Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact

Part 1: Help Users Find What They’re Looking For

Sign "You Are Here"This is the first in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website. The thought of completely overhauling a website can be daunting: so daunting that it can cause inaction on the part of businesses, web teams, and marketers. However, even small changes will improve users’ experiences on your website, perhaps more dramatically than you might expect.

There are a few elements critical to creating a good user experience on any website:

  • Users have to be able to find what they are looking for.
  • They have to understand what you offer and how you can help them.
  • They have to be able to complete their tasks easily.

This series of articles will explore these issues one at a time, and look at some simple solutions that you can quickly implement. Let’s start with helping users find what they’re looking for.

User-Friendly Navigation

Your website navigation is one of the most important ways users get around on your site. People expect navigation systems to be easy to use and well organized. While your website should be unique and creative, the navigation should be standard enough that users don’t have to search for it or question how to use it. This is not the place for wildly unconventional thinking.

Here are a few things you can do to help users find what they are looking for with your navigation. Making one, two, or any of these improvements will enhance the usability of your site.

Make it Obvious

Users should easily be able to find and identify your primary navigation. Use standard placement, either horizontally across the top of your page, or vertically down the left side. If your main navigation is too small, in a non-standard location, or too crowded by other elements, your site’s bounce rate is likely to be high.

Here are two examples:

Horizontal Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Vertical Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Keep It Consistent

Your primary navigation should remain consistent, visually and structurally, from page to page so it’s always there when your visitors need to access it. If your primary navigation varies between sections or pages of your site, is it beneficial and helpful to users? Might they be better served by consistent navigation? The answer is usually, yes.

Home Link

About half of users expect that your logo will link to the homepage. This is a standard industry practice that your site should be following.  But what about the other 50% of users? Many of them don’t know that logos typically link to homepages, and then they become frustrated trying to get back to home. For those users, it is best to include a “Home” link in the primary navigation. In order not to take up too much space and clutter the navigation, many sites successfully employ a home icon to help users navigate to the homepage.

sample of prominent logo=link to home page nutrisystem

Use Relevant Keywords

Your primary navigation is one place to tell people and search engines about what you do. This is accomplished by using navigation labels with top-of-mind keywords and phrases for users, which you can identify within your analytics data or by using Google Keyword Planner.

Make sure that navigation labels reflect the keywords that users are looking for. Avoid obscure or less-used terms, jargon, and clever wordplay. For example, most people planning a trip search for “Hotels” rather than “Lodging.” Navigation should reflect that.

Keep It Simple

The fewer items in your primary navigation the better. Six or seven should be the absolute maximum number of top-level items. Did you know that human short-term memory cannot handle more than seven chunks of information at a time? It’s true. Also, place the most important items at the beginning and the end of the navigation list, or highlight them to draw attention.

Example of Consistent Navigation

Avoid Dropdown Menus (Most of the Time)

Most regular dropdown menus are annoying and rife with usability problems. They’re hard to read and difficult to use. According to usability studies from Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), dropdown menus create a less efficient and less pleasant user experience, making people more likely to abandon your site.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. NNG’s usability studies have found that “mega drop down menus” often test well and overcome the downsides of regular dropdowns. Be sure you’re following best practices if you feel that your site is well served by having dropdown menus.

Example of mega dropdown menu

Let Users Know They’re in the Right Place

Whether users have arrived at a page on your site from Google or through your site’s navigation and internal links, you want to reassure them that they have indeed found the content are looking for.

Page Headers

The headline text of a page has proven time and time again to impact the page’s potential conversion rate significantly.  The headers should stand out on the page and be the first thing a user reads when they arrive. There should be only one primary headline, with <h1> coding tags. Secondary <h2> and tertiary <h3> headlines can be used as needed.

Consistency is important: it builds confidence in users, and makes them feel at ease. Page headers and the navigation links to them should match. For example, the “About Us” link in the navigation should take users to a page called, “About Us,” and not one called, “Meet Our Team.”

The following image shows a page with a nearly invisible page header.

Example of invisible header

Users will have trouble understanding both what content is on this page, and where they are within the site.

In contrast, this next page has a large header and non-cluttered layout that assures users they have found the content they came looking for.

Example of prominent navigation

Highlight Active Navigation

Another way to let users know they’re in the right place is to use highlighted active navigation. Active navigation allows users to understand where they are within the site and confidently get around using the different navigation elements (primary navigation, secondary navigation, breadcrumbs, etc.). Active navigation states are something can be implemented fairly easily with CSS styles.

Helpful Error Pages

What happens when a user mistypes a page URL, or clicks a broken link on your site? They are taken to a 404 Error Page.

