6 Must-haves for Your Website
Creating or maintaining a website takes patience, some coffee, and a whole lot of research. Especially if you are in this journey without a wise developer wizard to hold your hand and guide you.
If you do it right, you will sift through hundreds of blogs to compare hundreds of hosting providers, content management systems, and developers to find the ones that best fit your needs. Then you will have to wade through millions of ads begging you to buy their features and addons. These companies make it seem like unlimited functionality is always just a few clicks away, making it hard to discern what the necessities truly are.
Which is why we will discuss the most important aspects of your website allowing you to know where to focus your resources, what the industry and users expect, and how to track your progress.
So bookmark this blog, get your coffee, and buckle up as we tackle the “6 Must-haves for your Website.”
Here is an outline of what your website must do:
Your website must: Load Fast
This is an issue I’m sure we all encounter on the daily! You get to a website and it takes forever to load. It can be very frustrating just waiting when I have a million things to do (the last emotion you want someone to feel as they go to your website). Apparently, this is a universal sentiment as well, because according to Goodfirms: 88.5% users say that a website’s slow loading speed is the main reason they stop engaging with a website. As technology is improving, users are expecting websites to be faster. This principle is what drove Google to start adding fast loading speeds to their standards (more on this later).
Before trying to speed up your website, however, you need to establish how your page speed is doing now and then track it as it (hopefully) improves. Here are my favorite sites to measure page speed:
- gtmetrix.com (this one will even show your speed history!)
These sites allow you to plug in your domain and see everything about your load speed. They will even link to articles that can help you in areas that you are lacking.
Now that you know where to test your speed, let’s explore how to increase it.
1. Rent Quality Hosting
In the most literal way, a server is a must-have. It houses your website and is one of the three things (hosting, domain, cms) your website cannot function without. The question is: “What makes a hosting provider quality?” I’m glad you asked!
Hosting providers rent out their servers to you, so you can put your website’s files, database, email account, etc. in a safe and easily accessible place. When a browser loads your page, it requests the files of code from your server. The amount of data in the files and the lack of efficiency in your server is the main cause of slow loading pages. Therefore, your hosting provider needs to make sure their servers are up to date and running smoothly.
There are many hosting providers who claim to do this, but after our 20 years of experience, we believe SiteGround truly delivers. They offer great support, powerful servers, free SSL (we’ll talk about this later), cheap plans, and they are recommended by WordPress. This kind of hosting is key to having fast pages. When we switched allwebpromotion.com from GoDaddy to SiteGround our pages loaded 40% faster! Needless to say, we recommend SiteGround to our clients now.
2. Optimize Every Image
If all that hosting stuff about databases and files was a little over your head, you will like this next step because it is simple and easy.
Optimizing your images consists of compressing them and only using the smallest size necessary.
The more data on a page the slower it will load, so the goal here is to use the bare minimum file size or ratio necessary for your images.
The first way to do this is by shrinking the dimensions of the image to the smallest it needs to be. This can be done with any basic image editing tool (I usually just use Microsoft Paint). To decide how small to shrink the image, measure the area on the page where the image will go and scale down the image to a similar size (the largest image you will probably need is 2400px wide). Next (the order you in which you do this does matter) we will compress the image’s data.
Compressing image’s data means removing all the unnecessary meta data the image file has collected overtime. This will not ruin the quality of the image, it will just clean its code. Therefore, two identical images can be very different in file sizes.
There are many tools out there that compress your images, but these are some of our favorites:
Side Note: If you have time, run your images through these compressors a couple of times for maximum effect.
Like I said, this is an easy way to speed up your page loading time; however, the optimizing isn’t the hard part: it’s remembering to do it every time you upload an image!
3. Clean Code
Like I said earlier: the more data loaded the longer the wait. Try and use best practices to cut out unnecessary (and time-consuming) workarounds.
It is very easy to get lazy and unorganized when coding your site. You spend hours trying to make something work and before you know it, all the correct formatting is out the window (this will help with that) and you have abandoned best practices altogether. It is very easy to get sucked into one minor issue and not think of the problem as a whole.
This usually also stems from a lack of knowledge in what the language is designed for. Don’t try to try to fix something with the wrong tools. Familiarize yourself with the purpose of languages and their many facets. Embrace the research of new solutions. And remember, if you have to spend hours trying different combinations of the same code there is probably a more efficient way to do it.
All of this will lead to cleaner code and faster loading speeds.
