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How to best optimise your website

How to best optimise your website

Colette Wade, Marketing Director EMEA and Australasia at Webtrends, explains why, when it comes to site development you should always let the data decide.

Too much web development is based on aesthetics and what the CEO thinks will look good.  There is also overwhelming competition between site owners to adopt the very most social of social media technology and web 2.0 functionality, motivated by a misplaced desire to  showcase the latest applications.

However, this shouldn’t be the yard stick by which a website should be judged and is a perfect example of how introducing the shiniest new thing on the web for no practical reason will have no impact, beyond increasing bounce rates.  If site owners and developers want to make a website more ‘sticky’ and ensure visitors follow their calls to action, all decisions concerning development should be based on data, and data alone.

Before optimising any website, you need insight into which pages require adjustment so you can pinpoint exactly where the highest bounce rate is occurring. There is no point in deciding that the home page needs developing just because it seems like a good place to start. It may be an old adage but it certainly holds true in this instance; if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Any alterations made to a website should be underpinned by extensive testing so that every button and every tab helps the user to complete the intended call for action; whether that’s buying a tin of beans or signing up for the newsletter. Multivariate testing is an optimisation technique that breaks a webpage down to its core components in order to test different combinations of how items are placed; what they look like on the page and how they are received by real-life website users.

Those users’ behaviour can then be tracked following exposure to particular variations of content in order to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each. These results, combined with specific data regarding the individual users; what time of day they logged-on, the type of web browser they are using etc, allows a picture to emerge of the most successful combinations, and why.

Segment based targeting is another important function that site owners should consider, so they can identify and in turn act upon specific user behaviour. By going through the optimisation process the IP address of site visitors can be identified, ascertaining location to deliver the most relevant site content to that visitor, something which one person’s subjective opinion, however high up the food chain they are, can’t compete with.

For example; users based in America that are accessing a UK website which can ship products internationally, should place the relevant information higher up within the site’s content hierarchy to make the fact more obvious, swapping components to represent country specific information that’s more relevant to the user.

Multivariate testing shines a light on exactly how real-life website users interact with a site, allowing for a distinction between the subconscious over conscious opinion. So, when performing a test, let it run completely in order to obtain the whole picture, and resist the temptation to cut it short, and fill in the gaps with guesstimates. Accurately predicting how unique users will interact with a website without taking data into consideration, is simply beyond the grasp of even the most intuitive mortals.

It’s also worth thinking very carefully about whether adding something, for example, a live Twitter feed, is actually going to ease the path of the user through your conversion funnel or whether it will end up drawing users away when they spot something interesting.

Web users are flighty things, and need no encouragement in finding another corner of the web to explore.  If the website’s call to action is to join a facebook group, or follow a Twitter feed then, by all means, include them. Without any other valid reason driven by testing, you’re more likely to distract the user away from the website’s main goal.  

Every aspect of developing a successful website involves designing, testing and planning, and should be based upon analytics that report on the performance of individual web pages, not an individual opinion. To avoid the website becoming stagnant, the testing process should be continuously implemented.

Therefore content can regularly be refreshed and updated helping to ensure that there isn’t too much clutter by way of secondary calls to action – be that affiliate adverts or other pages within your site. Yes affiliate advertising can drive revenue, but it can also drive your visitors away from what you want them to do.

Many site owners are now using cross-channel optimisation for other areas of their business ensuring continuity in all contact with customers. For example; once someone has purchased an item, follow-up communication with that customer will offer products and services that complement the initial purchase. If they buy a printer, an email saying ‘we saw your recent purchase and thought you might be interested in these new printers that we have in stock’, won’t drive a sale, they have just bought one!

Whatever the future looks like, and let’s face it in the ever-changing world of the web no one can say what that will be with absolute surety, websites will always be unique in their own ways and cannot be directly compared to one another, so be sure to ignore opinion and just let the data decide.

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