Site vs. Search Structure for Websites

There are two considerations when planning the design and information architecture of a brand new (or even a redesigned) website: site structure and search engine structure. The old days of frame-based websites is over, but search engines still have a difficult time reading Flash or Java sites (though they are getting better). Even for sites built in HTML or using PHP, it is still important to plan ahead for both what the users will see and what the search engines can follow.

matrix green site architecture
Don’t let your poor architecture turn into a search engine nightmare.

There are several differences between the structure of a site for search engines and for users. Since search bots are fairly dumb and will only follow the code on the page, sites must be accessible with just a keyboard and relatively simple for them to be spidered well, and the content needs to be accurately described with a preference towards text rather than images. This is also why alt attributes on images are strongly recommended, both from an SEO and a legal standpoint (equal website access to the blind).

Rich internet applications and anything that adds complexity to the site may make the architecture more convenient to users while less accessible to search engines. User experiences that are generated dynamically, such as with Flash, can keep more complex sites’ architecture to a minimum (even keeping the entire user experience on one “page”), while making it difficult for search engines to determine what the webpages are about, not to mention how to rank them.

Site and search architecture can come into conflict depending on the keywords and brand names used on the site. A simple “Home” or “About Us” link may work well for directing users to important pages, but the search engines would rather those links use relevant keywords for better categorizing and ranking on results pages. Of course, turning your homepage link into the keyword you would like it to rank for could cause confusion as users look for a “Home” link that does not exist.

With simple sites, the site and search architecture may be relatively easy to map out beforehand or change. The more complex a site gets, the better it is to plan the architecture before content is created for keywords that are chosen. Blogs and ecommerce websites are two examples where establishing the architecture can make it easier for both users and search engines to find the higher-level categories and individual pages.

Of course, planning all of this in advance is quite a bit easier than redesigning an existing site with a new structure. Search engines will eventually get used to the redesign of a site, but changing it all at once from a static experience to a dynamic one, or vice-versa, can easily cause a drop in rankings that may last weeks or months. Visitors have a tendency to adapt to changes much faster than search engine robots, despite users usually being more vocal about the changes.

Overall, simple site structure is almost universally preferred to complicated experiences, at least from the search engines’ perspective. However, some sites just can not do this, especially automobile manufacturers and other consumer goods industries where a large amount of customization is essential for an ideal customer experience. For most websites, though, simple is better, and planning in advance can reduce headaches down the road.

Six Basic Components of Web Design

Creating a brand new website or redesigning an older, outdated site present unique challenges for business owners. It can take years of experience to build a high quality web presence, and many small business owners just do not have the time or skills to do so, just as full-time web designers do not have the time or skills to be really effective real estate agents, chiropractors, or lawyers.

Compass and Web Design
Plan where you’re going with your new website.

However, there are some basic components of site design and maintenance that all business owners should at least have some knowledge of. This can save them a lot of time, resources, and headache in the future as they actually put together their sites and plan the marketing campaigns for them. We’ll explore each of these in more depth in this article. The six concepts are the following:

  • Time to build a site
  • Platforms
  • Domain names
  • Hosting
  • Maintenance
  • Mobile devices

1. Building the Website

In terms of the time to build a site, there are two main considerations. The first is the resources you can dedicate on your own or with help to your new site. For instance, you can build the website yourself, putting together as much as you can and customizing it to the best of your ability, but take away time from your own business. Alternatively, you can hire a web designer or web design company, saving yourself the time and resources, but spending some additional money to get the site you want.

There is also the expertise required to build a site, the second consideration. If you have built a website for your company in the past, you may know enough to create the new version of your site. However, if you want Flash animations, cool styling, and the latest HTML5 markup and microdata, it may be best to hire a company that specializes in such web design issues.

2. Website Platforms

When it comes to platforms, you can build a site in basic HTML, or use one of the Content Management Systems (CMS). Some of these include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, and each have their own learning curves and special features. While it may take more time to learn the CMS, it will make maintaining the site much easier over time, and the latest versions of these platforms usually include the most recent security updates and user interface features.