If the last few paragraphs sounded like gibberish to you, you are probably using a CMS for your website. If so, then make sure you are updating your CMS and it’s plugins as soon as possible. This will make any migration, addition, and protection of your website much easier as well.
4. Remove Needless Content
This one may seem obvious, but it is a good reminder: some content, design elements, features, etc. are completely unnecessary.
Remember when I said: “The more data on a page the slower it will load”? That means that you have to carefully vet the content you add to your website.
Before you add anything else to your website ask yourself these three questions:
- Can this content be summarized or compressed?
- Does this content distract the user from the end goal of the website?
- What is the purpose of this content in relation to the purpose of the website?
These rules of condensing, organizing, and filtering all the content and code of your website appeal to the general principle of being intentional. They will also make your users happier and give you higher rankings in the end.
Your website must be: Easy to Find
What good is all this content optimizing if people never find your website? Not much good at all, which is why this part is especially essential.
Think of it like this: Between you and the user is a treacherous river. The only people with boats are search engines (we will mainly focus on the largest cruise ship looking boat: Google, because they dominate the waters).
When a user asks Google a question, Google sails across the river to the websites. They will then look through all the websites for pages that answer the users question the best; however, there is a caveat: Google will serve these pages in an order based on how well they meet Google’s standards and answer the user’s question. The better your website is, the higher you will be ranked. They hold every page to a high standard so they can present the user with not only a page that answers their questions, but a page that will be secure, beautiful, and (because Google has a lot of websites to crawl) easy to crawl. The art of meeting these standards is called SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and it takes years to perfect.
If studying all of Google’s rules seems like a chore than use these tools:
- All Web Promotion (that’s right we give free site audits and they rock)
Side Note: Take advantage of Google Analytics. It will show you all you need to know about your traffic and user behavior. Plus it’s free!
Now that you know how your website is doing right now, let’s find out how to progress.
Luckily Google’s standards match up with what the user wants quite well, which means that most of the necessities we will discuss are also Google’s standards. However, here are extra ways you can raise your rankings.
The more content you have, the more likely Google will find the answer to a user’s query on your website. That is why blogging is key. However, not all content is good. Google’s algorithms are looking for quality over quantity.
Keep your blogs industry relevant by using keywords and answering common questions about your field. Don’t just add all your keywords anywhere in any page, put them in relevant places that explain who you are as a business. This will make Google happy and bring the right kind of leads to your site.
2. Use Schema
So far today, at 12:06 PM, Google already has had 3,305,865,297 searches and counting! They are busy. Which is why they will also rank you higher if you make their job easier with Schema.
It is code added to your website that organizes the way code is structured and relates to each other. If that doesn’t make sense, then let’s use Brandee’s famous avocado analogy: imagine you are in a grocery store looking for an avocado. But there’s a catch: the store has absolutely no organization or signs. You have to run down every aisle looking for a small vegetable in a sea of random products. This represents your website without schema as Google crawls it. Schema organizes the grocery store by adding signs and rearranging everything in an orderly fashion.
3. Utilize Google Search Console
Another way you can give Google a hand is by seeing things from their perspective with Search Console.
It is a free tool that shows you the way Google sees and displays your website in their search results. They let you confirm Google has crawled your site, fix and request an indexing of pages, and give them a site map of your website.
Side Note: You can link your Google Search Console to your Google Analytics account to get a panoramic view of your website’s data in your reports.
4. Write Meta Data
Meta data allows you to suggest different aspects of your page to specify search engine display in their results. It is used by adding a meta tag in the head tag of the page’s HTML.
Side Note: If you are using WordPress, use the Yoast plugin to see a preview of meta data in action and edit the meta title and description.
It has many different functions, but the main one we will focus on is the meta title and description. They allow you to write a custom name and summary of your page. This is what it looks like:
If you have a good writer writing your meta title and description, you can persuade someone to click on your page.
Side Note: Remember, this is only a suggestion to Google. They reserve the right to make their own meta description, and throw yours in the trash.
Your website must be: Easy to Remember
The human attention span and short term memory are shrinking faster than I can remember. This is why both the name of companies and their domains are getting shorter (not even joking).
How is your business adapting? How easy is it to recall your businesses name or domain? It needs to be descriptive, short, and simple. I’m not saying you have to change the name of your business, but your domain name is a more realistic option to modify.
If you are still looking for domains for your website, be sure to not rush into it and to be researched and intentional about the name you choose. As you advertise your website, you want people to be able to remember the domain easily so they can search for it later.
Also, if you have it in the budget, buy other domains that are similar and redirect them to your website before your competitor directs it to theirs.
