map first since it gives them a snap-shot of the domain’s offerings, so to speak.
A site map can be as simple as a Web page with an unordered list (<ul></ul>) and maintaining it can be quite simple: add a new list item when a new page is added. It’s as simple as that. The hardest part is actually remembering to update it and updating it properly. That’s where the beauty of dynamic sitemaps really shows itself. Applications such as WordPress give users the opportunity to create everything from simple to complex sitemaps with not much more than a few clicks of your mouse. “Plugins” are also available further simplifying the process for novice users and if you want to step it up a notch, you can also offer an XML sitemap but know that a HTML site map is what I am referring to. People should come first, not robots and spiders!
5) Boost your Search Engine Rankings
Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is extremely important to your websites exposure on the internet. SEO is the “tweaking” of your websites content so that your website appears as far up the search results page as possible when a search engine user enters a specific search phrase into Google Search. So, if you have a website about software flight simulators (just for example), you would want the searching population to type the words “flight simulator” into Google and for your website to appear right at the top of the list of websites Google returns!
This can take a huge amount of work. You must get as many one-way links to your site from quality and reputable websites as possible and make sure your website’s content reflects the topic that you want it to be found for… This is done by “Keywords“, which the search engine spiders use to get clues as to what your website is about.
Keywords should always be used in your websites but while you may think you are doing the right thing by adding more keywords to your content, unfortunately this can make your website’s content read badly. You MUST never sacrifice your website’s content to reach a certain mathematical keyword density.
A full overview of optimal SEO practices are impossible here (waaay too much information) but it is a combination of your websites content and your website’s relationship (through links) with other reputable websites on the internet. Please see the eBook at the bottom of this page for tons of SEO information!
VodaHost’s VodaHits service provides a flexible and full solution to the effective SEOing of your website to bring in far more visitors to your website. Visit http://www.vodahits.com/ to experience the Search Engine Boost your website can get from taking up just a few services.
6) Use of Google Analytics
Your website must be connected with Google Analytics – you can get some great information from it to help you improve your website especially with regards your traffic and how effective the marketing you’re doing is. Google Analytics helps you buy the right keywords, target your best markets and engage and convert way more customers. Google Analytics offers website tracking statistics very similar to the statistics that you receive from within your web hosting account (how may unique visitors viewed each page, etc…) Best of all, because it’s a free service, there is absolutely no reason that you should not take it up right now.
Just visit: http://www.google.com/analytics/
The most common use is probably checking on how much traffic a website receives, along with the source of the traffic and which keyword someone has typed, if they have arrived via a search engine.
However Google Analytics can provide so much more relevant and useful information, for example, ‘Bounce Rate‘ can be a very important piece of data, this means the percentage of single page visits where the visitor left your site from the landing page without continuing to view any other pages of the site. So you might have lots of traffic, but if your bounce rate is high then this would suggest the page is not relevant to visitors and your site is probably not working for you. Conversely, this may be the very page your specific campaign is targeting. In this case the ‘bounce rate’ should not be discouraging.
You can also view the average time people are spending on your website, again if this figure is low and you are not receiving enquiries, just like ‘bounce rate’ this might suggest that your site is not perceived as being relevant by your website visitors. It could also be an indication that navigation to other relevant pages, for instance a ‘contact us’ feature, is not clear.
Top Exit pages can be another great piece of information, if visitors are browsing various pages of your site, but you are losing them without receiving enquiries then you may need to review your top exit pages and try tweaking/improving these.
Google Analytics is an amazing and under utilized tool with features that could completely fill a user-manual.
7) Small Webpages that load quickly!
I started using the Internet with dial-up and it was a completely miserable experience. Back when it seemed that every site I visited required some sort of plugin or add-on to make it work and frankly, the slow-moving Internet was a pain. This has changed on some levels. The need for plugins or add-ons is greatly reduced what with operating systems pre-loaded with all the necessary support; the kicker is that some people still have dial-up. For the last six years we’ve used broadband and it’s a dream; we’re spoiled and it’s easy to forget the less fortunate and load pages with heavy graphics. It’s easy to forget how doing this will make for a less-than-happy experience to traditional dial-up and distant DSL users. You have to keep the weight down!
I’m not saying the Web isn’t a place for heavyweights, it is, but with due consideration. If you want to offer heavyweight graphics and whatnot, let visitors navigate to them, instead of offering them on the initial page load. And warn users if something big is coming up. It’s only fair to allow those who want to opt out the opportunity to do so.
