Clicking through basic elements of a website
The basics of a good website have changed over the years.
When the Internet was an infant, it was enough to have basic text organized in some logical fashion. Then it became more possible to have photos, video and audio on websites.
For a while, the common advice about websites was to have them be dynamic. Sites needed to be ever changing or people wouldn’t have a reason to visit them. The Internet was hip and fast moving and if a user came back to a site and found nothing new, they would see it as outdated.
But today, people rarely go to a specific website. Very few people bookmark a site, and those who do select very few sites to regularly visit. Social media has made the online experience even more frenetic.
So the advice about websites has changed somewhat. It’s considered a good idea to keep sites more simple and static, so they’re easy to use in such a crowded and fast-moving space.
Here are some other key points about building and maintaining a successful website.
Use an outside-in approach
Too many organizations appoint some form of web team, representing multiple departments, and the resulting website is an online flow chart. Each person advocates for prime position for their area of work. But that’s planning from the inside out. It’s better to plan from the view of key publics coming to the organization from the outside in. What might they be looking for? What are the most popular content searches on your site or in-bound links when people do a Google search? Create a site that makes those areas of content easy to find and describe it using words that outsiders might use, as opposed to the internal organizational jargon and descriptions.
As mentioned above, a site should make it easy for users to find the content they want. A navigation bar should clearly present the user-requested content categories. This bar should appear on every page, so that users don’t have to back up when deep in a site —they can just go quickly to the next content area if they choose. Also, design the site so users can scroll their cursor over a word in the navigation bar to quickly see sub-menus of content, without having to click or go to the next page. The idea is that a user is never more than two clicks from the content they want.
Chunk and scroll
Web content can be seen as “chunks,” which is when an area of content is all visible on one screen. Longer information requires users to “scroll” down and reveal more information. The general rule is to keep information in chunks early on a site when users are engaged in a general search. But once they find something specific and are interested, they’re willing and actually may desire more information that requires them to scroll.
Search engine optimization
As I mentioned above, these days, web users don’t go to a list of bookmarks or favorites and pick a website to read. The vast majority start with a search engine, often Google, and type in a word or phrase that describes their present interest. They key is to have your website be in the top results of that search. You do that by writing content for your site using words that an average person would enter into a search bar. Again, save the jargon for inside conversations. The entire site, including page titles, tagged information, URLs (i.e., the web addresses for specific pages) and the body text itself, needs to be written in a way that optimizes searches and has more people find your page. Google, the dominant search company, has a free SEO starter guide.
Depending on the content management system, or CMS, you use for your website, consider adding multimedia, including audio files, photos and videos. The content of these will vary depending on the type of organization you are and the needs of your key publics. But such rich content is not special anymore — it’s expected.
Websites should be connected to Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms an organization uses. Some academic research shows that many big brands do this poorly. Users would search a website in vain to find a link to the company’s blog, Twitter, Facebook or other social presence. That’s because CEOs want the website to be a brochure and not a conversation, in violation of common public relations practice and public expectation. But savvy brands, Starbucks being one of them, have obvious links to their social sites prominently on their website home page. They integrate the website’s overt marketing purposes with the more conversational brand and reputation aspects of their social sites.
Websites should also make it easy for users to share content. Any article or piece of content should be easy for a user to share on their own personal social accounts, which becomes instant third-party endorsement for your organization. You can make this happen by adding share buttons and codes to your site easily with services like ShareThis. Meanwhile, be sure that you share links back to specific web content on the organization’s social networks. Any time you add something new, Tweet it, post it to Facebook, LinkedIn, possibly Instagram and other sites as well.
While users search for content, and maybe see links to it on social platforms, they also may appreciate a more direct email alert whenever you post new content to your website. Investors like to receive earnings releases and other SEC document alerts this way. Other publics may appreciate getting a notice when a news release or other content is posted to the site. RSS, or really simple syndication, is a way to allow users to “subscribe” to your site or specific portions of it. If your site is created in WordPress or some other blogging platform, RSS may be an easy option to add. You can also user Google’s FeedBurner, which requires a Google account, to create an RSS feed for your site. There are a number of tutorials online about RSS, including this one, that may help you.
Creating the site
There is always the option of hiring a professional web design and development firm to create your website, if you have the budget. But you want to make sure you are able to access the content management system, so you can update and edit content without waiting for a service provider to do so and racking up a maintenance bill. Some free services make websites easy to do, such as Weebly or Wix.
Finally, you have to remember that an increasing number of users check websites on smartphones. That means content needs to be optimized for mobile. Some web platforms detect whether a user is on a computer or phone and automatically deliver the web or mobile version. But it’s important to check and ensure that users are seeing your site in the way that’s best for the device they’re using.
The web. It can seem tangled. But following the principles and using the tools mentioned above should make your website a pleasure for you and the publics you want to reach.