September 19, 2018 - Web development

What Would the World Be like Without Optimized Websites

by Antoni Żółciak
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Think about the last time you were searching for something online. Did you come across pages that seemed like they would never load? Were you bombarded with a barrage of disorganized content? Did you decide not to purchase something because your experience on the site sucked?

If you answered yes to at least one of those questions, you have been the victim of a failure to optimize. From a user standpoint, a website that is not optimized is annoying, frustrating, useless, or all of the above. When you find one, you most likely hit the old back button and moved right on down the search results. Why waste your time when there are other websites out there with the same information or products, and they actually work?

From a business standpoint, however, it is a common mistake to develop a website without the end customer in mind. Sounds obvious, but businesses do it every day. Whether they are trying to save money or just forget to look farther than the ends of their own noses, it happens all too often.

Here are five ways the web is different for organizations that do not optimize their websites.

  1. Websites are cheap to develop.
    You could probably make one yourself with just a little bit of technical knowledge and a library of stock photos. So that is cool, right?
  2. Sloppy, inexperienced coders are in high demand.
    Clean code is a critical piece of website optimization, but simple and clean does not equal easy to write. It takes education, training, and experience to create elegant code for a great website. And hey, everyone knows that education, training, and experience are all codewords for expensive. Why pay more for a fancy-pants web designer when your brother-in-law read Coding for Dummies and will build your site for free? You can’t possibly go wrong.
  3. No one buys anything from you.
    Unless they really, really, really want your product, they are not going to wait around for your pages to load. Are you selling a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity product that can’t be found anywhere else, even from Middle Eastern knockoff shops? Then do not bother optimizing your website. People will totally bookmark your link and wait all day for your site to load.
  4. People come after you because of their broken phones.
    You think Samsung has it bad with all those phones catching on fire? That is nothing compared to all the customers who will be beating down your door because your website took so long to load on their mobile devices that they threw their phones at the wall or dropped them in the toilet. Remember when you decided to sell your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity product online because you did not want to deal with the general public? Suddenly, the unwashed masses are hunting you down.
  5. Your SERPs drop.
    Big time. Are your customers willing to look at Google result number 1,297,684,175? Nope and no. It is a known fact that Google penalizes non-optimized websites in search results, and that is not going away. Google’s algorithms surface sites that provide the best possible user experience—that is not just about serving content that answers the search query. If your pages load at the speed of the dinosaurs, they become useless to the end user. Bye bye, Google results.

Yikes. For almost every business out there (we know there is always an exception!), a great website is essential. It is how your potential customers learn that you exist, research your products and services, find out where you are located, and maybe even make purchases. If foot traffic alone is not enough to keep you in business, you need an optimized website.

Website Optimization Means What, Exactly?

When it comes to website optimization, there is a lot more involved than choosing a lovely template, uploading some gorgeous photos, and creating a scintillating copy. Those are the things most people think about when they approach a new website project. What is behind all that writing and design work, however, is just as important as the stuff your customers see.

There are three components to website optimization:

  1. Search engine optimization (SEO)
  2. Page load speed
  3. User experience

All are implicated in how people find and use your website, but it goes further than that. These factors can even determine whether a lead becomes a customer.

First, let’s look at how search engines crawl your website.

When the crawler comes to a page, the first thing it looks at is the title, or your page’s H1 (in this case, 17 Things Yoda Would Say About WordPress). It goes through the rest of the text in the order of importance. H2 tags (in this case, WordPress is Not Only a Blogging Platform) come after H1 tags. Body text comes after the headers, and the crawlers will look at every word. The crawlers can’t actually see the images on your site, but they can read the image alt tags to get a sense of the photo or graphic.

Once the crawlers have read a page, they move along. They look for links, which is why it is wise to include links to other posts on your blog, pages on your website, and other web pages outside of your site. Those links help the crawlers find and contextualize your content. By including internal links that go to other parts of your site, you help the crawlers find all of your content while also giving users a reason to stick around and explore. External links (to other websites) help to signal content quality and meaning. If the blog post in the example includes links to other pages about WordPress but nothing else about Star Wars, it helps the crawlers understand that WordPress is the more relevant topic. You can’t game the system by adding a zillion random links or making awkward page titles that cram all the keywords up front—search engines have ways to assess the quality of your content, too.

Load Those Pages, STAT

There are many other factors that the crawlers take into consideration, but that is a very basic explanation of how a search engine crawls your page. Back in 2010, Google announced that site speed is a factor in search algorithms, and in 2018 they began accounting for speed in mobile search rankings. It is not the only factor: “The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.” But speed is an important piece of the overall picture, and you should not ignore it—especially when you are trying to get ahead of the competition SERP-wise.

