It can be easy to get caught up in the glamour of a website redesign project. After all, it's the most significant digital expression of your brand. Yet, while it’s important for your website to look good, there are additional factors that contribute to a positive online experience.
At Rise, we are frequently asked to help brands develop strategies and budgets for new websites and major redesigns. Through these experiences, I’ve noticed that many marketers focus heavily on design and development from a budgeting standpoint, yet often overlook or de-prioritize two other critical elements: usability testing and search engine optimization (SEO). It’s essential to understand the heft of these two areas and for your team to consider them early on in your website planning. By taking a data-informed approach to your design and implementing a well-thought-out SEO strategy, you are much more likely to provide your customers with a relevant and valuable brand experience.
While not intended to be an exhaustive list, the following are strategic considerations and tactical best practices around usability testing and SEO, gathered from our experience working with brands on successful website projects.
1. Recognize that good looks only get you so far.
Many web designers understand user experience (UX) best practices (i.g. where to place a header image, calls to action, navigation, etc.), yet form sometimes still wins over function, simply due to the ability to easily and quickly make subjective, non data-based decisions.
For instance, think about a beautiful web layout where the number of page categories in the navigation are reduced. It may look clean and aesthetically pleasing, but when examining your web analytics or applying heat map analysis, you may find that you inadvertently removed a key navigation element that was helping customers advance through their purchasing journey. And that’s something you don’t want to risk.
2. Uncover pain points and next steps.
Executives often know they want to redesign their websites, but have a hard time articulating exactly why. Usability testing can help surface an old site’s design defects, uncovering what it isn’t doing that the new site should achieve from an engagement and conversion standpoint.
A best practice approach would be to perform testing on both your old site, as well as the new site, and analyze any differences in performance. Enterprise sites with significant reliance on web leads or sales revenue can take this a step further and roll out multiple iterations of a new site page at the same time. By partitioning different sections of your customer base to these different versions, you can gain a clear picture of what does and doesn’t work across many variables. Then as you fine tune the winning experience, you can send an increasing amount of your traffic to the best converting and most engaging version.
3. Use qualitative data to understand the why.
One (perhaps surprising) point to consider when reviewing all of this data, is that sometimes additional qualitative analysis is just as important as the quantitative data. For example, if you are measuring site engagement and defining it by the number of pageviews and time spent on the page, qualitative analysis can help ensure you are accurately understanding your data. There’d be a large disconnect if those same numbers you’re reading as engagement really meant that customers were no longer engaged or that they were confused by the new design.
Qualitative research gives a voice to your data, helping to explain why people do what they do, rather than what they are doing. This information may be gathered through consumer panels, voice of customer onsite surveys, and other methods that invite actual consumers matriculating through your website to provide feedback.
SEO & Content Strategy
Luckily, Google rewards a good user experience and content with a higher organic page rank, giving you a head start on the next component I’ll address: SEO. In addition to an outstanding user experience, it’s important to develop a robust SEO strategy that is driven by both technical and content goals.
1. Use redirects to keep your domain authority.
On the technical side, important factors in determining your search rankings are authority and links. Moz uses domain authority to assess a site’s quality. This is an index ranking between zero and 100 based on the number of sites that link to your domain and the quality of those links. When you build a new site and change your URL structure, a common error is to send these links to pages that no longer exist. Consequently, search results link to the old (now invalid) URLs, which in turn costs your site its authority. The best way to avoid this is by completing a thorough mapping of all current URLs to new URLs on the site. Once the map is completed, 301 (permanent) redirects are needed to ensure all existing authority is passed through to the new URLs. Click here for an example of how a major toy retailer lost its search rank by failing to plan for 301 redirects.
2. Pay attention to your internal links.
Linking within your site is also critical to a successful SEO strategy. Pages don’t rank solely on how well they are optimized; they also rank based off which pages are linking to them within your site. Internal links help search engine crawlers to quickly see which pages are most important on your site and how pages relate from a content and navigation standpoint.
Through a smart internal linking structure, you are able to ensure your site pages aren’t competing against one another for search rankings. Creating a content architecture of all related themes and ensuring they are linked together will help drive rankings for those highly searched, competitive keywords.
3. Drive organic traffic with relevant content.
Along with technical SEO, a new site is a great opportunity to ensure your content is aligned with your key audience segments and communication goals. For instance, your brand may have three different target personas, each composed of individuals at different stages in the customer journey. Make sure you are providing content that is valuable to each of these segments every step of the way.
By conducting a data-driven content audit, you can identify the gaps and improve the relevancy of your website for each audience. This is also a great time to identify low quality, thin content that may be able to be redirected or combined with other pages on the site. The cleaner the site is of thin content, the higher the authority and rankings it will receive.
Remember that no matter how aesthetically pleasing your site may be, its usability and search rank are two critical elements that should not be discounted. By providing an exceptional user experience and developing a robust SEO strategy, you are ensuring customers will enjoy your well-designed site and have a seamless online brand experience.
For more information and additional considerations on incorporating UX testing and SEO strategies into your website development projects, reach out to Rise.