Want to Design an SEO-Friendly Website? Be User-Friendly Instead.

Web DesignWhen you think about design for your website, you’re not only going to be determining the layout, colors and font. The most important thing for you to consider is the overall user experience. A good user experience will make customers more likely to stay on your site and perform the actions your site is intended for, like make a purchase or request more information. Thoughtful design will also make your site easier for search engines to crawl, which will improve your ranking in the search results, and in turn, revenue or conversions for your site.

Here are some tips on how to design a user-friendly and SEO-friendly website:

1) Pick One Target Audience

It’s not a good idea to try to create a website design meant to appeal to more than one target audience. If you try to satisfy everyone, you’ll end up satisfying no one. Find out which customer segment most frequently visits your website and tailor your website to that one segment.

Now that you know your target audience, you need to do lots of research to truly understand your customer. You need to know how they browse the web (mobile? desktop?) and what they want to find on your site. What keywords do they search for? What stage of the buying process are they in – research or purchase? You should also establish how your customer likes to be communicated with. Does your product or service require a more formal tone or can you be more laid-back? Choose your voice and be consistent throughout your site.

Along with researching your target customer, you need to analyze your competitor’s sites. Find out what methods they’re using to accomplish their goals and whether or not those methods are successful. See what they are offering customers and find a way to offer something better with your site that will set you apart. Also, learn what keywords your competitors are targeting. You can use tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer to gain insight into your competitors.

2) Architecture

When you begin constructing the architecture of your site, your business’s mission should be the foundation. As you design each page, you should be able to determine how the page will impact your mission so you can create a structure and user experience that will bring the best possible results.

Websites that are architected correctly organize content into related categories that use intelligent internal linking. Check out this infographic of a silo structure from Trond Lyngbø at Search Engine Land. Using a silo structure of Home – Category- Sub-Category – Topic – Content makes it easy for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for and navigate quickly through many different pages on your site.

3) Design

Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, design encompasses much more than just the appearance of your site. However, the appearance is still extremely important. You don’t want to over-design your site. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in as little as three seconds, they’re going to leave. You want your website design to facilitate your customer’s course of action, not inhibit it. Think about if there are any extra, unnecessary steps that are blocking your customer from their ultimate goal. For example, years ago it was trendy to have a fancy introduction page for your site. Today, if users are blocked from the content they want by some useless, minute-long introduction, they’re definitely going to leave.

When you’re choosing your web designer or agency, research your needs and determine a realistic budget. Then find a web designer or agency who can deliver what you need. If you’re a small company, you probably don’t need a huge, super-expensive agency. But you shouldn’t just hire the cheapest designer you can find either. You’ll get what you pay for in terms of design quality.

Content

Your content should be designed around a call to action. Don’t leave your customer wondering what they should do next on your page. Have a clear call to action that will help your customer get exactly what your content has been guiding them towards. If they’re in the research stage, you can offer a free white paper download. If they’re ready to purchase, get them to your shopping cart in one click.

Having great content is important, and continuously updating your content goes hand-in-hand with that. New, fresh content has a number of benefits for your site including showing your customers that you are a thought leader in your industry as well as causing your site to be crawled more often by search engines.

The keywords you choose are also an important part of your site design. You should include relevant keywords in your titles, urls and categories. Good titles will help draw users to your site much like an enticing news headline. Including keywords in your page titles will also improve your page rank for those terms. By including keywords in your urls and categories, you help improve the ease of navigating your site, not to mention SEO. There are a number of keyword research tools available you can use for free, like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

4) Maintenance

One thing you should avoid is taking all the time and effort needed to create a flawless experience for your users only to never check on your site’s performance again. Just like you want to test your site before you make changes, you should continuously check your site to make sure it is still working as it should. Put systems in place to make sure your links are still functioning. Do continuous competitive analysis, keyword research and usability testing. Monitor your site analytics to see what works and what doesn’t so you can keep evolving your content to fit customer needs. User experience and design is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous process that your organization will need to commit to in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep users engaged with your site.

What do you think is the best way to make your site more user-friendly? How can you use web design to improve SEO? Leave your comments below.

More Reading

I referenced these articles to create this post. Check them out!

The Pillars Of Strategic SEO & A Primer On Website Design – Trond Lyngbø

SEO Web Design Methodology – Bruce Clay, Inc.

8 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make – Illya Pozin

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A Guide For Getting and Keeping Online Customer Reviews

Online ReviewsMy last post was supposed to be about how to get more reviews on your site, however I got sidetracked by the concept of Social Proof so I went with that instead. I thought I could sort of touch on both in one post, but quickly realized that how to get more reviews on your site needed its own post. Boy, was I right!

