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Web & SEO

Image Carousels: Should You Use Them?

I'm sure you've seen a million image sliders over the years. The big banner of images and text cycling through the homepage. These are seen on many websites and is one of the most universally requested features by my clients, usually because it's a 'standard' feature they expect to see on a website, or because there are various people in the business all clamoring to get their content on the front page.

But do they actually work? Lets find out!

No One Interacts With Your Image Slider

The first, and main reason I usually advise against using image carousels is simple. No one looks at them!

Often a client will request something be added to their image carousel because they want it to be one of the most prominent elements on their homepage to get the attention of their users. And of course, this makes logical sense - the image carousel is the biggest and boldest part of your homepage, and it's located right at the top of the page to boot. But users do not always behave the way you might predict.

In fact, only about 1% of users will actually interact with an image carousel, and even then, the vast majority of that interaction is with the very first slide. What this means is that not only is your prominent, front-and-center content not actually being used by your users, it also means that prime real-estate on your homepage is being taken up by something that almost no one is even looking at!

Image Sliders Are Annoying

A common mistake with these image sliders is automatically cycling through banners every 5 seconds or so without any user input. Not only that, but more often than not the banners cycle through too fast, so even if a user would like to look at your banner, chances are that the banner they're interested in has disappeared before they can fully absorb the content.

You’re Needlessly Slowing Down Your Website

One thing I often stress to clients is the value of a fast website. Not only do your users appreciate it, but Google loves a fast website too. Often the images in these carousels are quite large, usually taking up the full width of the page, so they're usually relatively large files. There also tends to be 3+ images in these carousels, so this really begins to add up. Inevitably, this begins to take it's toll on your loading times!

Is There ANY Reason To Use An Image Carousel?

Well, when it comes to your users, probably not. But of course, your users are never truly the only group of people you have to consider when developing a website.

Management, business owners, heads of departments, etc. often feel that a certain bit of content needs to be displayed in a prominent location on the front page. And when you have multiple department heads all clamoring to get their bit of content in that prime bit of real-estate, you can end up with a bit of a mess.

This is where image carousels come in to play. Not to increase conversions, or to improve user experience, but to keep department heads happy. And that is an important consideration.

So What Should I Do Instead?

Good question! I suggest a single banner image with a simple message that the user can easily and quickly understand at a glance.

Or, if you want to get crazy, you could skip the banner entirely and just have the content the people are actually there to see.


Sources:
Image Slider Stats - Erik Runyon
Carousels Annoy Users - Nielsen Norman Group

Categories
Web & SEO

What Your Small Business Website Needs In 2016

I often see small business websites lagging behind when it comes to their websites. For some, it's an issue of money, and for others it's an issue of time. And some just don't have any interest in their online presence at all.

Another really common problem I see is small business owners focusing on the look of their site above all else, thinking that a better looking or more trendy website will solve all of their problems. In practice, many of these businesses would benefit from having their existing site optimized and improved upon, rather than redesigning from scratch every couple of years.

Well, this post is going to cover some of the absolute essentials for any small business website. Hopefully this will give you an idea of where your site might need some improvement.

1. Responsive Mobile Friendly Design


It's no longer an option. At this point, your website needs to be mobile friendly. Not only for any mobile users your site may be getting - and make no mistake, a good portion of your websites traffic will almost certainly be coming from mobile users - but also for Google.

As of April of 2015, Google's new mobile friendly algorithm update means that sites that perform better on mobile will rank higher in mobile search results.

What all of this means is that if your site isn't mobile friendly, your site will get less traffic from Google, and the mobile users that do use your site will have a bad time, leaving your site to go and visit one of your competitors that offers a better mobile experience. Updating your site to a responsive design is one of the best investments you can make on your site in 2016.

I really can't stress this point enough. There's a reason this point is number one on this list: It's not negotiable - and hasn't been since April of 2015. Mobile traffic has been steadily rising over the years, and will only continue to grow. Combine that with the points above, and you can see how important this is for a small business website trying to compete.

Site not mobile-friendly? Contact me today and ensure your site is ready for 2016!

2. No Call To Action

Think about what you want your users to do once they're actually on your website. If you're an eCommerce website, you probably want them to buy something on your online store. If you offer a service, you probably want them to call or email you to enquire about this service. Maybe you want them to sign up to your newsletter.

A Call To Action is how you tell your users how and why they should do this. It could be as simple as a button saying "Shop Online!" but if it's not clear, then your users may not know exactly how to proceed.

