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10 things you can do to improve your Web site right now

Even if you don't have the time or resources for a full-blown site redesign, you can make some small, easily implemented tweaks that will have a huge impact.

We often look at our Web sites and know that they need to be overhauled, but we just do not have the time to do it. A major Web site redesign project can takes weeks or months (depending on the size of your site and the technology underneath it) to complete. Meanwhile, your site is turning away visitors right now. Here are 10 easy things that you can do to improve your site.

1: Make your contact information more prominent

Most companies' sites need to sell products, services, and so on. By making your contact information easier to find, you raise trust and allow visitors to initiate the sales process more easily. If you have a phone number you want customers calling, it should be in large letters, at the top of every page. If you have a "Contact Us" page, it should be one of the most obvious links on every page.

2: Don't mix HTTP and HTTPS

Mixing HTTP and HTTPS elements on pages can lead to annoying security warnings and incomplete page rendering. Using relative links throughout the page's HTML, and having your AJAX calls detect what protocol to use, will ensure that all content comes through the right channel, eliminating those problems.

3: Add better analysis

It takes only a few minutes to add Google Analytics to your site, which will help you get a long-term idea of your search engine situation and what pages users have problems on and will highlight all sorts of other information. If you have a Web application, newcomer Totango (currently in a public beta) provides similar instrumentation specific to application events, and it is also easy to add to your application.

4: Create print-specific CSS styles

Don't you just hate it when you print a Web page, and the page is mostly whitespace and navigation? What looks good on a monitor in landscape orientation usually does not work so great on the printed page. Luckily, CSS allows you to define (or override) styles based on the type of device viewing it. Creating some print-specific styles is easy, I've found that just omitting the navigation, banners, footers, etc., and making it consume the full width of the page can do a lot, and it takes only a few minutes. While you are there, make another set of changes for mobile browsers that resizes and repositions elements to fit mobile devices better. It may not be as good as a mobile-specific site, but it takes a lot less time, and anything is better than nothing.

5: Make sharing better with image_src

Ever wonder how some sites get their logo or just the right image to show up automatically when you share a page on Facebook and other sites? That's done with the image_src item. This simple 30-second change gives you much better control over how your company looks on social networks and makes it easy for people to spread the word about you.

6: Ditch the dead weight

It's easy for a site to accumulate a lot of extra junk over time, especially things like references to JavaScript that is no longer being used. Audit your site and see what is being included that is not actually needed --  and get rid of it. Your page load speeds will improve and users will be happier.

7: Use alt text

This one has been mentioned so many times by others, yet Web designers and developers still fail to heed it. Putting alt text on your images does more than give a useful tooltip, it allows search engines and disabled users to make sense of your site. Adding the alt tags takes very little time, and a number of tools will even identify images without it for you.

8: Write for your audience, not your c-level execs

Take a look at the wording on a lot of sites, and they seem more like the "new employee handbook" than something designed to attract customers. The problem is usually caused by management teams who are trying to convey a corporate message (often using a lot of jargon that means something to employees but not to customers). Site visitors don't care about that message. Put yourself in the customers' shoes, and reword your content so it speaks their language, not yours, and you will see people sticking around longer. You may even get some search engine benefits too.

9: Get the content out of PDFs and into HTML

Many times, we're fed a bunch of content for the site in PDF format (or as Word documents). Whether it be through a lack of time or some mandate from someone, the content goes onto the site as-is. Unless there is a compelling reason to keep the content in those formats, you should take the time to get them into HTML pages instead. My experience has been that most visitors really dislike Acrobat or Word popping open or a file downloading unless it is absolutely necessary.

10: Remember that silence is golden

If there is one thing that will drive users off your site quickly, it's a page that makes noise without their consent. All videos should either be muted by default or should require a deliberate user action to start playing. Do spot checks of any advertisements on your site to make sure that they aren't playing videos with the sound on by default as well. Users remember which sites surprised them with a barrage of noise, especially if it happened at the workplace or some other embarrassing moment, and avoid them like the plague.

Additional resources

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

31 comments
Professor8
Professor8

There are several federal government departments/agencies/offices that would benefit from this advice. If you've got tables, make them html tables, and provide a link to a text-only (tab separated fields) version and, if you must, a pdf version. The security of pdf has been blown out for several years, now, since pdf parsing tools have became widely available. They can parse it, jigger it, and generate new pdf. I kind of miss the days when sending resumes by pdf thwarted those evil and defective "talent management systems" with their black-hole data-bases. Using the pdf required the "recruiter" to at least look at the resume while they fiddled with printing it and then scanning it back in with OCR to dump it into the black-hole. And the ones unwilling to make such minimal effort aren't worth contacting, anyway. Another good tip is to rip every shred of Javascript out of your web pages. Use cgi. Use Perl, Python, PHP... just about anything other than MSFT garbage.

dabarak
dabarak

Don't overlay your content with a gray tint and a pop-up window. (Tech Republic, are you listening?)

