Website Navigation

One of a series of white papers by Elizabeth G. Fagan dba EGF Consulting.


Website Navigation Best Practices

  • Organize navigation choices from the user’s perspective.
  • Navigation reflects logical categories that users immediately understand.
  • Navigation clearly represents the website’s organization and overall intentions.
  • Navigation is broad rather than deep. In other words, navigation menus have many items rather than fewer items with many menu levels.
  • Navigation items are in a natural and logical order.
  • Remember: Navigation reflects the title (and HTML title tag) of the page to which it refers.
  • All language is simple, without jargon.
  • Use the same words or phrase to describe an item throughout.
  • Use shape, font size, and color as visual cues.
  • Navigation choices are redundant only when required for user productivity.
  • Strive for overall consistency. Choose a preferred style and do not mix styles.
  • Use either phases or simple one- or two-word labels. Labels are preferred.
  • Analyze two-word labels for redundancy. For example, the adjective “Computer” in the label “Computer Systems” is probably redundant; “Resources” in “Staff Resources” is not.
  • Use either nouns or verbs.
  • Use pronouns or do not use them. For example, “Our Services” or “Services.” If you use pronouns, use them consistently.
  • If you use pronouns, choose first, second, or third person. For example, do not use “Our Services” with “Your Solutions.”
  • Limit use of “My” to customizable elements. For example, “My Links.”

Email Marketing Campaigns

One of a series of white papers by Elizabeth G. Fagan dba EGF Consulting.


Email Marketing Campaigns Best Practices

Be customer-centric, not product-centric
  • Emails enhance your company’s customer service reputation and increase users’ confidence.
  • The overall message meets the expectation set by the subject line and registration process.
  • Instead of focusing on “product” descriptions, focus on meeting customers’ needs.
  • Place marketing messages after content. Users are likely to delete emails that begin with marketing messages before they see the content that interests them.
  • Use engaging text that “closes the loop” of an action the user took or that outlines opportunities for benefits, education, and convenience.
  • Do usability testing and refine content over time.
Differentiate your email from spam
  • Include your company name in the display and domain names of the address.
  • Give users content by including type of email (confirmation, alert, offer).
  • In the subject line, promote the email’s value rather than giving a description of its contents.
  • Do usability testing to determine the best subject line for each customer segment and email message.
Make registering easy
  • Promote account registration on an above-the-fold space on the home page.
  • Put account registration in the universal navigation.
  • Include a link to privacy statement at point of registration.
Position content by its relative value
  • