The festive season has come and gone, parties mere headaches in the past and the New Year has rolled around and with it comes New Year resolutions. It is a chance for setting clean the slate and set goals for the forthcoming year. We mostly concentrate on self-improvement such as losing weight, getting fitter, keeping a journal or swearing off fun yet unhealthy vices such as drinking.
But it is not only ourselves we have a chance to improve, it is also an excellent opportunity for small business enterprises and personal website owners to clean out the cobwebs, tighten up content and get your website looking fit, healthy and attractive for the coming year.
But why bother?
Time takes its toll on everything, even digital data stored on a server somewhere. Taking a few hours to fix up your website means that you will be reaping the rewards for many months to come.
Reasons to refresh may include:
- Outdated information
- Poor reflection of your brand and ideals
- It doesn’t speak to your market demographic
- It’s not mobile friendly
- Your visitor retention is low
- You need to optimise for search engines
The website shape up power plan (patent pending)
Enter, what I like to call, The Website Shape Up Power Plan (Patent Pending). This easy seven-step plan will get your website looking trim and attractive in just a few hours. Delight as old websites look on with envy as your own website strolls down the information highway, a beautiful homepage catching the eye of each passing browser and a back-end implementation that all web crawlers will stop to admire.
Ready to make that magic happen? Let’s go…
Step 1: Health check
Before starting any new diet or exercise routine it is important to consult a professional. They will check that everything is working correctly. In this case the professional is you.
It is important to make sure that every aspect of your website is working. Take some time to check every link, each signup and social sharing button and clever widgets you have installed to make sure that the site is healthy. Though the visitors to your website are no doubt some of the best, smartest and kindest people in the world, they may not have a chance to tell you about flaws in your site such as broken links. They will simply try it and then move on to the next site… People are fickle like that.
This is referred too, in internet speak, as Bounce Rate. It is the percentage of people who get onto your gorgeous homepage and then leave without clicking through to any of your awesome content or engaging with your superbly crafted calls to action. For obvious reasons we want this percentage as low as possible meaning that you’re retaining visitors who are actively exploring your site and therefore your products or services. A good bounce rate is about 50%, meaning that half your visitors leave without exploring your site or, if you’re a ‘glass half full’ sort of a person, you are retaining fully half of the people who come to you.
When considering your bounce rate it is important to remember the users. For example, if you are a business that only provides services in the Oxfordshire area, remember to discount the bounce rate from other areas of the country. Furthermore, remember that people come to your site from many places: Desktop, mobile and tablets and the way people use such devices differs. For example, people accessing your site with a mobile are most likely looking for contact details rather than browsing products and services.
Step 2: The clean-out
This diet requires sacrifices. We need to get rid of anything that isn’t good for our website. That article that you wrote about the Olympics that has been festering in the back corner of the site for years… It’s gotta go. The endorsements that you got from a satisfied customer in 2015… Bin it.
There is nothing worse than visiting a website that feels like a ghost town, abandoned in a spooky part of the internet to slowly decay and become mere memory. Content and information needs to be current otherwise they’ll either think that you aren’t offering your services or products any longer, or that you’re desperately holding onto past glories… Which is kinda sad no matter which way you look at it.
Saying this, all content might not need to be removed completely. Some clever editing, rephrasing and updating can soon breathe new life into old pages.
Step 3: Take a look in the mirror
Vane, I know, but using tools to check out your sites reflection is an excellent way of seeing what parts need tightening up, and you can do this using the magic mirror of web analytics.
For the uninitiated, web analytics can be overwhelming. However, with a little work, it is possible to untangle the terms and make sense of those mystifying stats and graphs to improve your website.
Firstly, you need to be tracking your analytics. Google analytics is the go-to in this field and it will provide you with all the data you need.
The three main things to look at are:
- Your most visited pages.
- Your most popular calls to action
- The pages with the highest bounce rate
In this way, you can start building a picture of what your customers do and don’t like which is invaluable when planning for future content of your site.
Step 4: Self experimentation
There are no real hard and fast rules when it comes to health plans because everyone is different. It’s necessary to try different things and look at the results.
A/B testing is an excellent way of working out what your visitors do and do not like. By creating two pages with the same intent though with different ways of doing it, you can find out which is more popular. A good example is a simple call to action such as a newsletter signup page. If you randomly send half of your visitors to each of them you can then see which of the pages manages to make more conversions or, in simple speak, sign up to the newsletter.
Step 5: Ask for feedback
It may seem like a pursuit of vanity, but it’s worth asking what people think.
A site refresh doesn’t only help with future visitors but can allow you to connect with current customers. For example, you can ask for beta testers, including a questionnaire on the new site or directly contact trusted users of the site for a more personal feedback session.
It is very easy, whilst within the bubble, to lose perspective of what it is you’re actually trying to say. By asking the very people who use the site what they see and what they expect, you are removing the guesswork and may be surprised at things you may have thought obvious but are an enigma to site visitors.
Step 6: Check out the competition
At my gym for websites we encourage competition and this includes shamelessly checking each other out. In this way, you can see what others are doing better than you and get some ideas of your own.
A very basic way of doing this is to simply visit competitors websites and use your own judgement to see if there are any ideas which really stand out. Of course, I’m not condoning outright theft of concepts or content, but their work might give you inspiration when reworking your own pages.
If you want to take more of a scientific approach to this or you just don’t trust your own judgement, there are several tools that can help you.
Buzz Sumo allows you to see what pages of your competitor’s sites are receiving most traffic. It’s a kind of covert, over enemy lines version of Google Analytics. Again, you will have to apply some judgement in recognising exactly what makes those pages more successful than others.
There is also Ahrefs that shows you exactly what you need to do to outrank your competitors.
Step 7: Maintenance
It’s all very well doing this hard work now and making your website a high performer, slick and beautiful to behold but, unless you keep up the work it’s all for nothing.
Websites should never be seen as static, they should be exciting places that are updated often with new content, ideas and news. This is not only good for repeat customers who visit your site, but for Google rankings.
If you don’t know how keywords work in the greater scheme of search engine optimisation and want to find out, check out this article. In short, it is a way of working with Google to make your content and therefore your site more relevant to potential customers or website visitors.
Getting a blogging schedule set on a regular basis throughout the year means that your site remains, not only, a dynamic and exciting place with regular updates, but it also means that certain pages will rank higher in Google searches opening yet another door to potential customers.
Investing a few solid hours in shaping up your website can lead to some excellent payoffs later in the year. It sets up your brand for future months with current information, more clickable content, better calls to action and a tighter brand message.
Considering the drop in spending in the post-Christmas period, New Year is an excellent time to use the lull to make sure that your digital presence is just as ready and fit as it possibly can be for the following year.
Now, go get ’em champ…
Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.Read full profile