100+ TIPS, TACTICS AND TOOLS FOR OPTIMIZING WEBSITES
As members of the digital community, we are
driven (some would say compelled) to achieve
ever better results from nearly everything affecting
our Web properties. We begin every
day by analyzing what occurred the previous
day and every day invest resources (time and
money) on improving (a.k.a. optimizing) our
websites for greater performance and, may we
never forget, profits.
Website optimization is the process of identifying the website elements that are preventing users from fully capitalizing on the unique selling proposition of your enterprise. Making modifications, in order to maximize every interaction for the highest lifetime value of endusers, also falls under the optimization umbrella.
From the broader design choices to more granular lead form elements, there’s plenty to optimize. Initially, the challenge is identifying those elements, prioritizing those improvements, and of course, leveraging the myriad best practices (many of which, you’ll find here).
It doesn’t take a digital maven or a development guru to begin an optimization and testing campaign. It’s as simple as finding out what’s working, what isn’t and changing it. Easy enough, right? Deciding which varieties of digital elements are testable, in what order, and how, is where it gets complex. In this edition of Website Magazine, readers will find 100-plus tips, tactics and tools for optimizing their Web presence.
But how does a digital enterprise know it needs to optimize anything in the first place? To find out, explore any available digital design-related analytics data, on-site ’Net marketing tactics and, of course, each of your enterprise’s customer experience efforts. First, however, you must dig deeper into your data.
ANALYTICS IN WEB OPTIMIZATION
Optimizing any website element without having definitive, empirical evidence that it is first negatively influencing your objectives (as opposed to positively impacting or remaining a neutral element and not detracting from it) is like a doctor prescribing medicine without a thorough examination first. For Web workers, there are many viable ways to understand what users are experiencing. As you might imagine, these data points are used with some regularity.
Website visitors, albeit unknowingly, provide enterprises
many ways to understand the interactions and
activities they routinely engage in. The path toward
that valuable data resides squarely in Web analytics solutions
— from Adobe and Google’s market-leading
products to the variety of commercial and open source
solutions just a click away.
The numerous providers aside, Web workers must question which metrics they should focus on when planning their website optimization campaign. Is there one clear indicator that reveals which element, when optimized, will lead to the proverbial tipping point?
In some respects, the metrics that demand monitoring (namely for the sake of instituting improvements) is as varied as the analytics providers themselves. However, some stand-by metrics still reveal what’s going on within a digital property. For example, bounce rate and average timeon- site are strong indicators of areas that deserve additional attention (particularly on a page-based level), but there is much more. Repeat visits, for example, indicate not only how well you’ve done in terms of acquiring targeted visitors, but also how well your total digital presence made an impression on users.
Leveraging this data helps to understand the “experience” a brand puts forward, but it does not always reveal the whole story. It’s important, therefore, to extend pre-optimization research to address the less tangible “experience” that a Web property presents. To do that, exploring users’ qualitative assessments can prove equally useful.
+7 Tips for Greater Testing Results All Year Long
So it’s the New Year... hopefully that means the results from testing and optimizing your website over the busy holiday period are paying off. Don’t stop there though. To continue to gain higher conversion rates and online revenue all year long, Rich Page, author of “Website Optimization, An Hour A Day” shares website testing and optimization resolutions to keep in the New Year and no mention of a diet either.
Pure-play analytics solutions serve a very particular purpose, but solutions that help enterprises capture qualitative insights about their websites from end-users should not be overlooked. Survey solutions for example, make it possible to ask openended questions about particular feature functionality, design layout, element find-ability and more. Qualitative analysis, however, at least in relation to how to obtain it, requires an immense amount of experience in order to ask the right questions in the first place. As such, exploring the true “feelings” of those that encounter digital properties requires some foundation in actual quantitative analytics.
+5 So, How Do End-Users Really “Feel” About Your Web Presence?
The best way to find out is to survey them. Make sure to ask open-ended, specific questions, so users’ answers offer enough insight to influence action within your enterprise (and hopefully success). Discover the top digital survey solutions.
