Every year as you’re reviewing all the numbers in your business, you also need to review your website so you can see what’s working and what’s not. Give it an annual physical and make a checklist of what you can do to make it better. Which in some cases is updating it and in others is just trashing your current site and getting a new one…but how do you make this checklist, where do you look? What do you review? This my friends is where I can help.

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Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

End-of-Year Website Reconnaissance Mission

If you’re like most website owners, you don’t look at our own site very often.  And while you’re not looking (which is most of the time) obvious things can break, and content can become outdated or incorrect. You won’t even know things are going south until a client calls to tell you something’s broken.  

And that’s just the things you can see.  

The web changes all the time, and the code used to build your site will eventually need to change with it or the site won’t work correctly anymore.  If you’re not on top of it Google will drop your site in search rankings. and as a result you’ll have less traffic.  Less traffic means less opportunity for business.  

So while we feel like a website is a set and forget it kind of thing...it’s really a set it and check it thing.  

Every year as you’re reviewing all the numbers in your business, you also need to review your website so you can see what’s working and what’s not.  Give it an annual physical and make a checklist of what you can do to make it better. Which in some cases is updating it and in others is just trashing your current site and getting a new one…but how do you make this checklist, where do you look?  What do you review?  

This my friends is where I can help.

At MayeCreate we are in a continual process of reviewing and updating websites. Many of our clients do a minimum of one review a year where we go through this exact process and figure out what's going on on their site and make sure everything's healthy.  

As we think about breaking down and evaluating a website at the end of the year to assess the sites health we review four different components:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Site Content
  3. Infrastructure
  4. Data

1. Review your aesthetics.

This is something that you can delegate to a team member or easily do on your own. 

To review the aesthetics of your site, your first task is to look at your competition, companies similar to yours, those that serve the same target market or you bid against most often. You need to make sure you’re keeping up with the Joneses. You don't want people to look at your website and think that you're behind the times.

Ask:

  • How do their websites look? 
  • Did they get new websites? 
  • Do they have new functionality on there? 

After you get a good feel for what's going on with those websites, hop back over to your own website. And be honest with yourself - Don't sugarcoat the truth. 

  • Is your website ugly? 
  • Does it still make you proud to call it yours? 
  • Is your website functional? 
  • How did you feel when you got to your website, compared to the websites of your competition? 

You may not look at your website all that often. But your target market - the people you’re selling to - look at your website all the time. So do the people looking for jobs with your company. 

Make sure that you look at least as good as the other guys. You don’t want the first or lasting impression of your company to be a pile of crap. 💩

2. Review your content.

The next thing you're going to do is review your content. It's not that you don't trust your web designer by doing this. It's that things change. Browsers change and code is continually improved. And things can break in your website and you won't know it because you're never out there clicking on it.

Start general.

  • Click through every page of your website - Are there things that are broken?
  • If there are pictures of people on your website, do those people still work for you? (If not, is that OK?) 

Look at Blog/Projects/News and other regularly (or supposed to be regularly) updated content.

  • How long has it been since you updated your projects section?  
  • Does it even make sense to still have it on your site? I would argue yes, but if you’re never going to update it you may just consider removing it.
  • Are there things that happened this year that you should add to the site?  
  • Are there upcoming items that could be added to the site?
  • Is this still the information you want featured on the site?  

Especially in your projects section. If you just added any old thing up there because your business was new when you initially built the site, but now you’re working on different types of projects, you may want to take down some of the old ones.

Visit your Staff/Team/About section.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it accurate? 
  • Do all those people still work there? 
  • Did they get a new phone number? 
  • Do they have a new title?

Go through your Services section.

  • Are they all accurate? 
  • Are there any that need to be removed or added to? 
  • Can you add new photos to them after this past year of work?
  • Read the services pages and make sure that they accurately represent the work that you're doing right now. A lot can change in a year, especially if your business is new. 

Check out your Careers section

  • Submit your application form.
    • Make sure that you get a success email from your site.
    • Make sure (as the form submitter) you also get a success email from the website.
    • I may be getting ahead of myself but try it on mobile too...more about that later.
  • If you don't have an online application form, put it on the list of things to add to your site. Applicants need a way to apply online, even if it’s not on your site you can link to another to give them the functionality to do so.

Test your search feature.

If you have a search form on your site, try to search your site. What happens? Do you get a nice search results page? If not, something is busted. 

Basically just go through and click on everything and make sure that it's still working.

The last thing that you want is somebody that you're trying to do business with to get to your website and be served some irrelevant pop-up window, and never return to your website because the pop-up window doesn't close. Yes, that just happened to me the other day. 

How stupid is that, right? Don’t be those people.  The ones that never go through their website and make sure it's right. This is your opportunity to make sure that yours is. 

3. Test infrastructure.

This is the more technical component. But don’t skip it, it's still super, super important. One of the biggest ranking factors that Google uses when it decides how it's going to display your site is how fast it loads. 

You may have an absolutely gorgeous website. But if it does not load quickly, it has almost no home on the internet right now. 

Your load time impacts your site in multiple ways. 

  1. Google wants a fast loading site, just straight up period. So a fast loading site = good for Google. 
  2. Google wants a website that people use. Now if people don't wait for your website to load, and they leave it, that's an indicator to Google that you don't have a good website. 
  3. Google likes a website that people hang out on for a period of time. This shows Google your site offers quality content and it’s ranking for the correct things. So the deeper people get into your website, the more time they spend on the website. The more pages they visit shows Google that you have quality content, and Google is more likely to show your content because of it. 

Test your site load time from a computer.

Meet my boyfriend GTmetrics.

GTmetrics.com offers a free report with ACTUAL stuff you can fix on the site to make it load faster, unlike Google’s options which give you gibberish unless you speak Google. And if you’re reading this I’m going to guess you don’t speak Google. 

So check out my man GT.  

With the free version of the test you can see all kinds of goodness about how your site loads on a computer.

You want to set up an account.

This lets you save your tests.  AND it will let you test your site from a location closest to you.  Just like light and sound, it takes time for the components of your website to travel over the internet to any location. If you’re a regional business, choose to test the URL in the location closest to where your business is located.  This will give you the most accurate representation of how your potential customers are experiencing your site.

Run a report on both your homepage and another page of your website. 

The reason you're going to do this is because you probably have things like slideshows or videos on your homepage. Those things slow load time down a lot. You want to get a full picture of what's happening on the pages of your website. So you’ll run a report for Home and other heavily visited pages of your site.  

Run a report for each page twice. 

The first time the report runs the site may not be cached.  This causes load time to be slower.  This is how it loads for a person who has never been there before. And the second time if your site is set up to cache it will cache. This is how the site would load for a person who has been there before. Running the reports more than once gives you a better indicator of how people are experiencing your website. 

I know if you just go out there and you run a report, you're gonna be like, “What is this, what any of these things mean?” 

So let's take a look at some benchmarks. If your website has been optimized, your performance scores should probably look like this:

You can scroll over each of the arrows next to the metrics to see the averages from GTmetrix. Just because something is an average though...doesn’t make it desirable.  

For example the average Fully Loaded Time for sites tested on GTmetrix is 8.3 seconds. Would you wait that long for a site to load? Google wants it to load in under 2.5 seconds. 

If your Total Page Size is greater than 3MB, you probably have images that are too big and need to be shrunk.  Or you might have a huge video that's trying to load. Look under the Waterfall tab to hunt for those images.

Requests are the number of resources the server has to process in order to show your website. The less resources needed to process, the faster your site loads. You want those to be under 60. The average on GTmetrix is 89. But if your website is a modern website, in my humble opinion it should be rolling at under 60. 

Does it work well on mobile?

Everyone is getting mobile traffic these days - Tons and tons of mobile traffic. So the next thing that we need to do is evaluate your website on a mobile device.

Uptrends.com has a fairly easy to understand report, GTMetrix only offers it in their PRO version 😕. Under their Tools section, there is a free website speed test

Look at your load time here, the less load time, the better. We want it in just a few seconds. 

Look at your image sizes and what’s loading on your page.

Now, go down to where it's displaying all of the URLs that were loaded with the page. Sort by size with the largest files first. If any of the things on the list end with .png, .jpg or .gif, those are all images. Images need to be as small as possible on mobile to load quickly.

All of the images should be no bigger than 50 kB and really, they can be even smaller. Make them as small as humanly possible. 

Make sure you don't have any images loading that are part of your slide show, or any big videos loading on mobile. If you don’t know what an image is, click on it and you can see the image. 

If you see any of those things write them down so you can remember to fix them on your website. 

Now take a look at your employment section on mobile.