3. Domain Names

With domain names, you probably already have at least one domain name for your business. However, it may be profitable to secure others. If you have mysite.com, you may want to get mysite.net and mysite.org to prevent any competitors from purchasing them and competing with you on your own brand name. Misspellings of your domain name can also be purchased, and then forwarded to your main website.

Additionally, it can be worthwhile to purchase URLs related to your site which you will use strictly for marketing purposes. These are referred to as “vanity URLs,” and will be used if you do television, radio, or print ads and you want to track visitors from those campaigns. Just give out the vanity URL, my-tv-site.com, for instance, and then redirect that site to your main one. Easy and effective!

From an SEO perspective, it can be helpful to purchase domain names and register them for longer periods of time. Many companies will register their domain name on a yearly basis, renewing if they are still in business. However, it can pay with the search engines to register for 5-10 years, as it shows them that you plan on sticking around.

4. Website Hosting

When it comes to hosting, there are a number of considerations, but the decisions are often easy enough. First, how much space will you need? If you have a smaller website with a handful of pages, you may not need much; but if you are hosting multiple videos or downloads, you may need much more space and bandwidth.

Second, should you self-host your website or use a third party hosting company? In almost all cases but the very largest, just hire a hosting company. Many of them offer deals if you pay a year or more in advance, and even the monthly hosting charges can be very reasonable. Very few companies host their own sites anymore because it is just so easy to use a third party. Just research which third party hosting company you choose!

Finally, should you be on a shared or dedicated server? If you own multiple domains related to your business, all of which get traffic, you may need a dedicated server. But if you are a small or local business and your site doesn’t see too much traffic, you can stick with a shared server. Just keep an eye out for any bad neighborhoods on that shared server, such as spammy sites.

5. Website Maintenance

The next consideration is the maintenance of a website. If you are using a CMS, maintenance of the back end of the site may be very easy, if not automatic. One maintenance tip that often slips through the cracks is keeping track of all of the logins for accounts related to your site, from the adminstrative area of the website to the third-party web analytics program, to social media sites.

But you will also have to maintain the front end, planning a content strategy for new pages and products, keeping up on the latest technology. Plan to do at least some ongoing keyword research and content creation, as well as marketing of those new pages. If you do pay per click, plan on maintaining landing pages, creating new ones or taking down ineffective ones.

6. Mobile Devices

Mobile Device
My mobile phone still looks like this. Doesn’t yours?

Finally, you will have to decide what to do about mobile devices. CMS systems such as WordPress have plugins for creating a mobile version of your site, but you may want a more customized version. Or, you may not need a mobile site at all if most of your traffic comes from the web. Your web analytics program will be able to tell you how much mobile traffic your site sees, and you can plan from there.

Designing a website is often a longer process and more complicated than business owners first realize. As the web gets increasingly complicated, with new technology coming onto the seen nearly every day, it will become even more difficult to design your own website from scratch. Thankfully, CMS systems are also being continually developed to meet these challenges, and the price of website design for even the most complicated sites has come down in recent years.

Build Marketing Components Into Site Design

You have a website, and you know what your website is going to look like. But do you have a marketing plan for that website? And can you build some of the components for marketing your site into the design of it? That’s what this article is going to look at, because designing a site with some advertising and marketing goals in mind can help immensely when it is actually time to start targeting campaigns to different groups of internet users.

Website Design SuccessThe first step is to start out with a map of the website. Any business website (and any personal site that has a financial goal) needs to have clear expectations built into the design process. The purpose of each page or category should be laid out, and the entire list of pages to begin the website needs to be mapped out. Basic components like the navigation structure and login areas for users or admins should also be done at this stage.

Once a site is laid out in at least a basic form, the different components of the site should be mapped out. This can involve building in areas for widgets, social media buttons, signup boxes for the newsletter, and buttons with a call to action. And each component of the pages can also be mapped out even further, with their own sections and widgets.

This process is known as wireframing a website, and is one of the most important steps in creating a new site. The page architecture is defined, and each component is mapped and given a place on the real estate of the web pages. Navigation menus will be placed and given logical order, and placeholders for the page content will be set. The style of the site may not be done yet, but all of the pieces are in place to start building the site, inserting content, and giving it a unique look and feel.

