Designing websites that are pretty and designing websites that Google likes—and that are effective—are often two very different things. Sadly, many people who hire agencies or developers to build their websites don’t know the difference. When it comes to working for your business, though pretty is nice, effective is even more important.
When designing your website, no matter whom you’re working with, here are some things you should focus on:
Your site navigation needs to have a clear hierarchy and include text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
Include a site map
Your site needs a map, and once your site development is complete, that site map needs to be submitted to Google. Google uses your site map to learn about the structure of your website and to increase the coverage of the pages of content on your site. Make sure this is part of the scope of work in the proposal your Web developer submits to you. If not, hire someone else to develop your website.
Links matter, but be reasonable
Links are important, but be sure and keep them to a reasonable number. Too many links is spammy looking and, especially in light of Google’s recent algorithm updates, not a good idea.
Create a site that’s useful
Unlike websites of the past, you’re not building an online brochure or a website that makes you look good. Instead, you need to focus on creating a website that is useful and filled with information that your customers and prospects might need—and be searching for. Each page of content of your site needs to do its part to tell your story.
Don’t try to be cute (which often is a major failing of agencies or creative shops). Cute is fun. Making money is more fun. Use each page of your site to serve up content that provides a benefit to the people who are searching for what you do and for the search engines that are indexing your content. Save cute for your in-person meetings.
Search engine optimization
It’s always amazing to us how few people really understand what search engine optimization is—and why it matters. And how many people who think that if you just throw a bunch of keywords into your content that that’s “optimizing” your content. Right. Search engine optimization, in its simplest form, means thinking about the words or phrases that people might use to find your business and your website, and writing content that includes those words and phrases.
Keyword research: Do your homework first
Before you build your website, do your homework. As mentioned above, knowing words and phrases that people use to find your business, your service or product offerings, and your website is a key component of website effectiveness. Doing keyword research to find out what those terms are, beyond what you guess they might be, is pretty important.
You can do this yourself using Google’s Keyword Tool, or you can make sure that the proposal you have from a Web developer includes this. Me? I could probably use the free keyword tool and figure out what to do—but I’m smart enough to hire people who really know what they’re doing to do that for me and for our clients. I’d rather not gamble when it comes to business. What about you? What’s getting it done right the first time worth to you?
There’s an art to SEO copywriting. If you get a proposal from anyone for building a website for you that doesn’t include a line item for doing keyword research and for writing search engine optimized Web content as part of the deliverables (or at least recommending that you do that), you should find another vendor.
Most businesses do a lousy job of telling their brand stories and writing their Web content, because they’re too close to their own products and services. Web content should be written based on search terms that people are using to find solutions to problems as well as products and services they want to buy. That’s what makes keyword research so important, but it doesn’t stop there.
As an aside, I once had an executive level copywriter at an agency tell me that SEO copywriting was overrated (and I was recommending that as I consulted with them for their own agency website). He said that his copywriter friends told him that Google was overrated and all that crap (SEO) didn’t matter—and that he’d be just fine as long as he tossed a bunch of keywords in his content. Oh, and this is an agency that regularly pitched building websites for their clients. I didn’t work with them after that.
Use text, not images
Images are very important, so don’t interpret this as advice against using images. A visually attractive site and one that includes images is, in our opinion, crucial. However, Google can’t “see” those images on your website, so don’t use images as a replacement for written content. Be sure that if you use images (and you should), that you also use text on each page of your website and don’t embed important text inside images. When you use images, tell the search engine as much as you can about those images by using what’s called “ALT tags” to describe what those images are in an SEO-friendly fashion. Sound confusing? Here’s an easy visual on this, straight from Google:
When having a new website developed, it’s important that you check its performance on all different types of Web browsers, to make sure it works on all of them. Make sure this is a part of the scope of work of any proposal submitted to you—it’s really, really important.
Check load times
The faster your website loads, the more Google likes it and the happier your customers and prospects are. Never forget that although the goal of your business is to sell more stuff to more people, Google’s goal is to provide searchers with the most relevant results and a great user experience—as quickly as possible. Fast sites make users happy. Fast sites also make Google happy. As part of your Web development project, make sure you ask about load time for your site. If you want to check it yourself, use a tool like PageSpeed or WebPagetest.
Data matters: Install analytics
Make sure that no matter what, you install Google Analytics on your site. Just as important as installing analytics is looking at them. Don’t laugh—you have no idea how many people we encounter on a weekly basis who either don’t have analytics on their websites or who don’t look at them. Your analytics are your roadmap to success. They tell you what draws people to your site, what pages of your site they visit, what content resonates with them and how long they hang around. For a data nerd like me, data and analytics drive every part of an integrated marketing strategy, so please, for all that’s holy, install analytics on your site, then look at them. Often.
Don’t forget mobile
Consumers are accessing the Web from mobile devices more than they’re accessing the Web from their desktops. Be sure that, as part of your Web development project or analysis of your Web presence in general, you’re not forgetting the importance of having a good mobile presence.
In summary, these are the basic components of building a website that not only is attractive to Google, but is smart marketing. A well-designed, well-written website is a bit like going on a fishing trip and actually putting bait on your fishhook, as opposed to going fishing without any bait and just hoping a big fish jumps into your lap. Don’t laugh. On the Web, people do that all the time, often because they just don’t know any better—or because they’ve hired Web developers or agencies who either don’t know or don’t care about the things articulated above.
I say it so often that even I get sick of it, but really, in our technology driven, search-driven world, your website is really the hub of all your business operations. When you’re considering revamping your website or building one to begin with, doing it right will not only save you headaches in the future, it’ll help you do what all of us want to do, and that’s to sell more stuff to more people.
Shelly Kramer is the CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing. A version of this article originally appeared on the V3 Integrated Marketing blog.