How to Avoid Site Changes that Ruin User Experience and Conversions

by Jason Acidre on September 12, 2012 · 15 comments · Conversion, Search


This entry is a guest post by Tom Howlett, a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai. You can follow him on Twitter: @Koozai_Tom

How do you make general and SEO website changes without compromising your site’s user experience and ultimately the number of conversions made through the website? When you start to tinker with content and navigation elements to optimise pages, this can have a profound impact on visitor perception – for better or worse.

So how can you make these website changes without spoiling the website experience you worked so hard to create? This post looks at a number of the most common and important considerations when making any new website changes.

Common SEO Site Changes

Page Titles

This may seem like an obvious consideration, but it is important that when you create a new page for the site or are going through it with a fine SEO comb, that you create a unique title for each one. Each page of the site should have a purpose and that purpose should be reflected in the title – therefore there should be no need for duplicate page titles.

The title element is also an important consideration for helping to improve conversions. When targeting users in organic search, ensuring that the title is relevant to the content of the destination page will also help influence the click. Consequently,it can help bring more visitors to the website and this should hopefully result in increased conversions.

Page Meta

Just like the page title element mentioned above, each page of the website should have a unique Meta Description. The description should provide more detail on what the page offers with reference to the page title.

The description is a powerful element; a good description can make the difference between a click through to your website and someone clicking through to a competitor offering a similar product or service.

Headings

The heading elements (H1’s, H2’s…etc.) not only provide keyword relevance on the page, they help break down the content into easily manageable chunks. Users are able to skim to a section to find the information they are looking for quickly. Typically, if someone visits your website and cannot find what they are looking for within a few seconds, they are likely to revert back to the search engine and look at the next result.

A good heading layout makes for a good user experience and if you can keep visitors on the site, you have their attention to which you can use effectively to persuade them to convert (whatever the conversion may be).

URLs

The URL element of a page is often overlooked by website owners, it is also is a pain to change once there is an established URL structure in place.  Ideally you want your URLs to be as informative as possible and include information relevant to the page content. Try to avoid using a dynamic structure and aim for a fixed format similar to the examples below:

http://www.example.com/category

http://www.example.com/category/product

http://www.example.com/category/service

Descriptive and relevant URLs will help the site rank for the target keywords, a searcher will also be able to see this in the search results and this may help further influence the click if it provides a high relevance to the search query.

Site Copy

Website text or copy is an important consideration. You want to include a certain level of content and also make sure it’s written to a high standard. Here are some important considerations for page content:

  • Ensure that it is natural and relevant
  • Make sure the content is unique to your website
  • Make sure there is enough content to justify the page purpose (this will vary for different types of pages and websites)
  • It should fit naturally into your site design, sometimes when adding content for SEO purposes; websites tend to throw this on the page without consideration of the user

If all the points above are considered when creating or adding content to your website, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of this. It is also worth pointing out that the copy should be useful to the user and help persuade them to take certain actions, especially if the page is designed to sell a product, service or even your brand.

Space for Content

As briefly mentioned in the previous section, when deciding on website content and copy, you will want to make sure that this fits naturally into the website design. There is no use throwing content in for the benefit of SEO; there should be a greater strategy that aims to create valuable content that fits well with the flow of the page and provides users the information they expect to see.

There should also be a content theme that fits with your design, a theme that is utilised on all similar pages of a website. One example would be product pages on an Ecommerce website, people expect the item descriptions, images, specifications etc. to be in the same location on every page. Changing this for each page will decrease the familiarity across the site and as a result you may lose out on valuable conversions.

Internal Linking

Internal linking is a valuable SEO strategy. Most commonly, a website owner will have read about the benefit of internal links and then work through the website whilst adding them whenever a keyword is mentioned on the page. This is an extreme example but it does happen.

Internal linking can be really valuable for the website if done effectively. If referencing a page or product on a page, it makes sense to link to it within the content, just in case someone wants to navigate there without having to find it themselves. You don’t necessarily have to link using the exact keyword term either, you can equally benefit by linking using a longer phrase like the example below.

