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Optimizing Your Web Site - American Horse Publications

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Optimizing Your
Web Site
Christy West
SkyGirl Media
Christy@SkyGirlMedia.com
Seminar Poll
What does web site optimization
mean to you?
Search engine
optimization
Better content
Better design
Better page load
times
Better marketing
Better sales
Better advertising
New and improved
site features
Better usability
?
Do you notice a trend here?
Optimizing=Just a Buzzword for
Making it Better
Not a mystical formula or special process
Every site is different
When you leverage your content and site
interface to best serve your audience's
needs and wants while fulfilling or
exceeding your business goals, your site
is optimized.
It’s Not a One-Time Thing
The biggest point I want to make today is
that optimizing a web site is not a one-time
procedure. Your audience is constantly
evolving, as are your content and your
business goals.
Your web site needs to evolve along with
them, and it will only do that if your staff
regularly focuses on your site and how to
make it better.
#1 Optimization Resource:
YOU!
The most important resource in website
optimization is the time and brainpower you
put towards identifying what your site needs
and planning how you can best provide it.
#1: Plan Your Attack
Colors
Layout
Search options
Content presentation
Branding
Ad presentation/serving
Blogs
RSS feeds
Community features like
message boards or article
comments, etc.
You have to have a plan to make the best use
of your time, your programmers'/designers'
time, and create the best product for your
audience.
How do you plan to make
your site better?
Consider your site’s mission
Audience needs and wants
Content
Business goals
Usability
All five of these aspects must work together
to yield a website that supports the goals of
your audience and your business.
Site Mission
What is the overall
purpose of your site?
– Publication mission
– Internal mission
Audience Needs and Wants
Who are your online readers?
How many of them subscribe to your print publication, if
you have one?
What's their age, sex, number of horses, number of
hours spent online per week, number of hours spent on
your site per week?
Are they the primary caregivers for their horses?
How many hours a week do they ride or drive?
Do they show?
Do they give lessons?
All of these bits of information and any others specific to your
publication/audience help you figure out how to give your
audience more of what they want and less of what they don't.
Focus on Content
What is it about your content that is unique?
Do you update it more often than most people?
Serve a particular niche?
Feature well-known columnists that have a gift for
striking a chord with your readers?
Whatever it is that you do best is what you need to
highlight on your website.
Business Goals
Financial targets
Audience size targets
Number of subscriptions generated targets
Revenue targets
Anything your organization deems important
enough to require a target and a timeline.
If you want a successful site, you need goals that push
you to improve—to provide more information, better
information, or good information in better ways—so that
you gain a bigger audience, more revenue, or whatever
your goal is.
Usability
The ability of site visitors to use the site
without error.
Good usability: Important tasks (search,
register, purchase, etc.) done without
errors and frustration by most people.
Bad: Tasks can’t easily be completed.
User leaves.
How does usability relate to productivity? A usable
website means the user can be very productive,
busily and happily searching, reading, and buying.
Consequences of Poor Usability
"Launching a site that is difficult to use will deprive the
business of its best customers: those that are so eager to use
your service that they will visit the site as soon as they hear
about it. If these users get a bad experience, they will not only be
lost to you as customers, they will also be lost as potential future
advocates for the site. In fact, any hopes of viral marketing will
turn into a bad fever as infected users warn others to stay away
from the site.
"Once a user has had a bad experience on a website, it is very
difficult to convince him or her to come back. Resampling is
one of the hardest sells and will cost your marketing budget
much more money than the modest cost of getting the website
right in the first place."
--Jakob Nielsen, http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000402.html
Although it's often neglected, usability is just as critical to site
performance as content, audience, and good business goals. If
people can't find it or use it, it might as well not exist.
Everything’s Connected
None of these things we're discussing—
mission, audience, content, and business
goals, and usability—exist independently.
They all build on each other.
Planning your site from the ground up with
all of these factors in mind will generate a
product that fulfills both your business
goals and your audience's goals.
