Table of contents
What is website optimization?
Website optimization is the process of making small tweaks to a website, so that the pages load faster and perform better for the user and the search engines.
The main areas to optimize are
- Speed optimization
- Mobile optimization
- Search engine optimization
- Technical on-page SEO
As part of an all-encompassing digital strategy, websites need to be improved, optimized, administered, kept secure and promoted.
Compared to website improvements, website optimizations are the tweaks done behind the scenes whereas website improvements are the noticeable changes you make to a website.
Website optimization can be seen as a part of SEO since Google rewards fast sites with higher ranking.
Security and administration covers work done to the site that keeps it safe, tidy and up to date.
Digital marketing and SEO are things you do to promote your website – although the certain technical aspects of SEO can be seen as tweaks and will be covered here.
Why is it important to optimize?
A website may look perfectly okay and load in a reasonable time to you, the business owner, designer or developer.
From the user’s perspective
New users and potential clients have a different experience and outlook:
- They have longer to wait since the site isn’t in their browser memory.
- They don’t know what to expect and whether it’s worth the wait.
- They don’t care about your company, they care about their time.
- They notice more mistakes and are more judgmental
- They judge small and large companies alike.
- They will be viewing the website on a different device to you
A bad user experience stops people coming back to the website and stops them from browsing around.
Think about your own experiences with top websites: you return, often without thinking because you know it won’t be a pain.
If there are annoying popups and you have to keep waiting between pages – you’re less likely to surf around the website and you won’t return as often or at all.
- No business is special enough to keep a client waiting without feeling the consequences.
From the search engine’s perspective
A search engine cares about putting the right content and content of a good quality in front of its users.
A search engine wants:
- Fast content
- Well written and organized content
- Content that fits on the screen
- Content that is safe
Bottom line: if you want a search engine to rank you, you have to play by its rules.
What are the goals of optimization?
The main goal is for users to not have a bad experience so that they return to your website again and again.
In other words, give users a better user experience – enough so to them stick around and learn about your business.
In terms of sales, the effects of tweaking speed, mobile and technical SEO performance are measurable in marginal gains.
If you’re a large retailer and you’re selling in large quantities, marginal gains add up to bigger profits – well worth the effort and cost spent on website optimization.
For smaller websites, marginal gains may not such a big deal – but ranking well in a search engine over your competitors matters a lot.
When is the best time to optimize a website?
Optimizing too soon is not efficient and it’s something that should be done once the website has been fully developed and launched.
If you optimize too soon, you’ll be delaying the launch date and won’t have a stable environment to evaluate the most important things to optimize.
Optimization falls into 3 areas – speed, mobile and technical. Each one will be tackled separately.
Why are websites slow in the first place?
Over the years, the code that runs a website has become more complicated and bloated because websites and the content management systems needed to run them have become more sophisticated.
The typical website today has look good on all devices to consider, has to be very easy to edit, has a lot more SEO problems to consider – it’s a far more complex beast.
A slow website is the tradeoff for having a sophisticated website that is affordable.
To make a modern website affordable, you have to use modern tools that come with layers of software that make the job of the developer faster and the job of the website editor easier.
If you want a fast, sophisticated website – it has to be handmade – which is very expensive to develop and maintain or you optimize your affordable website after launch.
What’s it like to optimize a website
It’s worth noting that website optimization isn’t always easy, particularly if you’re aiming for a very fast website. It can take lots of work and regular effort.
Websites are complex, they have lots of different components talking to each other, so it’s not always clear what is causing the slowness. It could be one or two components, it could be simply a slow internet connection.
There are tradeoffs, there are lots of technical skills to learn and quite a bit of investigation work to find out the causes.
Since there is so much involved, you need to a plan to make the most out of your time and budget.
Developing an optimization strategy
You could optimize a website forever and a day, so you need to know when to stop and spend your budget on other more worthwhile activities.
The strategy we use at Starfish is
- Home page first
- Low hanging fruit
- Setting a standard
- Regular optimization – have a history
Home page first
Don’t bother looking at all the pages – work on optimizing the home page first.
Reasons to work on the home page first:
The home page of a website is usually the first page that is loaded and the one that is viewed the most.
(This may not be the case for companies that have a heavy content marketing strategy)
The home page is usually the one with the most bling and content.
Optimization done on the home page carry forward to other pages too.
Low Hanging Fruit
Some tasks are easier to do and give the quickest improvements. Easy wins include:
- Compressing images is an easy win.
