The Ultimate Holiday Checklist- Part 2: Web Development
Welcome to the second installment of The Ultimate Holiday Checklist. This is a mini-series, loosely based off a recent workshop, where we equip you with all you need to take advantage of the enormous amount of spending that takes place during the holidays. If you haven’t read part one of this series, I highly suggest you do so now.
Last time we talked about how shoppers are projected to spend about a trillion dollars this coming holiday season. I suck at math, but I do know that is a BIG number.
Traffic both physically and digitally will be thick as people are scouring the web for deals, promotions, store times, etc. How is your business prepared for this frosty flux? Do you have a plan in place to not only survive, but thrive?
How can I prepare my business for the holiday shopping season?
I’m glad you asked! Here is a list of the things your website needs before the holiday season begins.
Content is the sum and substance of your website.
“Web content is the textual, visual, or aural content that is encountered as part of the user experience on websites. It may include—among other things—text, images, sounds, videos, and animations.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_content
It is the whole point of your website – the stuff people go to your site to see.
Before the holiday traffic boom begins, you need to make sure your content is clearly stating the things that users want to know about your business in an organized and attractive way.
Put yourself in the user’s shoes and think about it for a little bit. Go ahead! Stop reading and jot down some of the things you think brand new users on your site want and need to know about your business. I’ll wait…
Note: To assist in compiling your list, it may help to research (with Google Analytics) how users are getting to your site. Every website is different.
Done thinking? Great! This is the list I came up with. Yours may look similar:
- Contact Info
- Company Story/Ethos
In general, those are the things users will want your website to tell them. Then organize your list from greatest to least, like I did, we’ll refer to the list later.
Now let’s elaborate on these points:
This is what your business does to make money. Simple enough.
This is the highest thing on my list because your user can’t buy your product if they don’t know what it is. This may be obvious if you have an e-commerce store, but if you run a business that has some services that are more complex or uncommon, you need to fill your user in. Assume that they don’t know the broad concepts and lingo and never underestimate the power of some simple diagrams.
2. Contact Info
List your location, phone number, email address, social media platforms, contact forms, store hours, etc. Optimize the contact info by making sure your phone number is click to call, your email address is click to email, and that your address is linked to the directions on Google Maps.
Anticipate what methods your users will want and need in order to contact you and highlight that part of your contact info.
For example: If you are a brick and mortar business, then you want your users to easily find your businesses location. Add a map with directions and make your hours prominent. Or, if you have an e-commerce store, maybe you could have a chat feature to quickly answer user’s questions and lead them to check out.
Again, put yourself in the user’s shoes and think about what they would want.
Note: make sure to specify your holiday store hours.
3. Company Story/Ethos
News Flash: Your business is probably not the only one in your market. Your business is just a cell in a larger organism. Therefore, highlight what makes your company special. Appeal to the niche you fit into and dominate that niche.
Explain how your business began and how your stellar business practices have led your business to success thus far. Talk about where your business plans to go in the future. Set high aspirations and explain how your business will get there.
Back up the claim that you are the best by providing a gleaming list of happy clients. The best customers can sometimes be the best salesmen. They provide a (hopefully) unbiased source of affirmation that users know they can rely on.
You may have a different list of what content to add and how important it is, but no matter what industry you’re in, your content needs to be optimized.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the art of making your website rank higher on search engines. You accomplish this by making your website comply to the standards that search engines want (this blog is going to focus on what Google wants because of their undeniable dominance). There are hundreds of ways to appease Google to get better rankings (all the other points in this blog are Google recommended), but in this section we’ll just focus some of the really important ones, starting with content.
Google knows that content is the sum and substance of a website, so the quality of it is a big factor in how they rank your website.
So, what do they want for content? Actually, everything we’ve talked about so far, user friendliness and relevancy. However, you can add additional things to your content to appeal to the standards even more.
Keywords are the words that describe your business. They are words that you want to rank for when people search them on Google.
For example: If you sell Christmas trees, maybe some keywords you want to rank for are: Christmas Trees, Pine Trees, Spruce Trees, Tree Nursery, etc.
Note: do a lot of research before deciding what your keywords should be.
The more you fill your content with these keywords the more opportunity Google has to use your pages in their search results for those words.
This does not mean that you should just have a website repeating the same words over and over again. Keywords need to be used in a way that makes sense and shows your business’s authority. Over saturating your content with keywords can actually lower your ranking because you’ll appear spammy.
You can also optimize your site with additional code to not only rank higher, but control how and what content is displayed on the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages).
