It's easy to get so wrapped up in our websites that we don't always realize how they are perceived by our visitors. We know them so intimately that the gap between whether or not our sites live up to visitor expectations isn't obvious at all. Usually, we've done pretty well overall; the copy is good, the design is decent, the content is well-organized and easy to find, and the site is optimized. But there are always a few little hang ups we don't always notice because we are simply too close.

That's where fresh eyes can come in really handy.

SL-homepage.jpgThis is certainly the case with this week's site clinic subject Tony Winyard, a disc jockey in London, and his website Streetlife.

The Streetlife website has a whole lot of good going for it:

  • Tons of great, compelling content. He covers all of the necessary information and a whole lot more.
  • Incredible functionality including a searchable database of all available music from which clients can find out what's available and create their own playlists.
  • Ability to check Tony's availability online.
  • A solid contact form.
  • Well organized content.
  • A simple but professional looking design that drives visitors to the content.
  • Some basic optimization tactics are in place.
Here are a few areas that Tony can improve to ensure that the website meets visitor expectations.

Plentiful Links That Look Like Links

Links need to stand out
One of the first things I noticed about Streetlife is that the link text doesn't stand out from the surrounding copy. On the left sidebar, the links are yellow to the white of the copy, which provides very little contrast. In the main content, the links are blue to the black text. While blue is the color of choice for links, as people always recognize it as such, it still doesn't provide enough contrast for the links to stand out as much as they should. Also, because some people have trouble distinguishing certain colors, it's necessary to provide another visual indicator that doesn't have to do with color. Likely all it would take is underlining the links, a conventional method that screams "I'M A LINK" to visitors, giving them that extra umph they need. It might also be helpful to implement a different shade of these colors that will provide more contrast with the surrounding white or black text.

Making links more obvious will encourage your visitors to follow them; keeping them on the site longer and making them more likely to reach your goal (which for Streetlife is page views and leads).

Visitors expect links to look like links.


In-site linking

Tony has done a very good job cross-linking between pages on the Streetlife site. Any time he mentions equipment, he links to the equipment page. If he mentions testimonials, he links to the testimonial page. You get the idea. If you aren't doing this on your site, start! While cross-linking doesn't have much to do with search engine rankings, it is one method of optimizing your site by telling the search engine what is on the page to come (if you are using descriptive, keyword rich anchor text), as well as ensuring that the spiders crawl that page in the first place. It also adds another means of navigation for your visitors, ensuring they can find everything they need.

Linking out
There are two good reasons to link to other websites from your own:

   1. linking provides even better information for your visitors
   2. linking to other websites may encourage them to link back to you.

Providing benefit for your visitors is always the best reason to do anything on your website, but getting some links back will help your site to perform better in the search engines and garner more traffic. While these so call reciprocal links don't always carry as much weight in the search algorithms, they do help. And even better, when a related site links to you they will be sending qualified traffic your way.

There are a lot of places on Streetlife where Tony has linked to outside websites when they are mentioned in his copy, but there is one severe lack. He has a great page with photos and names of venues in which he has worked ... but he hasn't linked to any of their websites!

It's not so long ago that I was planning my own wedding, so I know first hand how brides will take recommendations from vendors they like. If a bride chooses Tony as her DJ, his recommendation (aka link!) for a reception hall will carry more weight. In turn, if she chooses a facility that recommends Tony, she's more likely to take it seriously. Remember, link building is just networking online. If you build up a relationship with someone and then recommend them, they are more likely to recommend you too.

In addition to the benefits of joint recommendations (aka again links), making it easy to check out these companies you've referenced is an added benefit for your visitors. The more helpful you are, the more likely they are to do what you want.

Visitors expect you to make it easy for them to get to relevant information.


Don't Hide Important Text In Images
SL-Testimony.jpgSearch engines can't read images. Screen readers can't read images. Mobile phone browsers eliminate images. Dial-up takes forever and a day to download images. Right there is a huge audience Streetlife is loosing by posting all of the testimonials as images. This isn't even including the visitors who won't bother to or can't read the fuzzy, hand-written text that has been scanned and uploaded.