Optimizing for Search Engines
One study says that 81% of Internet users
rely on search engines and directories to
find the information they need.
Google was the search engine of choice
for 55.2% of U.S. searches in April,
according to a recent article on Yahoo!
Finance. Its nearest neighbor was Yahoo
Inc. with 21.9% of the market share.
More than 90% of users never go past the
first page of search engine results.
Factors Driving Rankings
Keyword relevancy
Inbound links
Domain strength
User data
Content quality
Code to text ratio
Code quality
Page information
Header tags
Keyword Relevancy
Article subject: Founder in horses
Keyword research tool:
http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword/
Tells the number of searches done in a
recent 30-day period on Yahoo, estimated
values for Google and MSN along with
suggested variations.
Results
“Laminitis” Results
Domain Strength
if someone is searching for Western
saddles, all else being equal between the
two sites, a domain like
www.WesternSaddles.com will rank higher
than a page on Western saddles on
www.christysblog.com.
If you don't already have a domain name
suited to your content, get one!
Content Quality, Inbound Links,
User Data
High-quality content=
– High usage of your site
– High number of links back
– Higher search engine rankings
Code To Text Ratio
Related to keyword density on the page
Related to overall code used to display the
page
So… less code is better
Cascading Style Sheets
Generally result in lighter code than standard
HTML
The style sheet is cached by the browser,
meaning that in the page code all one has to do
is mark a paragraph or other element as part of
a named style. Then the code that controls its
display has to be downloaded only once, not
once per paragraph, and the page itself is much
lighter without all the display markup.
Consistency and ease of global changes are
additional benefits
Example:
http://www.hotdesign.com/seybold/16nasty.html
Optimize Images Too
File name
Alt tag
Title tag
Longdesc tag
Don’t: <img src=figure1.jpg>
Do: <img src=hoof-trimming.jpg
alt=“Farrier trimming hoof”
title=“Farrier trimming hoof”
longdesc=http://www.thehorse.com/F
arrierTrimmingHoof”>
Code Quality
Code that does not adhere to W3C (World
Wide Web Consortium) standards can
cause spiders to leave your page, never
finding that valuable content.
http://validator.w3.org/
Download time analyzer:
http://www.websiteoptimization.com/servic
es/analyze/
Page Information
A web page can specify its title,
description, and keywords through META
tags that do not display to the user (except
for the title appearing in the title bar at the
top of the window).
These tags should be optimized for search
engines as well.
Title
Page Information:
META Description
Not all engines use this, but it's valuable for
those who do.
Brief description that characterizes your page
and highlights your special focus.
If you don't have one, or if the engine prefers to
show terms in context, the description will
usually be pulled from the text nearest the most
"important" uses of the keyword.
Example:
Page Information: META keywords
Not used by all engines, but help for some
as long as the words also appear in your
text
Code example: <meta name="keywords"
content="jambalaya recipes rice">
Good for displaying variations on search
terms such as "horse health, horse health
care, health information for horses," etc.
Header Tags
Search engines place more weight on text
inside header tagging.
Used to denote headlines and subheads
Optimizing Usability
Usability is a quality attribute that assesses
how easy user interfaces are to use.
– Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish
basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
– Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how
quickly can they perform tasks?
– Memorability: When users return to the design after
a period of not using it, how easily can they
reestablish proficiency?
– Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe
are these errors, and how easily can they recover
from the errors?
– Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?
There are plenty of other
websites available; leaving is
the first line of defense when
users encounter a difficulty.
Here come your competitors…
A Little Experiment
Grab the least Web-savvy person you
know who is not familiar with your site and
park them in front of your computer.
Pull up your Web site and ask them to do
some of the basic tasks someone should
be able to do on your site.
Do not help, encourage, discourage, or
direct them in any way. Sit behind them
and tie your hands down if you have to.
It’s OK, They’ll Learn…
While some might argue that people will get
used to a design and learn to use it more
effectively, Nielsen offers this observation:
"Usability can improve error avoidance
substantially more than skilled
[experienced] user performance."