The first way to do this is with Meta Data. Meta Data is code that helps the Google bots crawling your content to understand the purpose of the content and to suggest what summary of the page should go on the SERPs. As an example, let’s look at the most common types of meta data: title and description tags.
You can add these tags to the HTML of your website and it will tell Google what the title of the page is (with the title tag) and what the page is about (with the meta description tag). Here’s what that looks like in your code:
<!DOCTYPE html> <head> <title>All Web Promotion: Home</title> <meta name="description" content="Our agency has 20 years of experience in design, programming, search engine and social media marketing, email marketing, and paid advertising."> <head/>
This is what would show up on the SERP:
This is an important weapon in your SEO utility belt because it lets you write eye-catching page titles and descriptions that will entice people to click on your site as they scroll through search results. Google also likes it because it makes their job easier.
Schema is markup neatly labels sections of your code making it easy for Google’s bots to identify and allowing you to put rich snippets of content on your Google Results Pages. Rich snippets are dynamic snippets of information from your site that show up on the SERPs. If that made no sense don’t worry, I have more visuals!
These snippets offer users quick, digestible, and attractive answers to their questions.
Note: schema can be added to your contact information.
Content is hard to understand and fully grasp without design. If your page was just paragraphs of text, no one would want to read that and it would end up detouring users instead of leading them to goals. On the other hand, if you style the content in the wrong way you will further confuse the users by emphasizing the wrong content in the wrong places.
The goal of your design should be to give your users the information they want in the most easily understandable and attractive way while leading the users into your desired actions.
If that sounds hard, you’re totally right. It is pretty hard, especially as new styles and trends quickly come and go. That being said, it gets much easier if you stick closely to the following rules:
This rule must be used at any level of your design. From your layout to your spacing.
It is the simple practice of asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” before making styling changes to your site. It is being intentional about the details, not just throwing in cool modules because you like them. Every decision you make should be backed up by research and user empathy. Research how people are acting on your site with Google Analytics then find design elements that meet your needs. The key is to make data driven decisions.
2. Hierarchy of Content
Remember when you made a list of what content users want and ranked them from most important to least important? Well, pull that bad boy out cause this is where it comes in handy.
Simply style each type of content (services,contact info, etc. ) based off how important it is to the user. The more important certain content is, the more you want to highlight it. You can easily apply this to the homepage. For instance: since Services was high on my list, I would make what the business does very prominent at the top of the page in bold. If it is a store than maybe a banner of the products.
Note: On a page by page basis, use the hierarchy of headings with <h1> being the main heading describing the page and going down to your sub headings in order (<h2>, <h3>, etc. all the way down to <p> for the paragraphs).
3. Clean and Modern
Make sure you are leaving enough space between elements and that they are all consistent with your branding.
Make important text larger and more obvious with enough contrast from their background colors. Remember that the more space you leave around an item the more attention you draw to it.
4. Consistent Color
Follow the first rule and research what colors mean and use them as they correlate with your brand’s mood. Use your main color primarily and then use a contrasting color for highlighting items. Reserve a contrasting “highlight color” to bring attention to important items like links and buttons while still matching the mood of your site.
Note: the more you highlight, the less that highlighted color stands out. So, use it sparingly.
Make sure you balance your data driven decisions with a healthy dose of creativity. Step away from the computer and take a walk. Sketch some ideas that pop into your head. Look up some examples of elements you want to add to get inspiration. Do things that bring unique and engaging solutions to problems you have.
Note: maybe you can even get in the holiday spirit and add snow or use words and images that relate to Christmas or other holidays!
Come up with crazy ideas of how to manipulate content and then do your research. Has it been done before? How did it go? If you can’t find any case studies than give it a try on your site and record how it performs. Split testing can be a helpful tool.
Every element in your design should also be leading users to your goals.
Similar to the hierarchy of content, this may depend on what product your business offers, but in general, your main goal should be to lead the user to use or buy your product starting at wherever they entered the site. This is called a sales funnel. It is the path from the user’s entry point to the main goal of the website.
You should also have sub-goals that you place along the sales funnel. Here are some suggested sub goals:
- Coupon Codes
- Contact Form
- Email Sign-ups
Note: set up these goals in Google Analytics to get a visual representation of your sales funnel and it’s success.
Do you know what devices your viewers are using when they come to your website? (Hint: you can find this information in your Google Analytics account). On average, 52.2% of all traffic on the internet is done via mobile device.
What are you showing more than half of your users on mobile devices? If your site is unattractive or not functional, those potential clients are now not only not going to accomplish your goals, they might even deter others from going on your site.
Still not a priority? Let’s see how it effects your SEO!
