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If you are building a new site, or deciding how to improve one, it’s easy to make a list of what needs to happen based your team’s preferences and experiences. This heuristic analysis is important, but there are additional strategies that will help you discover how to make your project better.

Popular wisdom says you need to A/B test. It’s a buzzword. It’s tempting. But it’s not always practical. Unless you’re tracking at least 1,000 transactions a month, it’s hard to get actionable data on what changes really matter. (Please Note: You can still test when A/B testing is not beneficial. Make bigger changes live and watch your analytics for a significant change - it just won't be scientific and could easily backfire.)

So what do you do when you don’t have enough traffic to test like Booking.com?

You leverage user and qualitative research, dig into the analytics, and utilize best practices for security.

By taking a step back, getting feedback, and making design-decisions focused on solving your customer’s problems, you can create a highly functional website that drives leads and sales to your business.

There’s always room to improve any site. Here’s our list of places to get started, it’s not exhaustive, but there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit.

13 Optimization Tips for Lower-Traffic Sites

  1. Make Sure Your Website Uses HTTPS
  2. Determine What You Want to Accomplish
  3. Review the Competition
  4. Dig into SEO and Identify Opportunities
  5. Work with a Content Writer Who Understands How to Write for the Web
  6. Use a Mobile-Friendly Design
  7. Make Speed a Priority
  8. Get Your Analytics on Track
  9. Outfit Your Site with Schema
  10. Utilize Social Media Integration
  11. Invest in User Testing
  12. Run a Content Marketing and SEO Campaign
  13. Conduct Qualitative Research by Surveying Your Existing Customers

1. Make Sure Your Website Uses HTTPS

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Not only does web security impact your Google rank, it plays a major role in your user experience.

HTTP refers to the protocol that sends data between your browser and the website to which you’re browsing. In 1994, Netscape Communications created HTTPS, a secure version of HTTP to help protect users.

Though initially slow to catch on, HTTPS has been a best practice for several years. Now more than ever before, it’s essential to your website’s success as it is a substantial Google ranking factor.

Additionally, Chrome and other modern browsers have been giving increasingly visible warnings to visitors on sites still using HTTP. Chrome recently showcased how bold these warnings are in their February blog post, ‘A secure web is here to stay’.)

Forget a prioritization model on this one. Just do it.

2. Determine What You Want to Accomplish

Business Meeting Discussing Goals
Defining what you want to accomplish gives you a clear sense of direction for your design.

Goal setting isn’t a new concept. If you don’t define what makes your project a success, you won’t know if it succeeds. To create a site that serves its intended purpose, you need to determine that purpose first.

Are you creating an e-commerce site where customers are making purchases directly through your website? Is the site intended to attract leads? Does the site need to communicate your expertise or make it easy for customers to get relevant information, such as your operating hours?

In most cases, a website will serve more than one function. The key is to identify all the things you want the site to do and then prioritize what’s most important for each page.

3. Review the Competition

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Reviewing the competition can help you pinpoint and define your unique benefits.

Take a look at what your competitors are already doing. This is not so you can copy them. Rather, you want to look at the things they are doing well and identify areas where they may be missing the mark.

Read reviews. Listen to the language their customers are using. If you see a common theme for things customers like or don’t, take note. These items can help you fine-tune your site, by mimicking the verbiage your prospects are using.

You can even use a 5-Second User Test to see how users respond to your competitors – is it clear what they offer? Do users know what to do? (See more about user testing in Section 7 of this post.) Learn from what you find and adjust your design.

4. Dig into SEO and Identify Opportunities

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When it comes to SEO, it’s extremely difficult to compete against someone who is already ranking. A better bet is to see an area of need which you can fill, such as keywords with a high relevancy and low competition rate that you can target.

It’s not uncommon for a site to seriously miss out on SEO opportunities. A successful SEO campaign is more just than throwing keyword rich content on a page. It involves:

  • Researching Keywords and how people search for your products and services

  • Structuring URLs Correctly

  • Crafting Relevant Meta Descriptions and Titles

  • Creating meaningful content

  • Strategic Link Building

It also requires a functional site structure that enhances and promotes your content with meaningful Web Schema.