Site speed begins to get into the user experience of a site. Let’s face it—we are all used to having what we want, when we want it, without a pause for loading time. Back in the 90s when we all had dial-up internet, it was okay to wait 45 seconds for a page to load. You probably even thought it was cool! It was the best thing available and you didn’t know anything different. Today, 40% of visitors will abandon your page after waiting three seconds for it to load.

Three seconds and 2 out of 5 visitors have already moved on. They are not even going to see your stunning graphics because they have found a web page that loads instantly—so much for anyone buying anything from your website. Think about the amount of revenue generated by your site—this is going to vary widely based on the type of business you are running, but even the most human-touch, service-based organization needs a way to reach its potential customers. Over time, your slow page load times feedback into your search rankings in a few ways, including dwell time—a metric for how much time a visitor spends on a page before going back to search engine results.

Moving to Mobile

If waiting for slow web pages to load on a desktop is annoying, slow mobile sites are even worse. Mobile browsing has clearly surpassed desktop traffic, and users have even less patience on mobile. To help developers create sites that perform well on mobile, Google launched the AMP initiative. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages; they do not look that different for the end user, except that they load almost instantly (less than a second on mobile devices vs. 3-4 seconds for standard mobile pages). We talked about AMPs in detail earlier this year; they can have a major impact on your SEO and on customer conversion rates. Are customers researching and purchasing your products on their mobile devices? If so, follow the lead of the big e-commerce sites and create an AMP for your business.

However, it is important not to slap AMP around on all your subpages. In most cases, you should stick to landing pages and content pages. Ensure that you are over-informed of how AMPs work and when should you implement them for your business—this article covers one of the cases where AMP was not the optimal solution.

Mobile-first indexing is another recent Google change that has thrust the importance of mobile sites into the spotlight. In the past, SERPs showed mobile users content from desktop sites, even though the mobile user would get the mobile version of the site. The problem? Many mobile sites have a condensed version of the desktop site’s content, and so the page the user would see sometimes did not include the content that answered the search query. If you do not have a separate mobile site, this change didn’t impact your rankings. However, the same announcement included this reminder: “We do evaluate all content in our index—whether it is desktop or mobile—to determine how mobile-friendly it is. Since 2015, this measure can help mobile-friendly content perform better for those who are searching on mobile.” If you did not already realize how dangerous it is to ignore mobile users on your site, you do now.

Are you beginning to understand how all of these factors work together to impact your overall performance? That is website optimization—putting together many big and small pieces to create the best possible experience for your users. Think about how an elite athlete prepares for competition. Sure, he has years of experience in the sport and spends hours in the gym. But he also plans his diet, sleep schedule, attire, equipment, shoes, hairstyle, lucky charms, and many other details to help optimize his performance. There are so many little things you never see that help an athlete do his best. Your website works this way, too.

An Optimized Website in 7 Steps

Now that you understand the importance of website optimization, here are 7 things you can do to make sure your website is performing in peak condition.

  1. Create an Accelerated Mobile Page for landing and content subpages.
    Here are some resources to get you started:

  2. Keep your code light and clean, and use simpler technologies over complex and bulky options.
    If you are looking at themes and templates, research the theme you like to see what other users have said about their experiences. Look for the cleanest, most straightforward ways to accomplish your design goals. Here is a list of front-end and back-end considerations that will affect the way your page loads.
  3. Save your images in the appropriate format.
    JPEG is great for photographs and can be easily compressed. PNG works well for smaller graphics, like logos, and GIF is best when you have a simple icon or animated image. There is also SVG for vector graphics such as logos or illustrations, andWebP as a smaller PNG alternative.
  4. Compress your images to the lowest file size that still allows for the quality you need.
    If you do not know how to compress a file size, check outWeb Resizer, a free and easy-to-use tool that optimizes images for web use.
  5. Look at the overall user experience of your site.
    Is it easy to navigate? Are there multiple links or calls to action on relevant pages that encourage users to keep exploring? Are users barraged by popups way too early? Much like you A/B test landing pages for marketing initiatives, you can do similar tests of key pages to make sure you’re giving the user the best possible experience.
  6. Clean up your visual design.
    Is there a whole bunch of graphics and buttons all over the place? Is it hard for users to find the content surfaced by their search queries? Do you have enough white space? Can people easily read your font? Is important information buried below the fold? These are all design choices that will impact the way users interact with your site.

Do not make anyone wait, for anything! Run through as many test scenarios as you can. Triple emphasis if you have any sort of e-commerce function on your site. There are many tools that will help you assess your site’s speed. Don’t forget to look at your hosting. Do you have sufficient bandwidth for your traffic?

Even if you are not creating a new site from scratch, it is worth your time to go through what you have and optimize. Unless you do not want potential customers to use your website. In that case, carry on.

If you do like having customers and feel pretty overwhelmed by all this website optimization techno-babble, give us a call. Or just start here.

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