Six Tips to Kickstart Website Optimization
After months of planning, working through design, development, testing, and curating content, the team’s hard work is complete and you’re ready to launch the new website! While worth celebrating, some organizations fail to realize that launch is not the end of the project. It’s only just the beginning of a new digital product. Digital teams should be prepared to stay hands-on as it relates to continuously monitoring and improving the new site after it goes live to meet user and business needs.
This process of making regular and incremental improvements to the site is referred to as optimization. Broadly, these tactics may be informed by a feature backlog or planned initiatives, or may be ad hoc and inspired by, for example, analytics, audits, and testing tools. Ultimately, optimization is an ongoing endeavor meant to get the most out of a given tool, its underlaying technology, and the teams that support it.
To get you started, here are six tips to inspire a post-launch optimization strategy:
#1 Leverage Data and Regularly Experiment
A central idea behind optimization is testing, experimentation, and incremental improvement. To this end, data is an organization’s greatest ally. Data collection tools, like Google Analytics and Hotjar, give organizations greater insight into how users are engaging with a website or digital product. More specifically, these tools are helpful in understanding what content users are engaging with and visualizing how that content is being engaged.
Understanding where and why site visitors fall off allows teams to tailor efforts to improve those specific experiences. This data can inform experiments and test scenarios to improve conversions or business outcomes. In some cases, it can be as simple as moving the call to action (CTA) higher up on a page to be above the fold:
Be sure to capture current metrics to serve as a benchmark for any experiment or test. You’ll want a before/after comparison to understand if any tweaks or tests have achieved the desired results.
#2 Test and Update Existing Content
Teams can spend hours crafting the perfect piece of content, publishing it, and then…crickets. Don’t fret! Whether it’s creating new or retrofitting old, there’s multiple ways to add great value (and get a greater return!) on site content:
- Experiment with a new title while maintaining keywords
- Break information into easy-to-read sections with relevant subheads
- Inject relevant keywords the page or site is trying to rank for in search results
- Ensure information is still relevant, accurate, and timely
- Add images and videos wherever possible and relevant
- Add backlinks to credible and referenced sources
- Add inbound links to other relevant posts or pages
- Change the publish date for updated content to something current
- Add an editor’s note for transparency
NOTE: While it’s tempting to change and update the URL for republishing, don’t! Search engines can ding sites for posting duplicate content and creating a redirect could lose some of the value in the original URL.
Speaking of search engines…
#3 Optimize Site Content for Search Engines
If optimization were an Oprah Winfrey giveaway, we’d all expect to see search engine optimization (SEO) under our seats. One misconception with optimization is that teams often confuse this with SEO, specifically. SEO is just one element of optimization, though it plays an important role in a website’s visibility and effectiveness at attracting users.
SEO is the collective effort taken to get pages to rank higher in search engine results and increase the quality and quantity of web traffic to given page or site. Since search is the primary way users navigate web, it’s critical to include SEO best practices/techniques into websites and new digital products and monitor their performance.
Search engines use (and regularly update) algorithms to determine what pages to surface to a user based on their search query. However, there are several core components that evaluate a page’s experience and rank position:
- Keywords/Content — Search engines analyze content of a web page for keywords that are relevant to a query. While a site should incorporate select keywords, be careful! Algorithms ding content that appears saturated with keywords in an attempt to surface them higher in search results. Google has become wise to your SEO gamesmanship. Try to incorporate keywords early, within the first paragraph, and often with on-page content.
- Business Listings — Utilize Moz’s Business Listings for search engine discoverability. These best practices are applicable across major search engines alike (Google, Yelp, Facebook, Yellow Pages, Bing, etc.) to position business information in front of users who are searching for specific products or services.
- Links — Pages with backlinks to other sites with quality content can improve the position of your own site’s content. Not only does it help SEO, but it adds credibility to your own content!
- Page Structure — HTML acts as a blueprint for site content and can impact the way that search engines evaluate its relevancy. Ensure the page’s HTML includes relevant keywords in titles, proper header tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, etc.
- Mobile Experience — With almost half of web traffic coming from mobile, search engines want to surface relevant content that also have a positive mobile experience. In fact, Google Search recently switched to a mobile-first indexing approach for all new websites.
- Page Speed — Users want answers to what they’re searching for and want them fast! Search engines are meant to make it easier for users to get answers, and if a page is slow to load, search engines learn not to serve that page up to users in the future.
Google Search Console is just one tool that can help teams understand search traffic and performance, improve search results based on Google’s recommendations, and analyze search queries for impressions, clicks, and overall position of site content.
#4 Increase Page Load Speed
The average site visitor will (patiently) wait 1 second for a page to load before bouncing back to the search results for another result, never to return again. When a site offers a poor experience with slow load times, users get a bad taste in their mouth and associate the brand with it. Search engines understand that a slow page provides a poor experience and, therefore, incorporate page speed into search engine algorithms.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool offers a free, quick analysis of a site’s mobile and desktop performance on a 0 to 100 scale with color-coded maps to indicate performance score ranges: red (slow), orange (average), and green (fast).
For each of its assessments, PageSpeed Insights lists the opportunities to improve page load times with detailed explanations and estimated savings after implementing changes.
#5 Improve Mobile Usability
It’s a standard now that websites and digital products should be responsive to fit modern devices and breakpoints. Still, there’s mobile usability improvements that can often be made to enhance mobile experience for users. In the last few years, search engines have tweaked algorithms to consider mobile experience for a page’s search result ranking. Test the website’s mobile experience using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tool! Similar to PageSpeed Insights, Google will give further explanation on how to make adjustments, if needed. Even if a site gives a largely positive result, there may be room for improvements (indicated by the “Page loading issues” notification).
#6 Reduce Bounce Rates
Bounce rate is the percentage of website traffic that leaves a site after viewing only one page. While it may sound like a problem, having a high bounce rate isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can indicate several different things:
- The visitor was searching for a specific answer and found exactly what they were looking for
- Analytics data is being affected by spam or bot traffic
- The content doesn’t have the answer the visitor was searching for
- The page had a poor user experience (page speed, not optimized for a mobile device, confusing checkout, etc.)
Analyze analytics tools to understand specific pages that may be receiving high bounce rates. Review live pages and assess content with some of the following examples in mind:
- Relevancy — Ensure language in ads and inbound marketing efforts align with content you’re pointing them to.
- Usability — Make sure content is formatted correctly, legible, and works as expected.
- Engagement — Add related content to the bottom of blog posts, link to other pages, and offer product recommendations to encourage users to continue browsing.
Remember: Launching a site is just the beginning! That’s when the real work of optimizing and ensuring business results begins. For many organizations, a website represents the top of a sales or conversion funnel. Making iterative, incremental improvements to user experience and performance will make the site more visible and enjoyable — and maximize the team’s efforts in standing the site up in the first place.