The absolute worst thing you can do is send users to an error page like this one:

example of unhelpful 404 page

This is not helpful at all. Rather, the error page is your opportunity to engage users, help them find what they’re looking for, and keep them on your site.

You should have a friendly custom 404 Error Page on your website like this one:

Example of useful 404 page

Smashing Magazine has a is a useful article about how to decrease your site’s errors and optimize error pages here.

Parting Thoughts

Every business can make usability changes to improve their website so that users find what they are looking for quickly and easily. We must try to think like our users, understand their frustrations, and make changes that will enable them to feel confident navigating our websites.

Can you identify one or two things in this article that you could do to improve your site? Make these small changes, track your analytics data, and conduct user tests to see if they improve your site’s user experience and move your business toward meeting its online goals. Let us know how it works for you!

Common Myths About
Google Places

Myth #1: A business owns its Google Places listing.

Google Places owns all the business listings it publishes. Adapting to this fact may be difficult for some small business owners, because they are accustomed to having complete control over their listings in other directories, especially in the print yellow pages.  Businesses pay dearly for print ads in phone directories, and thus have control of their content. A Google Places listing is free, but the business owner has little control over it.

Myth #2: Google Places uses only the info that a business owner provides.

The myth that once a Google Places listing is verified, a business owner provides the information that appears in the online listing is just that: a myth. If Google simply published what people put in their business listings, their local index would be warped into uselessness by spammers. The information a business owner provides via the Places dashboard is just one set of data that Google takes into account. Google also considers the data it receives from data providers, trusted local and industry directories, government records, phone and utility companies, what is published on the business’s own website(s), and what it learns from other reliable sources. If multiple trusted sources disagree with what the business owner provides, that version of the facts may prevail over the owner’s input. David Mihm provides a great explanation of how Google gathers and uses data here.

Myth #3: You don’t need a website to prosper in Local Search.

In the past, many businesses with no website have been able to rank well in Google’s Local Search results. This trend has been changing over the past few years. The top 2-4 positions in most Local Packs that appear within the organic search results tend to be held by companies that have both a strong Google Maps ranking and a website with a strong Google organic ranking. If your local market is competitive, you are more likely to need a strong website to rank near the top of the Local Packs.

Search results for local locksmith

Myth #4: Your Business’s Google+ Page is now your Google Places listing.

Google Places and Google+ are not the same thing.  Places is still your local business listing and Google+ Business is the platform on which you can be social using Google’s network of connections. In many cases, but not all, the two can be associated with each other within one Google account, resulting in a Places business listing which has Google+ social features.  Your About page on Google+ is one of the spots where your business information from Places can appear.

Conclusion: 

As you can see, Google Places can be a great tool for your business, but it has to be managed deliberately, like any other aspect of your business communication strategy.

Why Content Measurement is Important

I’ll be teaching a six week in-depth analytics course starting next week, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few of the topics we’ll be covering in the class to give a little preview as well as provide some good tips for our blog readers. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the importance of measuring content.

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about content strategy and optimization. This is good! For the longest time, we online marketing folks were way too focused on generating junk to get a bunch of crappy inbound links to try to rank better. Google’s recent updates of Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird pretty much said bye-bye to this type of content in favor or unique, high-quality content focused on the needs of users. “Nice!”

So What is Good Content?

While the definition of good content is somewhat subjective, thankfully it’s something that can be identified and measured. For the purposes of this post we’ll be defining “good content” as original content that benefits both visitors AND the company’s business goals. But even this definition can be tricky.

We see a lot of companies that view this as a chance to overtly sell their products or services. Others tend to provide a wealth of factual information so that visitors are more likely to make a purchase. Every website is unique: there is no magic formula when it comes to content. But the sooner you get busy understanding your audience and finding out what they crave, the sooner your business will benefit.

Start with the Big Picture

Content_Example_Bloom

Let’s take a look at my wife’s nonprofit, Bloom Spokane, to examine the peaks and valleys of their historic traffic. In their case, these rises and falls are very much tied to their blogging efforts. As a nonprofit, they do not advertise at all. Blogging / outreach is their primary driver of traffic. We see that they had a big spike tied to an awesome blog post that went viral in early 2011 and had sustained growth the following year. Excellent!  But then what happened. We have a drop and a very flat traffic period for the next year. Let’s take a look…

Analyze Content Demand

Bloom_Top_10

I set up a segment to take a look at their top all-time blog posts. They have a lot of good informational posts, but their top two are either edgy / controversial or humorous. The Bloom blog does an amazing job of providing valuable information to expectant mothers, but maybe their audience wants more humor or possibly a more diverse selection of content. But, looking at the last 18 months of blog posts, there hasn’t been anymore break-out blog posts in terms of popularity.

