In his book Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Website, SEO and online marketing expert Jon Rognerud shows you how to build a high-performance website and get top ranking on all search engines. In this edited excerpt, the author describes which website features to include--and which to avoid--in order to drive traffic.
When designing your website, keep the following tips and strategies in mind in order to create a site that attracts visitors:
Sound. Auto-start sound is annoying and deadly. Many people viewing your site are in the office or in a public environment, and the surprise of a sudden sound track often makes them panic and hit the button to close your site. While sound is a great addition for selling, be sure you point out the "turn sound off" option.
Pop-ups. While most people dislike them, pop-ups on exit to collect email addresses have been shown to increase email lists. This is about the only time pop-ups should be used and, even in this case, sparingly. Lightboxes (popping up a small window, staying on the same page, graying out the background) presented with useful information on an exit, or after a few minutes, and not again for 30 days can be programmed, and work well. Test it.
Background images. Background images are cheesy and amateurish. Review some of the major sites such as Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and Monster--you won't see background images. Background images also slow down load time.
Navigation. Make sure your site is easy to navigate by having a navigational bar at the top of each page. Keep the look consistent on each page. You may decide to use a top and left navigation. If you do, don't make it cluttered and hard to read. If pages require scrolling, a side navigational bar and links at the bottom of the page are useful.
Splash pages. A splash page (entry or welcome page) is like someone driving by and hitting a puddle while you're walking along the road--you just want to scream. Why would anyone work so hard to attract website traffic, then make visitors choose whether to enter when they get there? Avoid placing roadblocks on your website.
Click and scroll. Every time you make a visitor click, scroll or move the mouse, you risk losing that visitor. While you can't eliminate the mouse, you must minimize the number of times a visitor must click and scroll. The last thing you want people to do is leave your site. Keep mouse clicks from getting between the visitor and your message. Limit scrolling to article pages and sales pitches. Keep the scrolling on those pages to under eight screens.
Links to home. An absolute must for every website is having a "Home" link on every page. Visitors often want to return to the homepage, and depending on the depth of your website and how they arrived there, the back button in their browser might not take them to your homepage. Make sure your button or link says (keyword) "Home Page" or "Back to Home Page." Include your menu bar on every page.
Uncompressed photos. Use graphics software to compress your pictures to use less disk space and download faster. People don't like to wait and will leave. Imagine going to the grocery store and finding a 20-minute line just to get inside. Would you even park? Compress your files. There are several inexpensive software programs to do this for you.
Keep your text confined. Don't make content too wide for viewers with small screens. Content is fluid and expands as window size increases. A way around that is to fix the width of the content, but that poses another problem. Maximum page size should be 770 pixels wide to account for scrollbars. A percentage width or fluid content is usually the best choice. Review your analytics to reveal the broad base of user's screen sizes, and adjust accordingly.
Make your text large enough and easy to read. Backgrounds should contrast with text color. Avoid placing text over images, and use space between lines to make text easier to read. Use CAPITAL LETTERS appropriately and exclamation points sparingly!
Underlining any text other than links only irritates your visitors and makes the text harder to read. Instead, use italics, bold or color to emphasize. Web surfers have come to expect all links in content copy to be underlined and blue. Stay consistent within your site.
Links. A link that's incorporated in text can cause readers to leave and possibly not come back. For this reason, use embedded links only when they invoke the action of your content or web page's purpose. While links are important and convenient, be sure you're not placing an exit door right in front of your cash register.
Open links in new window. Make your links open in a new window when people are leaving your site. This gives them the opportunity to revisit your site and keep you in front of them a bit longer. While closing out windows can be a bit of annoyance, the cost here is minimal compared to the benefit of staying power.
Provide contact information. Make sure your contact information or contact link is on every page of your site and can be easily found.
Be original. As tempting as it might be, don't copy content from other sites. Copyright infringement is serious, and if the owner or a client doesn't catch you, the search engines could deal with you harshly. High-quality original content is the "king" of the internet--this is a must with your SEO strategy.
Test-drive your site. Broken links and images make your site look shoddy and appear untrustworthy. Test your site by loading from the internet, and test every image and link. View your site from several browsers. Recruit friends and family to help you identify and resolve any problems before you launch. Download the XENU broken link checker tool at home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html. Note: This power tool has many uses, including looking for duplicate content titles, types, sizes of pages and more.