Defining clear goals for your website will help to ensure that the following guide is useful to you and your company’s online presence. Typically you want to define 3 – 5 annual goals and set action items around those goals. These goals should be measured and updated throughout the year, as they will often have to change in parallel with changes to the organisation’s business environment.
Once you have decided on what you want your website to do for your organisation, the next step is to position your website to achieve those goals. In the next section, we outline five areas that should be considered as part of that process.
2. Legal Compliance
3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
4. Usability / User Experience
First and foremost, you want to ensure user’s information is protected. Nothing will ruin a business’ online reputation faster than customer data being leaked. Here are some suggested best practices, that help to ensure users feel comfortable with providing their personal details on your site.
1. Secure Socket Layer (SSL)
Your site is secure if you see a lock on the left hand side of the URL bar of your website. If you do not see the lock, then you need to either install an approved SSL certificate on the sever or fix any issues on the site that are causing the site to be unsecure.
Additionally, as of July of 2018, Google has implemented a policy that enforces if your website is not protected with a valid SSL certificate, users with be presented with a message highlighting that the website they are about to visit is not secure and their personal data may be at risk. By securing your visitors’ website traffic between your sever and their computer, you are ensuring that any information sent over the network cannot easily be intercepted and used for immoral purposes. It also creates a trust between potential customers and your company, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to do business with you.
SSL certificates are installed on the sever in which your website is hosted and as of this year are free of charge. You will need to contact your web developer or website hosting company to find out more about what you need to do, to ensure you have the latest SSL protocol installed.
You can get free SSL certificates at Let’s Encrypt – Free SSL/TLS Certificates. Alternatively, you can purchase SSL certificates from validated vendors.
2. Infrastructure Vulnerabilities
Most websites these days utilise a website framework or “Technology Stack” to build and display content to users. For instance, www.financeireland.ie utilises WordPress to present information to visitors. As with any software applications, vulnerabilities are often discovered and in many cases exposed through malicious software looking to mine personal data. The vendors who provide the software will often release updates that contain patches that fix these vulnerabilities. These patches are released on a regular basis and are important as they tend to include updates that fix potential vulnerabilities. If your website is using a framework such as WordPress, regular updates should be part of your monthly maintenance processes.
Other factors that need to be considered are the server infrastructure in which the website is running on. Most websites are being served utilising a standard framework such as PHP or .NET. These provide tools for developers to quickly build and deploy websites without having to start from scratch each time. Over time, security vulnerabilities are discovered and as with the software architecture, patches are released and need to be updated on the server that is hosting your website.
Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
As of March 2018, any information you collect or store on visitors to your website must fall under GDPR rules. Your website is probably impacted the most in terms of GDPR. Regulators have stated that you need to provide clear and concise information on what data you are collecting on visitors and how that data is being stored. You are also responsible for communicating how long the data will be stored and to provide visitors with the tooling necessary to remove or update that data upon request.
You can learn more about GDPR by visiting EUGDPR – Information Portal.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is the practice of optimising your website content for search engine exposure. When visitors are looking for services or products, they tend to start with a search engine such as Google or Bing. As with any other sales channel, you want to ensure that potential customers will find you first.
The following are some general guidelines to ensure your website is optimised for search engines:
1. Time to First Interaction
2. Appropriate Page Links and Headlines
URL format is very important to search engines as it helps them to identify whether or not the content on the page is truly relevant to what your visitor expects. For example, you have a page on your website that provides information on a piece of farming equipment, the url is www.example.com/farming-equipment but the content on the page contains information on how to get to your retail outlet. Search engines can pick up on this and determine that the content on the page is not relevant to the URL and as a result will not provide this as an option to users searching for that product. In this case the best practice would be to place content related to the path ‘farming-equipment’ on the page. Ensuring that the content matches the URL and users are taken to the information they want directly.
Headlines are also important, as they ensure users can quickly identify the information that they are looking for within the page as efficiently as possible. Appropriate headlines on the page that are relevant to what users are searching for ensure that your pages show up on search engines when users are searching for your product.
3. Ensure That All Images and Links Have Appropriate Titles
With so many new devices coming out year after year, it is important to ensure that the non-text based assets of your website have content that can be read by devices that do not support graphical interfaces. It also helps with search engines, as they are able to pick up on these tags and associate them with the appropriate search terms.
