How do you know that your website is failing your business? In this blog entry we’ll look at 10 indicators or signs that your website is failing your business, the impact that the failures have on things like search results and ways to correct the issues. The issues highlighted in this entry will range from the obscure to the obvious. Don’t be afraid, you’re not alone. Most are the result of sloppy work, lack of experience or some combination of the two. I wish I could say that we’ve never done any of these but sometimes negative experiences are the best teachers.
How do you know that your website is failing your business? In this blog entry we'll look at 5 indicators or signs that your website is failing your business, the impact that the failures have on things like search results and ways to correct the issues. The issues highlighted in this entry will range from the obscure to the seemingly obvious.
Most are the result of sloppy work, lack of experience or some combination of the two. I wish I could say that we've never done any of these but sometimes negative experiences are the best teachers.
This could be painful but sometimes we need a little pain before the healing can begin. Think of me as your doctor.
It makes sense that we would start at the top of the page and work our way down. So, we'll start with the little noticed and often neglected Title Bar. The title bar is the bar that runs along the top of your application window. In the web browser the title bar displays whatever information you provide in the title tag in your HTML.
Additionally, the text in the title bar is often displayed in search result pages (SERPs), making this seemingly insignificant bit of code of utmost importance. Finally, this text is also displayed when a user bookmarks the page.
Are you convinced of the importance of the title bar? You should be.
#1 - Title: Untitled Document
The problem here is that some novices using What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) web development tools neglect to add the title tag and often these programs by default title the page Untitled Document.
How widespread is this problem? There are 20,000,000 results in Google for the search [allintitle: "untitled document"] which is a search for the words "untitled document" in the title.
Google knows that simply displaying "Untitled Text" in the SERP is of no benefit to users so they pull content from the untitled site to make their search results more informative but this doesn't solve the problem for the user that is bookmarking the page or sharing it on Facebook. In the image to the right, you can see how a link to a page without a title is displayed when shared on Facebook.
#2 - Title: Home or some other non-descriptive text
The second error is almost as bad as the first. Instead of using the title bar to provide descriptive text, a single word is used to describe the page. Examples are Home, About, News, Store, Contact… etc. While this may accurately describe the content of the page, you are missing an opportunity to provide more information about your website to search engines and their users.
This is almost as common as the Untitled Document failure above and is slightly less egregious.
Again, not helpful to the user if they share or bookmark the page and even less helpful when found in a SERP. Your title text in search results may be the only opportunity you have to convince a user to visit your site. Make the most of it. Make it compelling and descriptive but know your limits.
According to the W3C: The title should ideally be less than 64 characters in length. That is, many applications will display document titles in window titles, menus, etc where there is only limited room. Whilst there is no limit on the length of a title (as it may be automatically generated from other data), information providers are warned that it may be truncated if long. (W3C.org: The Title Element in HTML)
As you may have noticed, the titles on this site generally exceed the 64 character count limit… sometimes by a lot. Knowing that the titles will be long, often too long to display everything, I add information based on importance.
I use the following structure when titling pages:
- Page Title (what the page is about)
- Content Category (i.e. portfolio, blog, news, etc.)
- Business Name
- Business Location (city, state)
Looking for an easy way to count characters? Check this cut and paste character counter tool.
#3 - Flash Navigation & Layout
This is not going to degenerate into an argument about Flash versus HTML (and standards based design). Hopefully. No promises. There are a number of good arguments as to why your website shouldn't be based on Flash. I'm going to focus on three primary reasons:
Generally speaking, mobile device either don't run flash (see all of the iOS devices that people are using - iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) or those that do, don't run flash well. As mobile browsing increases, and it is increasing, it is becoming more critical that users can easily access your content.
We work primarily with small businesses. With small businesses, any barrier to regular web maintenance is generally a death sentence for the website (from a maintenance standpoint). Flash creates a tremendous barrier in the how a site is maintained. Most of us can't code HTML. Even fewer are flash developers. Heck, most of us have trouble with a layout in Word. So what happens after the website launches and needs maintained? Back to the flash developer to make the necessary changes. From my perspective, as a developer that uses and believes in HTML and CSS, it's much easier to find someone to make updates to HTML than it is to find someone to edit a Flash-based site.
Locally, there was a business that had a flash-based site that they were very proud of. Unfortunately, they ran into the maintenance issue. Apparently, their site launched around Valentine's Day because even in July and August, their Flash-based site was announcing their V-Day special. I never asked the business about it, but I assumed that since their site was Flash-based, they just didn't have the know-how or money to make the change. At least with HTML, they could have gotten their cousin, neighborhood geek or kid down the street to pull the special. As it was, their site just looked out of date. I just popped back over to their site and they've made the change from a Flash-based site to a table-based HTML site. Well, at least their closer.
Unfortunately, the way a site is developed can have a tremendous impact on whether or not a user ever clicks on your page in the SERP.