The end goal for wireframing a site is to define the success of the company’s online presence and have a website that executes that strategy effectively. From the business perspective, a website is an online solution center for people interested in that company’s products and services. This is why clear page architecture, smart navigation elements, effective calls to action, and other marketing components should be planned from the beginning.

In this manner, the home page of a website is the most important, since it is likely to be the most popular page on the site and is the first impression visitors will have of the company. It needs to be on-brand and on-purpose. As well, the home page needs to explain who the company is, what it does, and who it serves as its target market.

Web design should begin with the end in mind, and the end for most companies is defined by the success of their business objectives and the efficiency of their online marketing channels. With a little forethought, many marketing channels can be built into the structure of a website, from email subscription signup forms to social media sharing buttons to product pages that are prominently featured throughout the site.

Notes on “Digging Into WordPress,” Chs. 4-6

It’s been a couple of days since I started the Digging Into WordPress notes and takeaways outline, but I’m back with the next three chapters today. While going through the book and picking out my highlighted sections and notes, I find myself skipping over pages and pages worth on information to get the points I put in these posts.

Digging Into WordPress BookHowever, that doesn’t mean that the content in the book isn’t relevant or useful. On the contrary, there is so much code in the book for extending WordPress functionality that it is simply impossible to put it into an outline like this. Seriously, if anything in these posts catches your eye, you should just pick up the book, either a print copy or the digital edition. And if there’s anything related to any of the topics I point out, you can probably bet on there being some code related to it in the book.

The amount of useful code is one of the greatest achievements of the book. Personally, I’ve been able to eliminate at least 3-4 plugins per theme that I’ve worked on since reading Digging Into WordPress, using the code snippets to achieve the same functionality within the theme files themselves. This saves on scripting on pages, server requests, page load times, and keeping plugins updated. For the price of the book and the time taken to change the themes around, I’m already saving time every week that I used to keep plugins updated and compatible.

Chapter 4. Theme Design and Development

Three ways to customize the WordPress loop functionality: query_posts(), WP_Query(), and get_posts().

Use the query_posts() function to modify the type of posts that are returned within a single loop. Place it before the loop.

Use WP_Query() to customize multiple loops and customize the output of each one. You can create any number and kind of loops.

Use get_posts() to create additional loops anywhere in a theme.

You don’t need the $query_string variable when using the WP_Query() function.

WordPress 3.3 and above includes a new function, is_main_query(), by which you can modify the main WP_Query() object.

The get_posts() function requies using an array for parameters, but this is the easiest and safest way to create multiple loops.

Worried about multiple loops? Sound scary? Don’t worry: it’s normal to have multiple loops going on in the same theme.

WordPress includes an RSS parser, making it easy to grab content from other sites to display on your own.

Child Themes are useful and easy to create. Just create a new folder and place a single style.css file with some standard theme language, and refer to the parent theme. Then customize at will!

Using a reset style.css? Should you have a default reset file, or just include the resets in your main style.css file? Including it rather than listing it as a separate file cuts down on server requests.

Use a plugin like CSS Optimizer to reduce the file size of your style.css file. It won’t be readable to you in that state, but will make your pages load faster.

There aren’t many takeaways from this chapter because of the amount of useful code snippets included for doing everything from importing Twitter updates to listing popular posts to enqueing jQuery. This is another chapter that goes much deeper into the mechanics of WordPress than I can get into in a simple list of key takeaways.

Chapter 5. Extending the Functionality of WordPress

Wonder why you get Hello Dolly with every install of WordPress? It was the first plugin ever created for WordPress and will probably be included with it until the end of time.

In many cases, you don’t need a plugin. Instead, you can add some lines of code to your PHP files to increase the functionality of WordPress. But sometimes, a plugin is the easiest way to get it done.

Try to keep the number of plugins to a minimum, however, as it will eliminate extra script processing, improving the speed of your pages.

Before installing a plugin, search online for problems and issues with it. If it’s not well supported or doesn’t function as advertised, you’ll soon find angry hordes complaining about it online.

