Website Optimization Advice
By Matthew Edgar · Last Updated: June 01, 2021
Optimization Requires Playing the Long Game
In today’s immediate gratification world, businesses often look for a quick answer to get more leads, sales, and rankings. Many companies out there are willing to play into this impatience by selling you a solution guaranteed to place you at the top of the rankings while promising to drive new leads your way.
We all know that what sounds too good to be true often is, but it is still tempting to fall into this trap. The reality though is that when it comes to SEO or CRO, there are no quick answers or guaranteed solutions. And those schemes to drive immediate conversions and rankings rarely, if ever, work at least not long-term.
Real success, as measured by quality traffic or conversions, happens when you play the long game of optimization. Optimizing is about slowly making progress as you try something new, collect data from how it performed, review the data, and learn from the results. Then repeat this process indefinitely.
With this approach, slowly and steadily you will collect enough data to learn the best ways you can reach potential customers, the best ways to earn higher rankings, and the best ways to convince visitors to convert. Slowly and steadily, you will find ways to ensure your marketing, sales, products, services, customer service, and every other aspect of your company better suits the needs of your customers.
Optimize Don’t Overhaul
One of the reasons people don’t want to play the long game is that there is a bias toward overhauling instead of optimization, especially at larger organizations. It is easier to get funding for a large redesign project because the end result is much easier to describe—”we’re going to change the way our website looks, add X functionality and fancy new features.” It is also much easier to plan out this project—we’ll have the redesign completed in 3 months and we need these people to help us complete the project.
In contrast, optimization is much harder to describe—”over the next several months, we’re going to try many different things and see what we can learn.” Inevitably the questions you will get are – ”what will you change? What will you learn? What will this do to leads and sales?” Few executives like hearing that you’ll answer those questions as you go. As well, optimization can be harder to plan—how many people are needed and how much budget will we need? What will the immediate impacts be?
What is often misunderstood is that overhauling is considerably riskier than optimization. With a redesign, you are changing everything, all at once. The look of the site will change on every device for every user. Everything will be laid out differently, the navigation and text might even change too. With a redesign, you are betting the company that the redesign will work better. It might, but that redesign could also fail and cause rankings and conversions to drop.
The less risky path is optimization. Optimization can certainly lead to failures—some of those small changes you are making may not work out. However, these are smaller changes so the failure is limited to a particular group of test pages instead of across the entire website. Because the changes are smaller and more limited, you won’t be putting the whole company at risk if something goes wrong. Plus, you can correct any failures more quickly; correcting one small change simply requires making another small change.
Take it One Page at a Time
Another reason many companies avoid optimization is that it seems too involved. How is anybody supposed to find time to make many small changes and continually review the data? In response, at Elementive we propose you focus on optimizing one page at a time and slowly work your way through your website. For some people, this works out to reviewing a page per day. For others, a page every week or every month. Regardless of the frequency, the point is to take a slow, reasonable pace that allows you to update everything on your website without feeling pressured to update it all at once.
How do you know which pages to start with though? Begin by pulling a full list of every page contained on your website. Next, bring in data about each of those pages—pageviews, conversions, conversion rate, average ranking position, total organic impressions, and other data points that might seem relevant. Finally, review the data points and decide what order makes sense. For some, it is easy enough to sort by traffic and work on the higher traffic pages first. For others, they prefer to sort by conversions and work on optimizing pages that drive the most conversions.
Once you have your list of pages, take one page at a time and carefully review that page. Read over the content as if you were a customer (or better yet, have a customer read the page and ask them the following questions):
- Does this page make sense—should any of the text be cleaned up to make it easier to understand?
- What content is inaccurate, outdated, or duplicated?
- Could title tags be written?
- Are there design changes that could be made to this page—big or small?
- Could sub-headers be added or adjusted? What internal links could be added? Do any internal links point to broken pages and need to be fixed?
- Are there different words or phrases that could be included on the page?
- What could I do to speed up the page?
There are more questions to ask but I think you get the idea. As you review and ask these questions, you’ll begin to see what changes to make. You don’t need to change everything, just pick a few changes to make before moving on to the next page.
Focus on Subtraction, Not Addition
As you decide what changes to make, it is easy to think about all the stuff you could add: What new buttons could help people click? What new features could get people to engage? How can I add more to this text? Can I add schema to help my SEO? And on it goes. There are so many good ideas of things you could add. Those additions can, in many cases, improve your website’s performance and are well worth trying.
