Website review and analysis are part of my everyday job. I've been actively analyzing and making suggestions on improving traffic acquisition, user flow, SEO, and usability for several years. I've shared this analysis process and the tips for improvement in my writings for the last few years to provide an insight into how you could do it yourself.
Today, I'll share 6 of the most frequently broken or missing website features that I have seen over and over again, and provide some suggestions for making your own site better.
1. Mobile Websites
Mobile websites are so important that I have to put this first. Many business owners make the mistake of using their own point of view as the benchmark to measure against, believing that if they don't use their smartphone for website browsing then no one else does.
That's completely wrong.
Back in May 2015, Google reported that mobile search traffic exceeded 50% of all usage. An independent study by Hitwise in May 2016 found that mobile traffic was up to about 60%.
Although one could argue that these numbers are generalized and not every industry is the same, so let's focus on what the retail consumers are doing. According the this fact sheet from Pew Research Center, we see some interesting numbers regarding smartphone ownership:
Glancing over these numbers, it's hard to dispute the smartphone usage of the majority of the retail consumer market, and this is why a mobile website is mandatory now. So go build one if you haven't done it already.
Your mobile website must have all the same information on it as your desktop site. The low budget way to accomplish this is by using a mobile responsive website design, the better way is to use a mobile specific website with some type of responsive content.
Talk to your web developer and implement a mobile strategy if you don't have one.
2. Website Freshness
Website abandonment is the second greatest mistake I see all the time. I'm referring to websites that were set up and quickly forgotten about. I've found that there are two typical causes for abandonment; the first is that the business owner believes that they just "need something online to represent their business" and are willing to pay someone else to slap it up, and the second is that the business put the website on hold until they could afford it because they didn't realize how difficult it would be to set up and maintain the site.
Search engine optimization experts, including myself, will tell you that websites need to be updated regularly to maintain their validity. Page 141 of these Google Search Guidelines talks about the importance of fresh content for a few topics, product queries being one of them.
Usually when we talk about fresh content we are referring to new blog posts and changes to your home page. For retail store owners, that fresh content also extends to product catalogs, meaning, you should add new products to your online catalog on a regular basis.
It's my belief that every business should have a website, even a simple one. No matter how well established your B&M store might be in your local community, those who don't know you will look for a websites because it provides online credibility. That said, even if you can't afford to maintain the website, you should still have one. Just know that your website will be more successful at bringing you new customers if you update it regularly.
3. Internal Linking
Internal linking is another area I often find pretty lacking or poorly implemented on many websites. Internal linking refers to how you link from page to pay on your website from within the body content of each page. I'm not referring to top, side, or footer navigation, but the random links within your written paragraphs. As an example, just look above in this post and you'll see that I've already included 6 contextual links within the my writing, 3 of which refer to other pages on my jwag.biz site.
This type of linking allows users to jump from page to page on your site in a way that makes sense during their reading. It's a better way of helping people discover information where and when it's important to discover it, rather than having them systematically click through every page of your navigation.
Another benefit of internal linking is that it helps search engines find information on your site. I've noticed that search engines won't always find all the pages or products on a website when they are spidering through the navigation. Oftentimes, it's faster for search engines to discover fresh content when you link to it in your body content.
A good way to use internal linking is to write an in-depth blog post about a new product and include a link from the blog page to the product page. In this way, Google will find your fresh blog page, but also find your fresh product that you added to your online catalog.
4. Online Catalog
Product catalogs are paramount if you are a retail business. The same age groups shown in the table above would rather browse online catalogs of products and make a selection before stepping foot in a store.
Just to be clear, I'm not referring to ecommerce where you make the sale and take the payment online; I'm just talking about publishing your ENTIRE product catalog. The same demographic that uses smartphones will browse this catalog on their phone, so your catalog must be mobile friendly.
Browsing an online catalog is a time saver for everyone because they don't have to drive from store to store looking for the best thing to buy. They've already made up their mind before leaving the house; many times, they will even walk into a store and ask a sales person to see the items they have showing on their smartphone.
Maintaining your online inventory isn't an easy task, which is why I recommend that you somehow tie your in-house product management systems to your website inventory. If that's not possible, then perhaps it's time to look into new software that will do it, and therefore save you hours of time.
Don't be lazy with your product catalog. I don't care who you are or what your excuse is, you should NEVER use a 3rd party website script or widget that will make product inventory appear on your website. Many manufacturers have online catalogs of their entire inventory that can be inserted into your website. Although it might make your store look really big with a massive online catalog, this backfires with regard to your local sales. Remember, people are browsing before they leave the house, and they expect the inventory on your website to be the real inventory in your store.
Skip the features that invite people to "make an appointment" or "request to see in store" because those words hint to the fact that you don't have those items in-stock today. Instead, strive for the "in-stock now" or "come in and see this today" type messages in your catalog.
5. ALT and TITLE Image Attributes
It's been 4 years since I wrote this post about ALT and TITLE attributes for images. It is as relevant today as it was 4 years ago, perhaps even more so.
I've recently noticed a few websites that shot up in their Google ranking because they added extensive details explaining what you see in a photo to the ALT and TITLE attributes of every image on their website.
When it comes to websites, every task worth doing is never easy. Most website content management systems don't offer easy ways to edit the image ALT and TITLE attributes. It's tedious work, but I can't deny the benefits I continue to see.
6. Online Reviews and Testimonials
In March 2017, I gave a seminar at the JA NY expo held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City explaining the importance of online reviews and how consumers view them now. Consumers are first exposed to your online reviews when they perform online product searches.
According to a 2016 Local Customer Review Survey by BrightLocal, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. After reading the rest of the statistics in that survey, you should realize how important it is to maintain a high level of customer service and reply to all the reviews you have online.
However, online reviews through Google, Yelp, and Facebook should not be your only review focus points. You should install a testimonial feature within your own website that allows your own verified reviews to appear throughout your site.
Retailers and businesses that provide a personal touch will often receive written thank-you notes from their customers. You might even have a box of them in your office somewhere that should be used on your own website. With your own testimonial feature on your website you can also ask customers to easily leave new reviews right after their shopping experience.
The testimonials should be placed randomly around your website to show how well liked and trusted you are. You can see examples of this on the John S Cryan Jewelers website and the Tiffany Wigs website.
Recent changes to how Google is managing user generated content, like photos and online reviews, hints at the idea that people trust other people before they will trust what a business says. That's why I see the growing need for testimonials to appear on a website now.
Bonus: The New SEO
Each of the above 6 items relates to search engine optimization in one way or another. A mistake I continue to see over and over again is the belief that a business can pay money for SEO service without actively participating in it.
Up until 2012, the process of SEO was one of keyword tweaking, article spinning with keywords, and several other scientific and mathematical methods of tweaking a website to rank highly in Google. Those methods worked back then because Google had several exploitable problems with their ranking algorithm.
It doesn't work like that anymore.
If you were to read through all 160 page of Google Search Guidelines, you'd find that they are concentrating on good content, new content, appropriate information, and good customer experience with your website. Keywords are not the focus anymore which means the SEO process is less mathematical and more human experience related.
How do you make a website that's focusing on human experience? You already have a lot of clues at your fingertips, from Google Analytics, to reactions to social media posts, and even your online reviews. Study what people say to you, the questions they ask, what they click on, and even what they don't click on then ask yourself why did they do/say/click what they did.
Update your website to better serve your customers and soon you'll realize that this is the new method of SEO.