Web Designer Hints and Tips

I find that I think of or come across little nuggets of useful website related information from time to time that in themselves do not require a full article but I want to pass on - so that is the aim of this section. Legal issues related to websites are covered separately.

Quick links


Build trust - Make it easy for people to contact you

So many sites only post limited contact information - what does this imply to you as you browse their website considering your next step?

There are a number of reasons to make it easy for people to contact you. Most obviously, they might actually want to contact you but more subtly - making it clear that they can telephone you, email you, write to you at a bricks and mortar address or perhaps fill out a simple form helps reassure them. This helps build the trust that they may need to take that next step. So

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Testimonials are powerful tools in building trust

You can say what you like yourself about you and your company but that does not have the power that comments, reviews or testimonials from your clients and customers have. But please don't make them up yourself - you will probably make it obvious this is what you have done. Ask your clients if they would be good enough to provide a testimonial - many will be happy to help you.

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Marketing opportunities - Email signatures

The world doesn't come knocking on your door because you have a website - most businesses need as much marketing as they can possibly get. So everytime you send out an email perhaps that is an opportunity to do some subtle marketing within your email signature. Perhaps a line such as

Make it stand out, make it simple - don't bury it in 20 lines of smallprint disclaimer!

Note there are legal requirements regarding information provided in business emails but if you are not including all your contact details anyway - why not?

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SEO - Use Anchor Text effectively

When determining which keywords your site should be shown for and how high you should be ranked, one of the variables the search engines analyse are the keywords used in the anchor text (the visible words within a link).

Ideally this anchor text (taken out of context ie separately from the surrounding text) should give visitors and search engines pointers to what they will find at the other end of the link. Anchor text like "click here for more" are not effective for SEO purposes (or Disability Accessibility). So make anchor text informative. This will also improves your site's general usability as people often scan looking for visual cues as to the page's topic and what they need to do next, rather than read all the text. Linked text stands out and draws the eyes, but non-descriptive links tell the user nothing and they will continue scanning elsewhere.

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Keywords and the Keywords meta tag

Much is made of the importance of "Keywords" quite rightly as focussing your site content on the right keywords is vital to get good rankings in the search engines. But there is often confusion with the largely obsolete "keywords meta tag" in the "head" html code of your web page. Search engines do not use (and google never did) the keywords meta tag so stuffing your keywords in here hoping to get an SEO benefit is a waste of time and effort.

Instead ensure your content includes your target "keywords" in important places such as the "title tag", "h1", other headings, link anchor text, first paragraph etc as well as naturally throughout your text.

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New Domain Names and Keywords

If you are buying a new domain name you may do yourself some good in the search engines if that domain name contains a keyword (or keywords) that people are likely to use in their search phrase. So for example www.epsilis.co.uk is likely to be less successful than www.epsiliswebdesigners.co.uk from a search perspective (other things being equal).

Other considerations include: domain name should be short, easy to say, trips off the tongue, easy to spell .... etc. (I know a few people have difficulty with my company name and domain but epsilis has been around for a long time now and is well established. One thing you don't do is throw away an established domain as it is very hard for a new domain to become established and overtake an old established domain.)

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Does my site need a Google Sitemap?

Google XML sitemaps often crop-up when thinking of SEO. So will your website benefit from adding a Google XML sitemap?

Well firstly what is a Google sitemap - it is basically a list of links to pages on your website, coded in a special format (XML), intended to make it easy for a search engine to find all the pages on your site. It is not a web page in the normal sense and it is not for use by a human visitor to a website.

So it is not to be confused with a standard web page also called a sitemap - which will also probably be a list of links to all pages on your site - intended to help human site visitors find what they need.

Now here is the point - if your site is difficult for a search engine to navigate (this can be for a variety of reasons such as complexly coded links, links hidden in javascript or flash etc. and is usually bad news as it is indicative of other problems) then providing the search engines with an extra list of links in a format that they can understand is a good idea. However if your site has good navigation - ie plenty of text links and perhaps also a well coded sitemap web page for human visitors - then a search engine should have no problem navigating your website so you probably do not need one.

If you have a Google XML sitemap it needs to be kept up to date.

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Social Media

Much is spoken of Social Media and its increasing importance in Search Engine Marketing. So we are talking about Blogs, Forums, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Google Plus etc. Fundamentally most of these fall into the social arena more than into the business arena but they are now seen as important indicators of the quality of your website by the search engines so they can be very helpful in improving your search rankings if you work at it. They provide

for your business web site. So many marketing people are pushing the use of these tools to market web sites. You should think carefully about how you use these tools, ensure the exposure is appropriate and plan your activities. Doing the bare minimum is unlikely to make much difference, however frequent useful activity relevant to your business may bring significant rewards.

Blogs

Blogs are Diary or date based web publishing tools. (Or looked at another way - a website Content Management System (CMS) designed to publish your daily musings.) If that is what you want they are great tools. If however what you really want is to add new content to your website regularly in a logical fashion then you might want a more appropriate CMS attached to your website.

Forums

Forums are intended for online discussions. They are often used to provide online support for software etc and can grow into great resources but they require a lot of on-going time and effort to support. You can't expect to set one up and expect a community to just appear and make it work for you. However if you are regularly answering technical questions related to your business area then perhaps providing a Help Forum might be a great asset to your customers and to you - it may reduce the questions and build into a fantastic resource adding significant weight to your site in the search engines.

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Google Adwords

Google Adwords are nothing to do with search engine optimisation but are often spoken of as if they are. They are small adverts you pay google for by paying each time someone clicks on your advert. The cost is usually in the range of a few pence to a few pounds per click - its a bit like an auction in that the greater the competition the greater the cost to stay near the top. The adverts - referred to as sponsored links - appear at the top and to the right of the normal search results listings.

Google Adwords is a good way of getting fast results (in terms of getting your site seen) and getting exposure you could not otherwise get as the competition for normal SEO is just too strong to expect to get good rankings. But it is like all adverts in that you get the exposure as long as you keep paying so it can be a money pit if not managed properly - so make sure you spend the time understanding your campaign and monitoring progress.

Google has other tools like Google Maps, Google Base that you might be useful when considering search optimisation.

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Signposting and Calls to Action

Help you visitors decide what to do next - have good 'signposting' to more relevant information (perhaps a recent newsletter, an event coming up next week, a special offer) to guide and engage the visitor, throughout the website.

Encourage your visitors to go that next step with 'calls to action' - a request for the user to do something such as click on a link, give you a call, fill out a form, join a newsletter, or add a product to the shopping basket. Be positive and use action based language - don't leave it hanging there, instruct your visitors what to do - "Give Michael a call now to see how to get more out of your website - Call 01462 674840."

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Finally

Companies should not be looking to win design awards - they should be looking to use their web site to boost their business. Some businesses are making sure their website is working for them as an excellent lead generation tool. I hope my tips help you increase the effectiveness of your web site.

Michael Spencer,
michael@epsilis.co.uk
Epsilis - Web Designers and Website Optimisation Specialists
47 Farthing Drive
Letchworth Garden City
Hertfordshire (Herts)
SG6 2TR
UK

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Web Design and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) covering Hertfordshire (Herts) and Bedfordshire (Beds)