GET STARTED WITH WEB OPTIMIZATION
Now that you have a handle on the severity of the problem (if there indeed is one) it’s time to optimize the experience. The fastest way to correct website ailments is through the Web’s best testing tools. The challenge is finding the elements that are hindering the positive perception of a brand and preventing an enterprise from meeting its objectives (e.g. additional sales, longer time-on-site, social media shares, etc.). Once found, Web workers will need a way to test alternatives elements and implementations, which is where A/B or multivariate testing solutions come into play.
Once you know what needs improvement (e.g. time-onsite) that the individual elements are noted and prioritized and the right tools are in place, you can start down the long road toward success with website optimization. But where should an enterprise begin? Look no further than the foundation of your website — the backend.
+15 Website Magazine recently profiled numerous solutions in its Master List of Testing Tools. This online article focuses on solutions serving businesses both large and small. You’ll find services positioned to support the optimization initiatives of any style of business — be they merchant, publisher or service provider.
Speed — it’s what is defining the modern digital customer experience.
There are few things more discouraging to an end-user
than a slow loading website (or a poor experience overall).
The good news for Web workers and end-users, of course, is
that there are numerous ways to decrease the time it takes a
website to load, such as choosing the right hosting provider
from the start or making the necessary image modifications
(more on that in the section on design optimization). But
there’s so much more that can be done each day, as the savviest
Web workers are well aware.
For example, Gzipping reduces the size of the HTTP response and can dramatically reduce response size (by approximately 70 percent according to Yahoo!) and is a simple way to reduce page weight as well. While Gzip has been wildly popular on the whole — about 90 percent of today’s Internet traffic travels through browsers that provide support — there are even more dramatic ways to reduce response times and page weight in general. Enter the content delivery network (CDN).
CDNs, for example, are powerful weapons in the fight against slow loading websites — not to mention applications. CDNs are collections of Web servers, distributed across multiple locations globally in order to deliver content more efficiently to end-users. The servers are selected for delivering content based on their proximity to the end-user — the fewest network “hops” or the server with the quickest response time.
There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that faster loading Web pages result in a better experience for users. It is undeniably important, and every enterprise should prioritize accelerating the digital experience accordingly.
+10 More Backend Mods for an Optimized Front-End Experience
Gzip and the use of CDNs aside, there are many other options for optimizing the backend to speed up a digital property, including minimizing redirects, specifying a character set in the HTML, reducing the number of DNS lookups, minifying code and serving up resources from a consistent URL. Discover 10 powerful backend optimization tweaks for an optimized end-user experience.
TACTICS FOR DESIGN OPTIMIZATION
It’s not difficult to understand that consumer browsing and
buying habits have changed dramatically over the years, and
continues to evolve and mature every day.
The prospective end-users that enterprises value so greatly are now far more sophisticated, more capable of assessing quality, more critical of inaccessibility and far less tolerant of a poor customer experience. In many ways, design is simultaneously a problem and a solution to those responsible for maximizing the performance of a Web destination.
Fortunately, thanks to ever more elegant layout concepts and the seamless interaction techniques available today, designing for an optimized customer experience and increased levels of engagement is of paramount importance, as it should have always been. And the options available are numerous — from the use of parallax scrolling to the use of Web-friendly fonts. Yet, despite all the design advancements, there remain a few key decisions that enterprises must test to optimize their Web presence — most notably navigation and readability — as they are highly influential among end-users.
There are, of course, a diverse array of elements to optimize, but thoughtful navigation, which is consistent across a website, concise and clear in description, and easy (or at least not complicated) to use and navigate to succeeding pages (e.g. measured by mis-clicks as indicated or determined through high bounce rates for example,) are where attention should be given. Testing the style and structure of these elements is a beneficial exercise that carries the potential to dramatically increase engagement.
Readability is another goal that designers should invest in to optimize the end-user experience. As suggested in Website Magazine’s article ‘Design Principles for Master Developers’ in the Aug. 2012 edition, “readability equals desirability” so before starting any Web design project audit the readability (exploring ideal line heights and lengths and line height — all of which can be modified with a few simple CSS changes changes).
CONTENT EXPERIENCE OPTIMIZATION
The technical barriers and the actual design choices made by enterprises are clearly important ones, but they are from the only ones in relation to Web optimization.
+10 More Design Tactics for an Optimized Web Experience
Every website is different, and the approach each enterprise takes to optimize interactions on their digital properties will need to vary. While the CMS or e-commerce platform will likely have its own structure, requirements and challenges, most provide powerful controls over the design experience.
