A succinct introduction on how New Zealand websites can enhance their performance, usability and visibility.
This article is designed to help website operators get a lot of the information they need in one place, when looking to increase the performance, usability and visibility of their website.
Is your website playing for the All Blacks, in the Super 15, NPC or floundering at the bottom of a club division? No matter what level you’re playing at, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball and continually enhance your website to ensure you’re not overrun by your online competitors. Kicking off, it’s important to get clarity on what you’re trying to achieve. This will help you to ascertain what type of approach you’d like to take and how many resources to throw at your website. Document your objectives and develop a plan on how to reach them.
Over the years I’ve found that many people get a website designed and developed but then are not sure what to do next. This introduction is designed to help website operators get a lot of the information they need in one place. It would be great to see more New Zealand websites performing at a world-class level, which will greatly benefit the New Zealand web industry and our day-to-day online interactions.
Here are my “First 15” recommendations on what New Zealand website owners should consider. I have given emphasis to helping commercially orientated websites but many of the concepts will transfer across to non-commercial projects. Each of these topics can involve in-depth and resource-consuming execution but it will make a huge difference even if you just tackle the basics in each area.
1. Professional Design
Is your website professional and appealing to the eye? Are you using the right imagery? Adding eye-catching images will enhance the visual impact and project professionalism. There are many New Zealand stock photo websites (cost-effective international examples are iStock and Big Stock Photo), where you can select from thousands of images and download for a fee.
If your website looks aesthetically displeasing or amateurish, then viewers will often leave quickly. They will suspect you are not credible and won’t take you seriously. It’s a good idea to contract a web design company with a strong portfolio.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on a tight budget as you can still get a professional result. For example, do some searches on keyword phrases such as website templates or free website templates and you’ll find a range of excellent options. Another option is to install a content management system such as WordPress and install a paid or free design theme. You can also research design tips to get the best graphical impact.
2. Ease Of Usability
Is your website easy to read and easy to navigate? As a rule the key is to keep things simple and designed for unsophisticated viewers. A good read in this area is Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think. Your website’s font size, font colour and screen width should work on a wide number of viewing platforms. Mobile friendly search is overtaking the traditional desktop search, so it’s important that you have either a mobile site or responsive design correctly working.
There should be simple, consistent and clear navigation on each page of your website to each of your key content areas. If you have more than 20 pages of content, then text breadcrumb links can be useful so that viewers know exactly where they are in the website. Consider getting an external usability audit by someone who test drives your site or you may like to go through a quick usability checklist. Make sure the speed of your website is fast for your users to improve the user experience. Google also says this is a factor they use to rank sites, use their PageSpeed Insights tool to see how your website fares. Having a faster website can also lead to more conversions.
One of the easiest ways to speed up your website is to use a fast hosting provider, not only will this increase the load times of your website but it will also increase Google’s crawl rate budget for your site.
3. Compelling Text
Text should be well-written with no typing or grammatical errors. Make sure several people have fully read through and edited each page of your website. Website text is often just thrown together without too much thought given to how viewers read in the web environment. Think carefully about the differences of writing for the web. Website visitors often scan pages rather than read them and primarily only fully read where they see information they are looking for. Break your content up with compelling sub-headings. Use lists. The human brain craves order and information displayed in lists such as “5 reasons why” help us to process information quicker. View 10 copywriting tips here.
Include compelling calls to action, informative customer testimonials and your unique selling points to give you an edge. It’s especially important to think about your most wanted action and to carefully consider “what’s in it for them”, then make viewers an offer they can’t refuse. Remember to consider the tone of your businesses when writing. Businesses today are increasingly adopting light-hearted, irreverent voices for the online presence, but this doesn’t necessarily suit all websites. If writing is not your forte, then consider outsourcing to a professional writer.
4. Sticky Content
It’s not just about getting visitors to come once but it’s also vital that people return to your website. You’ll know from your own web usage that you don’t return to most websites you visit, so you’ll appreciate that this is a challenging topic. Think carefully about what your online target market is seeking or could be interested in. Quick ideas include: blogs, newsletters, industry information and publications, free reports, news, e-books, forums, polls, interviews, video clips, image galleries, audio files and podcasts.