What should they do? In their case, I would not recommend radical change, but a good idea would be to examine what their readers want. I’d recommend continuing to look at their analytics, as well as performing periodic surveys to learn exactly what their audience wants from the site. They definitely have their bases covered in terms of informational content. I would suggest adding more emotionally-driven content that visitors really connect with, in combination with the current informative posts.

Learn What Content Influences

Next, we look at what the content causes the audience to do next. Did they sign up for a class via the form? Did they visit a desired area of the website? In Bloom’s case, one of their main goals is to drive visitors to their provider page. These are professionals who list their services and advertise on the website. With Google Analytics, we are able to see where these blog visitors went next. Awesome!

Blog_Posts_Driving_Provider_Visits

We see that blog posts have driven 6,628 visits to the Bloom Provider Directory. Sweet! Also it is interesting that my humor-ish post, which was the #2 blog post in terms of overall visits, has fallen to 5th for driving visits to the provider directory. Also, the two very popular articles on whether or not to perform a circumcision are not even in the top ten when it comes to driving people to the provider directory. This is not a problem. It’s just something to consider each and every time you publish content.

Have Content-Related Goals

Most of the companies I talk with about content tracking do not have (what I would define as) goals. Their most common goal is to publish on a consistent basis, which is a good place to start. That said, I will be pushing people to define content-specific goals and dashboards to help define content strategy, measure effectiveness, and really help their business thrive.

In my blog post for Bloom Spokane, I used the quote below from Shane Falco aka Keanu Reeves to illustrate what I think advice from  husbands to their wives during labor would be like. Though far from an apples-to-apples comparison, I think it applies to writing as well. Blogging is harrrrd. Writing good content is harrrrd. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t worry. We’ll help make the tracking of it easy for you… with a little help from Keanu.

I hope this has been helpful in understanding the importance of tracking the killer content you’re producing. If you’d like to dive deeper into the analytics side of life, take a look at our upcoming analytics class series.

 

Is That Really Google Calling?

Your phone rings, and the person on the other end says they are calling from Google.  How do you know if it’s a legitimate call from Google?

phone photo two-001

Photo Credit: Mary Bowling

Listen to what the caller says. Many of these calls are from salespeople at not-so-reputable companies, who have been given a script intentionally designed to mislead you. They want you to think they are calling from Google, but they do not actually come out and say that. Instead, they refer to themselves as “Google specialists” or something similar, although there are some callers unscrupulous enough to actually lie about it.

Many of them will try to use scare tactics and tell you your Google Places listing will disappear if you do not buy their services. They will make wild promises about how what they’ll put you at the top of Google. Sometimes it’s not even a human that calls, but a robo-dialer that broadcasts a recorded message, which prompts you to respond by pressing a number on your keypad. When you get one of these calls, either hang up, or ask them to remove you from their calling list immediately.  They are up to no good!  They are most definitely NOT calling from Google.

There are only a few circumstances when you might receive a call that is actually coming from Google:

  • You claimed a Google Places listing or made significant changes to it, and are verifying it by phone. When you choose to do this, the business phone number will immediately ring, and a robot on the other end will provide you with a PIN number to enter into the verification field in your dashboard.
  • You put in a Google Places call-back support request. When you do this, your phone will ring immediately, and you will be placed on hold to talk to the next available support specialist. (How long you stay on hold depends on call volume.)
  • You requested Google Places support via an online form, provided your phone number as a point of contact, and someone from Google is calling you back to discuss the problem. This is not a common occurrence: support usually communicates via email. However, you will know if you have asked for assistance in correcting your business listing, and then, you will look forward to hearing from Google.
  • A salesperson calls from Google trying to interest you in AdWords Express, which is a paid advertising product that Google is pushing to local businesses. I am not sure if these callers are really Googlers or contractors, but most of these are legitimate calls. If you are interested, listen to the pitch. If not, politely end the conversation and ask them to remove you from their calling list.
  • A Google fact-checker calls to, well, check the facts about your business. These callers will identify themselves as calling from Google, but the questions they ask you may not make much sense, so they are often mistaken for the unwelcomed sales calls mentioned above. They are trying to determine that your business is legitimate, and that the information you entered in your Places listing meets Google’s quality guidelines. The goal of this process is to weed out of the local business listings as many spammers as possible.

All of these calls appear on caller ID as coming from Google, and show (650) 253-0000 as the phone number.

