10 Ways to Improve The Website You Already Have
Who doesn't love a good list?
I’m Joshua Jenkins, Americans for the Arts’ Website Coordinator, here to drop some hints and tips on website improvement. I started at Americans for the Arts in the summer of 2013, and played a large role in the final push toward the website launch in December.
In a perfect world, you’d snap your fingers and a shiny, new website would appear live on the internet. However, as you've read already and will continue to read during this blog salon, there are a lot of important resources you need on-hand when redesigning your website.
Sometimes, a complete website redesign may not be in your organization’s budget, or you may have recently redesigned your website and can’t commit to a full design update just yet. Good news: these circumstances don’t have to stifle your ability to improve your users’ experiences while visiting your organization’s website.
Take a look at these simple, effective best practices that you can implement to offer your users the best experience – whether you’re fixing the site you have, or just starting the redesign process.
1) Update your Content
Sometimes the simplest updates are the most effective. The first question you should ask is: “Is our content concise and current?” If you have to scroll through outdated text for what feels like an hour to get to the bottom of a page, you should consider taking a look a good, hard look at your content. Not only will great content build your website’s search engine ranking, but it will also inspire your users to engage and share! (Check out our blog post dedicated to creating great content!)
2) Beef Up Your Imagery
Optimize your use of unique imagery - try to make your website as visually appealing as it is informative. Find interesting and helpful photos (hopefully avoiding boring stock images) that you can place throughout your content to break up the monotony of all that written text. Make sure to credit your photos appropriately, as needed – feel free to use the guide to crediting images that we created for internal use.
3) Embed Social Media
With Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram becoming important tools in brand awareness, take their visibility a step beyond just linking to their profiles. Think about appropriate places on your website where you can embed feeds that will showcase your latest posts. Perhaps you showcase your latest tweets or you create an Instagram photo stream for your event hashtag. There are a ton of free (or super inexpensive) options to do this effectively depending on the type of website you have. (Later in this blog salon, we’ll discuss multimedia in further detail.)
4) Keep Your Users on Your Site
As users, it can be easy to navigate away from a website and forget how we got to the page we are currently on. There’s a simple way to help your users avoid this: when you include a link within your content that points somewhere other than a page on your website (either DOCs/PDFs or external websites), set it to open in a new tab or window. This can be done by adding target=”_blank” to the link’s HTML code or utilizing your link menu item in your WYSIWYG (=What You See Is What You Get) editor if your site runs on a content management system. Often times this is a simple checkbox you can mark to make sure links are opening in new windows or tabs.
5) Utilize Google Analytics
Setting up Google Analytics can be as easy installing a plug-in or dropping a few lines of code into the pages you want to track. It’s important to understand how much traffic is coming to your website and what areas of your site get the most views. As we mentioned earlier in this blog salon, these statistics help inform your decisions on what to update immediately, as well as what needs a complete overhaul in the future. The best part is that a standard account with Google Analytics is free!
Is your site currently responsive for mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.)? If yes, fantastic!
If you don’t have a website that will adapt its design to the device on which it is being viewed, you should try to first determine how much traffic you are getting from mobile devices, and what areas of your website they tend to visit when browsing on a mobile device (Google Analytics can help you figure this out). Knowing that, you can then utilize best practices to make your site easier to use on a phone.
There are ways your web team or contractor can use media-queries as part of your CSS (Cascading Style Sheets – the rules for the styles of your website) and percentages instead of pixels so content can move fluidly between devices. The same approach can be used with fonts - try sizing your fonts in ems (a scalable measurement) instead of pixels, which are fixed. Though it’s not impossible, this is likely an upgrade that you’ll want to roll into your next redesign as opposed to retrofitting your current website because the costs will be similar. (One more mobile note: avoid using Adobe Flash on parts of your website that you want mobile visitors to view, as Apple products don’t support it.)
7) Organize your Navigation
How many items are listed in your top tier of navigation? Users should be able to clearly find the content they are looking without being overwhelmed by too many navigation choices or confused by having too few options. Try to use a navigation pattern that makes sense as a whole –use similar phrases (Who We Are, What We Do, and How You Can Help), verbs (Watch, Read, Attend, and Participate), nouns (Our Company, Our Services, and Our Work), etc.
And keeping your top-level navigation limited to no more than 7 items is usually recommended (don’t worry - you can certainly build out secondary menus options, as well as additional levels!). This is not a “one size fits all” kind of rule. However, if you can make your content easily findable in as few primary navigation items as possible, it will provide for a better user experience and won’t overwhelm the page.
8) Clock Your Page Speed
One of the most effective ways to encourage people to leave your website is if your website to take an eternity to load. If a page takes too long to load on a desktop computer, just imagine how it loads for a mobile user.
You can combat this by keeping photos at an appropriate file size and in the correct file type without drastically compromising the quality of the image. There’s no need to upload large images just to have to downsize them to fit a page on your website, so size down your photos before you upload them to your site.
Another great idea is to utilize embeddable viewers and iFrames to showcase large content (such as massive PDFs or videos) instead of uploading that content directly to your website.
9) Keep Font Size, Color and Type Consistent
You may or may not have a set style guide for your website, but setting up a consistent plan for font types, color scheme, and sizing for paragraph and header text will keep your website looking professional and clean.
It’s also helpful to set some standards on how to style for emphasis (bolding, underlining, italicizing text). For example, we avoid using underlines for emphasis (since they should be used to designate links), and we have decided on only 3 fonts that are used throughout our website. That keeps our website styling consistent, even though many different people on staff are manipulating the content.
10) Transition to Flat Design Elements
Although it is heavily debated (with some insisting it is a trend and others saying that it is here to stay), flat design is being adopted as the best way to present graphic elements on the web. Gone are the exaggerated drop shadows of yesteryear, or the glossiness and bevel in logos. Start taking away these dated design elements gradually for a fresher look and feel to your site.