There are a number of factors to consider in maintaining a sustainable website. There are three key factors to consider:
- The science of web development
- The art of presentation
- The marketing of ideas
There are those who specialize in one area of websites from initial design, content, internal and external linking, search engine optimization (SEO), video and more. From our first efforts creating and managing websites, we have taken a more holistic approach considering a website a living organism. A website is born from an idea, given life through structure, it grows overtime. With one major difference – it doesn’t have to die. A website needs to evolve.
A Website’s Evolution
I share with new clients that an old, poorly maintained website or even worse, the lack of a website altogether, is the same as not existing to the current generation of those who purchase products and services.
Over time, altering a website structure to meet a viewer’s desired web experience coupled with the ever changing search engine demands is an ongoing task. A recent study performed by the UK Web Host Review(1) found:
- 75% of people base credibility by a website. Think about this statistic. You may have an excellent product or service, but if you have a poor website, you could lose one-fourth of your customer base.
- You have 10 seconds to impress. It’s not click bait. It’s not action music. Definitely not flashing graphics to hold a visitor’s attention. You have 10 seconds to capture and engage. It’s that “marketing side” of creating website content. Knowing what your visitor needs, presenting it page one, in 10 seconds or less to hold their attention and move to a call-to-action.
- 70% of small businesses miss call-to-action. Speaking of calls-to-action. The site looks nice. The content is up-to-date. The user experience is positive, yet the site has little to no opportunity to generate a lead, or purchase a product due to the lack of call-to-action buttons, forms or offering help to the next step. Placement and design of calls-to-action are crucial to engaging the user to the next step.
- 59% of people prefer a beautifully designed website. Visitors want an experience. To maintain that experience, the website content must be visually engaging.
- 94% of people won’t trust an outdated website. This statistic is one we speak against the most. The viewer of an outdate website wonders if a business’ doors are still open. Does the site represent the quality of product or service? They will often quickly leave an outdated site and move on to the next competitor’s website providing an improved web experience.
- 2 out of 3 minutes spent online are via a mobile device. This holds true for our client’s website. Today, a website must provide a mobile responsive experience. Content must be instantly formatted to make it easy to read, easy to navigate and calls-to-action that are readily accessible.
Given the facts from this research, we see the ongoing need to ensure a website constantly evolves over time, meeting the demands for the visitor’s experience.
Where to start. There are a wide range of sites, courses and books dedicated to the proper structure for a website. Google is the main player when it comes to setting the standard for website structure and search engine optimization. Fortunately, Google doesn’t make the requirements a secret. These requirements can change often and it’s a good practice to review from time to time. Google maintains an up-to-date Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide on their website that can be viewed here.
Basic rules for website structure.
- Create a website name, its corresponding web address (URL) that resembles the sites primary mission.
- Use an SSL certificate even though the site may be information based and not used for financial transactions. With a SSL certificate, the user will not see the browser’s “UNSECURED SITE” designation next the web address giving the appearance of a site that may not be safe to visit.
- Create unique titles and content for every page and blog. Search engines can actually lower a sites search ranking where title and content is repetitive, penalizing this as an effort to stuff a site to artificially skew search results.
- Use of good META data to describe a page or blog. Tools are available to make the input of META data easy. Ensure the data has the keyword used for the page or blog to confirm the search results made by the user.
- Use an SEO plug-in such as Yoast SEO and others, that ease the placement of keywords in website pages and blogs.
- Use page headings also known as H2 headers to break up content. This makes the page easier to read and improves access for the search engine to quantify page content.
- Use URL permalinks containing the page or blog title. This is a beneficial for link sharing and improves the search engine’s ability to index content.
- Write content for your users, not for yourself. Take steps to know your user’s preferences. Use analytics to verify recurring themes. Write well. Poorly written and sloppy text content is a turn off.
- Use images and info graphics to highlight, explain or offer guidance to topic shared. Use ALT tags for all images that reflect the topic or keyword used.
- Use advertisements in the most non-distracting manner for monetized website. Repeating advertising throughout a page can be very distracting, creating an experience that drives the visitor away. Use advertising that relates to the content and place in a manner that is a call to action or located on the peripheral of the content as an added benefit to the viewer.
