What Makes a Website Successful?
As a web designer and business owner I think about what makes a website successful a lot. “How can I make this website successful?” or “What can I do that will make the biggest difference for this business?” Making a website successful starts with defining success and below is the one simple equation that defines success for a website of any kind.
Success = Traffic x Conversion
In his book, “Save the Pixel”, Ben Hunt presents the above equation which boils down how to define success for a website into two key factors, traffic and conversion. Whether you’re running a business website, a blog, a non-profit, or an online slave trading operation (please don’t do that) the success of your website rests squarely on the shoulders of your traffic and conversion rate.
So you might be thinking, “What the hell do I care about traffic and conversion? Now you’re just trying to confuse me with jargon and math!” Calm down and I’ll make this simple for the both of us.
If nobody comes to your website, why does it exist? Traffic is a website’s life blood, without traffic websites (and the projects they promote) die, plain and simple. So traffic is important, but what if a million people come to your website and not a single one of them buys your product/subscribes/reads your posts? Now we’re talking about your conversion rate.
How many of the people coming to your website do what you want them to do? That’s your conversion rate, the percentage of people who fulfill the purpose of your website or web page. Do you know your website’s conversion rate? If not, you better find out! You could have a million visitors per day, but if your conversion rate is nil, it won’t do you much good. On the other hand, you could have very low traffic and if your conversion rate is high, you’ll be smiling all the way to the bank.
So, by increasing traffic to your website and increasing your conversion rate your website is bound to be successful. More people will be coming to your site, a higher percentage of those people will be doing what you want them to do, and life will be good! Simple and easy right? Not so fast.
Being successful at anything worthwhile takes time, hard work, and consistent action. Either that or a whole hell of a lot of money. As you can imagine, there’s a lot more to making your website successful than a simple equation, but that’s just to get you started.
How do I increase traffic and conversion?
So this equation, Success = Traffic x Conversion is very nice and insightful and all, but it begs the question, “Then how do you increase your website’s traffic and conversion?” Well there are as many paths to success as there are travelers on the path and you’ll hear all kinds of strategies, techniques, and acronyms along the way.
When it comes right down to it, if you want more success from your website, you need to understand at least the basic fundamentals of two things, search engine optimization (SEO) to increase traffic and conversion rate optimization (CRO) to increase conversion. Either that, or hire an expert to take care of it for you. Either way, it pays to be informed so keep reading and we’ll take a look behind the curtain of these mysterious processes called SEO and CRO.
Search engine optimization (SEO) – The least you need to know
Here’s the least you need to know about SEO to begin optimizing your site today. SEO is the process of increasing the visibility of a website or web page in a search engine’s results. The higher you rank and the more you show up in a search engine’s results, the more traffic you will get from that search engine’s users. So being found on search engines is crucial to increasing traffic.
There are 3 main ingredients in SEO. Keywords, on-page optimization, and off page optimization. Everything starts first with keywords, the words people are using to search for you. Once you have found your keywords you’ll want to optimize your pages for those keywords (on-page optimization) and then get other people to link to your website hopefully using those keywords (off-page optimization). That’s the SEO process in a nutshell. So really what the heck are keywords anyway?
Keywords are the words your potential visitors are searching for to find websites like yours. Keyword research is where it all begins in SEO. What words are your potential visitors searching for that will bring them to your website? Which of those keywords can your website compete for on the search engines? Which keywords will bring a good amount of traffic and which won’t? These are the questions keyword research is meant to answer.
To get started with keyword research and to generate some ideas, use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool here. Soon this will be replaced by the Google Keyword Planner Tool. Enter the most broad term you can think of that describes your website or business into the keyword tool. For example, if you sell romantic relationship advice for priests, you would simply enter “relationship advice” (good luck with that). The Adwords Keyword Tool will spit out a list of different keyword ideas based on your initial keyword along with estimated traffic data.
First, go through the list on your own and remove any words that are irrelevant to your business or offering. The next step is figuring out which of these keywords your website can compete for that will bring in decent traffic. The best explanation for how to find those gold nugget keywords that I’ve ever seen is here in this post and video by Ben Hunt.
