Is Your Site Poised for a Search Engine Penalty?

Is Your Site Poised for a Search Engine Penalty?

If you’re a webmaster who’s devoted hours upon hours to building up your site and its presence in the natural search results, there’s almost nothing scarier than the thought of logging into your Google Analytics account and seeing the massive drop in traffic that indicates a search engine penalty.

It doesn’t matter if you’re facing manual action by Google or if your site simply fails to meet the quality threshold imposed by an unexpected algorithm update. What does matter is the potential loss of traffic and revenue your site faces if you don’t take the necessary steps to determine whether or not your website is at risk.

To minimize your site’s chances of being struck with a search engine penalty, pay attention to the following three factors:

Factor #1 – Is your content written for humans or computers?
In the “good ol’ days” of SEO, the search engines relied more heavily on the number of keyword repetitions present in a piece of content than on its quality when it came to determining which site to place at the top of the search results.

As you might expect, website owners and early SEO strategists figured this out pretty quickly – resulting in websites that were cluttered with keyword-stuffed articles, “hidden” text displayed in the same color as the page’s background and paragraphs of “optimized” content buried in website footers.

But while these strategies would have helped your site to achieve top rankings in 1996, the search engines have come a long way since these early days. Their algorithms are now much more sophisticated and they’re constantly being improved, as evidenced by 2011’s Google Panda update, which specifically targeted low-value website content.

So how should you proceed when it comes to content creation these days? Simple – write for both your readers and the search engines.

As a website owner, your primary consideration should be developing content that your readers will find useful, as the search engines’ long-term intention is to reward sites that provide the best possible value for their users (even if their algorithms aren’t yet sensitive enough to achieve this 100% of the time).

At the same time, though, throw the search engines a bone when it comes to determining the subject of your content by including your target keywords at least once or twice in your body content in a natural way. Don’t go overboard (10% keyword density, for example, is a dead giveaway that you’re trying to game the system), but do make the purpose of your content clear to both readers and the search engines.

Factor #2 – Is your site too perfectly optimized?
over optimization penalty

Run a quick Google search for “on-page SEO techniques” and you’ll come up with lists of specific, easily implemented recommendations on how to make your site’s content more search engine friendly.

Now, don’t get me wrong – tips like adding your target keywords to your title tags, optimizing your body content heading tags and creating internal links between your site’s pages are all valid SEO and usability recommendations.

However, it’s totally possible to get carried away with on-page optimization, resulting in a site that’s weirdly uniform in its SEO value. If you’ve completed the exact same optimization steps on all of your pages, you’ve essentially created a digital footprint that tells the search engines, “I’m trying to manipulate your algorithms into ranking my site better.”

There’s no guarantee that doing too much SEO will lead to immediate action taken against your site, but it’s worth noting that Matt Cutts – the head of Google’s Web Spam Team – has been hinting about the possibility of an over-optimization penalty for years. To keep your site safe, focus your efforts on creating highly-valuable content – not on meeting some arbitrarily defined SEO standards.

Factor #3 – How “natural” is your backlink profile?
Finally, one major area that the search engines have been cracking down on recently is link spam – that is, low value backlinks created for the explicit purpose of improving natural search performance.

Google’s Penguin update of 2012 was one of the first major indications that the search giant intended to penalize sites using manipulative link schemes. Since the update’s initial rollout, a number of further Penguin modifications have been released, indicating that the elimination of any benefit generated via link spam is likely to remain a priority for the engines in the near future.

As such, it’s important that you take a look at the quality of the sites pointing links back at your own pages. Start by gathering a list of your existing backlinks using the information provided by Google’s Webmaster Tools program or a third-party system. Analyze your links, paying particular attention to any created on low quality sites for the specific purpose of building SEO value.

If you encounter bad backlinks in your profile, you can either attempt to remove them (using the Google Disavow Links tool if your efforts aren’t successful) or you can try to outweigh their influence by building quality links using more natural methods. Whichever option you choose, make the regular monitoring of your site’s backlink profile a part of your regular SEO routine in order to avoid search engine penalties that could threaten the stability of your web-based business.