Regardless of the means by which you make available your digital presence (e.g. the important software choices that must be made), it’s the content and products that will inevitably be consumed or used by end-users so it would only make sense to optimize those assets in addition to the backend and the visual components and elements that comprise a digital Web presence. So, where should one begin? How about those individual page elements which draw the attention of end-users and which, ideally, move them further through the purchasing funnel — headings/subheadings and calls to action.
Headings and subheadings are ideal candidates for optimization as they give an indication to users about the context of the content, providing a near summation of some instances of its structure. The more informative, educational or entertaining these heading elements are, the more compelling they will be to end-users. Consider the use of font choice, size and color when optimizing headlines and subheadlines and watch as engagement rates rise and rise.
Calls-to-action (CTAs) are another area that enterprises should focus upon in their content and experience optimization efforts. Aggressively and prominently showcasing a CTA on each and every page ensures that there is, in the least, some path for a user to follow. And when they have somewhere to go, and you’re actively directing them to some end, optimizing these elements do yield positive results. Yet again, there are quite a few tricks of the content optimization trade that enterprises should be aware of — check out Website Magazine’s Content Optimization Guide for more.
OPTIMIZE EVERYTHING ELSE
Design, technology, content — these are the most
obvious barriers to an optimized customer experience
— yet there’s so much more remaining. And to make
matters worse, there’s quite a bit of overlap (e.g. the
type of content influences the style of design). Today’s
digital workers must also account for the influx of social
media activity, the variety of smartphone (mobile)
and tablets with which end-users interact with Web
properties, and never ever lose sight of the role of
SEO and the importance of generating leads.
+10 Optimizing Social Interaction
End-users today demand, or at least expect, a social presence from the brands they engage with — so it’s important that brands optimize for these prospective social interactions. From the placement and the style, to the actual effects and the impact on engagement level, optimizing social interactions is key. Discover 10 ways to optimize social interactions.
+10 Optimizing the E-Commerce Experience
E-commerce merchants obviously have the greatest incentive to optimize their websites and individual pages in order to achieve the highest performance possible — particularly as search marketing costs continue to increase. The E-commerce experience is different from the rest however — product buyers have very particular requirements. Discover 10 strategies to optimize e-commerce experience.
+10 Lead Generation Optimization
Not every website is selling physical goods, but every website should be collecting leads. Optimizing lead generation paths — from the initial visit to lead completion (and return) — will yield positive results if done thoughtfully. Follow along with a Website Magazine guide to optimizing for lead generation.
+5 SEO-Friendly Optimization
There are three types of Web workers — merchants, service providers and information publishers — and all are concerned with how website optimization campaigns will influence the results of search engine optimization campaigns. Fortunately, making changes which improve the user experience don’t have to negatively impact search ranking — and in many ways will actually help. Find out how with a Website Magazine’s Five SEO-Friendly Optimization tactics.
OPTIMIZE NOW (AND ALWAYS)
You’ve discovered and now have access to well over 100 tips, tactics, techniques and tools to use in optimizing a Web presence. Yet despite all this valuable guidance, the best test (at least for your own Web property) is still out there, just waiting to be started. Optimizing requires dedication to finding a better way to achieve success so if you’re serious about increasing interactions, deepening engagement with end-users and to put it bluntly, generating more sales and leads, get started optimizing everything today.
QUICK HIT! + 3 Golden Rules of Website Optimization
Optimization of a Web property is not a task, not a line item that demands completion. Optimization is a mission with no end other than to surpass the results of some time period before – from more leads and sales, to longer time-on-site or more social sharing. When there is a greater degree of interaction on a website, the path to success will be shortened dramatically. Yet so few commit to regular testing much less dedicate their enterprise to an optimized digital existence. What’s lacking could be the three golden rules of website optimization:
+ Forget all that you think you know about what constitutes an effective Web presence; make decisions in the future based solely on observable and recordable behaviors available in analytics data.
+ Realize that optimization testing is a “two steps forward, one step back” type of process; be as dramatic and disruptive in your testing choices as possible to understand (and push) the limits of what is possible.
+ Commit to regular testing to ensure that the designed end-user