We recommend working with an SEO specialist who can:

  • Identify primary, secondary, and related keywords with high search rates and low competition

  • Understand how long tail keywords can drive traffic over time

  • Create easy to crawl URLs

  • Craft engaging Meta Descriptions

  • Optimize Page Titles

  • Understand Google Search Console & Analytics

  • Identity Gaps and Opportunities to Rank Better

5. Work with a Content Writer Who Understands How to Write for the Web

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Not all content is the same. Emails differ from social media statuses. Website copy takes a drastically different form than a novel. That’s why you want to work with a content writer who knows how to write for the web, so she can create content that will actually engage readers.

Writing for the web isn’t like writing an email to a client or a high school English paper. Well-crafted website content is easy to skim, clear, and engaging. It is also seamlessly infused with (just enough) keywords.

Great web copy makes a compelling case for why your product matters, and why it helps your user.
This requires your content writer to have an understanding of header hierarchy – how H2s, H3s, and H4s will be read by readers and search engines.

It demands short sentences and small paragraphs.

And it means using a content writer who can easily work with your SEO specialist and web designer to fine-tune the copy to maximize your site’s organic performance.

6. Use a Mobile-Friendly Design

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With the vast majority of users on mobile devices, it’s more important than ever to make sure your website it mobile-friendly.

It should go without saying, but mobile-friendly design is essential. Make it a priority.

When ranking sites, search engines like Google place a huge emphasis on mobile-friendly sites. This is especially true for local search results. Even if your current audience appears to access your site using a desktop, don’t ignore your mobile traffic. Chances are your audience will tip towards mobile eventually. They already are when searching.

Your site should be as easy and clear to navigate on a smartphone as it is on a desktop or tablet.

7. Make Speed a Priority

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Speed is a priority, whether you’re a kid in a watermellon helmet or a designer updating a website.

Speed is another area that shouldn’t be overlooked. Visitors don’t just want a site to load fast, they expect it.

Steve Lohr reported in his New York Times article, ‘For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait,’ that:

These days, even 400 milliseconds — literally the blink of an eye — is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less.

And that was in 2012! Digital performance management company Dynatrace’s newest study shows that user expectations for load times has done nothing but increase.

Speed impacts Bounce Rate (how quickly a visitor leaves your site). It impacts Google Rank (where your site shows up in search results). And most importantly, speed impacts user experience (how satisfied a visitor is when they visit your site).

A recent exploration of how pagespeed affects conversion rates by Guillaume Derolez shows that 2.4 seconds tends to deliver the peak in conversion rates. You can see the full video here, but Derolez specifically addresses this issue at the 9-minute mark.

There are a variety of ways to improve your site’s speed. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Appropriately Size Images: Resizing an image for its intended use typically makes the image load faster. Imgix.com has a great JavaScript library that makes it much easier to crop an image to its “frame.” This will help you avoid having parts of an image hidden. Imgix also plays very well with lazy loading.

  • Lazy Load Images: The fastest image is the one you don’t need to download. By using a lazy-loading library, like lazy-sizes, you can delay loading an image until it can be seen.

  • Image Caching: Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to cache your images helps users download the right image and helps them avoid downloading it again later. Again, Imgix.com offers a tool to simplify this process.

  • Removing Unnecessary Code: Like changing the batteries in your smoke detectors, regularly checking your codebase for unused CSS and JavaScript will help keep your assets smaller and faster to download.

  • Asynchronously Load CSS and Inset Critical Path CSS in the Head of Page

  • Lazy Load Large Components: Use new API’s, like the Intersection Observer, to lazy load large components. For example, if you have a photo gallery below the fold, wait to initiate it until it is visible or near the fold. This makes the initial pass through of the Document Object Model (DOM) faster because there will be less JavaScript to run.

You can also consider using Vue or React to lazy load parts of the page that are not 100% critical. For example, a dynamic sidebar for a blog could be added in skeleton form, and then injected with a component. We have found that for now, server rendered views for pages that need organic SEO and ranking do better if the meat of the page is server rendered. Ancillary content can be added after the page loads. This helps the main content be indexable, while keeping the footprint smaller.