Measuring the ROI of Your Social Media Campaigns

Measuring the ROI of Your Social Media Campaigns

Social media marketing can be a great tool for promoting your brand and engaging directly with customers and potential buyers. But at the end of the day, you should be getting more from your marketing efforts than simply being a part of “the conversation.” If you want your actions on popular social platforms to translate into increased sales and profits, you need to learn how to measure the ROI of your social media campaigns.

So, without further ado, here’s a simple process that any business can implement, using the free Google Analytics program:

Step #1 – Set your social media campaign goals
The first step to measuring ROI in any situation is to determine the specific goals you’ll be tracking. In this case, let’s assume that your goal is to use social media marketing to drive additional buyers to your website. As a result, a sample goal might be to have 5% of the visitors your business receives from social media sites convert into paid product purchasers.

Now that you know what goal you’re measuring – in this case, sales – you’ll need to set up goal tracking within Google Analytics.

Begin by logging into the admin area of your account and clicking on the profile of the site for which you’ll be creating goals. From there, select the “Goals” tab and click the “+ Goal” link in one of your goal sets. This will pull up a screen that allows you to select between the four different types of goals that can be tracked within Google Analytics:

social media roi 1

If your website’s sales funnel results in visitors landing on a defined “thank you” page (for example, “http://www.yourdomain.com/thankyou.html”), select the “URL Destination” goal option and fill out the additional fields that this action triggers. If you use a more complicated ecommerce system, select the “Event” goal type and use the instructions found in Google Help’s “Conversion Overview” documentation to accurately set up your goals.

Step #2 – Measure goal conversions from social media traffic
Once your goal is set up and activated, it will immediately start generating data on the number of sales occurring on your website. However, setting up a conversion goal alone isn’t enough to provide meaningful information regarding the ROI of your social media campaigns, as this reporting feature will detail sales that occur from all sources – not just your social visitors.

To filter out the goal conversions that have occurred from social visitors from those triggered by other referral sources, you’ll need to set up an Advanced Traffic Segment within your Google Analytics account.

To do this, navigate to the “Traffic Sources Overview” screen within your reporting dashboard. Immediately under the page’s main header, you’ll see a button labeled “Advanced Segments.” Click this, and then click the “+ New Custom Segment” button that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the segmentation menu.

From the new screen that appears, add “OR” statements utilizing the “Source” metric to specify visitors that come from particular social media sources. As an example below, the custom segment “Facebook Traffic” captures all site visitors that arrive via both desktop and mobile Facebook platforms:

social media roi 2

Create a custom segment for every social media website your site receives traffic from, being sure to include desktop and mobile domains, as well as any platform-specific URL shortening services (for example, “t.co” from Twitter). Don’t group all social domains into one “Social Media Traffic” custom segment, as this will diminish the value of the data you generate.

Step #3 – Adjust your social media marketing strategy based on data
Once your custom social segments have been created, return to the “Goals Overview” reporting dashboard within the “Conversions” menu and apply the custom filters you’ve created to your data by clicking on the “Advanced Segments” button. This will allow you to determine how many of your website’s conversions your social media visitors are responsible for.

Finally, to fully capture your social media marketing ROI, compare the number of sales your social efforts have generated to the amount of time and money you’ve invested into these campaigns. Measure your ROI on a platform-specific basis, as it’s not uncommon for a site to see a positive ROI from one social site and a negative ROI from another.

Use this information to adjust your social media marketing strategy. If you’re seeing a negative ROI across all the social properties you’ve invested in, you need to either improve your social media marketing techniques or cut back on the amount of resources you commit to this promotional strategy.

But even if you’re seeing a positive ROI, use the platform-specific information you’ve generated to drill down further into your social media marketing strategies to see what’s working and what isn’t. By consistently evaluating the performance of your social media activities and adjusting your strategies accordingly, you’ll see an improvement in both your social network engagement levels and in your company’s bottom line.