While I get that it's more personal and credible to post the testimonies in the author's own handwriting, it just isn't as effective as taking the time to re-type them and post them as text. These are pages that could be optimized to help more of your site pages rank for target keywords; instead the search engines don't even know they are there. They could be convincing recommendations for visitors considering your service, but they may not take the time to read them because it takes longer to load the page or is difficult to read. Good testimonies are convincing; make sure people are reading them.

Visitors expect you to make your content as quick and easy to read as possible.

A Navigation Link Doesn't Really Count As A Call To Action

The number one action visitors can and should take on Streetlife is to fill out a contact/booking form. Unfortunately, the only ways to get to it are a link in the main navigation and a few links from the content.

If you want people to reach your goal, you need to hit them over the head and ask for it. Subtle doesn't work on the web. You need to tell them exactly what you want them to do, and make it incredibly easy to do it.

Besides adding more call to action links to the content that ask specifically for the contact, image buttons in your sidebars are a great way to draw attention to your call to action. A few rules for a good call to action:

   1. tell visitors exactly what to do/ask for it
   2. make your call to action stand out in your design
   3. keep your call to action "above the fold" where people don't have to scroll to see it.

Visitors expect you to tell them what to do.

The Mom Test
At SiteLogic, we like to tell people to do the "Mom Test." Have a friend or family member who isn't familiar with the site play around on it. See where they get hung up, what gives them trouble, what they think of the design and usability, and what's missing. Fresh eyes are one of the best ways to identify problems with your website that you may just be too close to notice.

Linking, text hidden in images, and the missing call to action are the primary areas that stood out when I did the Mom Test on Streetlife. For Tony's benefit, here are some other issues I noticed that will need to be addressed:

  • Left align text. Only center small box less than 4-5 lines long.
  • Design is too image heavy. Get rid of some of the gradients and use more CSS so that the site loads faster and is more accessible.
  • The text in the left sidebar is very difficult to read with the gradient background (see above).
  • Add a tagline/benefit statement to the header to let visitors and search engines know what this site is about, no matter on which page they enter.
  • Always write in full sentences (a few pages aren't).
  • Add page titles that match the navigation so visitors know they ended up on the page they asked for (also an important optimization location).
  • Don't tell people you are targeting the search engines. This is good information for them too.
  • Pair your locations with primary keywords in your optimization.
  • Check your text formatting for missing line breaks between paragraphs (a problem throughout the site). Incorporate more headers and bullet/number lists to make text easy to scan.
  • Too much information in the footer. Pick a few of your most important pages and highlight them there.

If you would like to use me as your "Mom Test," submit your website to me at jackie@sitelogic.com. Be sure to include:

         1. URL
         2. Target audience
         3. Unique selling proposition/what makes you stand out
         4. and your primary goal/call to action.

 


July 25, 2008





Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing (http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com) where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog RegardingHorses.com (http://www.regardinghorses.com) where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.






Comments(2)

Great article. Besides having fresh eyes look at the site, I like to occasionally look at my sites with a gardening thumb. Too often we get caught up adding the great ideas we have to our site. The end result can often lead to a mess with nothing really working the way we planned. How do you fix? Start weeding, and pull out the junk.

Absolutely true. Sometimes as webmasters, we know what we want to say and think we have communicated this in our blogs and sites only to find that we really haveen't

Good prctice to always get someone else to take a critical look at your site

Like your comments about linking out. A lot of affiliate marketing webmasters that I have come across are really reluctant to link out because of PR juice. But I think as you mentioned, linking out has distinct advantages
However the major focus of links must be getting backlinks to your sites. In the world of search engine optimization, it is the incoming links that really matter

Webmaster
Search Engine optimization using backlinks

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Search Engine Guide > Jackie Baker > Site Clinic: Fresh Eyes Often Find Unmet Expectations