For more information on how to do proper keyword research check out How To Do Keyword Research from The Beginner’s Guide to SEO on Moz.com. Ok, so now you’ve uncovered your shiny new gold nugget keywords and it’s time to start optimizing your website around them. So what exactly do they mean when they say “optimize” a web page for SEO?
The next step in the SEO process is to map out which keywords you’re going to target at which pages of your website. Each page should be optimized for a single keyword for the most part. You can target more than one keyword on a single page, but it’s best to keep it to one when you’re starting out to keep things simple. Usually you’re going to target your most valuable keyword at your home page because your home page is often the most highly visited and highest ranking page of your website.
So, you’ll need to sit down and map out which keyword goes with which page of your site. Often times you’ll need to create new pages for a given keyword, called “landing pages” if a page doesn’t exist and the keywords seems valuable. Landing pages are an important part of SEO. For more information on landing pages check out the Beginner’s Guide to Landing Pages.
Search engines use a whole slew of “on-page factors” that affect your search rankings. For example, things like the title of the page, it’s URL, page content, and page heading are all factors considered by a search engine when it’s trying to determine what your site is about. For an easy to consume list of on-page factors that affect search rankings, take a look at this awesome infographic from Backlinko titled 12 Key On-Page SEO Factors That Search Engines (And Users) Love.
Bam there it is! Your keywords are all picked out and your site is optimized for those keywords. You’re almost done! Now you just need other people to link to your website so the search engines know you’re actually as awesome you say you are. On to link building!
Off-Page Optimization – Link Building
Link building is the most difficult and often the most important part of an SEO campaign. How other websites link to you is one of the most critical factors in how the search engines place you in the search results. If your on-page optimization says you’re all about gorilla training and ten million other animal training people say the same by linking to your gorilla training website, you’re probably going to rank well for “gorilla training” and get a lot of traffic and make a lot of money training a lot of gorillas. Whatever floats your boat.
The point is, you need links from other relevant websites to increase traffic to your website through the search engines. So how do you get those links? Luckily, there is no shortage of ways to get more links to your website, but it’s not like it used to be. Back in the day, you could get just about any kind of link you can think of and your website would rank high. These days it’s not so easy. Search engines have gotten smarter and we in turn have to be smarter about the types of links we get. No more link spamming to get to the top.
In general, the best way to get more links to your website is to be useful to your visitors in some way. Give them great information, make them laugh, post useful videos, whatever it is, the key to continually getting more links to your website (without being spammy) is always be thinking about your visitors and how you can give them what they want in a way that works for you.
For more detailed information on how to get started with link building, check out The Definitive Guide to Link Building.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) – The least you need to know
Here’s the least you need to know about conversion rate optimization (CRO) to begin testing your site today. Plain and simple, CRO is all about split testing. Split testing will change your life if you’ve never done it before, read on to find out why.
What is a website split test? In a website split test, you setup two or more versions of a given web page and serve different versions of the site or page to visitors. You then gather data on which page variation accomplishes your goals the best and you use the winning variation. Split testing turns your website into an ongoing experiment rather than an ongoing argument. Split testing gives you the freedom to try out any new idea that seems worthwhile and see concrete, scientific data that tells you if your hypothesis is correct.
Picture it like this, back in the day you’d be arguing with a co-worker or designer about which color works best for the main page banner on the company website. Ego wars ensue, followed by name calling, then throwing things, it’s not pretty. Now all of that craziness is over, you can just test it! No need to scream and throw shoes, let’s just have a cup of coffee and take a look at the data shall we?
Split testing is for winners! Start split testing your website as soon as possible or hire someone to do it for you and never stop testing. If you’re short on cash, start split testing with Google Analytics, it’s free. If you can afford the $50/month, use Visual Website Optimizer it’s easily the best split testing software ever. So, now you know what split testing is. The next questions is, “what do you test?”
What to test
Test everything! Test your tag line, your content, your layout, calls to action, colors, buttons, menus, forms, everything! Make big, bold changes and don’t be afraid to be wrong. Take yourself on a “customer journey” and walk through your website from first visit to final thank you email and identify any sticking points that could be made better and test them.