GibsonCRG
GibsonCRG

Here's another one: don't make the "dead space" to the left and right of your article a live link; in this era of many monitors and even more windows, I often am jumping around and need to click inside the browser window to get "focus" back to the TechRepublic site - and then I get to wait while an ad site opens up. ALL the "neutral" space to the left and right of your main frame is a live link! Talk about being both annoying and surprising.

JJMach
JJMach

"All videos should either be muted by default _or_ should require a deliberate user action to start playing." Can we make that "or" an "AND"? I know third-party software exists to block Flash and other extensions, but wouldn't it be wonderful if all adverts waited for you to tell them they could download and run? I can't tell you how many websites, and more importantly products, have totally turned my off by making me sit there while all their video advertisements loaded and played. Not all of us have the most brand-spanking new computers or FIOS network connections and we are not happy having to sit on our hands while a website loads a ton of content that we do not care to see. Worse, after all the videos load, we then have to put up with our computers being bogged down trying to play the videos, especially when you get a site with multiple video ads all running simultaneously. A lot of corporate good will would be garnered if companies simply made their ads wait for us to tell them when / if they can run. Who would you rather buy from: someone in the mall who presents a pleasant storefront and is perfectly willing to answer your questions if you come up and ask, or the girl who, without your consent maces you with the latest fragrance, or worse, the creepy guy who tries to rub your head with a scratcher thingie that looks like it was made in a junk yard and has been scraped on who-knows how many diseased scalps that day. (Yes, the latter was based on personal experience and the aforementioned thingie was nearly placed in a location where the sun does not shine, but I felt the malware analogy was relevant.)

collinssk
collinssk

I have the same question as the previous commenter. The articles are great, but I like to save them. Trying to print your articles to save or read later now crashes IE8. That is very frustrating and makes no sense.

lucvdv
lucvdv

Number 11: don't hide the most important information in the deepest page, or at the end of a page. After reading this article, and rearranging the issues based on my pet peeves as a visitor (not as a developer), I think that item 10 should have come first, 9 second, and 8 third.

pdb.108
pdb.108

Why does TR not allow printing of its articles from IE 8 ?

rbosgood
rbosgood

I hate when a website pops up some subscription come on over the top of what I went there to read and you have to manually close that in order to read what you came for. I usually just the whole page and never go back to the content I started looking for.

tmcclure
tmcclure

Don't insert videos that automatically play when you visit your site. Avoid using mouse overs at least on the top pf your page. Make sure your page displays and functions properly.

fvazquez
fvazquez

Why don't you help Techrepublic web page programmers improve the web page... I hate that it take ages to load, and then when I scroll around it, it slows down my Pc... I remember last year or so it wasn't that sluggish...

sperry532
sperry532

Get rid of the 30-60 second splash screen animations on the landing page. It annoys customers to have to wait while the bloody thing starts to load, then have to find the skip link if it even has one. No one wants to see the cutesy, animated, all-carrot chorus line doing a high-kick to a midi version of "Can-Can". Except maybe the designer. Maybe.

cbt99
cbt99

It's nonsense for managing website in Thailand.

gormark
gormark

Thanks for those! I would, however, place #10 at the very top, in screaming red letters, some 72pt font size or so. I don't think anything screams "charlatan designer" like stupid sounds or songs blasting from the site with no warning.

ihaynes
ihaynes

Tooltips for images need titles not alt text for modern browsers. Alt text should still be used for screen readers though.

bill
bill

HTML vs PDF is a difficult juggling act... while on-line I'm perfectly happy with well executed HTML/CSS, and actually, I prefer it over any other format. BUT, if the page is a technical article that I am going to want to revisit more than once I want a downloadable version, and yes, I want it in PDF format. PDF is proprietary, but it is also portable, and there are enough readers out there to please (almost) everyone. If the site provides a well thought out print style sheet then I can live with printing to PDF, but it is not the best solution. Word processing file formats are the worst. I suppose there is probably a way to integrate either Open Office or MS Office documents into a web site elegantly, but I'm not the only one who has not found "the way"... admittedly I never tried. My favorite sites offer three ways to view information: 1) on screen via a well done style sheet and HTML 2) print out via a separate style sheet (sometimes multiple style sheets, color vs mono, with and without graphics, etc) 3) off-line via PDF.