If you download a bunch of plugins at once, install and activate them sequentially to avoid problems with one or compatibility issues which may break your WordPress experience.

Many plugins will make changes to the tables in your WordPress database. Well-designed plugins will clean up those changes if you later decide to uninstall the plugin.

There are numerous ways to disable plugins.

The functions.php file allows extending WordPress on a theme-by-theme basis with custom functions and scripts. Theme-specific, custom, and smaller script functions should be placed here. Site-wide functions should be done via plugin.

You can put entire plugins into the functions.php file, but it is easiest to do with with plugins that consist of just one file.

Modifying the WordPress core files is definitely not a best practice. Only do it if you have no other options, and make sure you back everything up.

Custom fields are one of the most powerful ways to use WordPress as a Content Management System, including large ecommerce websites.

Since WordPress 2.3, custom taxonomies have been available through the Taxonomy API. The three default taxonomies are category, post_tag, and link_category.

Chapter 6. Working with RSS Feeds

Don’t use relative URLs in your posts, because they can break when included in your RSS field.

Post comments have their own RSS feeds, but many people would rather subscribe to comments via email rather than an RSS reader.

Which type of RSS you feature (RSS 2.0, Atom, and so on) is no longer as important as it used to be, as most readers can now read multiple types of feed.

You’ll have to decide whether to set up your feeds to include the full post or just partial posts. There are arguments on both sides, from the free flow of information and giving customers what they want in the way they want, to avoiding content scrapers and encouraging people to visit your site for the full article.

Consider using FeedBurner for feed deliver for the analytics provided, and the halfway decent support of the system by Google, which acquired FeedBurner in 2007.

As a positive for content-focused websites, Google makes it easy to integrate AdSense with your feeds if you use FeedBurner.

You can easily redirect your feeds to FeedBurner with some code in your htaccess file.

For RSS statistics, FeedBurner is finally get some competition from sites and plugins such as FeedBlitz, RapidFeeds, FeedStats, and Feed Statistics.

WordPress has the capability to create custom feeds that include some categories, exclude others, segment by author, or exclude posts containing certain search terms.

If you’re not using some of the feed formats WordPress supports, you can redirect them to the feed type that you prefer.

Use the Feedstyler plugin to add some basic inline CSS styling to the content your pushing out via feed.

There is some extremely useful code for giving yourself a buffer of 5, 10, or however many minutes you want between a post being published and when it’s sent out via the feed. This gives you time to fix any last-second mistakes you see after hitting the Publish button.

As a last step, validate your feeds. There are multiple online feed validation services where you can enter the URL of your feed.

Chapters 4-6 were another tour de force of WordPress functionality and taking nearly any theme and making it better. Chapter 4 had a ton more code snippets that you can drop directly into your WordPress files and, with a little customization, greatly extend what a default WordPress installation can do, all without the use of messy plugins or paying for web development.

It might be another few days before I get to the next chapters, as I have some SEO content in the pipeline. But check back for more key takeaways from Digging Into WordPress as soon as I get a chance to put them together. Or, you can always subscribe to our RSS feed or Follow Traffic Motion on Facebook.

Notes on “Digging Into WordPress,” Chs. 1-3

This is a book I’ve wanted to provide my notes and key takeaways on for a while now, and am happy to be getting around to it (finally!). With WordPress 3.6 just being released in early August 2013, and the author of this book releasing a new one on WordPress, I might be a little bit behind the times here, but that’s not stopping me.

Digging Into WordPress BookSo without further ado, the book I’m going through on this blog right now is Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr’s Digging Into WordPress. I was first introduced to Chris Coyier through an excellent Lynda.com tutorial on Creating and Editing Custom Themes for WordPress.

That course then directed me to the book, and Jeff Starr was gracious enough to give me a discount on the print and PDF version. The spiral bound print version is now sold out, and both versions are updated to WordPress 3.4, but it looks as though Starr is focusing on his new book The Tao of WordPress. That book is on my to-buy-and-read list, so expect to see something on it in the coming months.