As an alternative, what could you remove? The more stuff you have crammed into your design and text, the greater your chances that all that stuff will confuse visitors, preventing them from converting. All of these extra features will slow down search robots or cause robots to perceive the site as low quality, resulting in your website ranking lower (or not at all).
Simpler, barrier-free websites often have better conversion rates and higher rankings in search results. So, before adding something new, decide what you can remove. Where do you have too much text or too many images? Where do have features that get in people’s way of using your website and converting during a visit? What functionality prevent search robots from being able to successfully crawl or evaluate your website?
Another perceived downside to optimization is that you will, inevitably, leave some problems in place. After all, the focus is on smaller changes and that means not changing everything at once. To optimize successfully, you have to accept that you can’t change everything right away. This isn’t a one-time overhaul but instead is the long game. With dedication and routine work optimizing your website’s pages, you will eventually tackle all the problems that exist.
Of course, imperfections also present an opportunity. One client’s conversion rate increased significantly on the landing pages containing a typo in the header (suggesting either their users can’t spell or nobody cared about the header anyway) while another client found that a broken link on their home page caused no issues at all since there weren’t any clicks on those links (suggesting these links could be pulled from the navigation).
Speaking of imperfection, don’t worry too much about your website’s design. There are ugly websites that haven’t been updated in years that deliver amazing experiences. That’s because they deeply understand their users and give their users what they want in a way they want it. Although the design hasn’t changed, the content and product offering has, resulting in a website people like to visit (and search engines like to rank). There are also beautiful websites that deliver a terrible experience–the interface is easy enough to use, but it doesn’t help people do anything they’d actually like to do.
Remember, Data Informs But Doesn’t Drive Website Optimization
A key to effective optimization is using data to help you decide what changes to make. Of course, too often, we look to data to “drive our decisions” and tell us what we should do. Data shouldn’t drive, though, because when data does drive, it can send you down weird paths about what changes to make that don’t align with your organization’s goals. Instead, data should be the navigator, helping inform decisions while we stay in the driver seat. Data’s job is to give you ideas about what your customers or users would like, your job is to interpret this data alongside your intuition and expertise to determine what changes you ought to test to achieve those higher conversion rates and rankings.
Part of why this happens is we are too quick to look at the data to help us decide what our goal ought to be. People will say, something like “My goal is to rank all my pages number one” or, “My goal is to lower my bounce rate” or “I want people to spend more time on the site”. With that in mind, people make the metric their focus. Except, those are just data points.
Before looking at the data, review your goals and expectations. Then look at the data to see which numbers will most help you get there. Instead of worrying about the bounce rate or the time on the site, you want deeper engagement. People can engage deeply with some types of content despite the bounce rate being high or the time on site being low (for example, sites where people need to look at one page before calling). Sometimes ranking number one in search results doesn’t drive as much traffic as ranking two or three (because of search features or ads, position one is crowded out).
Keep an Eye on User Feedback and Data Too
The data we need to review to decide how well are optimizations are working isn’t just quantitative stats, but qualitative data too. After all, you can’t convince people to get things they don’t want to get, at least not in any meaningful or sustainable way. The only way you’ll know what people want is by talking to your customers or potential customers on a regular basis. By listening to their concerns and needs, you’ll get an idea of what changes to make to your website.
As well, talking to customers regularly will help you get an idea of what words to use within your content. You want to speak the customer’s language, describing your products and services the way they describe your products and services. You might even find new types of content to add based on the questions they asked. Or, alternatively, you might find what content to remove based on the feedback you receive too.
Another benefit is that this is a great way to research new SEO keywords to use on your website. After all, the words people type into Google about a product reflect the words they use to describe that product. By talking with your customers, and adjusting your content accordingly, you will typically better align your website with the way people are searching on Google. This approach can lead to more traffic from organic search.
Optimize Your Own Way
“One size fits all” solutions never seem to live up to the hype. While they sound promising, they force you to follow a pre-defined plan and shape your website to fit. Optimization is about doing the opposite; optimization is about finding the “one size that fits only you” solution.
By routinely and regularly optimizing your website, you have an opportunity to find the right way to improve each specific page that will work for your business and your customers. Your business and your website are unique—use the data to learn what makes them unique and use changes to test how best to showcase this uniqueness. The reasons customers choose to work with you are distinct—use the process of optimization to learn what those distinct reasons are and how you can best speak to those reasons on your website.
Sure, through optimizing, you may end up with similar tactics or similar types of content as your competitors. But the reasons why you selected those tactics and types of content differ, as will your specific implementation. That is the point. Those differences that you identify through routine and regular optimization are what lead to higher conversions, traffic, and rankings.