Website Usability Testing 101

Website Usability Testing 101

Sure, your website may be beautiful, but is it doing its job when it comes to converting first time visitors into lifelong readers? If you aren’t sure whether or not your website is performing as well as it could, measure it against all of the following usability metrics:

Step #1 – Accessibility
As you might expect, a great place to start your website usability testing is to determine whether or not visitors are able to access your site in the first place! Ask yourself the following questions to minimize any such issues:

Does your website display correctly in multiple browsers?

What looks good in Chrome might not work in IE – and what looks good on your desktop might render horribly in a mobile environment. Check your website in multiple browsers at once using cross-browser compatibility testing tools like BrowserShots.

Are your load times reasonable?

Slow load times frustrate both users and the search engines alike. Make sure your site speed is up-to-par (or get recommendations on how to improve load times if necessary) by using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Can the search engines index your content?

Plenty of different website elements can interfere with search engine indexing, which can prevent your site from receiving all of the natural search engine traffic it should. Run your website through the WebConf’s Search Engine Spider Simulator. If you don’t see your content appear as text, something in your site’s code is preventing proper indexing and must be resolved.

Step #2 – Branding Identity
Of course, website usability isn’t all about your site’s functionality. Another key component of your website’s operation is its ability to distinguish itself from other sites in order to retain readers. Here’s what you need to know:

Does your website pass the “5 second test”?

Using tools like FiveSecondTest, determine whether or not your company’s most important website elements are appropriately highlighted through your site’s design. If not, make changes and run future tests until visitors hit upon your most important content right off the bat.

Do your visual aesthetics distinguish your brand?

The importance of a site’s visual qualities can’t be understated. Use the principles of color psychology and the process of split testing to ensure that the visual aesthetics of your website don’t conflict with your brand’s identity or positioning. website navigation

Step #3 – Navigation
While it’s important to address any deficiencies in your site’s structure, it’s just as critical that users be able to find the information they’re looking for upon arriving on your website. Check your navigation before it wrecks your site’s usability.

Is your main navigation easily identifiable?

When it comes to navigation, don’t make your visitors guess! Ask friends, family members and other contacts whether or not they can immediately identify the main navigation elements of your site. If they can’t, your website visitors can’t either – meaning that a redesign is in order.

Are your links styled clearly and consistently?

Beyond your main navigation bars, internal and external links help your readers to move through your site and find the content they’re looking for. Make it clear how they should proceed by styling your links using a consistent set of colors and fonts.

Can visitors quickly identify important pages on your site?

Website visitors have notoriously short attention spans. If they can’t find what they’re looking for on your site in just a few moments, they’ll hit the “Back” button and head to your competitors’ websites. Minimize this by making key pages and key pieces of content immediately apparent through your site’s design.

Step #4 – Content
Once you’ve helped your visitors to move through your content, make it as easy as possible for them to digest the information they’ve found by optimizing your page text from a usability standpoint:
Is your content easily digestible?

Large blocks of text fail when it comes to usability. Instead, break up your content through the use of headings, sub-headings, bullet point lists, numbered lists and bolded text.

Are your critical pieces of information placed above the fold?

Don’t hide important information below the fold (that is, below the point at which a user must scroll his browser window to read more). Doing so frustrates users, leading to unnecessarily high bounce rates and low on-site engagement.

Does your page content utilize on-site SEO best practices?

Although SEO often gets a bad rap as being “scammy,” it can be used appropriately to benefit both users and the search engines. Make use of meta tags, keyword placements and internal links in accordance with current on-site SEO best practices for best results.

Though the thought of measuring all of these different website elements might seem overwhelming, don’t let this prevent you from taking action to improve your site’s usability. Addressing individual elements as your schedule permits will allow you to create a culture of continuous improvement that results in better website performance over time.

23 Reasons Your Website Sucks

23 Reasons Your Website Sucks

Not to be harsh, but the reality is that plenty of businesses out there are running websites that do a serious disservice to their brand images. Whether it’s because their designs haven’t been updated in the past decade or that their sites don’t render properly in a mobile environment, it’s important to be aware of the pitfalls that affect both beginning and more experienced website owners.

