Welcome to part six in this search engine positioning series. Last week we discussed the importance of internal linking. In part six we will cover the obvious and yet often overlooked importance of its appeal to a real-live human being.
While not directly related to SEO it is so often overlooked in the quest for higher search engine positioning that it has become a fundamental step in our ten step series.
Over this series we will cover the ten key aspects to a solid search engine positioning campaign.
The Ten Steps We Will Go Through Are:
Step Six - Human Testing
The most important part of your website is to reach the visitor. You have taken all the steps to create a great design and added SEO elements to your site, you have created the perfect online presence. Now to see if all that hard work has attained the main goal, to reach the visitor and steer them in the direction most desirable.
First things first, now's the time to check for the careless errors that happen along the way, things like spelling mistakes, paragraph breaks, incorrect wording etc. Once you have given your new beauty a once over pass it around and get others to do the same, preferably people who have never read the content before. The problem with relying on yourself to proof read is that you already expect what you are going to see and do not read it in its entirety the way someone would at first glance.
Once the text is out of the way have some fresh eyes again take a look at the site. Are there images that they find appealing, unappealing, distracting? Is there anything in the layout of the content that is too busy or confusing? Once you've done a check of the visual appeal of the site you will move onto navigation.
When having someone test your site navigation it is again very important to use fresh eyes, make sure these people have no idea what to expect or where to find anything - this way they will be free to follow your beautifully laid out website or fumble and stumble into some dark hole of your site, lost screaming for help. Okay, perhaps I may have given the worst-case scenario however, how many of us can say we have never been in that horrid place? These human testers will be sure to let you know just how your site navigation works for them. They are the average visitor and if they find what they are looking for easily then you can congratulate yourself on having such great intuition and move on to the rest of the tests to come. If there are problems in the navigation I cannot stress enough how very important it is that you address these immediately. You must get the desired information across as easily and quickly as possible.
While on the topic of navigation let's discuss the different possibilities of the placement of your main navigation. The majority of sites out there either have their main nav on the left or the top of the page. Is there one that is better? Well, they both have their perks, either is good, anything else is bad. The majority of visitors look in these two places to navigate because that is where it always is. There will be other navigation elements throughout your site that will not be listed in your main navigation area, these internal text and image links should be well placed and easily followed IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. It's great to give the visitor the option to check out information further into your site but you really want to be sure they can get back to where they came from, especially if you are sending them off to information and away from the product pages. Ways to achieve this are to have the information open in a new window, add a "back to previous page" link or add breadcrumb navigation. What you choose will depend on the overall structure of your site as well as the size of your site. If the main nav includes all of your pages (as in some small sites) then there is no need to add these nav elements however in larger sites it is easy for a visitor to get lost if the navigation has not been tried and tested and designed specifically for ease of use. All in all, play with the navigation and test and retest it until there are no problems. The site navigation is so very important - your visitors MUST be able to browse through your site easily and without frustration.
The placement of your content is equally important. If you are selling something obviously you want it offered as easily as possible, and you don't just want it to be available - you want to sell it. There are many ideas to consider when deciding on the placement of certain content. A great read that really shows the way a visitor looks through your site can be found at http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/main.htm. Taking a look through this information can give you lots of tips to work with in deciding on product and special offer placement etc. In the above-mentioned article you will be able to see the way an average visitor views a website, the pattern in which their eyes follow the information, the advertising positions that are most effective, etc. This is a great resource for you and your company.
Quite possibly one of the most useful tools available is found at http://www.clicktracks.com/ananlyzer/. This tool will show you all the very specific details of how visitors are navigating your site. This tool is many steps above your typical web stats, it will show you details so specific that you can not only see the search term a visitor used to find you but what search engine they came from and the path they followed through your site right down to which search term is selling the most on your site. This highly detailed information can be an incredibly valuable tool for you. With access to such info you can, over time, adjust your content, navigation, and SEO based on these reports - watching the changes happen and see the effects not just make good guesses.
The value of having an average visitor test your site and get real feedback is huge. You have no choice but to be a little biased when viewing your own site and this outsider information can give you tips that you may have only wished you had. Don't put your site out there and wonder what all the visitors are thinking and doing, just ask! You may even go as far as having a poll included on your website, so long as it's not popping up every time they click a link. A simple "we welcome your feedback" email form on your contact or profile page would be a professional simple way to keep up with what the visitors are liking or disliking on a continuous basis.
Now that your site has been designed, had SEO elements added, tested and edited, you are ready to submit it to the search engines and get those visitors coming. Stay tuned for the next article in this 10 part series "Submissions".
Article written by Mary Davies of Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning (http://www.beanstalk-inc.com/). With years of experience in custom search engine friendly web design and a strong ability to understand what the consumer likes to see and how they want to navigate websites, Mary writes on search engine friendly design, functional designs for humans, and warnings about design practices that hinder both search engines and site visitors.