At twelve chapters and nearly 430 pages, I’m going to tackle this one three chapters at a time, for a four-part series of notes. This first installment will be somewhat short, as initial chapters of any book are more basic and introductory in nature. In any case, if you use WordPress to create websites, or just want a better understanding of your WordPress site that you bought from a web design company, you will learn a lot from Digging Into WordPress.

Chapter 1.Welcome to WordPress

WordPress: amazing. No other way to describe it and its evolution thus far.

Remember to keep your version updated, though, to avoid those pre-version 2.8.4 vulnerabilities.

There’s a WordPress.org for self-hosted blogs, and a WordPress.com for running a free yourblog.wordpres.com site with less functionality.

WordPress is made up of the core files, database, back end, and front end. The core files interact with the database to render the website for users.

Chapter 2. Setting Up WordPress

Don’t upload your WP install to your root directory. Instead, upload it to a folder that no one will be able to guess the name of to add extra security, then make a simple change to the index.php file so the site still loads on the root directory.

Pick one format for your permalinks and stick with it for SEO, site structure, and redirect purposes.

Categories and tags have no functional difference, but it’s a best practice to use one category per post and multiple tags.

You can create custom taxonomies to fit the nature of your site and improve navigation. These can be movie genres, actor names, sports leagues, sports teams, or anything that will help you organize your content.

Then, you can create tag clouds with your custom taxonomies!

For additional security, consider keeping the default Admin user that WordPress comes with, but restrict its abilities to Subscriber. That way, even if someone breaks in, they won’t be able to do anything on your back end.

Use some of the recommended plugins for styling, feed optimization, caching, SEO, sitemaps, and other features.

Chapter 3. Anatomy of a WordPress Theme

Only two files are necessary for WP to recognize a theme, index.php and style.css. But themes you run on your site will typically be much more complex.

Lots of information on the WordPress Loop, the single most important concept to understand about how WP functions.

The Loop in Plain English diagram is probably the best explanation of what is actually going on in the WordPress loop.

There are a number of functions available only inside the loop, and some common ones that can be used outside the loop.

You can use a custom field to determine if you want a sidebar on a page or not, rather than creating multiple templates that feature or exclude sidebars.

You can create a second sidebar if needed by creating and calling a sidebar-secondary.php file. Don’t need any sidebars? Just don’t call the sidebar.php file at all!

The default WordPress search function sucks. Use something else. Like Google Custom Search.

Functions in the functions.php file are theme-specific. If you use functions but want them across various themes, use a plugin instead of adding them tot he functions.php file.

Updating WordPress means overwriting the core files. If you’ve manipulated the core files (a rarity), and then upgrade to the latest version of WP, you may lose those changes if you don’t back them up. Don’t learn that lesson the hard way.

That wraps up the first part of this exploration of Digging Into WordPress. There are two things I want to mention in particular, though. First, while none of this is exactly groundbreaking, there are a lot of little tricks I learned from these first few chapters, especially for making a WP install a little more secure.

Second, the book is PACKED with code samples that, in the PDF version, you can simply copy, paste, edit for your own site’s info, and then run with. I can’t even scratch the surface of all the useful code included in the book in a summary. But going through this book has taught me a lot of useful code to reduce my reliance on slow or outdated plugins.

It would be impossible to convey how useful all the code snippets are without giving them away. Just assume that if there is a question about WordPress that you need an answer to, and don’t want to install another plugin, this book probably has ten lines of code that will solve the problem and that you can simply paste into your files and be done with.

Check back in a day or two for more on Digging Into WordPress.

What Content Does Your Site Need? How Should You Present It?

One of the hardest parts of sticking to a content creation schedule is just coming up with enough ideas to write about on a daily or weekly basis. There may be dozens of keywords to target with individual pages, but you also need blog posts to engage readers and increase the internal links and indexing of your site. What is an intrepid business blogger to do?

Website DesignThe problem with this type of thinking is focusing on just text posts. While many of the pages on your site should be pretty heavy with text (otherwise, how will the search engines know what words to rank you for?), blogging can be much more creative. Any idea you have is an opportunity to turn it into an engaging blog entry.