Hopefully, this information helps you to determine whether a caller contacting you and claiming to be from Google is really from Google.

Make Your Phone Number Bigger, Damn It!

Here’s a quick website optimization tip for you: make your phone number more visible to users.

A good number of businesses have the ultimate goal of getting people to contact them. Yet, on many business websites it is difficult — sometimes impossible — to find a phone number. There are many reasons why it is important to give users easy access to your phone number, even if calling you isn’t the #1 action you want them to take.

Visibility Is Important

Quick! Go to your website and find your business’s phone number in fewer than 5 seconds.

If you found it easily, there’s a good chance that your online customers can find it, too. If you had to dig around on multiple pages, or scan tiny text in the footer to find your phone number, you are making life too difficult for many of your users.

We conduct a lot of website audits here at Sixth Man Marketing. A surprisingly large number of the websites we analyze don’t have highly-visible phone numbers. We always suggest that this be remedied.

Putting a prominent phone number in the header of your site is a quick and easy site-wide fix. It will increase your chances of getting leads from potential customers. It also helps build trust, which can lead to more online conversions.

Here are two excellent examples of websites with prominent phone numbers in the right-hand corner of the page:

SCC with phone number highlighted

 

Hotstart page with phone number highlighted

Increase Conversions for Online Actions

There have been numerous tests conducted on websites which show that trust is an important part of the decision-making process. Those tests have shown that highly-visible phone numbers increase conversions. In fact, the increase in conversions (online sales, form submissions, etc.) is almost always larger than the increase in phone calls. For users, the fact that a phone number is readily available is reassuring in their decision to take an online action.

circle of trust - you

Are you concerned that showing a phone number will drive calls that you can’t, or don’t, want to handle? Making a phone number easy to find does not necessarily cause users to switch from an online action to a phone call. It does, however, make things easier for users who already have the desire to call and talk to a live person. Shutting down phone options for users is rarely a good idea, as it limits your ability to serve customers in a way that best meets their needs.

Mobile Considerations

A 2012 Google-Nielson study found that when people are searching on mobile devices, we’re on a quick path to action (phone call, purchase, etc.). In fact, there is a growing contingent of marketers that refer to mobile optimization as utility marketing. Check out this great supremely awesome article from our favorite analytics crush, Avinash Kaushik, to learn more.

Mobile Searches graphic

  • 73 percent of mobile searches trigger follow-up actions
  • 63 percent of mobile search-triggered actions occur within 1 hour of the initial search
  • 45 percent of mobile searches “are conducted to help make a decision” (in a store, that number goes up to 66 percent)
  • 28 percent of mobile searches result in conversions

Source: http://searchengineland.com/study-55-percent-of-mobile-search-driven-conversions-happen-in-one-hour-or-less-151432

To make it easier for mobile users to call you, be sure that your phone number is prominent and clickable on mobile devices. This is coded in the following way:

<a href=”tel:15091234567” class=”phone-link”>(509) 123-4567</a>

Notice that the number in the actual link starts with a 1, which is the international U.S. country code.

Tips & Best Practices

Here are some guidelines for including your phone number on your website. As with all changes you make to your website, it is wise to conduct A/B Testing to definitively see how the changes are working for your audience.

  • Make your phone number easy to find on every page of your site. The top right corner of your site header is where users will expect to find it.
  • Code your phone number as text rather than a graphic. This will make it accessible to search engines and visually disabled users.
  • If you have multiple phone numbers, choose one main number to include in the site header. You can post a list of your many department/location phone numbers on the contact page relevant to their need.
  • If your business uses call tracking, be sure to follow these best guidelines to ensure local search data integrity as well as this guide from Mary Bowling.

After that, consult your web team to make sure your phone number is big enough: we did!

It’s More Than Just Paint

A few months ago, Sixth Man moved into our wonderful, open-layout office space in the ILF Media building at 542 W. Cataldo, just East of the Spokane Arena. It needed some work, but toward the end of August, we were finally ready to start making it our own. I had many conversations with my boss, Ed, about the long-term goals for the office. Though I’m “officially” our lead writer / copy editor, I quickly learned that an employee at a very small business has more slashes than an actor that just moved to Hollywood. My business cards don’t say / gardener / contractor / painter / Home Depot courier / Get It Done Girl, but I might update my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new-found experience.

I think that plants make an office look happier, and we have these gorgeous bay windows, so I suggested that we should get some plants. That conversation went like this:

Anna: “What a gorgeous window. It needs some plants.”

Ed: “Okay. Here’s my credit card.”

Anna: “Okay.”