KISS
The overall message of most usability
recommendations? Keep it simple,
stupid. Give people what they want, when
they want it, looking like they expect it to
look, without cluttering them up with things
they don't want.
Think like a user…
Avoid internal jargon and organization
The user “hasn’t always done it that way”
Example: Posting of content by issue
because once upon a time, the point was
to feature your magazine's content on the
web and sell magazines. Now not too
many people care about content by issue,
they want information on a topic and the
issue date is largely irrelevant clutter.
…But remember you aren’t one
You know too much.
“One of usability's most hard-earned
lessons is that "you are not the user." If
you work on a development project, you're
atypical by definition. Design to optimize
the user experience for outsiders, not
insiders.”--Nielsen
How? Back to user testing. Find out what
your users really want from your site.
Keys to Usability
Communicating clearly so that users
understand you. Users allocate minimal time to
initial website visits, so you must quickly
convince them that the site's worthwhile.
Providing information users want. Users must
be able to easily determine whether your
services meet their needs and why they should
do business with you.
Offering simple, consistent page design,
clear navigation, and an information
architecture that puts things where users expect
to find them.
Common Violations
Bad search (too literal)
Common Violations
PDF files for online reading
Not changing the color of visited links
Non-scannable text
Fixed font size
Poor contrast between text and
background
Page titles with low search engine visibility
Things that look like ads
Common Violations
Violating design conventions
– Nielsen: Consistency is one of the most powerful
usability principles: when things always behave the same,
users don't have to worry about what will happen. Instead,
they know what will happen based on earlier experience.
– The more users' expectations prove right, the more they
will feel in control of the system and the more they will like
it. And the more the system breaks users' expectations,
the more they will feel insecure.
– Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience states that
"users spend most of their time on other websites." This
means that they form their expectations for your site based
on what's commonly done on most other sites. If you
deviate, your site will be harder to use and users will leave.
Common Violations
New browser windows
Not answering users' questions
Frames
Gratuitous use of bleeding-edge
technology
…And More Common Violations
Continuous animations
Complex URLs
Orphan pages
Long scrolling pages
Lack of navigation support
Nonstandard link colors
Outdated information
Last but not least: Long download times.
So What DO You Do?
Nielsen: "Usability plays a role in each stage of the
design process.” Main steps:
1. Before starting the new design, test the old design to identify the
good parts that you should keep or emphasize, and the bad parts
that give users trouble.
2. Unless you're working on an intranet, test your competitors'
designs to get cheap data on a range of alternative interfaces that
have similar features to your own. (If you work on an intranet, read
the intranet design annuals to learn from other designs.)
3. Conduct a field study to see how users behave in their natural
habitat.
4. Make paper prototypes of one or more new design ideas and test
them. The less time you invest in these design ideas the better,
because you'll need to change them all based on the test results.
What To Do, Continued
1. Refine the design ideas that test best through
multiple iterations, gradually moving from lowfidelity prototyping to high-fidelity
representations that run on the computer. Test
each iteration.
2. Inspect the design relative to established
usability guidelines, whether from your own
earlier studies or published research.
3. Once you decide on and implement the final
design, test it again. Subtle usability problems
always creep in during implementation.
Don’t Make This Mistake
Don't defer user testing until you have
a fully implemented design. If you do, it
will be impossible to fix the vast majority of
the critical usability problems that the test
uncovers.
The only way to a high-quality user
experience is to start user testing early in
the design process and to keep testing
every step of the way.
More Usability Topics
Reading on the Web:
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html
Writing for the Web:
http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/
Enhancing the User Experience
First make sure whatever you're
considering really will enhance the user's
experience with your site, and isn't just
giving you something new and fun to work
on.
Not all technologies fit all sites and
audiences.
A Few Enhancements
RSS
Blogs
Podcasts
Social bookmarking
Folksonomy
Chat rooms
User-generated
content:
–
–
–
–
–
Message boards
Article/blog comments
Vote on content value
Product reviews
Wikis
What Will You Have Done?