Sooner than later, Single Page Apps (SPA) and javascript rendered pages will be indexed on par with traditional server rendered sites, but we’re not there yet.

8. Get Your Analytics on Track

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Analytics allow you to monitor performance and make strategic updates to improve your website moving forward.

Analytics are essential because a website is always a work in progress. They help you identify what’s working and areas where your site needs improvement.

Your site should definitely be outfitted with standard Google Analytics. This is pretty common in the web design world. Even most third-party apps allow you to install the Google tracking code.

However, a shocking number of teams aren’t utilizing Google Tag Manager. A separate application, it is set up in addition to Google Analytics.

Google Tag Manager reduces tracking errors, improves tracking capabilities, and allows you to easily create and track unique campaigns. In short, Google Tag Manager helps you consistently get better data.

But, whether you use Google Tag Manager or not, you want to make sure that Google Analytics is set up correctly.

Learn More About Google Tag Manager

9. Outfit Your Site with Schema

Schema Example
Schema helps Google provide a more in-depth picture of your business within search results, such as the right hand section displayed about the symphony seen here.

Web schema is a powerful markup (aka semantic vocabulary) that helps search engines share substantially more information with users.

The code is embedded in your website. While it’s invisible to visitors, it allows search engines to quickly identify relevant details like your hours of operation, restaurant menus, products for sale, special events, and unique services. Get more details about how web schema can help you claim more search result real estate.

Schema can definitely get complicated. If you are reealllllly unsure how to implement it, you can try Schema app.

This Schema tutorial is also a great primer if you don’t really understand what Schema is.

10. Utilize Social Media Integration

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Making your site ‘share friendly’ allows your users to easily become your marketers.

Social media integration is two-fold:

1. Connecting it to the platforms on which you participate.

Make it easy for users to find you on social media by placing links in your footer. This allows users to easily find your social media profiles without distracting from the goals of your page.

Take our website for instance. Ee primarily participate on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Scroll to the bottom of any RWL Design page, and you’ll see all three of these platforms represented in the bottom left-hand corner.

This is because we hope you read this post first and then browser another. You don’t need to have your social media links front and center, especially if you prefer visitors to take action on the page.

Another common feature many website have is a share button. Be mindful how you utilize this feature, as it does affect the speed at which your page loads.

2. Make your site ‘share-friendly.’

Most social media platforms allow users to share content from an outside website. This means users can share content from your website and effectively help market your business.

Generally speaking, when a link is shared, a platform will showcase a ‘Link Preview’ with a title, meta description, and image.

Some platforms (like Twitter) need to be given specific code in order to render a link preview. Other platforms (like Facebook and LinkedIn) will automatically scrape the page to display a preview.

As the web designer, you can control how your Link Preview is rendered. Each platform has its own unique code snippet. Installing these snippets in the site’s code allows you to define what title, meta description, and image are displayed.

Important tags to consider are:

Most other sites will use these tags if they are present to preview and describe your page.

11. Invest in User Testing

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Making your site ‘share friendly’ allows your users to easily become your marketers.

Sites with lots of traffic typically have the budget to do user testing at every stage of development. This is ideal. The more user testing the better.

These sites also have the ability to A/B test once the site is live. This is because they get a large enough sample size to extrapolate real results.

When you’re dealing with a smaller budget and less traffic, you don’t have these options. However, we recommend allocating at least a portion of the budget for user testing. Why?

Because when you’re too close to a project, it can be hard to identify potential barriers a user will face, determine what design works best, and define what language is effective. Smaller businesses inherently want to control every aspect of the design. This comes with the ‘do it all’ mentality many small businesses depend on to succeed.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate to successful web design. User testing can help everyone involved take a step outside themselves to do what’s best for the customer. Our top four easily accessible ways to User Test include:

1. Five Second User Tests

We like 5 Second User Tests because your product does not need to be finished to be tested. You can get quick feedback on a design rendering, prototype or finished page to understand if your intent is clear. These tests should generally ask one question, like “What is this page about.” This helps you see if real people can quickly understand who you are, and what they are supposed to do on your website.