He handed me his credit card. I went to Home Depot and bought some plants and pots and potting soil, then I brought them back. Ed decreed that they were, “Awesome!” Well that was easy enough. Now it was time for something a bit more difficult: paint selection.

We weren’t really sure if we liked the color of the walls, but we knew we needed to work with the desks, which are these cool built-in metal structures with white panels on wheels. So we needed to decide how we were going to work with the metal and the wood, also considering our logo colors of orange, brown and white.

View of the office from the entrance

 

A few times, my conversations with Ed, went like this:

Ed: “Anna, I don’t like the walls.”

Anna: “Okay, what don’t you like about them?”

Ed: “No idea. They just don’t work.”

Anna: “What do you think would help?”

Ed: “Not a clue, a different color maybe? Just test something out and we’ll see how it goes.”

Anna: “Uh… Okay.”

With this “direction,” I went back to Home Depot and bought paint, and painting tools.  I painted some samples. Ed liked the samples, so I painted a wall.

Ed liked the color of the first wall, so I painted a second.  We had conversations about color, and air, and space. We talked about intentionally creating a space that would be bright, and open, and a great place to work.

Eventually, Ed decided that it was a good start, but that the project should be given to a licensed contractor. He painted much faster than I did, while standing on a 12 foot ladder, without a tarp, listening to classic rock. Ed summarily declared that, “since the Stone Ages, the painter has listened to classic rock. Get it? The guy who paints, rocks however they want!”

We also talked with Mountain Dog Sign Company about hanging our shingle on the door and making a sign, so that people would know where we are. They did a great job.

Ed showing off the awesome door

But here’s the thing: for me, putting the paint on the walls gave me time and space to reflect on my place in this business, to put in a little sweat equity, and to feel like I belonged to something. The conversations about the color of the walls gave me an opportunity to shape the place where I work – which made me feel valued and cared about. Pulling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty added a level of ownership that wasn’t previously there. The wall is something I will see everyday, and I can look at it and say, “I painted that.”

When I was painting the walls of our sweet new office here, I had this revelation: “I’m a part of this.”

As far as revelations go, it didn’t move mountains, or have the patch of sunlight through the clouds feel – it was more of a feeling of belonging, and knowing that I would, in fact, do what it takes to help this business succeed.

Even if it means painting the walls.

A lot of people work in places where they have no say about the color of the walls, or even how much sunlight they get (if they are lucky enough to have a window). I feel fortunate to work in an environment where the office has been viewed as our personal work space canvas. I’ve been part of most of the choices (and many changes) along the way, and it’s been very surprising to me how something as simple as paint choices has left me feeling / fulfilled at work.

What is one thing that you could change about your office space that would make the most difference for you?

P.S. We have an adorable office dog, Camille. She’s a killer.

Please feel free to swing on by and say hello!

Office Mascot, Camille

Do You Need A Mobile-Friendly Website?

Power to the people smartphone - red

Photo Credit: upshot.net

Business owners often ask if they need a mobile website. The short answer is a resounding, unequivocal:YES!

If you use the internet to serve existing customers, and you want to attract new customers, then you definitely need a website that renders well and is easy to use on mobile devices. This not only includes smartphones, but all sizes and makes of tablets.

You may ask yourself, “Why do I need a mobile website?” Again, the short, unequivocal answer is: Mobile is where your customers are.

Over 50% of mobile phone users in the US now have smartphones, and 80% of them say they don’t leave home without their phone.

Smartphone Penetration By Age Group

Google reports that mobile search queries on its search engine have exploded by 500% in the past 5 years.  It also indicates that 20% of all searches for phones and phone services take place on mobile devices, along with 25% of all searches for movies and 30% of all restaurant queries. Enormous numbers of searches for retail products, travel, financial and personal and professional services are also completed from smartphones.  (Do you hear that foot traffic? No? It’s the sound of people going to your competitors’ places of business, the ones that have mobile websites.) If you are in one of these industries, and your website is not mobile-friendly, you are losing out on a huge chunk of potential business.

This chart breaks out what kinds of mobile searches Americans are doing, and explores how on-the-go people shop online:

US Mobile Shopping Behavior 2012

In the United States, an estimated 25% of internet users do so only via mobile devices.

This trend is strongest among younger people, whose power-use of their smartphones keeps them wired 24/7, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. They communicate via voice, text, video chat, photos, as well as email and social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. They also get their news, weather and time from their phones instead of other media. They use their phones for searching, mapping, banking, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment: from gaming, to listening to music, to watching the latest movies.  (If you doubt this claim and need further proof, check out this colorful photo essay.)

If attracting and interacting with younger people is important for your business, you needed a mobile friendly website yesterday, not tomorrow.

If you operate a global business, mobile is even more important to your future.

There are more than 6 billion mobile subscribers in the world: more that 87% of our global population. Over 30% of those subscribers are in the rapidly-expanding Asian markets of China and India. Studies show that over 40% of online shopping in Brazil and Australia takes place on mobile devices. In the United Kingdom, the US and Canada, that number is about 30%.

There is a huge gap between those who or do not use mobile devices in terms of their access to information, timeliness of communication, and the ability to interact with others.  There is also an ever-widening chasm between businesses that get mobile marketing, and those who think otherwise. Check out Google’s Mobile Playbook: The Busy Executive’s Guide to Winning with Mobile if you are ready to get going.

Your customers and potential customers are rapidly moving into the future. Are you going with them or will you be left behind?

Are Homepages Important Anymore?

Do a Google search for “are homepages important anymore” and the top results might have you thinking that no one ever visits your homepage.

Google search results for are home pages important anymore

Your homepage might be the top landing page if you’re a business-to-business (B2B) site with a healthy balance of web traffic: search traffic, referral traffic, direct traffic, and other campaigns. However, much of the traffic coming from search and external links takes visitors directly to the deeper content on your website — hopefully, the specific content they are looking for. For this reason, you should consider designing more pages on your website as important landing pages than you might have previously thought.

The majority of visitors to media company websites and blogs arrive directly at article pages, rather than the homepage. According to Nieman Journalism Lab, “Eighty-Eight percent of traffic to The Atlantic comes in sideways, meaning just 12 percent of site visits begin on the homepage.” Atlantic Digital Editor Bob Cohn wrote that the homepage serves an important purpose as the “ultimate brand statement,” but is not as important as a place to drive traffic.

Let’s Look at the Data

Sixth Man Marketing took a look at data from our clients’ websites to see what percentage of visitors are landing on homepages. Here’s what the data shows based on our sampling of websites:

  • B2B site average: 50 – 60%
  • Business-To-Consumer (B2C) site average: 20 – 40%
  • Blog & News site average: 10 – 20%

Especially in the B2C category, there is a lot of variance in landing page statistics. A few of the sites we looked at had extremely high or extremely low homepage traffic: as high as 98% or as low as 4% landing on the homepage. Neither of these extremes is inherently good or bad, but could indicate areas for improvement in online marketing strategies.

Extremely high homepage traffic implies that you could be missing opportunities in search, social media, content marketing, email marketing, and other external links to specific, deeper content on your site.

Alternately, extremely low homepage traffic might mean that your brand awareness in the marketplace is low and could benefit from campaigns that promote your overall brand. In a 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmarking Report, Optify found that “Branded searches (searches that include the name of the company) show the highest engagement of any other source (3.71 page views per visit) and account for 31% of all visits from organic search.”

What Should You Do?

No matter what type of business or website you have, you can begin the process of improving your website by: analyzing your web data; finding out where visitors are landing on your site; and optimizing every page so that your site can meet visitors’ needs and increase conversions. This is also a good time to check out this list of ways to annoy website users and drive them away from your site – and then make sure that your website has none of them.

Consider what happens when a visitor comes to a page from Google and does not immediately find the content they were seeking. If the page fails to give users enough information about where they are and how to get to the content they want, they will quickly leave. Shane Cassells of Google, speaking at Digital Journeys, reports that “Fifty percent of all users don’t buy something or complete an experience on a website because they can’t find what they’re looking for.”

The requirements of a successful homepage – context, strong way-finding cues, the right keywords in links and headlines, a well-designed layout – are now necessary for every page the user might land on.

Does Your Homepage Still Matter?

Yes, but perhaps not as much as you thought it did. Even if it is not your #1 landing page, your homepage still serves as the primary brand statement. It is the place many users will go if they want to understand more about you and your complete offerings. You need to make sure the homepage is engaging and useful. Just don’t expect every visitor to start there. And don’t even get me started on carousels (that topic deserves a dedicated post all its own.)  :)

Next Steps

Do you want to know where users are landing on your website and what they’re doing once they arrive? Let Sixth Man Marketing help you by taking one of our upcoming summer classes:

July 18: Intro to Google Analytics

July 25: Social Media Analytics

August 1: Intermediate Analytics*

August 8: Website Usability

All classes will be at our new office location, 542 W Cataldo, Spokane, WA, and each class, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., will include a light lunch. Also included are a 90-minute additional lab (TBA), and access to Sixth Man’s analytics forum for 30 days.