A powerful tool used by many of today’s successful online operators is the mailing list. Encourage and provide incentives for viewers to sign up and you’ll be able to regularly email your target audience your latest specials and offerings. We talk about social media in point 13, but encourage your site visitors to share your content on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media sites.
You might also like to consider a compelling email signature at the bottom of all emails that are sent out in your day to day business communications. Email signatures provide an excellent opportunity to add links to articles, unique selling propositions, specials, features, newsletters and company mantras etc that can encourage people to visit your site.
5. Advanced Site Statistics
Most standard hosting packages come with basic statistics reporting on popular pages, visitor numbers and visitor referral sites. Despite this, you should consider Google Analytics – it’s free and offers an advanced level of useful analysis. You can’t accurately test, measure and improve on your website’s performance without this kind of in-depth reporting.
Google Analytics is ideal for working out exactly where your traffic is coming from and what sources actually generate the enquiries or sales you are seeking. If you’re implementing design or text changes, Analytics can be used to give a definitive answer if your website has a hole in the bucket. Frequently, website owners focus on driving traffic to their websites but they rarely stop to consider conversion ratios. Contemplate your website’s conversion goals and set them up in your Analytics account. From this point the name of the game is to optimise your website and include the right text and imagery in the right places of your content to keep improving your conversion percentages.
Google’s Webmaster Tools imparts important reporting data to review your site’s visibility in the Google search index, so is also well worth signing up for.
6. Successful Search Engine Optimisation
Most websites get the vast majority of their traffic from search engines, so this is a crucial area to spend time and money on, ensuring you are not lost in cyberspace. If you get this area humming, then you can obtain incredible results. It’s a huge and sophisticated topic but many computer-literate people can get to grips with the basics of search engine optimisation relatively quickly. Put simply, analyse keywords that your target audience are using, and then place the keywords in the right places of your website documents – such as your page title, headings, links and body text.
If you’re really looking to gain a commercial edge, then you should contract a reputable SEO company with a good track record of success. If you want to do the basics yourself, a good research resource to get you started is Search Engine Watch.
7. Relevant Search Engine Submission
You don’t actually need to submit to your websites to most of the big search players – engines like Google will follow links from other websites (see points 8 and 9). There can be smaller niche search engines worth considering. There are hundreds of international search engines and New Zealand search engines.
A key issue these days is that Google will give customised results for users in different geographical locations. This can be difficult if you’re wanting people in New Zealand, Australia, China, France and USA all finding your content. Often you will need to consider loading content on servers in each key geographical location to achieve organic search results. Talk to an SEO expert about the best strategy to undertake.
8. Beneficial Web Directory Submission
It’s beneficial that your website is listed on popular New Zealand directories and international web directories. You can get good qualified traffic from relevant directories but also a quality directory listing from an authoritative website will help you achieve better rankings in the main search engines. Many of these directories will provide a free listing option and will likely have upgrade options for enhanced listings.
As well as the main regional engines, it’s also useful to research and seek out the relevant directories for your particular industry.
9. Quality Link Building
You should create numerous paths into your website from other quality websites. The major search engines analyse the links into your website from other websites – to cut a long story short – the more quality links you have, then the better rankings you’ll get. Link Building 101, Part 1 and Link Building 101, Part 2 at Search Engine Watch are worthwhile primers. Research good quality websites to get links from within your industry. It’s also good to talk to your partner companies, organisations and associates about getting them to link to your website.
Remember that it’s the quality of links not the quantity that’s important so if you’re considering emailing dozens of random websites asking for links, then you should assess if your time would be better spent building outstanding content that encourages organic linking.
Link building is best gained from theme related websites. Whilst PageRank can still help, you are better getting links from websites that are similar to yours or within a local region as this can help with local SEO. You should also try and gain links as naturally as you can by getting your content shared on Social Media and building social influence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google.
10. Targeted Search Advertising
Google has over 90% of the market share of people searching for New Zealand online content, so merits a special mention in respect to online advertising. The vast majority of viewers click on the free search results but it can take time, expertise and/or be difficult to get your website ranking in the competitive top ten results via search engine optimisation. Buying paid listings with Google Adwords is a fast way of driving quality traffic to your website, though it can leave a dent on your credit card statements. It’s good to start off slow to get a feel for what keyword ads work and what don’t, then within a month or two it’s likely you’ll have a better handle on things.
