These 5 Components Will Optimize Your Website Redesign
You know you need a new website, but you have no idea where to begin. Sound familiar?
If so, you’re not alone. Most of our web clients are so focused on maintaining excellence and expertise in their own fields, they simply do not have time to learn what makes a website stand out, function best, or attract new customers. Fortunately, we’ve done this before, so we’ve put together the following list of tips and tricks to get you started on your journey to a better website.
The Top 5 Components for Website Optimization
#1 Speed Is King
In late 2016, Google updated its algorithm to promote faster-loading websites ahead of slower ones. This makes sense, if you consider the time constraints of the modern user. We want what we want, we want it yesterday, and Google wants to help us get it faster.
So how do you speed up your site? The first thing to do is test it to see how you rank. There are several free tools online that will help you evaluate your website’s speed, but two of the best are Google’s Page Speed Insights and Pingdom’s Website Speed Test. These tools will give you a good baseline for how your site is performing, and will even offer recommendations for how to fix some of the issues.
Once you evaluate your site for speed, here are some steps you can take to improve your site’s performance:
- Fast hosting. Avoid big-box shared hosting companies like Godaddy and Hostgator. While these companies are great for hosting blogs that only see 30 users a month, larger companies will feel the bind of sharing bandwidth, and the slowdown will cause Google to demote your site in the rankings.
- Dedicated IP address. If at all possible, splurge for a dedicated IP address, or better yet, a dedicated server.
- Reduce image sizes. No images on your site should be larger than 100Kb in size. Ever. Most images can be reduced to a small fraction of that—in the 7-15Kb range. The more images loaded on a page, the slower the page.
- Consider using a CDN service like Cloudflare. This allows your site to load resources from more than one server at a time, and decreases load time for your users.
#2 Ease of Use
A speedy site is great for your rankings and analytics. But it doesn’t matter how fast your pages load if your customers get lost once they’re on the site.
User Experience/User Interface Design (UX/UI) is a relatively new discipline that serves as the framework of your web design and is crucial to ensuring that users get where they’re going on your site as quickly as possible. Here are a few key components to consider when planning the UX/UI of your new site:
- Examine current habits. Before you sketch a single wireframe panel, you have to know how people are using your current site. There are a couple of key tools to help you.
- Google Analytics. A staple of website metric, Google Analytics offers a wealth of information, including what content your customers are using most, and what content they ignore.
- Hotjar is an invaluable tool that allows you to look at heat maps and real-time replays of how your users are moving through unique pages of your site. It can reveal if customers are getting stuck on a certain area of the page, or if they’re clicking where there’s no button, and many other common ailments of poor UI.
- Start early. You need to accumulate a lot of data to make informed decisions about your UI, so if you’re planning a website redesign in six months, you need to install tracking codes for your analytics programs ASAP.
- Test for common sense. Does your content hierarchy make sense? Are your products organized by category, or alphabetically? How would you search your site if you were a customer? Asking these questions of your team is important. And if you have the time, it pays to get outsiders to look at your site, attempt to use it, and give you honest feedback. Paid focus groups can be costly, but the information from real people using your site is more valuable than all the analytics data in the world.
- Check out your competitors. Are they using dropdown menus, sidebar menus, parallax designs? If so, there might be a reason. Dig into those reasons in your research to discover how those choices might be right for your site as well, or find ways to improve even further.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. It might seem like a nice idea to build a website that breaks the mold of traditional Web design, but the Web has been around for a long time. Your customers expect your site to follow certain widely accepted conventions. Logos should always link to the homepage. Articles are listed in reverse-chronological order, newest first. And if your site plays carnival music at full blast when the website loads, people will close your site and never return.
Another major update to the Google algorithm gave more weight to sites that are mobile friendly. In the weeks and months since that update, many a website has ignored that decree at its own peril. If your site is not optimized for mobile, it WILL be demoted in the Google rankings.
The reason for this hardline stance on mobile responsiveness is simple: modern users are browsing websites using mobile devices more than they are using desktops. According to web analytics firm, StatCounter, as of October 2016, 51.3% of website visits worldwide came from mobile and tablet devices. That’s right. More than half of your visitors are looking you up on their phones.
The result of this is a new methodology for development called mobile-first. Mobile-first development puts the mobile user at the focus of the development process. Traditional web designs are built for wide, sprawling, desktops, with the mobile versions that follow squeezing that content to fit, often feeling clunky, cluttered, and rushed.
With mobile-first development, we develop sites beginning with only the most essential elements necessary, and design for the smallest devices first. The result is cleaner and easier to use for mobile users and desktop users alike, as the process tends to weed out unnecessary clutter from the overall design.
#4 Meta Data
Meta data is how Google knows what’s what on your site, and it’s crucial to growing and maintaining your presence on the web. Just as a fast site is useless without good UI or a responsive design, the whole package is for naught if your meta data is out of whack.
Even if you don’t know what meta data is, if you’ve done any SEO work on your site in the past, you’re probably familiar with keywords. Keywords are a type of meta data that tells Google and other search engines, “Hey, here’s what this page is about,” in tiny, bite-sized chunks.
Well, things have changed again with Google, and keywords are out. The keyword meta tag has been deprecated (phased out) and Google now looks to meta descriptions, alt tags, h1 tags, and other elements to gain insight into how to classify each page.
This is probably the most difficult piece of the entire puzzle. At this very moment, there are thousands of bots—automated hackers set in motion by real-world computer criminals—crawling the web in search of any site vulnerable to attack. You may think, “Well, my website isn’t a bank, or Wal-Mart, or the pentagon, so why would a hacker target me?”
The answer is simple. Once your site is hacked, the bots place links in your code back to whatever site they’re trying to promote. The problem is, once they’re in, the fix isn’t as simple as shutting the door they came in through. Often, the breach is so serious, the site has to be completely rebuilt from scratch.
These are some precautions that every site should take, no matter how high-profile or low-traffic your site may be:
- Firewall. Use of a firewall can greatly reduce chances of a security breach. Wordfence is an extremely popular one for Wordpress, and Cloudflare also offers a top-notch service for fairly cheap.
- Malware scans. Scan your site regularly for malware. You have a very good chance of catching malware that has gotten in before it has had a chance to do much damage, and before the search engines have blacklisted you.
- Secure your passwords. Don’t use pet names, your date of birth, and obviously never use the word “password” as your password. There are secure password generators online that will create one for you. Write it on a slip of paper until you memorize it. It will save you anguish down the road.
- Two-step authentication. If your site is as vulnerable as a bank, you might as well use the same grade of security as the banks use. Two-step authentication requires every successful login to validate their identity by entering a code sent to their mobile device. That way, even if a hacker or bot does guess your password, as long as you didn’t accidentally mail your cell phone to the Ukraine, you’re probably going to be fine.
Grant Marketing has the tools, knowledge, and experience to guide you in your website redesign. Have questions about your own site and how this applies to you? Click the button below and fill out our brief survey to receive a Free Website Assessment. We’ll tell you exactly what areas your site is doing well in, and where it could improve.