- The site must be mobile friendly. Search engines test and reward for mobile optimized content. More so, the user will reward the site by visiting more often and staying on site longer where content is easy to read and navigation is simplified when using a mobile device.
This is a short list of what I believe to be some of the more important rules for website structure. There are addition details provided in Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide.
Research – Search engines continue to refine algorithms to improve search results as well as discourage those who bend the rules to make a site more popular than others. I mentioned the need to use the site structure guidelines discussed in Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide. There is another step to ensure page and blog content is relevant for popular search terms used.
When I’m considering the long term phase of maintaining a sustainable website, I start with a search for the keyword or keyword phrase that will be used in the site’s page or blog title. The keyword is then carried forward in the page URL, the opening paragraph, picture and info graphic ALT tags and throughout the content for emphasis. Although the rules for use are often debated, I attempt to use a keyword three to six times throughout the content. Some caution should be used when placing the keyword in the content. Don’t allow content readability to suffer trying the meet keyword placement demands. Over use can create a poor experience causing the reader to abandon the page.
There are a number of tools available to discover the keyword and keyword phrase to use for content. This should be done prior to writing the first words. Google offers a free keyword planner within a Google Ad account. Learn more here. Depending on need and budget, there are easier tools to use with improved presentation. Some of these are:
- KWFinder – https://kwfinder.com/
- Moz’s Keyword Explorer – https://moz.com/explorer
- Keyword Tool – https://keywordtool.io/
- SEMrush – https://www.semrush.com/
Each tool has its benefits and learning curve. I’ve found using a good keyword research tool can substantially impact a website visibility.
As with any living organism, once birthed, it has to be fed and nurtured. This is equally true for a website. Feeding a website is derived from content. Content can be in many forms, from new pages of information, updating pictures, videos, info graphics, to blogs. It also can have components that live outside of the website that are equally important, including the various forms of social media and the ever growing YouTube platform.
Content frequency – Adding content depends on the type of viewer a site is trying to attract and maintain. With some website, content needs to be added daily, others monthly or somewhere in-between. The bottom line: once frequency is determined, create a schedule and maintain. Creating an environment for new visitors while maintaining a recurring base takes time. This will not happen overnight. There are many who promise quick results, but we’ve found that creating a schedule and staying the course reaps longer term results for site visibility, consistent viewing and low bounce rates.
Content word count and images – Knowing how many words are needed varies by audience, but search engines reward for content that is at least 600 to 1,000 words in length. Content with images are also rewarded by the search engine and viewers alike. But caution should be used with images. Ensure an image is properly sized and optimized from the web. Use of graphics at 72dpi is preferred, and compressed for the web offers a better experience for viewing and page display speed.
Know your viewers – If the site was created to address social issues, then address them in a positive manner. If it’s a political site, then pick the battle and stay on course. If the site is addressing a specific demographic, then cater to this group’s interest and needs. But, if the site was created to promote a product or service, then stick to the benefits and use. Introducing a political or social stand associated with a product can limit who will visit the site and who may purchase a product or service.
Use tools to understand your viewer’s needs from the website’s analytics discovering popular pages, geographic location, age of viewer and more. Another tool is to allow comments on pages. Comments will need to be managed on a regular basis to address viewer responses as well as minimize spam from those trying to capitalize on your sites success.
Maintaining a website
We know what it feels like to be sick. No energy, lack of desire to do anything or help others. That point where we want to be left alone until we heal. But, to heal it often takes some type of intervention. A visit to the doctor, medicine and/or stepping away from an unhealthy life choice. This living organism of a website is no different.
If a website becomes sick, it will cease to function as a viable entity that can be viewed or worse die a slow death full of viruses, malware and eventually blocked by search engines and corporate firewalls. To maintain a healthy website:
Maintain updates – The sites core software (such as WordPress), plugins, unique custom code developed specifically for the site must be maintained at current release levels. Hackers are some of the most creative beings. With a growing tool chest, highly skilled hackers constantly uses computer robots 24 hours a day to find vulnerability resulting from websites that are not operating current software releases. An out of date website can have multiple opening allowing hackers to enter and wreak havoc.
