This article, “What Makes A Website Successful?” was originally presented at a conference we attended, as an introduction to inbound marketing for a specific industry. Positive feedback we received showed us that it’s equally relevant for anyone trying to succeed online. We’re publishing it permanently on our site to dispel some of the mystery surrounding search engine optimization and associated activities. Enjoy!
A Guide To Inbound Marketing Management.
This guide gives businesses an introduction to the potential for growth online presented by inbound marketing: the use of online resources, products and techniques to gain business from people searching for products & services on the web.
This guide deals with three closely linked aspects of website management:
- Local SEO
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
What Is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO is the process of improving all elements of a website so it’s indexed more favorably in organic search engine listings, and appears closer to the top of organic search results. Its fundamental goal is to ensure that people searching for the product or service you provide find, and click on, your website instead of another.
What Does SEO Entail?
SEO activities and priorities depend upon each specific case. Website status and health, industry, competition and many more factors affect what is most necessary and most pressing. Generally, though, the following things are necessary:
Keyword & competitive research.
The first activity is always the same. We find out what people looking for a product or service put into search engines, the way those phrases are interpreted by search engines, and the winners and losers for those search terms over time.
Correct use of relevant keywords and keyphrases.
Search engines work by algorithmically matching search terms typed into browsers with content on websites. In order to rank well for relevant searches, researched keywords and phrases should be used strategically throughout the textual content (copy) of a site.
Optimization of page titles and meta descriptions.
Titles of the individual pages of a website are the most important on-page SEO ranking factors. Getting them right is a must. Meta “descriptions” are not ranking factors, BUT getting them right is still vital.
Optimization of ‘snippets.’
A snippet is the combination of title and meta description. This comprises the ‘result’ for a website in a search engine’s result page. It needs to satisfy the algorithmic search engine while also drawing the eye and enticing the click of a human visitor. It’s quite a balancing act that takes skill and experience to get right.
Correct structuring of copy.
There are semantic and typographical elements of html code that help to ‘balance’ and communicate content relevance for search engines, as well as aiding presentation to visitors. Headers, footers, headings, subheadings, ordered and unordered lists, paragraphs and more. All are used to communicate the pages’ purposes both to visitors and to search engines.
Technical auditing and improvement.
Search engines prefer websites that are easy to crawl, load quickly and present few or no errors. They will index these sites more preferably. In order to succeed a website needs to load fast, read easily for both humans and robots, present no security or privacy risks and host a bunch of unique, helpful content. This isn’t as easy as it may sound.
Development of backlinks.
The current industry consensus is that backlinks are the single most important ranking factor there is. Backlinks are links to your site from other sites or other places online. The better the site linking to you, the better the backlink; the more relevant the anchor text of the backlink, better still. This is a long-term arduous task and is as much a symptom of good SEO as it is an SEO technique: the two easiest ways to create backlinks are through the following:
- Data Aggregation: Disseminate identical information about your business (including links to your site and other properties) over every possible online platform.
- Shareable content: Create genuinely helpful and informative content and give people the ability to share it with others, and they will share it.
Security and prevention of malware.
The web is covered with hazards to website visitors in the form of viruses, trojanware, spyware, etc. If search engines get even a small impression of a website being compromised by malware it can be flagged, deprecated and de-indexed from search entirely. Monitoring and maintenance are an absolute must. Your site should also be encrypted with SSL; this was once recommended only for those using ecommerce or handling sensitive data, but it is increasingly becoming essential.
Compliance with best practice.
This is a very broad and not easily defined term, but it’s essential nonetheless. Search engines want websites to behave in certain ways just as visitors do. Keeping up with these changing standards is vital.
Use of responsive design.
Responsive design, very simply defined, is ensuring that a website presents well on any device upon which it is displayed. From the tiniest feature phone to the biggest smartboard, a successful website will respond and display perfectly. Increasingly, websites which do not fulfill this are not indexed well.
Regular publication of new content.
There are almost no hard & fast rules in SEO, but this is a rare exception: All things being equal, big websites do better than small websites, as long as they are filled with unique, well-created and genuinely useful content. Also, websites that are regularly updated with new content are crawled more regularly and indexed more favorably.
Use of Structured Data.
There are various forms of structured data (e.g. JSON, Microdata) that can be used on websites to help search engines structure and present their data correctly. This should be used to its fullest potential. Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc. are machines. The more machine-like you can make your data, the better the response will be.
CRO: Conversion Rate Optimization.
What is Conversion Rate Optimization?
CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) is the process of improving the content and structure of a website to make it more likely that visitors will perform an action that turns them from visitors into customers, or moves that process forwards in some beneficial way. This is “conversion.”
Exactly what this “conversion” is depends entirely upon the nature of the business in question. The most obvious example would be somebody buying something from an online store rather than just visiting. It may be filling out and sending a contact form, making a reservation, signing up for a newsletter, or simply clicking on something saying “find out more;” whatever the business needs. It is the job that you have chosen for your website to have.
What Does CRO Entail?
Many techniques for CRO and SEO are the same, but some differ substantially.
Emphasis of UX.