*It is highly recommended that registrants for this class have taken the Introductory Analytics class. 

Register for classes here.

Pandas, Penguins and Website Rankings

You may have heard about Google Panda and Penguin updates and penalties, but what do they really mean and why should you care?

Panda and Penguin are both filters and penalties in the Google algorithms that adversely affect the rankings of what Google considers to be low-quality websites. Panda is mostly about low-quality content on a website.  Penguin is mostly about webspam, especially low-quality links pointing to a website (a.k.a. inbound links or backlinks). Some sites suffer from downgrading for both practices.

These algorithms are often refreshed (re-run), and updated (changed and re-run).  Google also gives each refresh a version number, to make each update easier to identify.  It is helpful for people who work in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to know about specific updates: for example, the Penguin 2.0 update, which took place in May 2013.

Google says this about Panda:

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

Google says this about Penguin:

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.

The criteria Google uses to make determinations of quality is not a mystery. Google has been telling us for a long time what it expects to see in a good-quality website, including not only the type of content, but the kind of links which direct users to good-quality pages.

The Panda updates target low-quality content.

Signs of low-quality content:

  • Duplicate or near duplicate content: This includes articles that have been distributed to multiple sites across the web. Changing a few words or sentences or rearranging their order is not enough for content to be considered unique.
  • Not enough content: Pages with insufficient content are not considered meaningful, and therefore are not much use to readers.
  • Keyword-stuffed content: We all feel the pain when we try to read this stuff. It was obviously written for the Search Engines and not for humans.
  • Irrelevant content:  Content on a page that is off-topic and not related to the rest of the website.
  • Content that’s not useful: Content that Google cannot decipher is not considered to be useful enough to humans to appear in search results.
    • Content shared with other websites is considered not useful.
    • Pages that are just lists of links are not useful.
    • Pages full of images or videos with little or no explanatory text are considered not useful.

In the past, this type of web content only hurt the rankings of the individual pages where it was published. Now, it negatively affects the rankings of the entire website on which it appears. The more low-quality content a site has, the more it is likely to be demoted in the rankings.

The Penguin updates target webspam.

Penguin: Cute but Deadly

The target of Penguin is webspam, which is indicated by unnatural or unearned incoming links, and keyword-stuffed internal links which direct traffic from one pages to other pages on the same website.

Signs of low-quality links:

  • All or most links go to home page: Google contends that if a site is full of quality content, it will attract links to different pages and not just to the home page.
  • Off-topic links: Links from forums, blogs and websites that are unrelated to what you do, do not help your pages rank.  If a link doesn’t make sense to humans, it doesn’t make sense to Google, either. Good links come from pages that are about your industry and/or your location, or are from other websites in your location or industry.
  • Links from bad neighborhoods: This includes free-for-all directories and sites participating in links schemes. (See Google’s definition of a link scheme here.)
  • Too many links from other sites you own or control.
  • Sitewide links: These are links from all the pages on a site, and are usually found in the page footers or sidebars.
  • Too many exact match links: These are links with text that exactly matches the term(s) for which you wish to rank. This can hurt you if it appears on your site, as well as on other sites.
  • Too many links of the same type: such as forum links, article links or blog comment links.
  • Linking out to off-topic pages and low-quality websites rather than to good ones that naturally segue from your pages.

Unnatural Link Notices

The surest sign of a link-related penalty from Google is a written warning from Google via your Webmaster Tools account. The warning will state there are unnatural links pointing to it, although websites that receive these are often egregious offenders. However, having even one link from a site that is being targeted by Google might be enough to get a formal notice.

These notices are sent out after a human review of a site’s links.  In order to get this penalty lifted, all the bad links need to be removed, and you must file for reconsideration. Most business owners should avoid trying to sort this out themselves. If you’ve received a warning from Google in Webmaster Tools, get professional help fast.

Panda Detection and Recovery

If you’ve been hit by Panda, there’s no point in pussyfooting around: Google thinks your entire site is of low quality.  Unless you take drastic steps to improve it, your website will sink further in the rankings as additional updates and refreshes appear.

First, evaluate all of your pages for quality and usefulness. If you think they are good quality pages, you may need more objective eyes to take a look. Then, make sites more useful to readers by eliminating pages with little value, and combining shorter pages about similar topics. Remove any content that is not unique to your website, and avoid presenting the same content on more than one of your URLs. Create new, more useful content and promote it on social media, so that it attracts viewers (and tweets, shares or +1s). Make sure you are not overusing keywords in either your text content or in the links pointing from one of your pages to another.