Thanks to Google’s “Mobile First” algorithm rollout, your website’s mobile unfriendliness will drop your rankings. The rollout tells their bots to first crawl and rank your site on how it looks and functions on mobile devices, as opposed to desktops. It doesn’t matter what sized device users are performing searches on, the same algorithm will crawl and rank your site off of the mobile rendering.
I know that sounds harsh, but it is may be the only thing strong enough to convince people that it is a priority.
Now that you have enough incentive, you may be wondering how one goes about making their site mobile friendly. Again, I’m glad you asked.
The most common techniques to doing this are adaptive and responsive. Adaptive configuration serves different versions of site files based on device. Responsive configuration rearranges a single site based on screen resolution. Which one is better? Well, almighty Google says responsive, so… responsive it is!
How ever you go about making your site mobile friendly, always make sure that the design on mobile is attractive and functional before worrying about desktop.
Page Speed Optimization
The amount of time your site takes to load is critical to your site’s success. According to Section.io:
9.6% of users leave after two seconds of loading
17.1% of users leave after four seconds of loading
32.3% of users leave after seven seconds of loadinghttps://www.section.io/blog/page-load-time-bounce-rate/
As time goes on and technology improves consumers are now expecting incredibly fast load speeds. This expectation will be even more intense during the holidays as people are scouring sites for deals.
Before you keep reading, let’s see how your site is doing. Go ahead and plug your domain into GTmetrix.com. It gives a very in depth scan of your site’s loading speed and will even give you a chart showing what part of your site is the slow culprit.
After looking at your chart you may notice that there are quite a few different items on your site that take their sweet time loading. So, let’s see how you can speed things up starting with the most common item: images.
To prevent them from loading so slowly, images need to be optimized and filtered.
Before you upload an image to your site, you need to crop it to the smallest size you will need on your site.
Note: as a general rule, your image should never exceed 2,400 pixels in width.
Now your image is visually optimized, lets optimize it’s data.
The quality and aspect ratio of an image does not perfectly reflect the image’s file size. In fact, many images contain data gathered from various software that is completely unnecessary. To remove this data just throw it in here and download it when it’s finished. This will strip all the useless data and magically leave your image looking nice and crisp.
Your hosting provider is another major contributing factor in how fast your site loads. Hosting providers manage the physical servers that house the database and files of your website and “serve” it to browsers. The server and the database must be coded to efficiently and quickly deliver the data.
If you are not happy with your speeds, talk to your developer, chat with your hosting provider’s support team, or research the different hosting providers and plans. In our experience we have found that in terms of speed and almost every aspect, SiteGround is a great hosting provider. After we moved our website away from GoDaddy to SiteGround, it loaded about 40% faster without making any other changes!
The last thing you want on your busy hands during the holidays is a hacked website. It is a time consuming and expensive process that may put your user’s data at risk and will leave you regretting your lack of defense in the first place.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to start protecting your users is getting an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate shows that your site has a encrypted connection between your server and your browser. Without it, hackers can steal any data that users enter into forms or checkouts. You will also be giving users a bad user experience as they see a “Not Secure” alert right next to the domain in Chrome and a red insecure lock icon on other browsers:
The fact that this certificate is so obvious, however, does mean that it will be very easy for you to check to see if your site has this certificate. Just see if you see the the insecure icon and then the lack of an “s” at the end of “HTTP” right before your site’s URL. If you don’t have it don’t worry, almost every hosting provider offers a free option (except GoDaddy as well as other hosting provider krampuses).
This security measure is a must have because of it’s low low price, ease of installation, and even user experience benefits (not to mention the fact that Google will rank you higher, too).
The song of the developer since the dawn of the web: “make your passwords long!”
One of the simplest and most common ways hackers infiltrate sites is with brute-force attacks. These attacks usually use programs that run millions of possible passwords and usernames until they find the right one.
So when you are creating your passwords think like little Kevin McCallister, from Home Alone: treat every letter like a nail on a step and see every combination of characters like a BB gun pellet to the forehead.
You know looking back on that movie, it was pretty violent…
I also suggest you use a password manager like Lastpass to keep everything in one place and secure.
Various Plugins, Features, Extensions, and Doodads
You can secure your site on the content management and hosting levels with various plugins and solutions. Talk to your developer, hosting provider, or cousin who codes from his basement about packages they offer for security. At the very least, you can get a scanning system that will alert you of attacks.
Note: WordFence is our favorite security plugin for WordPress.
No matter what type of website or hosting provider you have, you now have actionable steps to take that you can apply to your website before the holiday rush starts. If you follow them, you will be set to capitalize on the surplus of shopping and consumerism that will come upon us and be set for about any other season, too.