2. User Recordings

If your site is live, affordable tools like Hotjar let you record snippets of how users interact with your page. You can watch the recordings and look at how they navigate the site, what they click on, and if there is any erratic mouse behavior. An easy takeaway is to look for places people try and click that don’t have links. By adding them to these areas, you can make it easier to navigate.

Also, if the recording is of a desktop with a mouse, fast, erratic movements of a cursor could mean the user is having trouble with an element in view. Alternatively, it can mean they are frustrated and cannot find the answer they need.

3. User Polls

User pools allow you to get feedback from real visitors. Generally, you’ll want to use a simple user poll that appears and asks, “Do you have any questions you can’t find answers to?”

On a low traffic site it can take more time to get a large number of results. However, any data you are able to collect can help you identify problems and barriers users experience. This is another tool which Hotjar offers.

If you enable user polls, start the poll at the end of your sales/lead funnel - like a checkout page - and then work your way back to the home page. This will help you get information how to fix your most important pages first.

4. Site Messaging

If you have the budget, a site messaging tool, like Intercom, can one-up your user poll by turning it into a possible conversation. In addition, the messaging service and can also become a lead generator that rivals your contact form.

12. Run a Content Marketing and SEO Campaign

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A content marketing campaign helps you strengthen your site’s overall SEO presence and gives you the ability to increase your site’s rank.

A lot of work goes into designing and optimizing a low-traffic website. It’s an investment, to be sure. However, web design isn’t one and done. As much as some folks wish you could launch a new site, let it sit for a year or two, and keep earning page one search results on Google.

A content marketing and SEO campaign, allows your business to continue optimizing your site’s speed and keywords. It lets you target long-tail keywords. It gives you the ability to increase your search result real estate. And, it provides the opportunity to earn a ‘Spot Zero’ search result.

‘Spot Zero’ is the placement Google gives quick answers, normally in the form of a short paragraph or list. These quick answers are placed above the number one organic search result and often above any ads.

They are surrounded by a box and often utilize slightly larger text. This gives them more visual weight, increasing the likelihood a user clicks the link to your site.

13. Conduct Qualitative Research by Surveying Your Existing Customers

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Your current customers are one of your best resources. Use them. Find out what problems

The purpose of the survey is to understand what problems your users’ are facing. It is better to get feedback on the issues people are having, instead of asking what they think the solutions should be.

Ideally, you’ll want between 200 - 250 responses to have an adequate sample size that allows you to identify patterns.

The survey should avoid creating bias, such as questions like, “Do you feel…”

The survey should be short, ideally no more than 5 - 10 questions. It’s also a good idea to have a carrot that entices customers to fill it out. This ‘carrot’ should be something that feels valuable to the user, but it doesn’t need to be something that’s expensive for you to provide. For instance, you may offer an exclusive lunch with one of your high-profile employees, a reasonable coupon, or a helpful white paper.

Good survey questions may include:

  • What can you tell us about yourself?

  • What made you choose our site?

  • What was the one thing that nearly stopped you from buying?

  • What questions did you have that you couldn't find answers to?

There are a number of reputable survey providers. Survey Monkey or Typeform are great places to start.

You Can Do This

Just remember, even the California Redwoods started as a seed. But if you need some help getting there, our creative team here at RWL Design utilizes a variety of skilled individuals who specialize in SEO optimization, copywriting for the web, analytics, design, marketing, and strategy.

Our process is thorough and thoughtful. It involves working closely with each client to understand their needs. Together, we develop sites that reflect their brand, improve their online visibility, and help them achieve their goals.

Let’s talk about how RWL Design can help your jumpstart your marketing efforts.

P.S. We referenced The New York Times in the title because according to Moz.com as of 3/28/2018, they’re not only in the top 50 most popular sites on the internet, they are the most popular non-startup website on that list. Who says newspapers are dead?

Maybe with all that traffic, they’ll increase their view on limited browsing of articles displayed in Google News ;) If not, maybe these tips will help your out rank them instead.

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