Search engines have a problem indexing flash based content. Are they getting better about it? Certainly. Is it there yet? Hardly. Not convinced? See this Adobe Flex Journal article: Search Engines Still Can't Index Flash Sites with Dynamic Content. While there are ways to ensure your Flash-based site is able to be indexed, it's generally not easy (or cheap) and combined with the lack of (good) mobile support and difficulty in maintaining the site, I recommend that small businesses avoid Flash-based sites.
#4 - Important Text is in an Image
To the casual web browser or business owner, this may not make any sense. Why would text being in an image be a problem?
As we've seen, most of these failings are failings because of how search engines index and display information. And, to be honest, most of these problems are not necessarily problems for the end-user once they get to your site. Unfortunately, the way a site is developed can have a tremendous impact on whether or not a user ever clicks on your page in the SERP.
Here's a quick test to see if the text on your website is actually text or if it is contained within an image. Try to select the text as you would in Word. Click and drag a paragraph. If, in your attempt to highlight the text, you get the entire block, image enhancements and all, then you're text is likely contained with an image format like a JPG, PNG or GIF. If you are able to selectively highlight single characters, words, sentences or paragraphs, then your content is made up of text that can be indexed by search engines.
Keep in mind that different areas of text on the same page may be actual text that you can highlight while other areas, like a logo or banner may be contained within an image. On this page the text that makes up the Firebrand Media logo and tag-line is an image, while the text in the navigation is actual text that can be highlighted.
The problem is when the designer uses an image for text that is of importance. This is typically done because the designer wants to apply a specific treatment, font or styling to the text in question. Unfortunately, search engines cannot index this text, so if it is important that you be found for the term(s) contained within the image, you need to come up with an alternate way of applying the treatment or styling to the text. Fortunately with real web fonts through services like TypeKit, the ability to apply specific fonts and styles is becoming easier to do.
What's all this talk about indexing? Like the index of a book, search engines send out spiders, or programs, that following links on web pages and collect or index the data that they find. They call this indexing. This index is made up of whatever content they can index - primarily text found in HTML but now also PDFs, DOCs and other rich media formats. But, text within images cannot be indexed and is essentially invisible to search engines.
Curious as to how a search engine spider sees your web page? Try out the Spider Simulator Tool to see how much of your web page can be indexed by a search engine. Want more information on how search engine spiders work? Read this article See Your Site With the Eyes of a Spider from WebConfs.com.
We've dealt with the meta data that makes up the Title bar content, the impact Flash can have on search results, mobile devices and maintenance, and the why important text should not be contained within an image format. Finally, we're going to look at traffic stats or analytics packages and why you should have one installed on your site.
#5 - No Stats or Analytics to Speak Of
Most small business owners are happy to simply have a website and while they may care about how much traffic their site receives, they don't take the next step of asking the web developer to install a stats or analytics package on the site. By the way, a visitor counter (if they still make them) doesn't count as an analytics package.
With all of the free tools that are available, there is no reason why you shouldn't have some sort of stats package installed at the time of launch.
To be truthful, most web servers have some kind of log analyzer - whether it be AWStats or Webalizer - but I'm not really fond of either of those packages and will only ever look at them if I'm looking for an anomaly or discrepancy in my preferred stats package, Google Analytics (GA).
I've used Google Analytics for some time and currently tracking over 50 sites using it.
Here are a few of the reasons that I prefer Google Analytics:
- Depth of reporting. What information are you looking for? It's likely there. How do your visitors find your site? Where are your visitors from (City, State, Country, Continent)? What are they clicking on? All of these and a whole lot more.
- Customized Email Reports. This feature helps me and more importantly my clients stay on top of their web traffic. Email reports allow you to schedule reports and have them sent to users at whatever interval you prefer. This allows the web site owner to get an overview without having to log-in to the GA site regularly. But, if they need in-depth reporting, they can log-in under their own user account and access the statistics for their site.
- Mobile Apps. With such a large user base, mobile apps have sprung up to enhance or optimize the GA viewing experience. I use these tools weekly on either my iPhone or iPad and while not all of the reports or features are available, enough are that I can get a very detailed look at traffic on any of my customers sites.
- Free and Easy. GA is free to use and easy to install so you should never have to pay for your analytics package. If your web developer tries to charge you for simply adding an analytics package, point them to GA or point yourself to a new web developer*. If you are coding your site yourself, it's only a small snippet of code that needs to be added to every page of your site. If you have a CMS, even better, add it to your templates and be done with it. * One thing to note, the size of your site and the way it was developed may require that your web developer add this small bit of code to hundreds of pages. If this is the case, bite the bullet and pay for it.
Without an analytics package of some sort, it's impossible to really know what is (or is not) happening on your site and you are left to guess and wonder. Every time I discuss a redesign of a site that I didn't develop originally, I will ask in the first conversation whether or not the owner has access to stats of some sort. Generally, I find that most do not and so it is impossible to tell what is and is not successful and so we go into the redesign blind and then have to revise once stats start rolling in.
This is the first in a two part series. Part two will be "Five Signs that you are failing your website" and will look at how you as a business owner are failing to make your website all that it can be.
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