4. Structured Data
Structured data is a Google specific data format that tells Google that a certain page on your website is related to a specific type of content such as a product or article. This allows you to provide product-specific information to people who are searching, that will quickly show the details of your products in the search results, and entice visitors to go to your website to purchase or enquire about that product.
For example, the following is a listing for someone looking for a Black & Decker Dust Buster. Users can see specifics on the product including price and stock levels.
5. Relevant Fresh Content
One of the last things that can really help your website improve its Search Engine Ranking is to create content that is relevant to your target audience on a consistent basis. This can be accomplished in several ways. One is to feature new products on the Homepage frequently. Another option is to curate content that is shareable. Providing content that is sharable is a way to organically get users talking about your product or services. It is essentially the digital version of “Word of Mouth”.
In general, search engines want to see that your business is living and breathing and users are being provided with content that is up to date and fresh. It also provides users with additional reasons to come back and support your company as a brand.
One of the common themes throughout this document is providing the best user experience that ensures the best chance for an end user to convert.
This includes understanding the user experience from start to finish: what pages they are entering, what pages they are most likely to drop off of and the pages that they are most likely to convert on. Once you have identified the path of least resistance, take a look at the paths that are not as successful and apply same principles on these pages. Visitors to the website will respond more positively to consistent experiences. Once you have found what resonates best with visitors, these principles should be applied to all of the paths that users can take on the website.
A common example of a successful usability update may include defining a consistent, clear and simple navigation. Understand which links are most relevant to users and presenting those as the primary navigation on the site. This may include re-consideration of categorisation of content as well as the language used.
Consider adding search to the site. Ensuring that users can get to the information quickly within the site will support users staying on the site for a longer period of time. This will increase the chance of the user converting.
User imagery that supports the content. Find imagery that can connect with what you are trying to say. This helps to draw attention to content with emotion and impulse while drawing them into the content.
Finally, as with SEO you want to ensure that the pages load fast. In most cases you have an average of three seconds to get a user’s attention before they will leave your site and go to a competitor’s site. Ensuring that your website is optimised will ensure users can get to the content that they are looking for as quickly as possible.
Measuring how your visitors are using your website is an important part of understanding who your target audience is and what they are looking for. Analytics help to make decisions on what content your visitors are looking for, and can also help to understand how effectively your website is connecting with the target audience. Finally, they are often used to guide future decisions in regards to an organisation’s digital footprint.
Analytics can also play a role in regards to debugging issues when they arise. For instance, there may be a case where you publish an update to a page and see a dramatic drop in traffic to the page. Often this is an indication that users are unable to get to the content. This can easily be identified through analytics and then fixed on the site, satisfying the customer again.
Recommendations include implementing Google Tag Manager on your organisation’s website. You can find out how to do this here: https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/6103696?hl=en
Lead Generation Strategies
1. Demonstration of Expertise is important to customers as it positions your organisation as an expert in the field in which your customers are interested in. You want to connect to customers through channels that are most engaging to them, such as Blog Articles, Podcasts or Webinars. All of these provide you with opportunities to meet and have discussions with potential customers for services or products you offer that can help to meet their needs.
2. Understand where your customers are. Get an understanding of where your customers are getting information about your company and be in that space. For instance, if you notice that a lot of the traffic coming to your website is coming from a particular referral, such as Facebook, your company should be providing the infrastructure for customers to directly contact you on Facebook. This ensures customers are getting accurate information as close to the source as possible and provides an opportunity to up-sell additional products or services.
3. Provide a way for users to sign-up to receive marketing information from your organisation. Provide a sign-up form where users can provide details to receive information about products and services that your organisation provides. Use the information collected to send out regular updates to customers on what is going on in your organisation, including but not limited to new products or services, company updates, policy updates etc.
As the document has outlined, in regards to the content itself, it is import to understand what users are looking for, when they are looking for it and how they are looking for it. Once you have an understanding of this, you can then focus your investments in the areas that you know have the highest percentage of converting users to customers, such as ensuring that you are ranked number one on Google or providing a mobile friendly version of the website.