Let’s get right to it: here are 23 reasons your website sucks – along with recommendations on how to fix the specific issues that are currently plaguing your site:

Your Website’s Design
1. Your site’s design is outdated – It isn’t 1996 anymore! If your site is packed full of frames, beveled-edge tables and animated gifs, it’s time for a redesign. Given the number of website templates and website building programs that are available today, this redesign doesn’t have to break your budget!

2. Your design elements are distracting – Your website’s design should complement its content, not overpower it. If you’re concerned that your message might not be getting through, ask test subjects to take the “5 second test” to determine whether or not your design elements are too distracting.

3. Important information is buried beneath the fold – The average new visitor only spends a few seconds deciding whether to stay on your site or to browse elsewhere. If your site’s most important information is buried beneath the fold, there’s a good chance it’s being missed.

4. You’ve used too many ads – When used tastefully, ads can generate extra revenue streams that support your web business. But when they’re abused, they become a visual assault that turns off visitors and prevents them from engaging further with your website.

5. Your site lacks white space – Adequate white space provides the visual relief needed to make website text readable. If you’ve crammed too many elements into a single page – whether it’s too much text or too many design elements – the absence of white space frustrates users and causes them to click away before they can engage with your business.

6. Your text is difficult to read – Using fonts that are smaller than 12pt or that are printed against a background color without sufficient contrast (as in the case of black text on a red background) is an easy way to annoy your visitors by making your site’s information harder to consume than truly necessary.

flash intros

7. You still use a Flash intro – Yes, I know your Flash intro looks “fancy,” but the reality is that these splash pages annoy users and complicate site access on mobile devices that don’t support the animation program. Get with the times, and get rid of this unnecessary website feature!

8. Your color choices don’t support your site’s goals – Different colors evoke very different emotions in website visitors, which is why it’s important to utilize the principles of color science in your website’s design. As an example, your personal finance website shouldn’t be built using reds and purples – instead, for best results; it should feature the color green, which is mentally associated with both wealth and money.

9. Your site auto-plays audio or video clips – Nothing pisses off website visitors quite like audio or video clips that start playing unexpectedly. While clips without auto-play run the risk of not being viewed, sites that use automated multimedia stand a much greater chance of having visitors click away before engaging in their content.

10. You have no clear calls-to-action – If you want your website visitors to do something (for example, buy your products or sign up for your email newsletter), you’ve got to tell them to do it! Adding calls-to-action to support your site’s primary goals is an important part of running a profitable website.

11. Your design elements prohibit proper search engine indexing – In order to get your website listed in the natural search results, it needs to be accessible to the search engines’ indexing programs (or “spiders”). Because plenty of different coded elements can prevent this from occurring, it’s a good idea to check your website against the Search Engine Spider Simulator. If your site’s content doesn’t appear, analyze your code to determine what’s preventing the search engines from properly accessing your website.

12. Your site isn’t cross-browser compatible – Don’t just build your website in one browser and assume it’ll work well in all the others. Instead, check your site using a tool like Browser Shots to ensure that all viewers see the same thing.

Your Site’s User Experience
bad user experience

13. Your site’s content isn’t well-organized – Finding information on your site shouldn’t be some sort of “Where’s Waldo” scavenger hunt. Spend some time making sure that your page organization is intuitive and well-thought out so that your users don’t have to spend time bouncing from page to page looking for the information they want.

14. Your website is slow to load – Simply put, long load times irritate users. There are a number of different things you can do to speed up your site, but if you don’t take the time to implement these techniques, chances are you’ll continue to lose visitors over your modem-like load times.

15. Your site contains too many broken links – Broken links aren’t just a disadvantage from an SEO standpoint – they’re also hugely frustrating for users who rely on your site’s internal links to find the content they want. Depending on the platform your site is built on, there are plenty of different broken link checking tools available; give one a try today and clean up any broken links you find.

16. Your content contains grammatical errors and misspellings – Nothing says, “I’m a trusted authority figure in my industry,” like a website that’s chock-full of errors… If you aren’t able to effectively proofread your own content, ask a trusted friend or family member to give your text a once-over in order to uncover any damaging mistakes.

17. Your content brings nothing new to the table – Ideally, if you’ve built a website, it’s because you have something new to offer the world – whether that’s a new product or a new idea to share. If you’re only regurgitating what you’ve seen on other sites, there’s no reason for visitors to come back time and again in order to engage with your brand.