And it doesn’t just have to be stories or educational content. Even with text, though, there are options. You can write the old standby page or post, publish a PDF or Microsoft Word document, or even share PowerPoint slides. Especially if you do a video or are presenting at a conference, it can be very helpful to readers to download the PowerPoint slides that you use as the basis of your discussion.

Images are also becoming almost mandatory in blog posts. Increasingly, images are becoming vehicles for conveying information on their own. You can easily repurpose content that is already on your website in order to create infographic, a medium that is growing in popularity.

Video is another great option when you’ve run out of things to write about. You can record audio for a voiceover and create some slides, then publish the video on your own site and YouTube. Posting on YouTube is also important from a search engine optimization perspective, as Google now shows results from YouTube in their regular search results. Depending on the title, description, tags, and popularity of your videos, you may get significant traffic from them to your main website.

The main decision you have to make is what types of content themes you want to focus on, and then how to present those ideas to your website’s users. For instance, educational content can be presented in almost any fashion, from text to images to PowerPoint slides to a video. Statistical information, on the other hand, may be most easily digested by the general public in infographic form.

There are a huge number of types of content that you can use for your site. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Educational
  • Statistical
  • Technical
  • Procedural
  • Informational
  • News
  • Filling in gaps your competition has missed
  • Case studies and testimonials from customers
  • Case studies and testimonials from professional network

The trick with any of these will be deciding how you should present the content in the most effective manner possible. A case study with an enormous amount of text may be worth turning into a page on your site under a dedicated category, or it may be better conveyed as a video going into greater detail. New products or services can be showcased on the main site, but also featured on the blog for SEO purposes as well as a softer sell.

Defining Your Target Audience for Website Content

This is the follow-up to yesterday’s blog entry on establishing a content creation strategy. In that article, I pointed out that companies need to identify their target audience during the planning stage. However, before you can even define the audience you want to write for, you have to define the goals and objectives for creating content in the first place.

SEO GlobeAfter all, without a good business objective for creating and publishing content, it will be a losing endeavor for the company. Half-hearted blogs usually die as no one ever reads them, or people abandon them after months or years of inconsistent content. And companies are right to give up their content strategies if there are no business goals behind them.

Goals for SEO can be at the keyword, search engine presentation, and website levels, and it is better to have more goals than fewer of them. Part of the goal for search engine optimization should be understanding your customer base: what they are searching for, what problems they have, and what their needs are. A plumber does not need to write consistent content on the Lord of the Rings movies or even the shape of water, but he should write the occasional post or film a video on fixing a leaky pipe.

When establishing search engine and content creation goals, it is important to involve everyone in the company, from the executives to the marketers to the secretaries. Everyone will have a different perspective on what customers are searching for, how to phrase certain problems, and even ideas for content. This is also a great way to hand off some of the writing responsibilities to those who are most engaged and excited about the process.

As an aside, we should talk about establishing content guidelines and editorial procedures for your business. If you are having multiple people write content, people who may have differing opinions of the company, or just different levels of writing ability, then have an editor who is able to approve new pages or posts that appear on your site. This is just good online reputation management.

The final step in defining your goals is to put a process in place for monitoring trends in your industry and staying relevant. This means having some leeway in your content strategy for updating old content, revising previously-published pages as new information becomes available, and improving under-performing pages.

Now we can at last talk about defining the audience you want to focus on. The most important concept to grasp is what tone and style to use to engage with people. Do not be overly technical if your site addresses the general public, and do not be overly general if your audience is going to be academics or professionals in your industry.

The main question here is who do you want visiting your website? The general public or people who are far more versed in your industry jargon? Then, define topics related to the keywords you want to target. You should strive to fill in gaps in the knowledge base around your industry and create pages that address issues that have not yet been discussed. In other words, what’s your angle?

In fact, defining your angle on your industry is one of the best ways to establish credibility and a unique voice. Your approach to writing and publishing content should be different than everyone else out there. Be original and bring something new to the discussion, and people will be willing to engage in conversations with you, either on your own blog or through social media.

In the next article, I’ll go into more detail on the types of content you can create on your blog, as well as different types of themes you can focus on. Check bask soon for that article, you won’t want to miss it!

