Six Ways to Modernize Your Website
The website world has shifted because of large companies like Amazon and Google who are constantly pushing the envelope of website capabilities. The bar has been set very high and all other businesses are forced to shift their mentality or get left in the dust by more savvy competitors. Especially if you’re a product company, you know that your e-commerce site is either excellent or antiquated. You must provide a typical user experience along with a familiar look and feel or customers will find somebody else that supplies the experience they’re accustomed to. If you do much shopping online, you’ve already made the shift. You stay away from sellers that haven’t adapted.
The following article is exhaustive while remaining not too technical. In fact, many SEOs (search engine optimization experts) will criticize how much of the technical we’ve avoided.
HEY SEOs! This article isn’t for you.
This article is for the average business owner or marketer who doesn’t spend all their time steeped in code. As a result, you won’t find this article riddled with technical jargon. Instead, we focus on two primary areas: structural and visual components. It’s all blended together in a cohesive approach that makes sense to the great majority of readers.
1. Establish Website Goals
What do you want your website to accomplish? We break up websites into three primary categories:
- Informational: A simple approach to web design. Something basic that communicates the most high-level ideas about products or services.
- E-commerce: For selling products or services through a website.
- Conversion: An emphasis on turning visitors into buyers. Whether a multi-step process that integrates a website with other sophisticated tools, or a website that sells directly through the site as fast as possible, there are ways to shorten the buying process with a website that handles the flow of clicking.
What types of visitors do you want to attract ?
What kind of impression do you want to make?
What kind of revenue needs to be generated?
It’s important you understand that to reach your goals, you need to support your website with a marketing budget to drive traffic to it. You can’t just “build it and they will come.”
2. Improve Your Website Photos
Your Photos Suck
Yes, that was an emphatic statement. Based on the thousands of websites we’ve evaluated over the years, the vast majority include terrible images, which is a shame. Anyone with a credit card has access to millions of professional images from sites like:
BIGSTOCK We prefer BIGSTOCK for pricing
Use these! Stop skimping and trying to get by with photos from a five-megapixel camera. If your site looks cheap, your potential customers will know you’re cheap too. If you invest just $79.99 with BIGSTOCK, you get 50 professional grade images. It’s a no brainer.
Use a Real Camera
I’m not suggesting you need to go out and purchase the latest Canon or Nikon for several thousand dollars, but some of our clients like to send us pictures they’ve taken using a smartphone with a cracked screen and a scratched lens. Just don’t. Really, it’s lame. Some of the high-end smartphones or even a $100 camera can take great pictures.
You’ll know if your photos were taken using a bad camera (or bad camera settings) when you blow up the picture on a computer screen and see that everything is pixelated. Pixelation makes photos look like the old 8-bit video games that were blocky around the edges. Always take the extra step to look at photos closely before trying to use them in a website.
Improve Your Photo Lighting
The largest difference between someone with an expensive camera and a professional commercial photographer is lighting. Without the funky umbrellas, reflectors, and light boxes, your images will be devoid of the kind of details required for a flagship image. If stock images do not suffice, hire a photographer that will capture unique images of your products, location, people and anything that matters.
If you insist on taking the pictures yourself, here are a few pointers:
- I can’t believe I need to say this, but don’t point your camera at the light source
- Don’t take photos with a light behind the object so it creates a hard shadow directly in front of what you’re shooting
- In fact, don’t use a super bright light that creates any hard shadows
- The color of your bulbs and walls will determine the color of your shot
- Use multiple lights pointing from different angles to eliminate shadows and evenly light the object
- If you’re serious, visit your local photography shop for pointers about lighting and how to properly diffuse light
Make Sure Your Photos are in Focus
People are way too excited about the photos they think are interesting and “artistic.” Any time I go to an art show, I’m shocked to see how many photographers are selling out-of-focus photos. They either took the photo from too far away using the wrong lens, or they just didn’t make the proper lens adjustments.
Some of the software in smartphones can help you cheat. If you’re using a high-end smartphone with a great camera, you can usually tap on the area of the screen you’d like to keep in focus and capture something decent. Again, double check the fine details by zooming in on the photo that was taken. Until you know things aren’t fuzzy, your work is not complete.
There’s no better example of the importance of focus than food shots. The details of the image below should make your mouth water.
Your Photo Composition is Terrible
What, in your opinion, makes a photo great? That’s obviously a subjective question, but there are some basic rules:
- Clinical is old. Warm up and try to look human or people will find a competitor who already does.