Internal links can be really useful when referencing similar pages such as similar products (for example ‘you might also be interested in’) or similar Blog posts. This is a useful strategy for getting people to purchase more items or just to keep them on the website. They are much more likely to return to the site or convert if you manage to keep them on the site for longer.

 

Image Titles

Image titles may be the least utilised element mentioned here. For those who don’t know, the title element appears in a small box when hovering over an image or image link. This will usually provide more information regarding the contents of the image or describe where it leads if the image links to another page.

It is unlikely to be an element that means the difference between a conversion and someone leaving your site, but it is useful to include this information or to make sure they are optimised effectively. For image links they can be particularly useful in persuading more people to use the link.

Having a Blog

A Blog is a useful addition for any website or online business; it provides a place to share news and write useful content that will bring in new visits to the site. Quite often the process of adding a Blog to the website is rushed and it is treated as a separate element of the site.

One huge benefit from having a Blog is that you have a great opportunity to grow your brand. With search engines now appearing to have a greater brand focus, this can have a positive impact on your rankings and overall visibility. It makes sense to integrate your Blog with the rest of your site, you will benefit from improving that brand recognition from new visitors that have come into the site through the Blog. So make sure your Blog reflects your brand image and mimics the site design.

There should also be some solid consideration into the types of post that will be included on the Blog. There is no use in creating content for the sake of having content on the Blog – you will want to focus on creating high quality content that is going to result in the site gaining more regular visitors and subscribers. This is where the number of brand mentions and social shares skyrockets and you will experience a much higher brand value and as a result a greater number of conversions (as long as the rest of the site is well optimised).

Social Sharing

Social sharing buttons and links to your social profiles offer a great way of getting people to interact with you online and making it easy for people to share your site or the information you provide within their social circles.

More often than not, the addition of these buttons and links appear to an afterthought and are just thrown on the page with little consideration as to how people are going to utilise these.

You will want to make it clear that you are on these platforms so try to link to these from each page of the site. This may be more prominent on the Home page and the main Blog page to encourage interaction – it is fine to include these links within the header or footer of any other pages, try to include them in the same place on all the other pages for familiarity.

Greater interaction with your brand on these networks will enable you to promote content and products to the greater fan base and increase the number of shares, likes and visits to your site, not to mention improve your conversion rate.

Please note: It is worth including the target=”blank” element within the link to each of the profiles to load a new page so users are not taken away from the website (they may not return). The same goes for any external links.

Tracking for New Pages

When adding new pages to the site, you will want to make sure that you remember to include the relevant code for tracking page visits and conversions. Whether you use Google Analytics or another package, this will give you lots of useful data to help you improve the page and website as a whole.

Common On-Page Changes and Elements

Logo Link and Positioning

How does the logo effect how users browse the site and aid conversions you ask? This is more of a detail regarding convenience. Many people online are impatient and won’t hang around if they cannot find what they are looking for. From a usability perspective, visitors expect there to be a prominent logo within the site header at the top of the page. They also may expect that upon clicking the logo it will send them back to the Home page. If this functionality does not exist, or there is no prominent logo available, you may lose visitors who get frustrated when browsing your website.

Navigation

The navigation is one of the most important features of a website; this is how the majority of your visitors will navigate to the pages of interest to them.

Firstly you will want to make sure you link to all the top level pages from the main navigation. Depending on how large the site is, you may have to split the site into sections and utilise a dropdown menu to fit all the links to the important pages.

Quite often the navigation will be designed to perfectly fit the number of pages the site has, but what happens when you add new pages and areas to the site? Can it easily fit into the current navigation? This is a consideration that should be taken into account when first designing a website. You want users to be able to easily navigate to every part of the website, even the newly added pages.

Most navigation problems can be solved by including dropdown menus, as new links can easily be added whenever required. This is where splitting your site into easily navigable categories is particularly useful, so at least users can take a good guess at where they are going to find what they are looking for. You may also want to think about highlighting new areas of the site or pages on the Home page, this can help improve the familiarity for visitors who will remember this upon returning to the site.