For New Marketing Clients, Be a Visitor and a Designer

When taking on a new client for internet marketing efforts, what is the first step that you should take? Should you take a look at the anlytics? The AdWords account performance data? Check out the CMS system they use and find areas where you can improve and streamline the site to make the calls to action more clear and recognizable? Although all of these are important steps, they shouldn’t be your first step in analyzing a site’s marketing needs.

website design blog iconThe first step should be visiting the website. Yes, it’s just that simple. Take the time to visit the client’s website, focusing on discovering the purpose of that site.

The main question you are trying to answer on your own, without the company’s involvement, is, “What is the business trying to do with its web presence?” It may be an ecommerce site, a lead generation site, or a content publisher, but what is the primary purpose?

Next, try to discover the main goals of the website. Once you know the primary purpose, you can start looking at ways the business attempts to reach those goals. Do they include calls to action to fill out a form, or follow them on Facebook? Are they promoting a newsletter subscription with a free downloadable white paper? What are the goals?

You can discover a lot of this information just by reading the website, including both the main site’s pages and the company blog, if one exists. Also, while you’re reading the material on the site, use some of the features available. That might include a Site Search, interactive Flash applications, or drag-and-drop games. See how the site functions for visitors, what works and what doesn’t.

This should give you a good idea of the website’s merchandising, service-providing, and ease of use strategies. After just this small amount of time browsing the website, from 10-30 minutes, you should be able to point out the primary purpose of the business, as well as the main goals of the website itself.

With this information, you can identify macro- and micro-conversions that can be measured to determine the success or failure of the website as a whole and individual pages in particular. You should also be able to tell what the company is prioritizing on the website. Is the form on every page, or is there a call to action on every page? Is social media involvement a higher priority on the website, when the company wants to highlight other promotions?

Additionally, visiting the website should help you identify clear problems on the site right away, as well as features that are unique and beneficial for visitors. Write down a list of what’s good and what’s bad on the site before you even take a look at the analytics and conversion data for these features and sections.

Finally, browsing the website will provide you with the fastest manner of determining the site’s use of Titles, URLs, and content, as well as the overall information architecture and the general user experience as visitors enter, browse around, and either convert or leave.

This is the initial step towards analyzing a website and then creating strategies to improve conversions and market to new segments of visitors. All too often, though, marketers spend very little time looking at a new client’s website, and just jump into looking at the data. Spend the time looking at the site as both a potential customer and as a marketer, and you will gain valuable, actionable insights before you even take a look at their current acquisition strategies.

Foundation HTML5 with CSS3 Book Review

Learning more about the emerging web standards of HTML5 and CSS3 should be part of the continuing education of all web designers, and internet marketers. With so many new tools becoming standardized and available across multiple browsers, being familiar with these two related topics can help designers put together sites that are both engaging and that convert visitors into customers.

Foundation HTML5 with CSS3

One of the more recent books on the subject is Foundation HTML5 with CSS3, by Craig Cook and Jason Garber. The book is over 400 pages of extremely detailed information on HTML5 and CSS3, and provides a good introduction to many of the new features that are already available, as well as ones that should be standardized and available for use in the near future.

The book starts out with a simple introduction to the history of the internet, the browser wars, and the standardization of HTML and CSS languages. It also goes into detail on the evolution of HTML over time, and presents some tools for working with web pages through a text editor, web browser, and validation service.

After this introductory material, the book goes straight into defining different aspects of HTML and CSS, and this is where the book truly shines. It greatly simplifies the specifications of the W3C, and provides examples of code. One of the more helpful tools included throughout the book is lists of Required Attributes and Optional Attributes for each type of element.

In this manner, the book can be used as a reference guide for creating code and adding to it to fit the needs of the website. Some of the information may be second nature to web designers of all levels of experience, but other sections of the book present features that have only recently been added to the specifications, and which can greatly enhance the design and load time of a given site.

The book also includes an example site with HTML and CSS code, and follows the development of this hypothetical website throughout. The Power Outfitters site used as a walkthrough is done very well, and newer web design students will find it easy to follow both the code and the results in the course of reading the book.