- Make sure people aren’t wearing a bunch of crazy patterns.
- Don’t take pictures from far away. It increases the fuzz factor because you’re relying on zoom which can quickly degrade the photo. Accidental movement from far away makes photos ultra-fuzzy.
- Keep the photo simple. Jamming as much as you can into a shot usually means you dilute the value of the most important part of the photo. If you do any research at all, you’ll find that the best ads, best photos, even the best graphic designs are super simple.
- Some foods, like refried beans, look like crap. Seriously. Shit on a plate. They might be served at a restaurant, but take photos of whole beans as an alternative.
- Consider your audience and what they want to feel when they look at your photos. If you have an amazing spa and want people to feel warm, comfortable, and cozy, don’t feature a picture of a giant lotion bottle on your homepage.
Legal Concerns with Photos
Don’t ever use Google to find your images and assume you have a legal right to them. If you’re using photos without the right to do so, you’re placing yourself at significant legal risk. Copyright infringement for photos can be pretty serious and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the most egregious instances.
There are ways to get around paying for images online, but the pickings are slim. Make sure the photos are available under a Creative Commons License. This isn’t full proof because someone can steal the photo, then post it online claiming creative commons licensing. That’s the risk you run for “free.”
Using photos of people that haven’t signed a photo release document is also a very bad idea. It may be a previous business partner, disgruntled employee, or even an estranged friend that decides to stick it to you with a lawsuit after a bitter breakup. Don’t ever use photos of people without written consent.
The Case for a Professional
Taking a timeless picture that can be leveraged for years to come requires know how, practice, and tons of shots at different angles with different lighting combinations. A commercial photographer has already done this many times over. They’ve been in the trenches taking photos of weird stuff like floors, medical equipment, uncooperative children and moving cars.
A true commercial photographer has studied and practices the science behind shutter speed, aperture, proper settings for various lenses, color temperature, light diffusion and myriad more technical factors that make a photo a photo. They also understand the convergence of digital and analog technologies and how they work in conjunction to capture something truly amazing.
If you’re on the fence about hiring a real photographer, consider what one of your photos would look like on a billboard. Would you spend thousands of dollars every month on a billboard using the image in mind? If not, don’t put it on your website. Pay an expert to get it right.
If you have some suggestions about helping people improve their photos, please share in the comments below. We appreciate your input.
3. Improve Your Website Structure
There’s a whole world of specialists dedicated to making websites better who unfortunately do not understand how to communicate complex ideas to those who don’t already live in their world. At Modernize My Site, we want to be different. We respect those that have been successful without learning geek speak or even becoming technologically savvy. In fact, we admire those who can do so much without ever relying on computing power to make it happen.
The following is a description of website structure that will make sense to even the most technologically challenged:
You Need Multiple Website Pages
People often approach a website from a most basic cost savings perspective. They preface a quote for a website with, “I want something as simple as possible. I don’t need the extra frills and stuff that makes it interesting. I just want basic information on one page and I want to spend about three to five hundred dollars.”
I hope this isn’t your perspective. If it is, please keep reading. I promise you will appreciate what I have to teach you.
Someone that immediately agrees to building a “simple one-page website” without warning a buyer of potential pitfalls is a hack. They likely crank out websites as fast as possible and don’t care about what happens after the fact. And that’s the rub- what happens to a one-page website after it’s been built.
Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! are looking for specific website structure. As soon as I mention this in conversations, people automatically jump to, “You mean like keywords and stuff, right?”
Yes, but not really.
Keywords are a tiny sliver of the overall pie that makes a website a website. A much larger piece of the pie is page structure. Without copy and images separated into different pages and sections throughout your site, search engines get confused. Search engines are looking for special code that tells them what is most important in a page like specially coded titles and brief descriptions. The major problem with a one-page site is that you can only code each page with one special title, one special description, and a myriad of other specially coded things that make a page unique.
If you want to get found online for the products or services you sell, a single page site isn’t going to cut it.
If you want to be considered a subject matter expert, other experts will wipe the floor with you because search engines can only pick up a few critical things in a single page site.
Finally, if you’d like to be competitive at all, a one-page site will leave you dead in the water. It is appalling how many companies’ websites cannot be found in the top ten of search results even when searching for them by name.
To get your hands dirty and learn more about proper page structure, there are some experts you should follow.
*** WARNING ***
You enter this world at your own risk. These people speak a completely different language with more acronyms than you’ll ever understand. It takes years of practice and delving deep into different tools before anyone can fully understand search engine optimization (SEO). If you take your time and treat this as a learning opportunity, you’ll be better for it. Don’t be surprised if you have to open your digital dictionary to define all the new terms.
Use the Right Page Names
Creative types like to use quirky naming conventions for pages. Instead of something intuitive and familiar like “Products,” they might decide on “Our Stuff” instead. Yes, the creative mind works in mysterious ways.
Users can’t stand this. When they’re searching for products, they need a page name that’s familiar. If they have to click all over to decipher what is where, they will quickly abandon the site and find someone who isn’t trying to be different.
More importantly, search engines don’t know what to display if your page names don’t make sense. They will avoid sharing the “Our Stuff” page results because people aren’t searching for “Our Stuff” online. Bottom line- don’t try naming pages until you’ve done keyword research. Replace the “Our Stuff” with a key term that gets tens or hundreds of thousands of searches if possible. This is where keyword research comes in to play.
A good example is a client’s website we’re currently in the process of building. They specialize in winemaking, and a small percentage of their business is in homebrew. They sell homebrew supplies and teach people how to make their own beer. For years, this company has not had a page of their website dedicated to homebrew, but Google suggests this is where their greatest potential lies. Check out what some quick research below revealed about how to properly structure their website.
Google suggests that nationally there are between 100,000 and 1,000,000 searches per month for the term “homebrew” using their search engine. There are more searches for “homebrew” than an other term they need to rank for. They absolutely need a page dedicated to homebrew with all the right structure.
Another interesting thing is that almost nobody searches for “winemaking.” “Winemaking” is the proper spelling, but everyone searches for it using two words, “wine making.” Our strong recommendation is that the client misspell the page title and any occurrence of the term throughout the page to get the traffic for it.
Include Enough Content Per Page
If you are not a writer, HIRE A COPYWRITER. I cannot stress this enough. This is the largest pain point of our business.
Some of our clients will try to provide as little copy as possible. In some cases, one sentence per page. This is not acceptable. If you want to get found, write at least a few paragraphs per page. The best practice is 500 to 1,000 words for the homepage and a minimum of 300 words for each subsequent page.
Also, bulleted lists are lame. If every one of your pages is a bulleted list, you’re killing your ability to get found online. Just to clarify, it’s not a bad idea to include a bulleted list in a page, but relying on them as the only way to explain what you do is weak.
When search engines display search results, it’s because they’ve found what they deem most relevant and valuable to a searcher. Make sure each of your pages is chalk full of descriptors, details and important information that make it more likely for your page to appear first in search results. This takes quite a bit of time to get right. Unless you write on a consistent basis, HIRE A COPYWRITER.
Mixing copy with professional photos, personal photos, videos, animated videos, or something like the nifty GIF above are all great ideas. Including at least one of these per page helps you rank better and keeps readers more engaged, but make sure you’re not junking up your site with terrible photos.
Special Touches After the Fact
It’s worth mentioning there’s a laundry list of tasks to complete after a well written website is created. Feel free to learn about metadata, snippets, alt text, etc. Explaining these things beyond a simple mention would take us down the other worldly SEO path too technical for the average website owner.
4. Improve Your Website Security
Add an SSL Certificate
It may seem like a bit of an outlier, but security is now required as part of your website’s structure. Google forced security measures in the way of what’s called a Secure Sockets Layer Certificate (SSL). Without it, users might reach an all red screen with a warning “This site may harm your computer.” Needless to say, this is a scary proposition.
The “This site may harm your computer” warning has been reserved traditionally for sites asking for sensitive information. Like sites requesting login credentials, social security numbers or credit card information that do not already include an SSL certificate. The SSL certificate secures the connection between web servers and browsers so sneaky hackers can’t steal information being transferred between them.
You may not absolutely have to have an SSL certificate for now, but we highly recommend one (practically force every client to have one) regardless of what kind of information is exchanged through your site. It will help protect users’ data and put you at ease knowing there’s at least something in place. Besides, Google is officially penalizing websites for not having an SSL installed, so it’s kinda dumb not to have one.
Add CAPTCHA to Forms
The Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) helps to mitigate incessant SPAM to forms on your website. One version of CAPTCHA is that funny little box that has to be clicked when you fill out a form online. This helps to prevent bots (special tools used by hackers), from completing form after form after form on your website. When this happens abnormally fast in high volume, it can considerably slow down a server, and as a result, your website.