Creating a website can be an expensive and time consuming process and once a site is launched there can be a tendency to take scratch it off the list of todos. You breathe a sigh of relief and move onto to other goals and objectives. Working hard to grow the business and yourself knowing that you’ve got a great site to back you up.
Well, while you and your business continue to change that site is frozen in time. After a while that very expensive and well thought out website starts to seem dated and ineffective. Maybe the marketplace has changed. Maybe the business goals have shifted. Maybe technology has made users expect more. No matter the reason it’s apparent a change is needed. But the cost of recreating the site might seem too large to swallow. That’s where web optimization comes in. Optimization is like a tune-up for your site.
Web Optimization can fall loosely into 3 categories: Content, Structure and Iteration.
Content optimization is the modification of content to appeal to a specific audience in line with business goals and objectives. The term “SEO” generally falls into this category but can also apply to structure as well. Depending on the condition and structure of a site content optimization can often be done without needing to rebuild or recreate the website.
Examples include: Technical content reformatted for a non-technical audience, Website copy written to focus on specific keywords or phrases for the intention of increasing search engine results, and rewriting or formatting existing content to improve readability and flow.
Structure optimization is the modification of the architecture, priority and organization of a site to increase conversion. Conversion can be defined as any metric that the site would like to affect. Such as increasing sales, getting more site subscribers or increasing visitors time on site. Structure can also apply to modifying the user path or flow through a site. This would include adding, changing or removing functionality. Because the process of optimizing the structure of a site is so dependent on how it’s built it often leads to the creation of a new version of the site. However, that is not always the case and is completely dependent on how extensive the changes are.
Examples include: Reorganizing content ‘buckets”, Changing the hierarchy of page layout, rearranging or organizing the site navigation, changing from static to database driven pages or modifying functionality.
A partial list of key identifiers that you might need to optimize content or structure:
- A site isn’t appearing in search engines or appears low on the results list
- Users find the content valuable but too complex
- You believe the content on the site is exactly what users need and have good site traffic but aren’t getting the engagement you want or visitors have a short time on site
- Site visitors are failing to reach the target conversion page
- Metrics show a high bounce rate
- There is a problem with the usability or navigation of the site
- You would like a new feature added to the site
- Generally believe the site is ineffective.
Iteration focuses on the ongoing optimization of a web presence for both content and structure. Of the three categories this one is the most involved and is a process of reviewing metrics, reacting to them and refining the site accordingly. The goal of iteration is to keep the site from becoming ineffective over time by regularly checking on the health of goals and objectives. This process is why the giants of the web are constantly changing how their sites work and what their sites offer. It’s why Facebook changes their site every 6-8 months, Google keeps adding new features and news sites regularly tweak their layouts.
Iteration can include all of the steps and deliverables of the previous two. In fact, in a well thought out process, iteration is the responsible the next step to either of the other two categories. It’s a site’s regularly scheduled maintenace.
So, how do you actually do this optimization thing?
For all of these categories the process is very similar. First, identify what metrics you want to change. Maybe it’s the number of email list signups or your rank in search results. Then review site analytics, user feedback, industry standards and competitor comparisons to decide what steps would be taken and what changes would need to be made. Once you have that list it’s a matter of weighing the effort of those changes against the effect it will have.
A warning in regards to optimization:
Now, a common approach to all of these categories is a “redesign”. Often that term is referring only to the look and feel of the site. And that, is the wrong way to optimize.
The “new coat of paint” approach is rarely effective on it’s own. There are very few sites that are in need of only a new look and feel. Usually the problems that are causing a site to be ineffective stem from the quality of the content, how it’s structure or how it functions. A fresh cosmetic appearance isn’t going to fix any of those. It’s like spending the money adding flame decals and ground effects to a car that has horrible gas mileage and bad brakes – Hardly a sound financial investment. While the visual representation of a site might be the easiest thing for us to gravitate to it matters less than how the site is structured, how it functions or how valuable the content is to the end user.
Also, it’s entirely possible that while going through the process of optimization it becomes apparent that the most effective course of action is to build a new site. But, in that case, at least you have the hard data to backup the decision. That data then becomes the solid foundation for all the choices you’ll make when you approach the process of building your new web presence. And this time – You won’t forget to take it in for it’s quarterly oil change, right?
If you have any other questions, concerns or thoughts on web optimization I’d love to hear them.