I apologize in advance for this lengthy post! Researching this topic really took me on a journey. As I read more, I found lots of contradicting info out there. It goes to show how the rules of review sites change as sites wise up to the incentives and tactics being used to boost review numbers. So I wanted to share not only what you should do, but what will get you into trouble with review filters as well.

Why Reviews Are Important

So what’s the big deal about reviews (and why is this post so long)? Reviews help to build trust for your website and your business. Potential customers want to eliminate their feelings of uncertainty when they’re buying a new product or looking for a new service provider. Reviews help them to quickly learn from the experiences others have had with your company, which makes them feel more confident in their purchase decision.

Maybe you’re thinking reviews don’t really matter for your business because most of your competitors don’t have any. It’s true that some industries are naturally reviewed more than others. But even if your competitors don’t have any online reviews, you still need to be focused on acquiring reviews for your site. Reviews can be your unique competitive advantage.

Speaking of competitive advantage – in the world of search engines and rankings, competition is fierce. It’s possible that reviews can help your site rank higher in search results. However, a proven benefit of reviews is that they bring more traffic to your site. Positive reviews give potential customers reason to click on your site, and more click-throughs mean more business for you.

Which Sites to Focus On

The most important thing to do when you decide which review sites you want to focus on is to read the guidelines. Tactics such as incentivizing users to review your site may be fine on one site, but it may get you filtered on another.

So how do you determine which review sites are the best for your business? Start off by doing a competitive analysis and see where the most valuable reviews are for your industry. Take note of how many reviews sites in your industry typically have to create a benchmark for your review acquisition efforts.

Also, be aware that some review sites are more influential than others. A good way to figure out which ones are the most important is to see where they rank on the search results page. Obviously, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the review sites that show up on the top of the list, such as Google+ and Yahoo Local. However, you don’t want to ignore the less popular review sites. A lot of times, reviews from less popular review sites like CitySearch and Insider Pages will be picked up and displayed on other local search engines. You probably won’t want to focus your efforts on these less popular sites, but you need to be aware if your reviews ever do show up there.

What NOT to Do

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how you should go about getting those reviews. Certain tactics that are published out there you really should avoid. Here are three I found that I’d like you to take out of your review acquisition strategy right now:

1) DON’T set up a computer at your business for people to write reviews.

Review sites, especially Google+, know the IP address the review is coming from. If your page has a ton of reviews from one IP address, that’s a sure way to get them filtered and removed.

2) DON’T copy testimonials from your website to create reviews.

Duplicate content will get you a penalty in search engine results and could get your reviews filtered and removed. Don’t ask your customers to just re-write their testimonials for you word-for-word. If you want to use a review as a testimonial on your website, you can do so by taking a screen shot and using it as an image instead of text.

3) DON’T use incentives.

For one thing, if Yelp catches you incentivizing for reviews, you’ll be in big trouble. Other review sites are a bit more lenient on this policy, so you may be able to use incentives like discounts and coupon codes to get more reviews. However, your loyal customers don’t want to be bought. They want to feel like they’re a valuable partner in your business, so trying to buy them may actually insult them. Letting them know that their opinions and thoughts are valuable to you is a much better way to get their attention.

How to Get Reviews

OK, now that you know what not to do, how should you go about getting those reviews?

Timing

Space out your campaigns so you receive a slow stream of reviews over a longer period of time. Short spurts of lots of reviews set off red flags to the filters. You should also try to have the reviews posted as close to the time of the transaction as possible. That way it’s on top of your customer’s mind and therefore easier for them to write a review.

Segment by Account

If your customers have a Gmail or Yahoo account, start by asking them to review you on those sites.

Let Your Customer Choose Where to Review You

You can tell your customers that you prefer certain review sites, but ultimately you should leave the decision up to them. You want to make the process of reviewing you as simple as possible, so let the customer use the site they’re most comfortable with.

More On Keeping it Simple

The simpler your review process is, the more reviews you’ll get – it’s as simple as that!

Go through the process yourself, then create easy-to-follow instructions. Make sure to include many options on it so your customer can pick the one that works best for them. Check out this great review flowchart from Phil Rozek at Local Visibility. You can print these directions out and hand them to your customers or send them in an email.

Promote Your Review Sites

Include links to your profiles on Google+, Yelp and anywhere else you are accepting reviews on your website, email signature, business cards, etc. Letting your customers know where your profiles are will make it more likely that they’ll go there and post reviews on their own.

Tell Your Customer to Be Honest

In some of the other articles I read, it was suggested that you should only ask your happy customers to review you. While positive reviews are best for your business and for getting traffic to your site, ignoring negative reviews isn’t going to do you any good. Reviews not only help to drive more business to your site, they also should help you have a realistic idea of how your customers perceive you. You should take negative reviews into consideration and use them to improve. Don’t try to shield yourself from them. Besides, 100% positive reviews looks suspicious to the filters so you need a few negative ones in there anyway. Just remember to always respond to both your negative and positive reviews. You want to show your customers that you are learning from the negative feedback and that you truly appreciate the positive feedback.

