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3 Seconds Or Less: The Importance of Website Optimization

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With the digital age in full swing, more and more businesses are turning to the Internet to market products, connect directly with customers, and sell their products via online shops. We’ve entered a golden age where the hassle of going from store to store, hoping to find the perfect item or a great deal, is slowly being replaced with a few strokes on a keyboard and a click of a mouse.

But the digital revolution creates a whole new host of challenges that businesses have to overcome. Competition is a mainstay in any type of economy, and it pushes businesses to do their very best. This has always been a prominent factor in how businesses operate, but with the shift to online shopping, businesses now have to consider their website just as much as, if not more than, their retail locations.

In the following, we’ll discuss several different factors your customers will use to gauge how useful your website will be for them, and what to avoid to keep your customers from shopping elsewhere.

Your Speed

This is the very first thing you should address on your site, because if you don’t, none of the rest matters. When I discuss your speed, what I’m referring to is how quickly your website loads and refreshes as your customers explore your domain. Forty percent of visitors will abandon a website it it fails to load in three seconds or less.

With a ratio like that, it’s easy to understand why this is the most important element to address on your site (and why it earned a spot in the title of this article). Aside from just loading upon landing, it’s critical that your website continues to refresh quickly as your users scroll and explore new pages. Those beautiful, high resolution photos and videos that showcase your products and services are nothing but a plague if all they do is slow your site down excessively.

If you have one available, test any new content, especially images, video, and flash, on a seperate server to see how it will affect your speed before you post it.

Your Navigation

How often have you gone to a website, looking for a specific topic or page, only to follow multiple links, to multiple pages, and ultimately given up because you haven’t found what you’re looking for? Now you have no idea where you are in the site. It’s frustrating, right?

If that’s the experience your visitors are having, you can bet your next holiday bonus that they won’t stick around long enough to buy from you. Often, your visitors will find a specific page through a search engine, but if you’re relying on your customers to return to Google every time they want to find something on your site, you’re better off sticking with brick and mortar shops.

Use relevant headers that will zero your customers in on specific, relevant topics, and put them near the top of each page. Leave breadcrumbs so your customers know where they are at all times. And for God’s sake – include a search function on every page!

Second only to your speed, the ease with which your visitors can navigate your site will make a huge difference in having a successful site, or a complete dud. Again – all the best content in the world won’t help you if your visitors can’t find it.

Your Design and Content

Many amateurs would put this as the number one thing to address about your site. They assume that the better a website looks, the more professionally they’ll be perceived, and the more their customers will trust them, and deal with headaches like load times and navigation later. I think we’ve pretty well established that this isn’t the case, but it can’t be denied that your website needs an expert design touch, and it’s a job for the professionals.

Marketers all over the world will tell you – content is king. It doesn’t matter if it’s the welcome message on your website or your latest blog post; without engaging, relevant, and most importantly, recent content, your visitors will quickly lose interest and seek gratification elsewhere.

Besides quality content, your website simply has to look good. A few years ago, Amazon did an April Fool’s gag where visitors, when they first landed on amazon.com, saw the site as it was when it first launched in 1995, before slowly fading to their current look. I certainly got a laugh out of it, but it was a sober reminder of just how far web design has come since then.

If your website still looks and operates like a site from 1995, looks shady, or overwhelms with too many pages and too many posts, you’re going to burn out your visitors’ brains, my friend. Once you’ve addressed your speed and navigation, take the time and effort to optimize your design and content.