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Spring Cleaning: 10 Tips to Clean Up Your Website

By Nardo Kuitert, UsabilityReviews.com
April 30, 2004

This article was published in our (discontinued) email newsletter "Does Your Website Suck...People In?
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A new season, new chances; new ambitions maybe?

The Internet is finally growing up. Online purchases, especially during holidays, show dramatic increases. Many companies see their website as a major marketing tool for their organization, and are looking for ways to improve the tool’s effectiveness.

An October 2003 survey from Jupiter Research showed that:

  • 58% of websites are planning a relaunch this year;
  • 49% of website managers say that usability is their top challenge for 2004;
  • 41% of websites will be upgrading or deploying a new commerce platform for their site this year.

And how about you? Do you think your website is fine, because nobody complains, or would you like to improve the conversion rate from browser to visitor? Are you happy with the number of visitors that your website attracts?

10 Tips to clean up your website:

  1. Check your links: It is one of the frequent frustrations on the Internet: the Page Can Not Be Found message. Unfortunately dead links are a fact of life on the Internet. As a site owner you don’t have any control over the servers of the sites that you link to but you can control your own site.

    So weed out dead links and keep your visitors happy by running a monthly link check using the World Wide Web Consortium’s Check Links tool.
  2. Speed up download time: Do your pages load fast, or do large image files and multiple server connections prompt your visitors to bail out? As of March 2004 33% of Canadians and even 46% of Americans still surf without broadband connections, and many people won’t wait more than 10 seconds on a 56k modem.

    In order to present at least some elements of your site to the narrowband users you need to put your pages on a diet: compress your image files as much as possible, and try to reduce the number of server connections. You can find a tool to analyze and optimize your website's download speeds on Netmechanic.
  3. Update old content: Is your content up-to-date, or does your News section mention an “upcoming release for November 2001”? Does your site pretend to be recently updated by showing today’s date on the pages but nothing else? When was the last time you read through the content on your own website?

    Take the time to re-read through your website and remove or update old content. Clean out the cobwebs!
  4. Re-write vague content: Does your target audience understand what you are saying on your website? Are your pages filled with happy talk (blah, blah)? Much content is either too general (blah, blah), or so detailed that only the writer understands it.

    You need to understand your target audience! Ask them if they “get” your content. Delete the fluff and replace it with easy-to-understand, valuable content that speaks to your reader, not to you.
  5. Mind the details: Nothing spells “unprofessional” like spelling mistakes, inconsistent font-use, outdated information, dead links, etc. It pays to pay attention to details.

    You’re not perfect—you can’t be expected to see every detail when you are so close to your work. Get another set of eyes to review your site and point out the things you missed. Asking a third party to edit your creations is not weak, it is a sign of strength!
  6. Increase online readability: Are your pages scannable? Do you provide your information in easily-digestible chunks? People read 25% slower online than on paper and it takes much more effort. As a result, people scan rather than read online, looking for key words of interest, or hyperlinks to other presumably interesting pages.

    As you read through your website to update the content, also critically assess its readability. Break text up into scan-able chunks. Add bolding to key phrases. Re-write pages to use a “reverse pyramid” structure with the conclusion at the top rather than hidden below the fold at the bottom.
  7. Improve you credibility: Does your site increase or decrease your credibility? Does it look professional? For instance, are you using a yourname@yourdomain email address, or does it show yourname@hotmail.com (ouch!). Can people find your company through their favourite search engine? Online visibility is also an element of credibility.

    It pays to mind the details: perception is everything. Even a small evaluation by a knowledgeable third party may increase your visitor's trust in your website, and your organization.

    Read all the way to the end for more tips on online visibility.
  8. Make your site more accessible: Is your website easily accessible for human visitors and search engine spiders alike? You are not still using frames, are you? For most purposes frames (a technique that divides your webpage into multiple separately scrollable areas) are totally inappropriate. Is your site completely done in Flash? Flash usually adds significant download time to your pages; is it worth loosing impatient visitors over the “wow factor” of animated web pages? An animated Flash image rather than whole pages will probably establish the same level of “coolness”, without sacrificing valuable traffic to online vanity. And yes, many newer browsers come with Flash installed, but not the latest version of it…so, people are still being asked to download the latest version of Flash (currently: 7) if a page has been designed in it – and many people just don’t like downloading software plug-ins.

    Providing ALT tags with all images and changing design techniques may boost your site's accessibility. By adding ALT tags to all images, visually-impaired visitors can make sense of them with their screen readers (software that reads web content out loud). You may want to replace frames with more accessible design techniques such as server side includes, plain HTML or database-driven designs. Re-analyze your use of Flash and consider changing from a Flash site to html with Flash elements?
  9. Clarify your navigation: How obvious is your navigation? Is it clear which elements in your pages are clickable? Don’t make me think! Every question mark in the mind of your visitor gives them a reason to leave your site.

    Watch someone try to find something on your site and note where they have difficulty. At least use consistent design and navigation rules if you decide not to go by traditional conventions, such as underlining your links.

    Ten already? I could go on and on (and on). O.k., number 10:
  10. Help visitors find you: Is your website indexed by all major search engine and directories? Can they find the majority of your pages, and do you get decent traffic from good search engine rankings - for targeted keywords? Making your website easy to find can dramatically impact the number of visitors you receive. However, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) alone is not the Holy Grail. Without effective website strategies to convert those visitors into customers all SEO may be in vain. Make your website Easy to Find + Easy to Use, and you will prosper.

    For online visibility getting indexed in all major search engines and directories, as well as the regional or industry sites that your target audience may use, is a good first step. But people will still not be able to find you if you do not rank high enough for the keywords they are using to find your product or service. Keyword research at least once or twice a year will keep you ahead of your competition. Internet tracking tools (also known as visitor analysis software) such as U-C Stats, will help you with your website optimization efforts.

    You may consider using the services of a professional Search Engine Optimization firm such as U-C WEBS to help you attract more targeted leads.

Spring: Time for a fresh start. New beginnings. It could prove to be a more effective impetus for change than the traditional January 1st--this time, commit to change by focusing on the benefits, not the Calendar! And usually the weather is so much nicer in Spring. This gives us more energy and resilience, and makes the changes so much easier to accept.

So go out and clean up your website! Look at it from your visitor’s perspective, and turn your web pages into online masterpieces.

Are you ready for a website tune-up?

Happy Spring cleaning.
Nardo Kuitert
Nardo


Nardo Kuitert is a Website Optimizer with UsabilityReviews.com, a service provided by Ontario Website Optimization firm U-C WEBS (www.u-cwebs.com). Attract more qualified visitors, and turn more visitors into customers with full Website Optimization: Search Engine Optimization and Usability Walkthroughs. Improve your results with U-C Stats, our Internet Tracking Tool.


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