Resources

This is by far the best resource for how to get more reviews I found on the Internet. It’s primarily focused on Google+, but it’s still a comprehensive resource on this topic with lots of helpful advice:

The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews – and Especially How to Get Them – Phil Rozek

What are your tips for how to and how NOT to get more reviews for your site?

What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?

What Really Makes a Successful Social Media Strategy

IMG_1393 (2)As someone relatively new to the social media marketing field, I am always seeking out the advice of experts. Luckily in this field, social media experts are constantly sharing their knowledge on Twitter, Google+ and everywhere else on the Internet. And I’ll admit it, I love an article that promises to teach me “How To Be Awesome at Social Media In 4 Easy Steps” or will tell me “7 Things Everyone Who’s Anyone In Social Media Already Knows About So You Really Need To Know Now.” I really am a moth to a flame when I see a title with a numbered list – I can’t resist clicking.

My predictable and often time-wasting love of numbered lists (hello, everything on Buzzfeed) is what led me to click on Chris Brogan’s article, “4 Bullet Points For More Social Media Mastery.” Now I’m pretty embarrassed to say this, but I took this article seriously for much longer than I should have. Just read the article and you’ll understand my embarrassment. I was eating up all of Brogan’s tips, beginning to feel more and more like someone in-the-know as I finished each bullet point. Maybe I was even getting a little bit smug.

It wasn’t until I got all the way to bullet point #3 where Brogan lays out the “action plan” (also meant to poke fun at all these types of articles) that I finally got the joke. Especially when I read this paragraph:

“Mashable. Lots of people like Mashable. Just share that. Also, retweet pretty much anything said by the following: @guykawasaki, @chrisbrogan, @garyvee, @marismith, and pick a few of YOUR favorite social media guru/master/ninja/rockstars. In fact, just set your accounts up to auto-tweet their stuff. Faster that way.”

Everything mentioned in that paragraph would be a sure way to annoy all your followers, which Brogan and any savvy social media marketer is well aware of.  (And even I know that saying you’re a social media guru, master, ninja or rockstar is the quickest way to discredit yourself as being any of those aforementioned things.)

Getting Started With Strategy

While Brogan’s article wasn’t “serious,” it seriously got me thinking about what really makes a successful social media strategy (which I’m sure was Brogan’s true intent). So I did a quick Google search for “social media strategy” which returned a cool 450,000,000 results. Not wanting to stray too far from my pattern, I clicked on “3 Steps to an Effective Social Media Strategy” by Amy Porterfield. I’d like to paraphrase what I learned from her article because her approach is simple and it’s a process with proven results. Here we go:

1) Assessment

Get a clear understanding of your audience’s needs and wants by simply asking them. There are many ways of doing this for free or very little money (Survey Monkey, Google Docs). Then decide what you’d like to accomplish through your social media efforts and narrow your goals to only one. Porterfield states that social media goals are usually these three things: awareness, sales or loyalty. Again, you should only focus on one.

Another important part of the assessment process is for the team to identify the driving force of the brand’s social media presence.  Porterfield references what Jay Baer calls your “One Thing” that stands behind every message you communicate to your customer.  It’s what makes you stand out and what makes your brand special.

The last part of the assessment stage is formulating the tactical social media plan. This includes scheduling, editorial calendars, contingency planning, etc. The plan should be as detailed as possible.

2) Implementation

The implementation stage is when you will put your plan to work. No plan should be written in stone, especially in the fast-paced world of social media. It’s important to be flexible and make tweaks as you go along as well as keep an eye out for new opportunities.

Also, the implementation stage is no time to be shy. Embrace your social media presence and promote it. Add links to your company website and to your email signatures. Don’t make your pages difficult for your community to find.

3) Measurement

Get back together with your team a few months after you’ve implemented your social media strategy. Use the analytics and reporting tools available to you to go over the numbers and see what’s been working and what hasn’t. Schedule time to collaborate and come up with new creative ideas on how to connect with your audience. Then start the process again.

The Core of a Successful Social Media Strategy

With so many people out there claiming to be experts and an almost overwhelming amount of information and new tools and platforms, it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that we need to know it all. Of course it’s our job to be knowledgeable about current social media trends, but what we really need to be an expert in is our customer. That’s why the customer’s values and how we meet their needs is always at the core of a successful social media strategy.

What do you think makes a successful social media strategy? Have any tips on how to stay ahead of social media trends? Leave your comments below.