UX is “User Experience,” and it means that every aspect of a website should be designed and realized with the user in mind. This may seem blindingly obvious, but a surprising number of websites are designed much more for their owners or their designers than their users, and it makes hundreds of thousands of people bounce off of otherwise good websites every day.
Improvement of page structure.
Websites are always a hierarchy. At the top of this is the small amount of information that almost every visitor will need; at the bottom is the much more extensive information that only few visitors will seek out. Between these two extremes lies the entire site. The page structure should reflect that – obvious sources of easy information and next steps should be emphasized, with more thorough information deeper within the page.
Optimization of menus.
The menu is the website in microcosm. It needs to offer the most regularly needed information prominently without alienating visitors who are looking for something more specific. Just like websites as a whole, it’s a balancing act which takes time, experience and often trial and error to get right.
Correct, balanced and contextual use of CTAs.
CTAs (Calls to Action) are buttons or commands on your site that offer visitors the option to progress or to convert: e.g. “Learn more,” “Contact Us,” “Receive a Quote,” or “Buy Now.” They are the fundamental interface between your visitors and your business and their importance cannot be underestimated – often the difference between a poorly converting site and a successful one is the inclusion of a nice, eye-catching, contrasting button.
Use of responsive design.
As with SEO, CRO requires a page to look and perform perfectly no matter what device it’s being accessed on.
Correct structuring & balancing of copy.
THE WEB IS STILL A WRITTEN MEDIUM. Despite prevailing belief, visitors to websites do read what they see; or rather, they scan it for the information they want. Your website needs lots of content, but most visitors will see only a small amount of it before deciding whether to make progress through a CTA or leave the page and go somewhere else. Balancing the page to accommodate this is essential. Leading to this next technique:
Creation of a “journey through the page.”
Just as with Henry Ford and his choice of colors for the model T, we want people visiting our websites to go wherever they want to go, just as long as they go exactly where we want them to go and nowhere else. This is achieved by creating a journey through the page – an invisible but powerful process of information that leads visitors from click to conversion without even realizing its happening. The most basic of these:
- Who We Are > What We Do > What We Can Do For You > Contact Us.
Without CRO, SEO is a waste of time and money, and vice versa.
- An amazing site primed for conversion that gets no traffic is useless.
- A site with excellent traffic that does not convert its visitors is equally useless.
Essentially, SEO and CRO are two sides of the same coin. What makes a website successful is a combination of the two.
What is Local Search Engine Optimization?
Local SEO is the process of using a website and numerous 3rd party online properties to improve the way a specific business location, or group of locations, is ranked and presented online. This affects search engines, but also maps and navigation, social media, voice search, business directories and more. This is an area which is frustratingly ill-defined to many but, when used correctly, it is the secret weapon that small businesses need to level the playing field against much larger competitors online.
What Does Local SEO Entail?
Use of tools provided by GMB (Google My Business) to their full capabilities and potential.
In the last few years, a number of Google platforms (Google Maps, Google Local, Google Places, Google Plus) have combined into Google My Business, an extensive and growing series of tools and User Interfaces that is integrated into almost every Google search. For any business that has a physical location or radius of operation the correct use of every last one of these is absolutely vital. What Google call “guidelines” a smart SEO professional treats as commandments. Google, for better or worse, are the kings of general and local search, and it is impossible to succeed without marching to their drum.
Use of consistent identity information.
The NAP (name, address, phone) presented by a business should be absolutely identical in both form and content everywhere it appears on the web. Other information you may not expect such as opening hours, business categories, important dates, profiles, services, prices, employees, logos, images and much more can all be standardized to an extent, and any standardization in this area improves brand awareness, visibility and brand recognition.
Proactive publishing of consistent information to multiple platforms.
For every information source online you can see (e.g. Google, Bing) there are several you cannot. Countless sites and service propagate and broker information online. Waiting for every corner of the web to catch up to your consistent information is unwise. You should use an information aggregation service to push the correct consistent information regularly out to every possible platform.
Use of social media.
Social media provides a valuable interface with real customers and clients and is useful to general SEO too. It creates traffic and community, helps communicate locations, promotes sharing and generates backlinks, eventually, by itself.
Gathering and management of customer reviews over multiple platforms.
Customer reviews are a trending ranking factor in local SEO: already massively important and increasingly more so. Encourage reviews on major platforms but don’t discourage them on minor ones. Answer positive AND negative reviews appropriately and professionally. Report abusive or malicious reviews and have them removed if possible. The best way to deal with negative reviews is to bury them under a pile of positive reviews. Crucially, A small company can outperform much larger companies online on the strength of online reviews alone.
So, there you have it. A complete guide to what makes a website successful. Well, not complete. The variables are too many to list. Search engines are marketplaces or auction houses. Your success will depend not only on what you do but what every one of your competitors does as well. And, of course, everything recorded above is subject to change at any time and with little or no notice. That’s why you need a professional to help you navigate us. If you want us to help you use the steps outlined in this guide to build a successful website and online business, talk to us. We hope this article has provided a useful introduction to a very complex business. Good luck out there.