There are lots of Google Adword resources available online to bring you up to speed or you may like to get professional promotions assistance. Other popular online advertising options include Bing, Ask and Yahoo!Xtra.
11. Credible Local Advertising
There’s a plethora of New Zealand websites that sell online advertising offerings. Before committing, check the website has solid credibility and is getting a healthy monthly total of unique visitors relevant to your industry. In other words, make sure there are enough eyeballs and the right eyeballs. Use tools such as Google Analytics (see point 5 above) to measure the success of your paid advertising campaigns to ascertain what is actually converting to sales and enquiry.
12. Complementary Offline Promotion
It’s often a good idea to complement your online activities with a real world presence. There are many options, but some quick examples include: signage outside a physical premise, vehicle signage, TV and radio advertising, newspaper and magazine advertisements, trade shows and special events, billboards, brochures, leaflets, pavement ads, number plates, branded merchandise (pens, mouse pads, t-shirts etc), mobile phone marketing and direct mailings.
Using offline promotion can be an excellent way to achieve leverage off your existing real world presence. The downside, however is that generally, people aren’t on the web when they see your offline message, so you need to include compelling calls to action to inspire them to take swift action to visit your website.
13. Popular Social Media
Popular social media tools, websites and widgets can allow you to engage more actively with customers on a personal level, creating consumer confidence and encouraging them to share your brand further. Search engines also reward websites with a strong social media presence with improved rankings.
Some popular social media sites include You Tube (video sharing), Flickr (image sharing), Blogs (blogging), Twitter (microblogging), Facebook(social networking), Google+ (social networking), Linked In (business networking) and Digg (news sharing) and Delicious (social bookmarking).
Watch this fun ‘Social Media in Plain English‘ video clip for practical examples on how it can work. View a worthwhile clip on Facebook Timelines and an article on Google 1 Strategies. When you get started in social media, think about developing a plan or strategy that clearly defines your goals and how much resource you have available.
14. Useful Content Enhancements
There’s a wonderful array of excellent bells and whistles that you can use to give your website more firepower and sizzle. Some free options include:
Add This– Makes it easy for your viewers to bookmark and share your content with others.
Blog Widgets– 50 great blog widgets worth taking a look at.
Google Gadgets– From world clocks to weather, jokes, games and virtual aquariums.
Google Maps– Embed a map on your contact page so viewers can easily see your location.
Google Site Search– Add a search box that’s customized to search just your website.
RSS Feeds– Allow your content to be published frequently and automatically to subscribed visitors.
Widgets– Add range of widgets to add functionality to your site.
Weather– Add local weather to your site.
WordPress– An excellent tool for blogging.
You Tube– Upload videos and then easily embed them on pages in your website.
15. Quality Content Publishing
Getting other sites to link to you, as noted above in point 9, is an important activity. Publishing content, or article marketing, on other people’s sites is a variation on this theme with the added bonus of providing a lot more of your content and keyword rich links on authoritative sites. If the published content links to your site in the correct way, then it will contribute positively to your overall online strategy. Add quality content that will benefit the audience of the site and by creating value, others will link to it, which then increases the authority of the article and will flow on to you.
Examples of sites you can submit articles, or profiles, to include Made from New Zealand, EzineArticles and HubPages. Submitting regular press releases is another excellent opportunity if you have newsworthy items to share, submit to sites such as Scoop, PRweb and PR Leap.
Another method of getting other sites linking to you and potentially profiting from the extra traffic is affiliate marketing. Once a visitor clicks through to your website and makes a purchase, the affiliate website receives a commission from the referral. There are many tools, such as iDevAffiliate, that makes it fairly easy to setup.
In conclusion, to get the best results it’s usually a good idea to ask a web developer or someone with experience in search engine optimisation to be on your team since they already know the ropes. If you only have a limited budget to work with on your website so need to fly solo, then simply start with the free or the most cost-effective options in each area and do as much of the work you can by yourself.
It’s important to get clarity about your website’s key objectives and to prioritise the areas you want to improve. Coaching a winning website is very much about constant incremental improvement – keep at it and you will win the crucial match-ups against your competition.