Breadcrumb Links

Breadcrumb links are useful, especially for an Ecommerce website where users can easily navigate back to previous sections of the site. This makes for a trouble free browsing experience and people are much more likely to stay on the site and convert.

If adding large sections of the site or an Ecommerce area, including breadcrumb links will help improve the online experience. Make sure to mirror the current online navigation and design and to include these in a prominent position (typically above the content) for a better experience.

Keeping Information Above The Fold

I have mentioned a number of elements that should be included within the main content area such as text content and images. This content should be located above the fold where possible and aim to capture the attention of the user without them having to scroll.

When designing a website, this should be a consideration from the start. If making these changes to an existing website, careful consideration should be put into making sure that no other element of the website suffers as a result. Each page should also use the same layout so before making any changes it will be useful to create a template to work from.

Footer

The Footer can make a useful navigational feature by including links to the main top level pages. Again, this is a feature that is there for convenience – people are much more likely to stick around if they are able to navigate the site without any troubles.

When adding new content or categories to an existing website, you will benefit from making sure that these links are included within the site Footer if applicable.

The Footer can also be a useful place to link to the main social media platforms for greater interaction with your brand.

Sitemap

Like the Footer, a Sitemap page can provide a useful glossary of pages on the site that users can use to find the information they are looking for.

When adding new pages, it is useful to add these to the existing Sitemap page.

Making Contact

One element every site should have is a method of contact. Whether this information is displayed on every page or the site has a dedicated Contact page, it is important that users can easily find this information should they want to.

Consideration should be made towards this when creating new sections of the site or when making changes to the existing navigation. Always include a prominent link to the contact information.

Theming

Touched on briefly in this post already, the theming for a website can drastically affect the number of conversions your site generates. You want to maintain a brand image as well as creating a familiarity with your site and brand.

For every new page, category or section of the website that is created, care should be taken to make sure that there is a common theme with the rest of the site. Otherwise, regular visitors may believe they have landed on a different website as well as people who have navigated through the site.

Re-Design

If you want to completely re-design your website it is likely that the design will be quite different. There are certain elements that you may want to retain on the new site to maintain a familiar experience – this is more important if you already have a distinguished fan base.

The areas of the site you may wish to transfer are as follows:

  • Use the same page Titles and Meta Descriptions
  • Maintain a familiar navigation structure
  • If you have a clean URL structure, this is worth retaining, otherwise redirect the URLs
  • Transfer the Blog and all the previous Blog posts
  • Make sure the new site contains links to the social profiles whether it did or didn’t beforehand
  • The logo – you may wish to re-design the logo as well as the website. Generally if there is a familiarity in the logo this will help users know they are on the same website as before.

Redirects

If changing the site URL structure, you will want to make sure that each of the old URLs is redirected (301-redirect) to the new URL or the closest equivalent. This will ensure that any previous external links pass their value to the new pages as well as sending users to the right place.

Is the Site Mobile Friendly?

A mobile-optimised website will ensure that users visiting the site on mobile devices will still have a good browsing experience, this may well result in increased conversions from these devices.

When adding new pages and sections to the website, you will want to consider how well these work on the various mobile devices. This consideration is particularly important when adding a Blog; will mobile users be able to read and share the content? This is also relevant to Ecommerce websites; do you want people to be able to purchase from a mobile device? By considering these factors and taking appropriate measures you will be able to maintain conversions on these platforms.

Considerations towards mobile should also be taken when changing any other elements on the site. Changes to the navigation need additional thought on how you are going to transfer this information for mobile.

Summary

As you can see, there are lots of potential website changes and changes that are made regarding SEO on the site. These changes can affect how a site performs in terms of how usable the site is and this can affect the number of conversions on the site. Taking the above points into consideration, you can help preserve and in some cases improve the number of conversions that the website generates.

You can find more tips in our Website Migration Whitepaper.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed or check out Koozai’s awesome blog for more of their awesome stuff.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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