One of the greatest helps with the book is that the authors take the time to build on code step by step. First, they introduce a concept. Following that, sample code for the example website is provided, starting with the HTML. Then, the element is designed from a very simple styling to more advanced visuals. As new code is added, it is included in bold print to highlight what is going on to create each step.

This is one of the few books on web design that I can find little to complain about. It is current, readable, and effective for giving anyone a solid foundation in HTML5 and CSS3. There are some subjects omitted from the book, such as HTML5 APIs and their use with Javascript, but all of that is more advanced and still on the bleeding edge of the industry, as well as not fully supported yet. Also, it would add another two or three hundred pages to the book, in all likelihood.

While Foundation HTML5 with CSS3 is not the one and only book you would need to completely understand the topics, it is perhaps the best introduction to the already-existing standards and emerging ones. If you could choose only one book to start with, this is one of the best, and one that I can wholeheartedly recommend for both beginner and intermediate web designers.

How to Test the Purpose of Your Pages

What is the purpose of some of the main pages on your website? Obviously, the home page introduces your company and brand to visitors in an overall fashion, but what should your other pages do? Should a Services page try to sell, or just gather information? Should the About page have another purpose besides giving visitors more insight into your company’s history, personnel, and philosophy? Let’s examine some of these issues.

website design blog iconHome Page

Obviously, the home page should introduce your site in a very general manner to all visitors, and give them an idea of what you do, what problems you can solve for them, and where they should go from the home page. In terms of testing this page, try different layouts. A big segmentation page is one idea to try. Let’s take a look at a couple examples of this.

If you’re a foreclosure help company in the real estate industry, you may get visitors who are looking for foreclosure assistance, or people who are attempting to buy and invest in foreclosure properties. You could have a home page that presents the brand, some basic information, and two large sections where visitors can choose whether they need to stop foreclosure or want to buy a house.

For a criminal defense law firm, you may get visitors from people who need legal services, or you may get other attorneys to refer you clients. Obviously, your bread is buttered with people in search of a criminal defense attorney, so you may take up 75% of your home page real estate with information for these types of clients. However, the other 25% may focus on directing attorneys to refer clients to your successful law firm.

Segmentation Pages

We just discussed two examples of segmentation of your home page, but you can also have segmentation pages set up for Pay Per Click ad campaigns. Comparison pages may work great for this, where visitors can compare two products and easily click on each product for more details. All of these types of pages should be used as pathways to more appropriate pages, so it is a good idea to have some relevant navigation on segmentation pages besides just the two main options.

Thank You Page

This type of page usually thanks people for taking some action on your site, whether than be filling out a form or making a purchase. And while thanking customers or prospects is all well and proper, you may want to give them more options to engage with your site. That can include creating an account for easy login next time they visit, some way to join or support the site, a free download, or links back to the rest of your site so they can learn more. Give them something to do while they wait for whatever you’re thanking them for!

Discount Pages

If you are offering a discount or coupon code of some sort, you should integrate this into a Pay Per Click campaign. But remember to mention the discount in the ad, and then send searchers to a page that has the coupon code on the page again. People will not remember a coupon code that they read on an ad, even if it gets them to click on the ad and visit your website. Reinforce the message of the discount ad copy on the landing page.

Pages with Videos

To autoplay or not? In general, it is best not to allow videos on your website to begin automatically playing when someone visits your site. First, they may already have a video or music playing in the background while they search, so the addition of your video playing may cause them to hit the Back button very quickly. Especially with B-to-B marketing, keep the autoplay feature off. One compromise if you want your video to start playing is to have the video autoplay with the audio muted. The moving images will draw attention to themselves.

Pages with Forms

Forms should be easy to navigate, with questions that are relatively easy to answer. You can test different form lengths, and shorter forms will almost always convert better than long forms. Requesting personal information of any sort will reduce conversion rates on forms, as well. Finally, making some field required or optional will reduce or increase conversion rates.

If you are working with a Pay Per Click campaign, you should easily be able to create duplicate pages with slight changes. The same ad copy can be used, with the destination URL going to a long form, with a duplicate ad and page going to a long form. The same goes for any of these types of pages. Test different messages, different purposes, and different layouts for all of your pages.