To really get yourself started on the right foot with split testing read Ben Hunt’s book Convert! and this article, Split-testing 101: A quick-start guide to conversion rate optimization. Also be sure to sign up for Peep Laja’s email list at ConversionXL.com. That dude is brilliant he writes amazing stuff like this, The Ultimate Guide to Increasing E-Commerce Conversion Rates.
Making a website successful is no longer an easy thing to do. There are no simple tricks that will make it happen automatically for you, anyone who claims otherwise is just trying to get in your wallet. At the same time making a website successful is not really all that complicated when you boil it down to the bare essentials. All you need is more traffic and to convert more of that traffic to customers, followers, and friends. Success = Traffic x Conversion
If you work hard and follow the advice laid out here, you’ll have a great shot at a success. If you are truly focused on your target audience and are making an honest effort at being as wildly useful as possible to them, you’re already well on your way to success and I’d love to hear your story.
If you’re interested in learning more about SEO and CRO, here are some super useful resources that I’ve found to be invaluable for making websites more successful. I would like this to be an ever growing list so please feel free to contact me if you have a great resource that should be added here. I hope it’s helpful.
Super Useful Resources for Making Your Website Successful
…for Traffic (SEO)
The Beginner’s Checklist for Small Business SEO – Great place to start learning SEO for beginners.
The Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet – If you’re more of a techie like me, this cheat sheet is awesome.
Moz.com (formerly SEOMoz) – I’m a huge fan of Moz. I use this site just about everyday for one reason or another. Their SEO tools and articles are fantastic, I very highly recommend them.
Open Site Explorer (free) – A great tool for getting SEO stats on your own website or your competitors’ sites.
Keyword analysis tool – This is one of the most valuable tools I use to figure out whether or not a given keyword is worth competing for.
SEO Toolbar (free) – I use this toolbar all the time to quickly check a site’s SEO stats rather than going to Open Site Explorer all the time.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool – An essential tool for coming up with keyword ideas and finding out how much traffic those keywords are getting. Apparently this tool will not be around much longer and is now being replaced by the Keyword Planner, but you have to log in with an Adwords account to access it at the time of writing this article.
QuickSprout – Neil Patel’s site is an absolute gold mine of useful information for SEO and just about any other topic on web marketing you could ask for. My favorite article (not really specific to SEO) is 6 Reasons You Won’t Succeed
…for Conversion (CRO)
Convert! – Ben Hunt’s best selling book is absolutely dripping with highly useful, easy to understand information that will get you excited about designing websites that convert!
Visual Website Optimizer – The most awesome A/B split testing tool ever. Unless you’re not making much money from your site yet (it costs $50 a month). If you’re short on cash, use Google Analytics/Content Experiments instead. Visual Website Optimizer’s site also have some great articles like 5 Design Principles to Instantly Boost the Conversion Rate of Your Website.
Conversion Rate Experts – These guys are literally rocket scientists turned conversion rate experts. Their technology is what currently runs Google’s Content Experiment software within Google Analytics. Easily one of the best sites for learning about split testing. I would start with their article Split-testing 101: A quick-start guide to conversion rate optimization
ConversionXL – When it comes to conversion rate optimization advice, Peep Laja of ConversionXL is seriously the man. His articles are long and extremely helpful. One of my all time favorites is The Ultimate Guide to Increasing E-Commerce Conversion Rates.
Unbounce.com – I haven’t used any of Unbounce’s products (yet), but they’ve got some great articles like 26 Beautiful Landing Page Designs Critiqued with A/B Testing Tips and How to Use Design Principles to Increase Conversions.
Crazy Egg – Get heatmaps, clickmaps, and scrollmaps of where your visitors are clicking on your website. You can even see if they’re clicking places they’re “not supposed to”. This tool is essential in helping you better understand how your visitors interact with your website.
Google Analytics (free) – An essential tool for both SEO and CRO. Not sure how much website traffic you get or what your conversion rate is? Google Analytics will tell you. It’s the bread and butter of web marketing tools. Use it wisely.
KissMetrics – If you can afford the $150/month price tag and Google Analytics isn’t good enough for you, KissMetrics is one of the best investments you can make if you want to understand how your customers are really interacting with your website and business.
Now over to you! If you know of any super useful resources that help make websites successful, please let me know in the comments or contact me so I can add to it. I’m always looking for more/better information on how to make websites successful.