Side Note: Use .com and .net as your extensions.
Your website must be: Clean & Fluid
The design of your website is a very important aspect because, according to Adobe, it can directly affect your bottom line. Their study from 2015, showed that 38% of users will stop engaging a website if its “content is unattractive in its layout or imagery.” Users are starting to expect high quality websites and giving it to them will benefit you in the long run too.
1. Clean Code
Without a quality back-end, you can not maintain a quality front-end. Follow the principles that I mentioned earlier to do this and install schema to keep the code organized for search engines.
Side Note: Use heading tags to specify the different levels of headings to organize your code and to raise your rankings.
2. Design for the User
Isn’t it funny how something makes sense in our head, but not to other people? Which is why user testing is so important. Get your friends or colleagues to browse your website and critique it. Make sure every design element has a part in leading the user to the desired end goal. Here are some general guidelines to help:
- Minimal Design (it is today’s trend and the less content the faster the loading speeds)
- Guided (give the user simple actions they should take)
- Clear Navigation (keep the navigation in the header and make it easy to see)
- Search Bar and Navigation Menu (on average, half of users prefer one or the other so have both)
- Responsive (we will discuss this next)
Side Note: Look at how your competitors approach the same design challenges you are facing to get ideas.
Your website must be: Responsive
Having your website look and function well on mobile devices used to be an afterthought, but everything has changed. Firstly because mobile phones have become cheaper and more accessible. This number has only been climbing higher into, as well. According to Perficient Digital, “In 2018, 58% of site visits were from mobile devices.” Secondly, because Google (in an effort to help users) changed the indexing system to Mobile-First Indexing. They now crawl and rank a website’s mobile version, as opposed to the desktop version. This has made companies design for mobile sized screens and, in turn, made users expect mobile-friendly websites.
How does your website look on a phone? Well if you are like most humans you have one on your person right now. Whip it out and see how your site looks. Another, and more thorough, way to test your site mobile-friendliness is to use Google’s tool. This, like the site speed test, will give you a detailed evaluation with resources.
Now that you know your starting point let’s explore how to make it better.
There are many ways to make a website look good on mobile devices. However, they usually have serious drawbacks such as slow loading speeds, poor desktop design, or only existing on a limited number of breakpoints. The best technique is Responsive.
A responsive design is one that appeals to any screen size by rearranging and stacking elements. It will shrink the text and images to keep everything readable and will still be completely functional and attractive. This design will even be relevant in the foreseeable future as many unique shaped and sized screens are becoming more prevalent. And, if you needed another stamp of approval, Google prefers responsive design too.
Your website must be: Secure
As technology grows, the ways to abuse it are a half step behind.
If you are a website proprietor, you are responsible for your user’s safety. Especially if you have a website with a contact form or payment system and in a world of major corporations selling or not protecting user data (*cough Facebook *cough) users want to know their data is safe.
Which is why it is as necessary as ever to secure your site by covering these bases:
1. Get SSL Certification
You can see if your website has this certificate by looking at the URL of your website. If it says “http” than you are exposing the page to being controlled by a hacker. If it says “https” than you are connected to the server with an encrypted connection.
Side Note: Most hosting providers will offer this certification free unless they are jerks (I’m looking at you GoDaddy).
This is one of the most important ways to secure your site not only because it leaves connections between a browser and server exposed, but also because Google will rank you lower on this certification specifically. It will even affect your user experience. Google updated Chrome recently to now show “NOT SECURE” near the URL. Plus, the green lock near the URL will reassure the user of your site’s safety.
2. Install Security Software
Give your whole website comprehensive security by securing everything from your website, to your hosting, to your email. Also, be sure to research whatever security software before purchasing. Just because it says it will secure doesn’t mean it will.
Side Note: WordFence for WordPress is an amazing plugin that will give you notifications of attacks and security scans.
3. Update Your Software
In our experience, the most common culprit of a hacked website is outdated software.
The longer software has gone without being updated, the longer hackers have had to learn how it works and how to exploit it. Updates are full of important security patches that are essential to fixing weak points in the code. Set reminders for yourself to update all your plugins, addons, themes, and CMS versions at least every month if possible.
Building and maintaining a website is not easy. From your domain to your server to your front end, there are millions of potential options and additions. Use this article as an outline in your decision making and research process to keep you from wasting your time on the non-essentials and focusing on the must-haves.
If you have another must-have you think should have been listed or you have any questions about your website, feel free to comment below or shoot us an email!