Make sure the new feature really fits your
site.
Then the sky’s the limit!
User-Generated Content:
Article/Blog Comments
AJAX
Developing new features
Might have to outsource to get those skills
Test, test, and test again!
Metrics
What people actually do online is often
different than what they say they do, or
would do if given the chance. Metrics can
tell you what people are really doing and
how they're doing it.
Key: Find the person in your organization
who loves pulling and analyzing this stuff,
because most people don't.
A Few Aspects of Metrics
What can be measured
What you should measure
How to measure it
How to use that information to make your
site better
What Can Be Measured
Pretty much anything a user clicks or types on
your site can be logged and measured, along
with the time in between. Let's start with some of
the basics, such as:
–
–
–
–
–
Page views/impressions
Number of unique visitors
Number of repeat visitors
Average session length
Does anyone track hits anymore?
What Can Be Measured: Editorially
Popular pages
Click paths
Entry pages
Exit pages
Bounce rate
Search terms
Error codes
What Can Be Measured: Engines
Top referrers
Top search engines
Search terms
Amount of traffic generated by search
engines (%)
Paid search advertising performance
What Can Be Measured: User
Variables
Browser and version
Operating system and version
Screen resolution
Screen colors
Javascript enabled/version
Location---sort of. Often ties through
primary provider, so not always as useful
as you might like.
What Can Be Measured: Ads
Ad impressions
Clickthroughs
Clickthrough rates
What Can Be Measured:
Marketing/Sales
Number of sales
Sale revenues
Conversion rate
Paid search advertising
What You Should Measure
What's important to your business? That's
what you should measure. The overall
statistics are important to maintain an
broad picture of things, but the details will
vary depending on your site's content and
goals.
How to Measure It
Many, many choices
Just starting out? Try Google Analytics, it’s
free…
How to Use That Information to
Make Your Site Better
Identify things you're doing well so you can
capitalize on them
Identify problem areas that need fixing
Identify trends that tell you your audience's
needs are changing
Examples
High traffic in a topic area might stimulate you to do a special
newsletter on that topic.
High traffic in a particular general message board might
suggest splitting that topic area into subtopics.
High bounce rate on homepage might cause you to trim down
and focus your message so that it gets across more quickly
and clearly, hopefully resulting in lower bounce rate.
High number of views of a new feature (i.e., a blog) leads you
to develop more features along that line.
Low percentage of traffic from search engines might lead you
to work on search engine optimization.
Decreased sales might lead you to promote a more appealing
deal to your users.
Consistently low traffic at a certain time of day might lead you
to roll out any site changes at that time—less server load and
fewer users possibly being inconvenienced during the
switchover.
Usability example: QuickFind
Initial location high in nav links
People were using a lot; this is good,
right?
Not necessarily…
It was also generating a lot of errors.
Why? It was an empty blank—people
thought it was a search box and typed
words into it. Since it was only designed to
accept numbers, that didn’t work so well.
Why It Didn’t Work/Results
We violated consistent design principles:
rule—we had given them something that
looked like a keyword search box but
didn't work like one. Here's a snapshot of
what we were seeing:
– In 10 days of traffic: 693 uses of this form, 3040 errors/day = 48-63% error rate. Ouch.
– We moved it down out of the first screen.
– Results (6 days of traffic): 141 hits, 10 errors
total (max, estimated) = 7.1% error rate.
Much better!
Wrapping Up
A lot goes into optimizing a web site, but much of
it is the same resource that goes into optimizing
your magazine—using your goals, content, and
knowledge of your audience to plan out and
maintain a quality product.
There are additional considerations brought on
by the technology and interactivity, but don't be
daunted! Those are just opportunity for
innovation. And improving your website is one of
the best possible things you can do to improve
your brand.
A few additional resources
Search engine optimization:
www.seomoz.org
Usability: www.useit.com
A List Apart: For People Who Make
Websites http://www.alistapart.com
Any questions?
Any questions?
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