You’ve looked around at your competitors and their shiny new websites make yours look a bit dated. Maybe it’s a bit cluttered, doesn’t work well on mobile devices, or just needs more features. All perfectly good reasons to speak to a graphic designer/web developer about an upgrade.
But wait. Just like your business, your existing website has earned an online reputation, or ‘ranking’ over time. And just like the years that you have spent building your business, your online presence is just as hard won, yet can also be lost or damaged, when launching a new website. It can take months, or even years, to regain lost ground.
So here’s a collection of design and SEO considerations for website upgrades:
- Keep the Homepage simple – not easy to do, especially when you have alot to say, or products to sell. Most of your visitors will arrive at the Homepage; you want to stimulate visitors without bombarding them with too many messages. Some of the biggest names with thousands of products do this very successfully – check out John Lewis for an inspirational example.
- You still need text on the Homepage – unless you are in the John Lewis league, you will need to say precisely who you are and what you do in at least 250 characters or so.
- Phone number, location and opening hours – This information needs to be in text rather than as an image, so that search engines can index and serve it according to the approximate location from where a search was made. With the huge take-up of mobile browsing, this is essential. An interactive map helps too, easily sourced from Google Maps.
- Redirect all high traffic pages – Google likes busy pages, and ranks them accordingly. Assuming you are keeping the same domain name (eg mybusineesswebsite.co.uk), redirect your busiest pages to their new versions (unless the url is the same). In other words, you are saying to search engines ‘for this, see this, it’s the same thing, just in a different place.’ Don’t just redirect multiple pages to the homepage, as Google et al take a dim view of that indeed. If you are contemplating a domain name change, see my note at the bottom of this article.
- Site navigation and architecture – when someone arrives at your site, they want to find what they want – quickly. Like humans, search engines don’t like ploughing through six navigation levels to get to specific information. Brief your designer that you’d really like visitors to get anywhere from the homepage in three clicks maximum.
- Get a prominent Search box above the fold – if people just want to find what they want, they can use this. Make sure it works. Get to know where to find out what people searched for within your Analytics. Results from your search box can be catalysts for new business opportunities, seriously.
- Make sure your content is unique and written for humans, not search engines. Duplicate or plagiarised content from other online sources is a no-no. Be assured that Google’s algorithms will spot this and your site could be downgraded as a result, however much you have paid for your shiny new website. Transfer unique content, especially expert articles and blog posts from the old site, as it all counts.
- Give every page a purpose – the more specific the content on a page the more likely it is to be found in its own right as a landing page. The more landing pages you have the better your chances of attracting visitors. Ensure that each page is correctly labelled with specific Title and Description tags and that the relevant keywords are included in the page copy (but don’t overdo it, ‘keyword stuffing’ is bad, bad, bad).
- Get a call to action on every page. What action do you want your visitors to take? Give them every opportunity to sign up for information, download a brochure, pick up the phone or make a purchase, by ensuring that every page has an obvious place to go for the next step.
- Tag your images correctly – search engines can’t see images, so they rely on the text descriptions to categorise them. Precisely describing an image in the ‘Alt’ tag text is worth the effort, I promise you, not least because images in Google’s image search results carry a link to the page source.
- Size images correctly. Images for the web need to be at lower resolution than print for fast page loading times, especially on mobile networks. Google also takes account of site speed within its ranking algorithm. Image resolution should be 72dots per inch; an average file size of around 100kb for all but the largest images is a good benchmark.
- Have a custom ‘404’ page. There will always be times when a page is not found. They could come from links, old search engine results, or mis-typing of a url by the user. Don’t lose that visitor with a dull and unhelpful ‘Error 404, page not found’ message. After all, usually they haven’t done anything wrong and have followed a link that was interesting to them.
- Build your Audience. Invite email signups, with a simple, strong benefit, from an obvious position. A small incentive can achieve surprising results. It is a fact that only a small percentage of visitors will take your desired action on their first visit, so encouraging them to come back increases your chances of them doing what you want, sooner.
- Include genuine current trust signals and social interactions. There are a huge variety of trust signals that can be employed; business testimonials, trade associations, subscriptions to codes of practice, payment security, customer care charters etc all help to instill confidence, particularly in new visitors. Social interactions and blog posts show that there are real people behind your virtual shop window.
Changing Domain Name
Think carefully about changing your domain name. Use your Analytics data to look for what your customers call you. From your Google Analytics account, go to Traffic Sources>Search>Organic to see what people put into Google to arrive at your site. Do most visitors abbreviate your business name, or find you through a brand you sell? There might be an opportunity to capitalise on that, or avoid inappropriate re-branding.
Whilst everything I’ve said here is relevant, it isn’t an exhaustive list. I don’t pretend to be a graphic designer or web developer, but I am passionate about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to redesigning a website.