Take a look at your own website. Does it clearly tell your users what it is they should do next? Does any of the content on your home page (or other landing pages) effectively tell your users why they should do this?

3. Fast Loading Web Pages


Much like responsive design, ensuring your website is as fast as possible is another great investment for your site.
It's something all small businesses owners should be concerned about, especially for eCommerce sites where a difference of even half a second can be the difference between making or losing a sale.

Most business owners won’t get particularly excited about saving their users a couple of seconds of loading time, but research consistently shows that almost any improvement on a websites loading time can increase conversions dramatically.

Testing exactly how long it takes for your site to load is a fairly simple task. There are loads of free tools on the internet to help you do exactly that, but one of my favourites is gtmetrix. It tells you how long it takes to load your site, and compares it with the average load time so you can see how you're doing. You can also use it to test the load times of your biggest online competitors to see how your load times stack up against theirs.

4. Make Your Contact Details Prominent

This serves multiple purposes. For one, it's a sign of trust. If your users can easily find your phone number and address, then that's a sign that your business is legitimate. For eCommerce sites, or anything that requires a user to input their credit card or PayPal details, this sign of trust can help to set aside some suspicions or concerns they may have about paying. Even today with more and more people buying online, there are many that don't trust online shopping, and this can go a long way to making these users more comfortable.

Secondly, when it comes to small business websites, many of your users will simply be looking for your contact information and may not be interested in anything else on your website. For example, when looking at restaurants or fast food delivery, the vast majority of users want to see two things - the menu, and the phone number. Making it difficult for your customers to contact you is one of the biggest issues a small business website can have.

Categories
Web & SEO

Page Speed Optimization: A Brief Guide

Simple Advice For Faster Load Times

It doesn't matter how patient you are, no one likes to wait in line. So why make your sites users wait? That's essentially what you're doing when you allow your site to have long load times and it could be having a disastrous effect on your customer experience.

So Why Worry About Page Speed?

Slow loading times can cause high bounce rates, high levels of cart abandonment, and a general sense of frustration among your users - all of which are things any site owner will want to avoid. For an eCommerce site in particular, this can be the difference between a successful site and an unsuccessful one.

SEO And Page Speed

Interestingly, Page Speed seems to have been considered a ranking factor by Google as early as 2010. However, despite this, page speed optimization hasn't really ended up in the arsenal of many web designers and SEO's and is often given a much lower priority. Although page speed is only one of hundreds of other ranking factors, and a relatively minor ranking factor at that, that doesn't mean it's worth skipping over. When it comes to SEO, every little bit adds up and page speed is no exception.

However, regardless of this, SEO shouldn't be your only concern when it comes to optimizing your sites load times because...

User Experience And Page Speed

Not only do search engines like fast loading sites, your users like it too. And for all websites, regardless of your goals as a website owner, a better user experience is always a good thing.

For eCommerce sites, page speed is a massively important factor when it comes to increasing sales and decreasing cart abandonment.

One great example to show the tremendous impact page loads times can have is Walmart. When they decided to do something about their long load times, they found that for every 1 second of improvement they experienced a 2% increase in conversions. That's a good improvement by any standard.

And Walmart isn't the only example. Amazon.com increased their revenue by an average of 1% for every 100ms of improvement on their page load times. These examples show you the benefit of a fast site, but it can also show you the negative effects of a slow sight. Consider that Amazon can suffer a revenue loss of one and a half billion dollars from a page speed slowdown of a single second.

From eCommerce sales, to lead generation, to ad click-through rates - faster load times means better user experience and better use experience means more conversions.

How You Can Do It

So how do you actually improve your sites loading times?

Well, page speed optimization can be a fairly time consuming process and requires a certain degree of technical skill. For developers, web designers, web masters, or more technically inclined SEOs, this should be no trouble at all.

Tools & Tests

Below you'll find links to a couple of the tools you can use to analyze and improve your site to measure your exact loading time, and to find any issues that might be slowing down your website.

First, you'll want to find out exactly how fast or slow your website is and you can use a variety of free speed testing tools to do this. There are many different sites out there offering this service, but there's a few things to keep in mind when picking the best one for you and your site.

If you're not using a content delivery network (CDN), then it's in your interest to use a speed test site that offers servers based in the same country as your target audience.
For example, if your website is hosted in Brisbane, and a user in London is viewing your website, then each individual request will have to make a long trip from London to Brisbane and then back to London again. This causes latency and leads to longer load times. For local businesses and location-specific niche sites this is especially important to keep in mind.