You can run a test on the pages if you want.  But ultimately you need to literally pick up your phone and look at your website on your mobile device. Pay very close attention to what your careers section looks like.

Most of my client's website data show their careers page as the second or third most visited page on their website from a mobile device. While on a desktop, it's way further down the list. Because the people who are coming to your website looking for a job are doing it on their phone. 

Pretend to be a job seeker. Try to fill out your application form on your mobile device and make sure that everything works the way that you think it should. If you're annoyed with it or it's hard for you to do, then your website visitors will also be annoyed with it. If you see anything you want to change, put it on the list. 

4. Review the data.

Start reviewing in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics tells you how visitors act and interact with your website. Look at the data year over year. I also do crazy things like look at it quarterly or semi-annually just for fun.

The reason that I like to look at it year over year is because many companies have a kind of roller coaster look to their traffic. For example, if you’re a paving company your traffic will go down in December, up in January-March and drop down in July-September. Depending on your site traffic the swing could be tens of thousands of users. 

For example on my site we got 25,000 visitors in November 2019 and then only 15,000 in December 2019.  So comparing those two months would be a bust.

My Website Traffic

Paving Company Website Traffic

Keeping that in mind, if you compare summer months versus winter months, it's not going to look right. So you want to compare similar times of year, or just year over year data. 

Now if your business hasn't been in business for a full year or your website hasn't been up for a full year that makes this a little tricky. Try to pick a window you can evenly divide. 

Key Metrics

These are my big picture indicators that I like to look at and see what's happening. And then you're just going to compare. Is it more? Is it less? Look at:

  • How many sessions you have on your website. Do you have more sessions? Or do you have less? And why?
  • Review traffic sources to learn where your traffic is coming from. This will help you understand what types of digital marketing are working best.
  • Also look at average time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate. They indicate how engaged your audience is with your site content.

I did a whole podcast about this, Episode 16: Digging into Data, Part 1 - Reviewing Website Data.  Recorded from the comfort of my daughters closet, I geek out over how to do this for a full 37 minutes...it’s pretty magical. The podcast and it’s corresponding blog post will talk you through all the metrics, what to review, how to review them, and more.

Review data in Google Search Console.

The second place and the final place you're going to look at your website data is in Google Search Console. It is going to tell you how Google the browser and the search engine interact with your website (how your website looks in the eyes of Google). 

Look at your search terms in general and ask yourself, do they make sense? Compare this information year over year. 

  • How many impressions did you get?
  • How many clicks did you get to your website? 
  • Compare it to the year before. Do you have more? Do you have less? 
  • Why do you think that might be?

If you started blogging in the past year, then you may have more impressions. You will probably have more clicks, but your click through rate and your overall ranking will be down. And that is totally fine. Because what that means is you're getting found for a lot more search terms, they're just not all high in the rankings yet. 

There are all kinds of different reasons why this data can fluctuate. But unless you start looking at them, it's really difficult to determine what is going on. If you don't look at them very often, they're just a bunch of foreign particle data floating out there for your confusion.

Sort the data in two ways:

  1. Branded Terms
    Search terms with your business name in it usually perform differently than search terms for your products or services. These terms help you know if you’re maintaining your brand online. In the query area type the most recognizable part of your business name. Are you showing up in search engines when people search for terms containing your name? 
  1. Non-Branded Terms
    Look at search terms that don't contain the company name. In the query area switch “contains” to “does not contain”.  Are you getting more impressions?  If so you’re likely ranking for more search terms. Do the terms pertain to what you do?  If not you have a problem... 
Sorting for Branded VS Unbranded Terms in Google Search Console

Reviewing your website annually (or even more often) really should be a part of everyone's year-end business rituals. 

You need to understand what is going on because ultimately, your website traffic is a huge benchmark in your marketing plan. The more traffic you can get to your website, the more opportunities you have to sell to people. 

Make sure your site stacks up with your competitors and the content that's on your website is actually relevant and accurately represents your company. Make sure the site loads quickly, visitors are having a good user experience and you’re getting traffic for the RIGHT right reasons.

So in a nutshell:

  1. Review your aesthetics.
  2. Review your content.
  3. Review the infrastructure.
  4. Review the data.

And then my friend, make a huge list of all the awesome things or a really teeny tiny one (if you just got a new website) of what you want and need to do to make your website completely awesome and ready to carry you into the new year.

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