18. Your site hasn’t been updated in months – Website visitors don’t trust sites that haven’t been updated in months. So if your sales or traffic are sluggish, it might be time for a new blog post, news update or other new article.

19. Your navigation is confusing to visitors – Your site’s navigation bar should help visitors to more easily find the information they’re looking for – not send them on a wild goose chase of disorganization. To figure out whether or not your site’s navigation is effectively helping visitors to peruse your content, ask a friend to try to find a specific piece of information on your website. If it takes more than a minute or two of searching, you’ve got navigation problems that need to be resolved.

confusing navigation

20. You haven’t installed social sharing tools – Having visitors share your articles on social media websites is a great way to promote your brand and drum up new visitors. However, readers aren’t usually willing to go out of their way to do this, so make the process as easy as possible by installing social sharing tools that appear alongside your individual articles.

21. Your site isn’t mobile-ready – Mobile web usage is booming, and if your website doesn’t display properly on these devices, you’re needlessly frustrating visitors and likely losing business as a result. Thanks to tools like GoMobi, creating a mobile-ready website has never been easier. Talk to your web developer about the various tools that can be installed to make your site more device-friendly.

22. You aren’t enrolled in Google’s Webmaster Tools program – The Google Webmaster Tools program offers a wealth of information to participating site owners, including the ability to receive messages directly from Google should your site violate the engine’s Terms of Service. It’s free to enroll in Webmaster Tools, so get signed up today!

23. Your site’s platform and plugins are out-of-date – Platforms and plugins that are out-of-date not only represent potential user experience issues, they can bring about major security risks as well. Do both your site’s performance and your users a favor by periodically checking to be sure any scripts you have installed are up-to-date.

If this list sounds overwhelming, don’t panic. Many of these issues can be solved with a single change – as in the case of upgrading your outdated design to a responsive website template whose colors better suit your brand and enable easy mobile access.

But whether or not your site’s issues are the “easy to fix” kind or something a little more complicated, it’s important that you regularly address all of these concerns and make updates as needed. The process may be time-consuming, but it’s a vital part of maintaining your brand’s authority and your site’s overall performance.

Top 10 Reasons to Power Your Website with WordPress

Top 10 Reasons to Power Your Website with WordPress

These days, building a website doesn’t require that you spend hours poring over the raw HTML code that’ll ultimately form your website (thank goodness!). Instead, bloggers, business owners, and marketing pros alike can take advantage of a whole host of tools designed to make website creation and management as easy as possible, from website builder tools to intuitive content management systems like WordPress. Although WordPress was once a simple blogging platform, it has very much become a one-stop shop for building virtually all types of websites.  In fact, WordPress is so popular that over 25% of all websites on the web use it. To see how exactly this system can benefit your business, check out all of the following reasons to power your website with WordPress.

Reason #1 – WordPress sites are easy to build

Hostaculous provides a “one-click” installation of WordPress via QuickInstall, which takes roughly one minute to complete. Yes, just one minute. From there, everything from adding content to customizing the look and feel of your site can be done by even the greenest of website owners – making WordPress a good solution for beginning and advanced site owners to manage.

Reason #2 – WordPress sites are easy to manage

One common complaint from companies whose sites are built on dated platforms or raw HTML code is how difficult it can be to make even minor changes to their sites.  In the worst cases, changing a single website sentence represents an undertaking that requires expensive service calls to marketing agencies and/or independent web developers. WordPress, on the other hand, can be easily managed and updated.  Because the program has its roots in the blogging industry, WordPress posts and pages can be modified using an intuitive interface that even non-technical staff members can navigate easily (though more technical modifications can be made to the site and theme code if desired).

Reason #3 – The WordPress platform is built for SEO

It’s widely known that optimizing your site for discovery and indexing by the search engines is a top priority for business owners. While standard HTML sites require extensive modifications in order to highlight the information search engine robots want to see, WordPress comes pre-built with many of these same features. In addition, those who want to go beyond the default WordPress SEO offerings will find a number of valuable plugins that serve to maximize natural search exposure.  These comprehensive SEO packages take your site’s SEO to the next level with the inclusion of features that would otherwise require significant effort to code into standard HTML sites.