I suggest aiming for an upper limit of 100kb per page of combined background and embedded images (this is testable). You can buy a lot for a 100kb. To get the most bang for the buck, reduce the overall number of images, optimize them exporting only flattened, compressed files, and please pre-size embedded images for their location (being sure to add the height and width attributes to the image element). I’ve seen thumbnail-sizes that were really 900kb monsters with styles off! That’s just wrong!!!
8) A Helpful Error Page
If you’ve ever been lost, it’s always nice to see some helpful soul willing to give directions (assuming you are willing to admit you’re lost – I am never lost, for example). On the Web you can be that helpful soul. Not only, as mentioned in the last installment, can you offer a site map to proactively guide your visitors, you can offer a friendly, styled “404” error page (or pages if you want to cover more errors). Your error page should offer at the very minimum offer a link home, a navigation menu, and at least a link to the site map. If you want to be a really helpful soul, though, try combing most if not all your nav tools and putting them on one page. Make a perfect 404 page offering a site map on the page (easy with dynamic site maps), search, even contact info, and more.
This is not hard to do. Ask your Web host for starters. Specifically ask them about custom error pages since you’ll want to provide something useful and most default server error pages, even styled ones, aren’t really very helpful at all.
9) Really Good and Consistent Headings
I have written here of the importance of using the right mark-up for the purpose at hand. I mentioned headings but didn’t go into detail. That’s because headings are so important that they deserve a heading of their own. The use of headings is logical, and styling them is wide open, just use your imagination.
What good are they? They offer section demarcation, semantics and ordering, beauty in the right hands, a search indexing benefit, greater accessibility, and even a navigation source for some users of assistive technologies like screen readers. What more incentive could you possibly need to act on this recommendation?
10) A Great Domain Name
Never ever hurry to register a domain name and always take the time to choose it wisely because a great domain name is an extremely valuable asset to your business. Always take the time to consider the many and varied options available to you. Ideally, your domain name should be:
- easy to spell & type
- descriptive of your website
Choose a common domain name extension such as .COM, .NET or .ORG. I’d also strongly recommended that you perform a little keyword research prior to registering a domain name as a keyword-rich domain name can help you rank better musch better in the Search Engines. For example if you want your site to rank well in the Search Engines for “kite boarding”, you should try to get a domain name that contains the words “kite” and “boarding”. Once you have a few ideas in mind, go to a domain name registrar and perform a few searches. Once you found one you like and which fits all the requrements above, register it!
11) Social Media Marketing
A golden rule of S.E.O. states that: The more quality links coming into your website from outside, the better. Marketing your site through the social media and bookmarking websites can be a very powerful and really subtle method for optimizing Search Engine results as a vast amount of links to your site can be created by your social media users. The best part about Social Media is that you do not have to create any links yourself at all. It’s pure S.E.O. on autopilot. For example, when you socially bookmark a blog or web-page, an incoming link is created from the Social Bookmarking site to the website with the blog/page that has just been bookmarked. The more people that socially bookmark the blog / page and the more incoming links that are created, push the bookmarked website further and further up the page ranking of the Search Engines.
Create new social bookmarks to social or public bookmarking sites and they will generate a great deal of new traffic to your website as well as Search Engine exposure. Eventually, as time goes on and your visitors are finding new interesting information they will decrease in efficiency, making it necessary for you to find new means of driving increased traffic. You should always make it possible to socially bookmark new content on your website in order to keep the new traffic moving at a steady pace. You should be constantly marketing, updating and making your website better and then getting your users to socially bookmark the content. If it becomes boring and cluttered with old information, you can be sure that the website of someone who is always making improvements and modifications will slip past you towards the #1 spot.
12) Your robots.txt File
I feel that it is very helpful and important to have a robots.txt file for your website. The robot.txt file provides instructions to honest indexing robots and spiders (like the GoogleBot), telling them to stay out of certain directories you don’t really want them in anyway… There’s no reason to have your bandwidth wasted needlessly.
Some people, I’ve heard, want to disable right-click on their sites thinking that they may somehow actually succeed in stopping people from copying their images (really can’t be done, sorry…), yet for some reason they don’t have a robots.txt file to exclude their images directory. Doing this would be far more worthwhile. It’s very easy to make one, there are even tools you can use to help you get the job done.
Am I Done? – Is There More?
The short answer is, yes, of course. ALWAYS! Though looking into all the 12 suggestions above and making the appropriate changes to your website or blog, you will have done very well! You’ll find that with a little diligence you’ll be offering a quality site that is a cut above many sites of the Web. And the benefits, you may find, will actually be noticeable, and perhaps even tangible. Happy website building!