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When did you last update your website?

  • Aqil 

Websites seem like an easy thing. You create a website when your business gets going (or when the internet gets going, depending on how old your company is) and update whenever you have something new to talk about. Occasionally, you may add or remove pages as your business changes; maybe you have a blog that you keep up-to-date with all the goings-on of your business. Fixing little things here and there are okay in the short term, but what about in the long run? How do you know when the bouncing rainbow text under your logo is officially out of date? Do you know when, where, and how customers are getting lost on your site? And it’s not just user experiences. Website building tools are constantly changing, are you keeping up with updates? Web standards seldom change, but web culture, digital trends, those can flip in a matter of days. One change in how Google search works could tank all your site traffic, then what happens?

Here at Refinery Lab: when we take on a new client, the first thing we do is run an audit on their website. What’s broken? What code is outdated? Why is that page loading so slow? We have a number of tools we use to check our clients’ websites, then mix in our years of digital and customer experience to drill down what’s working, what’s not, and what we can do to help. After years of doing such audits, I can share three of the biggest problems I’ve found with almost every new project:

1. Image Sizes

People love pictures. An evocative image is the best way to grab your customers’ attention. So when you post an image on your website, you want something big, vibrant, and of course high quality. So, your marketing goes out and takes an 8k photo with their top-of-the-line camera or you find a nice 3375×2250 stock photo with 350dpi. It’s so detailed, you can see the pores of the photographer reflected in the glasses of the subject. This is going to look so good on your website… in that 250px box.

Having big images are great for printing, but when you put them on your website they just slow everything down. Just because your website is showing a small image, doesn’t mean your site is loading a small image. Your site is going to spend valuable milliseconds loading pixels your users will never even see. So when you’re adding images to your website, make sure they’re tailored to the size you need. If you’re placing a 100px icon, upload a 100px image (or include a 200px version for Retina screens).

2. Rendering

Rendering describes how your website is made whenever one of your customers visits. When you build a website, it’s less like making a piece of art and more like writing instructions on how to make a piece of art. Web browsers then go through those instructions lightning-fast and create build something to show its users. But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced before, lightning-fast is not always fast enough. The web browser follows the instructions exactly so you need to make sure your instructions are written in the best order for the user experience.

For example, make sure that things above the fold, the part someone sees before they start scrolling, is the first to load. Make sure important text or buttons that are frequently clicked load early-on too. Sometimes there’s a snag in the instructions; a piece of code says: “hold on, stop everything until I’m done running!” These pieces of render-blocking code (usually Javascript or CSS) can grind your website to a standstill.

Web browsers aren’t new to this either, they load web pages all day and they can safe little bits to use later. Of course, your website can take advantage of web browser caches to load even faster. Here’s a free tool you can use to test the speed of your website.

3. Meta Descriptions, Alt Text, and Structured Data

Okay, this one is technically three things, but they all serve the same purpose: robots. Now more than ever, robots are reading your website, but that’s not a bad thing. These robots are sent out by search engines to see what your site is all about and then put your website in front of the people who are looking for it. We’ve already talked at length about Zero-Click search but there’s more to help out your website than simply that.

Some robots are good at identifying images, but those aren’t the robots that are reading your site. So if you want robots to know what an image on your site is all about, be sure to include some alt-text. This can be a description of the image or just additional context. Alt text also has the added bonus (or actually, it’s the original intent) of providing an alternative when your image can’t load. This way, your users aren’t left in the dark.

Another thing robots aren’t good at (yet) is understanding context. Sure, they can read the words on your page, but do they know why? You can help them with this as well by providing a meta description for each page you create. This is a sentence or two talking summarizing your page. Google used to display these meta descriptions in their search results (and still do, in some cases) to help users find what they were looking for. These meta descriptions also pop up when you or one of your customers share your page on social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even WhatsApp show a “site preview” with the page title, meta description, and a featured image. So it’s an easy way to get more information out there.

Structured data is the newest standard in this vein. Structured data takes all the guesswork out of what the robots are reading on your site. It’s like translating your website into robot-language. Structured data helps search engines like Google show your data directly to your customers, resulting in Zero-Click searches, but also a seamless customer experience. While structured data can be the most complicated to add to your site, if you have multiple physical locations to manage online, you’re in luck. Refinery Lab is offering a platform that creates and manages the structured data for you, making sure your locations are visible in today’s smart searches.

How do you know if your website needs updating? It’s hard to tell; many times, it can be a handful of small things compounding to massively affect both your user experience and the longevity of your site, itself. If you think you think you need an update and don’t know where to start, feel free to reach out to us here. Refinery Lab specializes in making sure your digital strategies are not only up-to-date but also working for your customers.

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