Reason #4 – WordPress sites allow you to manage different levels of user access

If several different people within your organization will be updating your website, there’s no need to worry about granting access to your full site to all contributors within WordPress.  This popular CMS program comes with five built-in user roles – administrator, editor, author, contributor and subscriber – that enable you to dole out access rights according to different security levels, minimizing the risk to your main site.

Reason #5 – The tremendous number of WordPress themes available

One of the beautiful things about CMS systems in general is that your content is stored separately from your site’s design.  Tired of your site’s current look, but don’t want to pay a developer thousands of dollars to come up with something new?  Simply swap out your existing theme with a new one! In this area in particular, WordPress shines.  Because of the platform’s open source nature, thousands of different developers have created a huge range of WordPress design themes – including everything from simple-yet-effective site templates to more complex web destination designs.  Best of all, the fees associated with WordPress themes are quite modest, making design changes accessible to just about everyone running a site using this platform. Forget about hiring a full-time design agency or consultant – you can rebrand your website in a matter of hours.

Reason #6 – WordPress is highly extensible

In addition to the number of WordPress themes that are available, WordPress plugins – small code snippets that add extra functionality to your site’s operation – are widely created and distributed as well.  Using plugins, you can take your site from simple blog to fully-fledged e-commerce provider with just a few mouse clicks (and for a much more reasonable fee than crafting your own custom shopping cart). Of course, it’s worth noting that using too many of these plugins can bog down your site’s operation.  Before installing any plugin, ask yourself whether you really need the feature you’re about to add, as well as whether or not the same feature could be coded into your site’s theme in order to keep your load times low.

Reason #7 – WordPress makes mobile optimization easy

Mobile browsing is huge, with mobile internet usage increasingly outpacing desktop internet access.  Long story short – if your website isn’t mobile-optimized, you stand to lose a serious percentage of your traffic to competitors who have taken this necessary step. Unfortunately, creating a mobile website version for standard HTML sites can be both complicated and expensive.  WordPress, on the other hand, makes the process easy through the deployment of responsive site themes (which automatically adjust display parameters to suit digital devices) and plugins like WP Touch, which create mobile website versions on the fly.

Reason #8 – Widespread WordPress support is available

Have a question about your WordPress site?  Never fear – the internet is here! From WordPress user forums to developers who work exclusively with this platform, there are tons of different resources out there that can give you the support you need to both get your site up-and-running and to keep it performing at peak efficiency over time. HostGator customers can reach our support agents 24/7 every day of the year.

Reason #9 – WordPress site updates can be easily automated

Running a company blog can be a great way to connect with consumers, but finding the time to write and upload new posts can be challenging, given the packed-full days and overstuffed “to do” lists that many of us maintain. For this reason, one of the WordPress features that users love most is the ability to schedule website updates in the future and then have them go live at specified times.  This feature alone can be a life-saver, allowing busy entrepreneurs to sit down, write out a few posts at once and then have them deploy at given times over the next weeks or months.

Reason #10 – It’s free!

While you might wind up paying a small fee for professional themes or plugins (or a much larger fee, should you hire out for a custom WordPress theme), the basic WordPress installation is free to use – making this specific site design platform a great option for business owners who are just beginning the process of creating their companies’ online presence. Of course, WordPress isn’t right for everyone.  The system does have its limitations, and there are certain situations that require more advanced developments that WordPress can provide (as in the case of major e-commerce outlets and some online training courses). However, for a large number of people, WordPress represents a quick and easy way to get a professional website created and uploaded with the smallest amount of hassle possible.  If the benefits described above appeal to you and your unique situation, go ahead and give this innovative and highly accessible platform a try!

Five Steps To Building Your Dream Website

Five Steps To Building Your Dream Website

There once was a time when only the IT elite had their own websites. Now? Mittens the cat has a webpage with 70,000 unique viewers per month. This is not, however, without good reason.