Penguin Detection and Recovery

Although you may have not received a notice from Google, you may not have escaped the consequences of a manipulative-looking link profile. The websites that Penguin demotes do not receive these warnings:  they simply become adversely affected by the algorithm. No reconsideration request is needed to recover from an algorithmic Penguin hit.

If it looks like you suffered from a Penguin update, a thorough examination of the website’s backlink profile is in order. Obviously, bad and iffy links should be removed in a process known as link pruning. At the same time, good-quality links need to be gained to get the backlink profile back on track towards a good balance. Before the site will regain its rankings, Google will need to re-crawl your site, find and index your new, good links, and prove that the bad links have disappeared.

Free Tools to Help You Tell

It’s fairly simple to tell if you’ve taken a hit from either Penguin or Panda by using the Panquin Tool. It’s free, easy-to-use software that overlays known Google quality updates on your traffic as recorded by Google Analytics. You need to have Google Analytics installed on your website and you must give the tool access to your account.

If you see a precipitous drop coinciding with an update, that should be proof enough to spur you into action. Here’s an example of a site that was slammed by Panda last October and has not yet recovered:

Google Analytics graph

You may find little to salvage on a site that has been badly damaged by either or both of these penalties, and decide to start over completely. When this is the case, take a long, hard look at your online goals and design your new site to support those goals and to be valuable to searchers. Then, you must not do anything where the primary purpose is to manipulate the Search Engines. This is the best way to Panda-proof and Penguin-proof your site for the future.

If you find that your site has taken a few hits and not recovered, you may want to find expert help. Sixth Man Marketing is dedicated to helping to make your website work better for you. Please call us if you need assistance!

Do You Know Enough To Do Your Own SEO?

In many areas, a little knowledge can be just as dangerous as no knowledge at all. After all, if you admit to yourself that you don’t know how to do something, you’ll most often do one of three things: do nothing; learn how to do it yourself; or find an expert you trust to handle it for you.

But if you think you know and you really don’t, you are very likely to make your situation worse. This is totally true of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Doing Nothing

Even though I’ve been immersed in SEO since 2003, I have to admit that if someone creates a website in a way that is useful to their human visitors and doesn’t try to do any SEO on it at all, it is possible for it to rank well and get plenty of targeted traffic. Of course, saying that it’s possible doesn’t mean it can or will happen. It just means that I have seen instances of this, especially when the business was early to get a website or in a fairly uncompetitive location or industry.

It is more likely, though, that doing nothing means Google will see duplicate content on your site or not see the valuable content on your site at all. It can also mean that Google has a hard time figuring out what your pages are about, so it’s unsure what terms to rank them for. Either of these problems can have an enormous impact on your rankings. So, doing nothing really isn’t your best choice, especially if your competitors are doing good things for their own SEO and surging ahead of you in the rankings.

Learning To Do SEO Yourself (DIY)

This is a tried-and-true method that plenty of small business owners have adopted over the years to help their enterprises succeed online. Some of them have become so good at it that they have pretty much become full-time SEOs and turned their original businesses over to others to run.

SEO certainly isn’t voodoo, and anyone willing to put in the time and effort can learn to be pretty darn good at it. However, in the world of SEO, change is continual and occurs at a rapidly accelerating pace. If you think you are keeping up, check out this list of recent Google updates to gauge how well you’re doing.

Some of these algorithm changes are minor and benign. Others, like the ongoing Panda and Penguin updates, have widespread, drastic impacts on rankings. If you have been hit by them and need to recover from their negative consequences, you probably need new tools, new skills and a new way of thinking: not just about SEO, but about your overall internet marketing efforts, as well.

You can do your own SEO, but if you are not willing to commit to keeping up with all the changes in the industry, you will quickly be left behind, and may not even realize what your problems might be or how to correct them.

Doing your own SEO may not be very cost effective, either, especially if your time is better spent making sales and earning money. A professional SEO consultant spreads out the costs of research, testing, skill building and professional tools over all of their clients, while a DIY-er must carry the burden of that time and money expenditure on her own.

If you rely on your web designer, developer or in-house IT department to do your Search Engine Optimization, keep in mind that they need to be continually upgrading their SEO knowledge and skill set, in addition to executing their primary functions. What has worked in the past certainly doesn’t work now. Heck, tactics that produced great results just 6 months ago could actually be penalizing your site today.

Find an Expert to Help You

Think about how valuable a well-performing website can be to your business. Consider your current skills and how much time and effort you’re willing to devote to improving your site on an ongoing basis. Then, if you need it, get some professional help.

When you’re ready for some assistance from a professional SEO team, fill out the form here.