Google Page Speed Insights

Google themselves offer a really useful tool for analyzing your site which offers some actionable advice on increasing your sites speed. I suggest you start with this - especially if your interest in page speed optimization is SEO related - as this tool can provide you with loads of information to get your site loading quicker and keeping search engines like Google happy.

GTMetrix

Another tool to use is one of my personal favourites - GTMetrix. This site tests your sites load time and then offers improvements based off of both Google and Yahoo's Page Speed preferences. This is definitely worth checking out.

CDN

A Content Delivery Network caches the static resources of your site and distributes them to servers across the world. Essentially, what this means is that the elements that make up your site are physically closer to your users. This lowers latency between your users and your sites server and increase website performance.

If you're looking for a simple CDN that's not too expensive and offers a lot of extra features, such as security and analytics, then you might want to take a look at Cloudflare. This is the CDN that I've used in the past with success, and the one I usually recommend for most small businesses. It also comes with a free version, which stands up on its own as a decent addition to your arsenal.

A CDN makes sense for many sites, but it's certainly not a requirement for all sites. It's up to you to decide whether a CDN works for your particular website.

So that about covers the basics of page speed optimization. If you think I missed anything, or if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me or leave a comment bellow.

Categories
Web & SEO

Something To Consider When Choosing Your Domain Name

There are two schools of thought on selecting a domain name. You can either choose a domain name that contains the keywords you'd like to rank for, or you can choose a brandable domain name that doesn't necessarily contain the keywords, but is perhaps more memorable.

Keyword Domain Names

This type of domain name contains words directly relevant to your business. For example, a website that sells used cars in Perth might want a domain name like used-cars-perth.com or buy-used-cars.com.au. This sort of domain name simultaneously tells your users exactly what your website is about, while also having the benefit of containing the keywords you want your site to rank for. At a glance, this can seem like it's obviously the better choice.

The downside of this is that these domain names are typically quite generic and difficult to remember, especially in more competitive niches. Users may have trouble remembering whether your website was buy-shoes-online.net.au or whether it was online-shoe-store.com. These sorts of domain names are often not very branded and are more difficult to promote because of this.

It's a fairly common practice to use keyword-heavy domain names, however both Google and Bing have publicly stated that this is no longer a major ranking factor for websites. That said, there are many sites that still have some success using this method.

Branded Domain Names

You'll probably notice that the most popular websites do not use these sorts of keyword-heavy domain names. Google, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter; none of these sites contain keywords in their domain name or even imply what the site is about. These sites still do very well despite this. These sorts of sites use their unique and memorable domain name as part of the branding strategy, rather than as part of their SEO campaign.

Thank about it - would Youtube have been anywhere near as popular if it was called video-share-now.com? When considering the plethora of other ranking factors on your site, the overall value of an easy to remember, branded domain name can often be higher than the SEO value of a keyword-rich domain name.

While there are some benefits of choosing a keyword heavy domain name, more so in some niches than others, ultimately it's only a small factor when it comes to ranking. You're usually much better off having an easy to remember, branded domain name and to focus your SEO efforts elsewhere. Ultimately, Google will look at the content of your website to determined your ranking and this is where your efforts should be focused.

Categories
Web & SEO

Australian Mobile Usage Statistics

The Importance Of Having A Responsive Website

Smartphone and tablet usage has been growing steadily each year. Making sure that your website is mobile and tablet compatible has never been more important than it is now, and it will only continue to become more important every year. These mobile usage statistics below show how Australians use their smartphones and tablets to browse the internet.

What Is Responsive Web Design?

Responsive Web Design is a recent way of approaching web design. What it aims to do is to make your website respond to the size of the screen it is being displayed on, changing the layout of the site to suit the device.

Put simply, responsive web design makes sure that your website looks great no matter what.

Why Choose Responsive Design?

Put simply, having a responsive website design ensures that you don't miss out on the large amount of mobile users who may wish to visit your site. A website that is not mobile compatible will be losing a lot of views (or customers in the case of eCommerce sites) that you would otherwise be getting.

What About m. Or mobile. Subdomains?

Although have a mobile version of your website in an m. subdomain (example m.facebook.com) can certainly fill the need for a mobile website, these separate mobile websites come with their share of problems.

Essentially, these sorts of mobile websites are basically a separate website. As a result, they're more costly to create than simply making your existing website responsive. They also double the time to maintain than a responsive website, due to being a separate site.

There is also the possibility of being penalized for duplicate content if it's not set up correctly, which can drastically hurt your SEO efforts.