I have been involved in website development for over ten years, from code monkey to project manager and even the poor mug who wants a snazzy new website but doesn’t quite realise what he’s getting himself into!
Today you can go online, find a nice template, pay pennies, plug in some content and by the end of the day you have a great new website that you can show off to your friends and colleagues. You can have flashy animations, interactive blogs and integrated email web forms, all without needing an ounce of knowledge about web design.
“So what’s the problem?” I hear you say….
Well, there is a world of difference between developing a website and developing a successful website, all depending on the measure of success. If you want to write a short story, show it to your family and friends and get a pat on the back then you’re probably going to succeed. If, however, you want to win the Booker Prize and sell a million copies, well then you’re going to need some help and the process is going to be a lot more involved.
There are five key elements to building a successful website:
- Clearly plan and define your objectives – What constitutes success
- Plan and produce your content – This will define what people do when they visit the site and help it get found in the first place
- Design your site – everyone knows this bit!
- Launch your site, measure and reiterate – learn from your visitors and adapt ths site accordingly
- Market your site – Give it a bit of PR, also called off-page SEO (search engine optimisation)
In this first article I’m going to focus on developing the site content because in my experience this is the least understood and most important process in website development.
This is really a guide to create effective content for your website, maximising your website ranking in Google, improving accessibility and making the initial development of your site more efficient.
This appears on the blue bar at the top of your browser window and should bear relevance to both the website and the page the visitor is on. When someone searches Google, this will be the link which takes the visitor to your webpage. The title of the BBC News page for example is: BBC NEWS | News Front Page
Page (META) Description
The page description is not visible on the webpage but it provides search engines such as Google with a brief description of the content on the page. This description will appear under the link in the Google search results and should only be 120 characters long. Search Google for ‘news’ and you will see the BBC News page with the following description: Visit BBC News for up-to-the-minute news, breaking news, video, audio and feature stories. BBC News provides trusted World and UK news as …
Page (META) Keywords & Phrases
These are no longer used by Google but it is very important to put yourself in the mind of you customers or target audience and think about which words they might search for to find this page of your website. Note down these keywords as they will be key to optimising your website later.
Content Heading 1
Each page needs a big bold primary heading which instantly and accurately sets the expectation to the visitor about what they can expect to find on this page. This may be the page title or may be part of the page description but either way it should be relevant to the page content and may contain one of your primary keywords.
Content Heading 2
If you have multiple paragraphs of text on the page you may want sub headings (or secondary headings) to break up the content and help signpost the visitor to the right information. Google likes these almost as much as the primary heading and are very useful for visually impaired visitors who might be using screen-readers to surf the site.
Content Paragraph Intro
The introduction paragraph needs to be short, sweet and clearly visible to the visitor, this is arguably the first time you really engage with your audience so make the most of it.
Content Paragraph Normal
Most of the informational content on your page will be text based and will fall under this category – a normal paragraph of text. Google loves this and if you follow these tips you will almost certainly rank well in Google:
- Keep it clear and concise
- Remove unnecessary words while maintaining the ‘personality of your site’
- Keep on topic – use your key words and keep the content relevant to the title and description
- Break up the content – use sub headings to structure the paragraphs into appropriate segments
- Keep it simple, reference diagrams for complicated concepts
Well used images, photos, graphics or diagrams are great for visitors, they attract the eye and can be the difference between a visitor staying on the page or bouncing away as fast as possible. They must be used wisely however as search engines and screen-readers cannot see images – you must label them carefully to help Google understand what they show.
- Keep file sizes to a minimum so they appear instantly and don’t keep the visitor waiting
- Make the name of the image file relevant to the image itself
- ALWAYS put a brief description of the image in the ALT tags
- Use the same text you put into the ALT tags into the TITLE tags
Content Image (Alternative Text) Title
Alt tags are critical for Search engines and Screen readers, they are the text based interpretation of the image and the only reference Google will have to what the image portrays. Think of these as Image ‘Labels’ and make sure you label every image you acquire for your content.
If you adhere to these principals for every single page then Google will take great pleasure in indexing your site, your page rank will be better off and people will start finding your site. This is the first step and it’s now down to the appeal of the content and design to take your visitors on a journey that will meet those success factors you identified right at the start.
It may sound like a lot of work and I’m not going to lie to you, it is and unfortunately the only person who can put all this content together is you! Having said this, by following these guidelines from the outset, you can save days of your own time later, you will save money on design (IF YOU DO THIS FIRST), your site will already be optimised and you should have a steady flow of visitors, allowing you to test and measure how well your content is received.