Websites afford the opportunity to make your name, your product, and your words as accessible as humanly possible. Combined with the powerful Internet search indexes that fuel Google and Yahoo, potential customers are now just a quick search query away from discovering your quality wares. But the process is not as simple as choosing the right font and page background. A number of factors contribute to making your website the best it can possibly be.

1. Know Your Budget

Building a website begins, and ends, with the least fun step: budgeting. Web hosting, premium features, and additional bandwidth can come sometimes at a premium, so knowing what you are willing to spend to make your website great is the first step. Consider what you can reasonably spend on a website, what you need, and, just as importantly, what you do not need. Building a great website is not about the biggest and best, but what is most appropriate for your company.

As obvious as it may sound, it bares articulating that larger websites with more ambitious goals require a much greater budget. Facebook, for example, spends more than the annual revenue of most companies on server capacity to keep its service running at full speed. More modest sites, however, may only need a $10/month subscription fee for storage of product images and the necessary dues for server load from incoming viewers.

2. Make Your Wish List

One could argue that this is the first step in the process. When building your website, it’s important to determine what you want to include on your website, and how you want it to function. Are you a small business? Perhaps contact information and inquiry forms are enough. Selling a wide selection of products on your site? An organized tree of product pages, up-to-date pictures, and pricing information will be your priority.

Know your market and tailor your wish list to their needs. Your website should do no more, nor any less than what the customer needs to quickly and painlessly find the information they seek and complete the transaction with your business. Avoid popular traps like social media feeds and cluttered backgrounds. Features like this may seem cool in the lab, but deploying them in the real world for online visitors with short attention spans and a penchant for distraction can prove detrimental.

 

3. Design Your Website

This step may only occupy one slot on this list, but the process is important enough to merit three. Good web design is essential to a painless user experience and there exists copious information to guide you in your efforts. Hack Design, for example, possesses expert-curated articles about design on all sorts of topics that can help make the experience a little less daunting. Another method is to take note of attractive websites and mirror their good practices.

Based on your response to step 1, professional web design may be worth the money. The fact is that good design has demonstrable potential in improving your bottom line. Good design practices affect not only the shopping experience, but also the mood of visitors. Since the steep price premium of good design is not accessible to all businesses, consider your priorities and your budget and evaluate whether or not professional web design is a viable and useful option for you.

Do not step away from the web design canvas without considering how your website appears in search engine indexes. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a realm of study with volumes of research to its name but knowing a few basics can make a big difference. Focus on keywords that best describe your business and brand and consider gleaning further insight once the site goes live from services like Google Analytics.

 

4. Choose a Great Domain Name

As our knowledge of how the characteristics of web pages affect consumers changes, so too do our practices. It once was thought that a domain name was simply a sign; that “Bob’s Towing” would suffice. However, it is now understood that a web domain performs multiple tasks when viewed by online visitors, including setting expectations, improving accessibility, and building a brand.

It is important to keep in mind that most good domain names are, for better-or-worse, owned. As a result, domain name companies are making a mint from charging a premium for good domain names. Despite this, purchasing a well-crafted and impactful domain name is worth the money. Your domain is your storefront on search engines and, just like a physical storefront, a fresh coat of paint will pay for itself many times over.

 

5. Keep it Updated

Once the site of your dreams is set up, plan on performing routine maintenance to keep it “the site of your dreams”. Consider any time you’ve shopped at a site with outdated information, pricing, or item descriptions. Were you happy? What did this do for your trust in the organization? Did you complete your transaction and, if you did, did you come back to the cobweb riddled vendor?

Consumer trust is greatly influenced by the integrity of your new digital storefront. Run a regular spot-check and update/delete old information. Check pricing and keep it updated, removing old products that are no longer offered. Keep contact information current to avoid any lost emails or missed connections, and occasionally update your website. Brand image must be reflected by your website and no one wants to shop at an establishment where the storekeeper has left the shelves un-dusted.

Congratulations! You’ve officially built your dream website, minus the work to get there. Creating your digital hub is all about evaluating your needs and designing its functionality around those needs. Be prepared to invest both time and money in the project and when it’s finished, step back and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.