edbrandon
edbrandon

Absolutely! This is one of my greatest bugbears; the lack of appropriate print support forces me to block, copy and paste text into a wordprocessor; often a messy process. Use an appropriate font; usually sans serif is used on screens, but with serifs is often preferred for text. It helps greatly to have a well-structured website with common templates, and as few variations as possible in these. Not only does this help the user understand the site, but it also simplifies the building of a print style sheet. I tend not to be quite as simplistic as suggested. I use parts of the heading rather than no heading, so that the logo appears. Likewisae, I want the copyright notice in the footer to print. This is easily done with the appropriate structuring of the header and footer. And do things with links: - show them, if they are part of the text, but without the underlining, and - don't bother showing them if they stand by themselves. This is also easily done with the appropriate class definitions. - Ed

deneventer
deneventer

Alot of pages give errors in the status bar. Different JAVASCRIPT versions or manufacturers with similar syntax is not always compatible with all the proxy servers (ie. BROWSERs) and their particular specifics, and we are assuming the programing is correct to begin with. Need Javascript to manage the menus though, yet mouse over may be a solution if you are keeping it simple. The other solution go all out with FLASH and learn yet another hybrid of JAVASCRIPT. Designers hate and and all the rest, most especially nested tables. Designers are not programmers and vice versa. Fonts are not always present on the browser being used relative to original design computer - so pages look horrible when viewed. A nice solution to this was QUARK EXPRESS BEYOND PRESS. However, have you ever seen it on the PC version. Not a chance!!! There are too many browsers now aswell - all different - what looks good in one does not work in another - is JQUERY the answer? Perhaps, and then again yet another hybrid of JAVASCRIPT.... It goes on and on in BABLE....

trashmail
trashmail

Pay attention to the "no sound" rule. I immediately exit any site with such arrogance. I'm getting that way with video, too. What most visitors to a commercial site are after is info, not demos of how flashy a company can make a web site. That's for experiments, artists, and amateurs, not commerce. Ditch that crap like the bandwidth hogging, delay introducing, non-customer seeking junk it is. Want to see magnificent commerce sites: check out McMaster Carr, Digikey, TigerDirect. Fast, full of info, to the point. I am on, informed, satisfied and off in a flash, most importantly having spent some money. Zipless. And I come back. AND I tell other people what a good experience it is. Flash video, sound, music, fadein/out, complex slides, on the other hand and I close a site after a few seconds, often never to return.

sudweb
sudweb

Break your text up into small chunks and have meaningful keyword friendly headings using HTML heading tags (H1, H2, H3). This helps both readability (many people like me scan the page first) and also is SEO friendly.

aheneghana
aheneghana

Noted above points made. Like added comment from @DogTR never occurred to me till now. Another feature I found extremely useful to seo efforts. Link your page to facebook, it will auto be listed on fb search engine. use FB meta tags : This comes before the '/header' tag in your html. I noticed that all pages containing fb meta tags appear on fb search options and will get listed in Google. (No warranties) Remember page content is equally important. africasiaeuro[dot]com/wordpress

misceng
misceng

While I agree that HTML is best, there are times when in addition PDF should be available in a downloadable form so that the customer can take away the information to study later. Under no circumstances should Word be used. The customer does not necessarily have Word and even those who do may have an older version which cannot cope with the documents prepared with the latest version. I met a classic case where a job application was in Word 2007 format with a macro and attached application forms incorporated. Word 2003 could not cope so most applicants had no hope of getting an application for the job printed. ISO/IEC 26300:2006 Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0 is the only workable format which anyone can use without having to spend a fortune on proprietary programs.

DogTR
DogTR

SEO related but here are some more points: - make sure your url structure contains (key)words rather than numbers (i.e. not ?p=5224) - put keywords in the actual image names, not just alt text - use "interesting" html syntax = bold, ul, li, h1, h2 etc.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Always provide BOTH an e-mail and telephone mechanism to reach your company. So many companies, i.e., MS, HP; put up an impenetrable thicket before one can even reach an e-mail address, much less a telephone number. Why are you hiding from your users?

bboyd
bboyd

Heed thine own advice.... I block pictures browsing at work. enough said.

edbrandon
edbrandon

One reason why I use PDF files is that they are much more secure than other formats. As webmaster for a health association (not-for-profit), I want our health information, which is always based on evidence from research, to go out 'as is' and never be altered. PDFs are also fairly compact. Yes, avoid Word like the plague. No, this has nothing to do with the fact that Microsoft markets this. Wordprocessor files are simply not appropriate on any website that isn't devoted to teaching one how to use a wordprocessor. - Ed

Justin James
Justin James

... neither the authors of the articles (like myself) or the editors who pick, choose, edit, and post content, have anything to do with the creation of the site itself. J.Ja

waphelps
waphelps

Despite what Adobe may espouse to the contrary, even password protected PDFs can be edited quite easily. One does not need special hacker tools either, just a non-Adobe PDF editor. PDF security is another of those fallacies, like the methods to keep people from copying photos from a website -- news flash: if visitors can see the photos, they already have at least 2 copies.

bboyd
bboyd

Given Adobes recent security record, their PDF products seem like a liability from any perspective. They habitually have multiple unresolved known vulnerabilities. Even given a secure non-editable file (print, scan & OCR, edit result, post.) circumvents it. The security is much worse than that, its a cheap bicycle lock, that opens using keys available with little effort.

gormark
gormark

I am a developer and I read Jason's articles regularly. These are great tips, too, and far too often forgotten or ignored by arrogant "designers", so, kudos on that.