Website redesigns can be frustrating for business owners, especially if you don’t know much about best practices. There are so many factors to consider when planning your website redesign and choosing the right company to build the digital face of your company. From speaking with different businesses interested in redesigning their website, I’ve discovered that many web design companies aren’t following industry standards. Unfortunately, most of these oversights often go unnoticed.
If they provide a website that looks great and seems to function properly, who’s to say that they didn’t do a good job? Well, as with many things in this world, there’s more than meets the eye. I decided to put together a list of items that are commonly overlooked by web designers. Make sure that whoever you choose to design your website isn’t making these mistakes!
Forwarding your Website’s Existing URLs
If you have an existing website, search engines such as Google or Bing have an index of all your website’s pages, which each carry a certain amount of “SEO Juice” that the search algorithms use to determine how to rank your website on search results. When your new website is deployed, if your old URLs are not forwarded to the new associated URL (typically using a 301 redirect), search engines will just assume the page doesn’t exist anymore, and all of that page authority will be lost, which will result in an actual decrease in your search rankings. I’ve seen quite a few companies that had their websites re-designed and never even knew about the importance of URL forwarding, and lost traffic simply because their website designers didn’t take advantage of this practice.
Properly setting up Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Of course, you won’t be able to properly track your website traffic if you don’t have the right tools setup to do so. I prefer to use Google Analytics because it’s a free tool that allows you to tap into the massive amounts of data that Google has available, and installation is a piece of cake. One often overlooked tool is Google Webmaster Tools (Bing has their own version as well – I recommend setting up both), which allows you to help guide Google properly crawl your website by submitting a sitemap and providing some additional data about your business. The most important reason to setup Webmaster Tools is to enable the ability to track your search queries. If you only install Google Analytics without taking the time to enable Webmaster Tools, you will have no idea how you rank on searches through Google.
Have a Mobile Friendly Website
Starting April 21st, Google released an algorithm update which favors mobile optimized websites for search results on mobile devices. Although statistics vary depending on your website audience, mobile traffic likely makes up a good percentage of your visitors – definitely enough for you to consider optimizing their browsing experience. The most common trend these days it to make a responsive website, which will adapt to any device and provide a much better user experience than a traditional website that is tailored only to users on a desktop computer. Responsive web design has become such a ubiquitous term that if you’re talking to a web design company that doesn’t offer this as a feature, you should probably look elsewhere.
Optimizing your Website for SEO
Search engine optimization involves much more than following the proper HTML standards, but any website redesign should be accompanied with the right HTML markup to make sure you get the best search ranking out the gate. There are quite a few factors that contribute to your website’s search visibility, but the main ones to keep in consideration are:
- Proper utilization of “H” tags. Titles on each page should have an “H1” which is the primary descriptor, while secondary and lower should have “H2”, “H3”, etc. Additionally, any existing titles should be reviewed and optimized based on relevant keywords and phrases.
- Optimization of “Title” and “Meta” tags. These tags are relevant to each page, and are used to display information about the content. The title tag is used define the title of the page in the browser tab, while the meta tag is used to show a brief description of the page when it comes up in search results. These are often overlooked in websites, and although they will typically default to text that will make sense to a user, adding a little customization helps slightly with your SEO strategy, and having good meta descriptors may be the deciding factor of whether or not a user clicks through to your website from search results.
- Use proper “alt” property on your images. Images included on web pages should have a text description included using the alt property, which helps search engines know what the image contains (they can’t exactly see them and understand what’s in it).
- Make use of search engine friendly URLs. Ever see a website URL that looks like a long string of gibberish? Well, sometimes that’s just a long string of parameters being used for passing information along, but others it’s simply a generated URL that hasn’t been optimized. Content Management Systems will typically have a setting that can be turned on that will let you set a custom URL, which should be relevant to the content on your page.
Improve Website Speed Performance/Page Load Time
Setting up your Favicon
Favicons are a tiny icon that shows in your browser tab, usually reserved for a scaled-down version of your logo. While there aren’t any SEO implications for not including a favicon, if you don’t make use of this feature then you’re missing out on potential branding opportunities for every visitor of your website. Especially considering how easy it is to create a favicon (just search online for “Favicon Generator”), there’s really not a good excuse for not having one setup for your website.
Managing your Website’s Content
Thankfully, there are a lot of great choices out there for Content Management Systems for your website (I wrote a comparison of the three most popular choices). The average user may not be able to figure out how to change their website content without some instruction, though. I’ve met with many business owners that don’t even have login credentials for managing their website. Any company that develops a website for you should, at the very least, provide administrative credentials so you can edit your content. Ideally you should be provided with either some documentation on how to administer the website, or an in-person demonstration of how to do so. When I build websites for customers, I always provide some documentation on administration, and, if possible, meet with them for a live demonstration.
Browser and Device Testing
Typically when nearing a website redesign launch, the company building your website will have a session of testing it on various browsers and devices. Hopefully they will be thorough and the website will be near completion when it is handed off to you for User Acceptance Testing (the industry term for a user to review and approve the website prior to deployment), but all too often some bugs still end up slipping through the cracks. When it’s your turn to review the website, I encourage you to be thorough as well. This includes doing your own round of testing in different browsers, which really won’t take you much time at all. If you haven’t already, download a copy of Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Note that for Windows users, the Safari browser is no longer supported, so that would actually have to be tested on a Mac - the same applies to Mac users, Internet explorer is no longer supported on a Mac and would have to be tested on a Windows PC. A quick navigation through your website in different browsers and on a phone and/or tablet can help ensure a smooth deployment. Unfortunately many bugs can be device specific, so the more you can try out, the better. Doing this kind of testing is important, because it will also allow you to do a review of the site so that you can make a last round of recommended changes before you approve it for deployment.
The topics covered in this article primarily focused on SEO performance and user experience, which is because those are two of the most important factors for making a website and its associated business succeed. Additionally, all of the items on the list were chosen because they are very common occurrences on websites, even with freshly designed ones. Whether it’s because the developer is simply lazy or inexperienced, these shortcomings happen rather frequently, regardless of how much you paid for that shiny new website. Keeping yourself knowledgeable about how your website should perform can help prevent these issues from happening, and you don’t really even need to know all the technical details about how to implement these changes. Just make sure your web design company is accountable to build the website you deserve.