Once a site is infected, it’s resembles a cancer, spreading throughout the site. It can be costly in the hours spent to remove site viruses, and worse, the websites viewers no longer trusting the website as reliable source from the resulting infections acquired from the use. The solution is simple – consistent site administration to update the website’s software components, along with a tool to monitor site vulnerabilities providing real-time alerts of update needs.
Use of a site firewall and security scanner – There are free and paid services. We have found that the various paid services provide the most extensive site protection. Use of these services can be a beneficial tool to ensure a websites long term health, as well as keeping the bad actors at bay who wish to harm a site. Those that are the most effective tools provide some form of firewall that identifies and blocks malicious traffic. There’s also the added benefit of a real-time IP black list, stopping the resource drain of constant attacks from the ever growing list of hacker robot sites. Adding a security scanner providing a recurring process to validate site vulnerabilities and plugins is a must.
There is a long list of security software providers. Some of our favorites are:
- Sucuri Security – https://sucuri.net/
- Wordfence Security – https://www.wordfence.com/
- iThemes Security – https://ithemes.com/security/
Quality website hosting provider
“Why is your website off-line?” is a visitors question you never want to hear. There are a wide range of hosting providers from large corporations such as Amazon and Microsoft to providers that that specialize in quality commercial hosting. When maintaining a sustainable website, we found the cheapest offering is often not the best. Picking a hosting provider that can maintain your long term website needs, with documented up-time results, strong customer service and internal server security, can be an unsettling task to determine who’s best.
Not only is website up-time important, but site speed is critical for the users experience as well as SEO ranking. There is some control that can be managed at site design and for image content, but a host provider’s service offering should be validated to ensure cost of service equates to the desired site visitors experience.
It’s time for a change
Change is a fact of life. We all experience change in many forms. From a physical standpoint, we change vehicles for more speed, improved style, something more utilitarian or it’s just time to retire the old. It’s the same with the places we live, the electronics we use, the adage can go on and on.
A website is no different. The content is out of date. The overall design is cluttered and too wordy. The graphics used are tired. The site is slow, needing to be optimized. The structure does not lend itself to current search engine requirements. And worse yet, for half the traffic currently viewed on the Internet, it’s not mobile optimized.
The good news: updates can occur with refreshed content, even retaining those elements that remain current, but the structure of the site needed to be replaced. Think in terms of moving from one’s residence to another. All that is inside – furniture, kitchen items, clothing, etc. isn’t discarded for the move. We move to a new home to meet our needs and bring these items along.
Changing the website is similar. A new installation is created, updated themes and plugins are selected and a new design is created to meet the viewer’s demand for an improved experience. Along with the content migration, this is an excellent time to review page and blog keyword structure with updates to offer a greater probability for website search results.
Lastly, ensuring second party tools are in place for the creation of new content. Tools supporting website analytics should be contently reviewed to discover topics of greater interest and visitor demographics. Viewing bounce rates should be ongoing to determine content that isn’t the best match for the site or from the incorrect use of certain keywords and associated META data.
Whatever you do, don’t create and walk away
Just as yourself, your family, your pets, even the plants in the corner of the room – to have a sustainable website needs to be maintained on a regular basis. A recurring plan should exist to:
- Constantly feed the website with fresh, interesting content, containing relevant keywords
- Inoculated from the viruses that are floating around the Internet and protect from hackers wanting to maliciously attack the site
- Ensure the sites performance and flow you encounter is the same presentation you expect your viewers to experience.
Some may say: “It’s just that simple.” We’ll yes it is, but maintaining a sustainable website takes time, effort and a willingness to meet the changes demanded by both the web industry and the viewers the site it’s designed to attract. For those running a business, this can be a daunting task. For small businesses, it can be a burden developing an internal resource dedicated to Internet marketing and distracting from the time needed to meet your product or services needed. The good news is there are a wide range of Internet marketing specialist, web design firms and freelancers who specialize in developing and maintaining a sustainable website.
(1)UK Web Host Review – https://www.ukwebhostreview.com/website-and-ux-statistics/
About Macon Web Designs
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