By Anthony Marechal, web communication and marketing manager, Viacess.
Anyone who has managed the process of developing a corporate website has likely learned the hard way the complexities and cost risk of such an undertaking.
This article draws on my recent experience of updating my company website and provides a few pointers and pitfalls to avoid.
Make it easy to find
Optimise your content so that your site can be easily found via the main search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Cuil.
Make it useable
First and foremost, a website should be easy to use and easy to navigate. Flash intro pages were all the rage until web designers realised that users didn't like them and wanted to get straight to the content.
Think hard about the user experience. If the content is useful, relevant and kept up to date, visitors will return to your website. If they can't find what they're looking for because the content is cluttered or the site navigation frustrates them, the website has failed.
There are a wealth of sites providing guidance on making your website accessible and intuitive, particularly for visitors who are colour blind or suffer other visual impairment.
A site redesign is an opportunity to listen to your users, find out what helps them (and what frustrates them) and build a site that is easier to use and thus more effective in communicating with prospects and existing customers.
Importance of headings
Search engines place high importance on keywords placed within heading tags. While your company name should be prominent on your site, people may not use it when searching for your products and services, so you need to include keywords within your headings and tagline.
It's still fine to use your company name as the site title and add any significant words about your business in the tagline. For example, Viaccess is a conditional access and content protection provider, focusing on several market segments, including TV, Internet, IPTV and Mobile.
We us the tagline: "Viaccess, TV, Internet, Mobile, in total confidence." the 3 major markets that Viaccess targets. So anyone searching under "Conditional access + TV" for example, will be able to navigate to our site even without knowing our company name
Achieving better search engine optimisation for your website
Searchengines have algorithms that decide which sites are ranked at the top of their pages. Robots crawl all the sites on the Internet looking for certain keywords. Your website is usually crawled every few months. If you only have a drop-down sequence of menus, the search engines will never find those pages.
So you need to have HTML links in the main navigation on every page that link to the top-level pages of your site. From those pages, you'll need to have further HTML links to the individual product/service pages.
If your brand isn't well known, use a tag line or a headline to let your visitors know what they can find on your website. This is also a great way to explain your competitive advantages.
The important thing is to use your keyword phrases only when and where it makes sense to do so for the real people reading your pages. A site which is loaded with key words for the Web crawlers will quickly become unusable for human visitors.
All of the major search engines place a strong emphasis on your site's link popularity. We have a dedicated partner page and all our partners have a link to Viaccess' website.
It's important to ask your customers and suppliers to link to you, and tell them you'll be happy to reciprocate. The more sites that link to you, the more popular your site will appear to search engines, and the higher your ranking.
If you've exchanged links correctly, then you shouldsee an increase in search engine visitors to your site fairly quickly. Forget about where you rank for any specific keyword and instead measure your results in increased site traffic.
Make it easy on the eye
We've all endured sites with great content and really sorry design. The two must be balanced. Good design is one of the most powerful tools for creating an emotional connection with your visitors.
A well designed website will repay you many times over for the money you spend with your web agency. If your site looks amateur and out of date, visitors will probably make the same assumptions about your business and services.
Think also about the psychology of colours. Black evokes feelings of prestige; yellow is associated with warmth, bright orange evokes creativity, fun and mental stimulation. However, remember also that 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the UK are colour blind, so don't sacrifice usability in your quest for a cool design.
On the subject of usability, don't hesitate to use columns. Any line more than 68 characters wide tends to become difficult to read. The user needs visual breaks and columns are good for that.
Pictures can also be used to convey your message, demonstrate your competitive advantage and break up the text to make the site more readable. But be careful not to overdo it. A picture may say a thousand words, but a thousand graphics means the world's slowest download!
What is cool today will be old school before you know it. Unless you want to spend time and money re-designing your site every year, play it safe and stick with the standard designs and fonts, which will also help with usability.
Make it social
If you have a company Facebook page, or a blogger or Twitter afficionado in your ranks, then add links to these social media sites. Remember regularly updated links increase your search engine ranking.
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