- Creating the correct heading structure for SEO
- Installing a plugin like rocket that takes care of some tasks automatically.
The problem with low hanging fruit – is that they tend to be a hindrance to real improvement, if all you do are the easy ones.
Setting yourself a goal
GTMetrix is our go-to tool for knowing how much work is ahead of us. It gives you an easy way to grade a page from F to A.
Set an initial goal that you feel is realistic. Getting a C or a Low B is fairly easy to get – but getting an A may take more work.
By removing any the top issues pointed out by GTMetrix, your website should load fast enough to get a C or a B
For normal websites, don’t aim for an A on first try. Just aim to not be worse than a realistic competitor.
Regular optimization – have a history
Regular optimization, the rechecking and regular improvements to your site speed will make sure your site doesn’t stay slow for long and that hopefully, your speed increases over time without being a financial drain.
GTMetrix allows you to log in and keep track of your score history.
By observing how the speed of your website changes over time:
- You will know whether your host is causing speed problems.
- Whether new website features are causing sites to slow down.
- Whether you’re making enough effort in optimizing your speed.
All websites are mobile friendly these days. It’s just that some are friendlier than others.
What is mobile optimization?
In the modern context, where all web pages are already mobile friendly and responsive, mobile optimization is the tweaking of a web page so that it looks as great in all devices and screen sizes.
Why is this important?
We cannot assume that people will be viewing the website on any particular device.
People’s lives are on the go. People work remotely – whether it’s in a park, at the cafeteria or travelling. People work on big screens, laptops, smart tablets. Work life is no longer on one device.
Chances are that your website doesn’t look perfect across all devices. It may look okay on some devices but as time goes by and content is chopped and changed things are going to get off-kilter.
Like with speed optimization, the goal of mobile optimization is to create a fantastic user experience that allows your visitors to experience your business as professionally as they can.
Developing a mobile optimization strategy
Given the limited time at your disposal, you needs a practical approach:
Choose a primary viewing device
Your content should look good on at least one device. For consumer websites, this could be mobile and for B2B websites, this could be desktop.
Once your website is live, the choice is probably made.
Optimize for a modern smart phone
You don’t have to optimize for the oldest phones, Google does its tests for a mid-range phones.
Concentrate on core fixes first
Core fixes are:
- Navigation working well
- Content fitting on the screen
- Content being not too small
Secondary fixes may include:
- Text not being too big
- Pages not being too long
Review and revisit mobile optimization every few months at the least.
Technical search engine optimization are behind the scene tweaks that are carried out by the same people who take care of speed optimization and website optimization.
For a broader understanding of SEO – learn about a holistic approach to SEO
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO are the tweaks and enhancements carried out to the code of a website so that it’s easier to a search engine and a browser to interpret.
The main areas for technical SEO are:
- SSL certificates, which is also a security issue
- Mobile friendliness, discussed above
- Speed optimization, discussed above
- Follow / Nofollow
What is an SSL certificate
This is a security measure that tell the search engine that the website is safe for you to put in your personal details without them being stolen by a third party; because the information is encrypted.
Why do I need one?
You need one because it’s the new standard, Google rewards you for having it and it makes people feel safe seeing the little padlock. Conversely people don’t feel safe and think it’s unprofessional to not have one.
SSL Certificates are administered through our Website Security and Administration Service
Search engines travel from website to website using external links and from page to page within a website with internal links.
Google also relies on XML sitemaps to help them discover pages on a website.
Although not strictly necessary, creating one is very easy and can help website pages be indexed if they aren’t properly linked through the internal linking structure.
For websites, this may not be an issue but for larger websites with lots of content and XML sitemap is good safety net to getting your content indexed.
Index / noindex
This is a piece of HTML that tells the search engine whether the page should be ranked in the search engine or not.
Development websites shouldn’t be ranked – so they should be hidden from Google. Google is great at finding development website, so it’s important to have this feature turned on.
Upon launch, developers sometimes forget to make the site indexable – so it’s always worth a check.
Tools to carry out technical SEO checks
Website audits should be carried out once a month to see a website has anything wrong with it.
Google Search Console
Google Search console (GSC) is easy to set up and is free. What’s more it emails you whenever this is an issue with your website.
This is a downloadable and free software. It’s free for the first 500 links which is more than enough for most websites.
It has plenty of uses – not just the technical SEO and should be in the arsenal of every web developer.
SEMRush is a browser based. It has a monthly paid subscription and is a professional all-round SEO tool with plenty of features for advanced users.
It also performs a very strong technical audit and produces a nice report in a nice format.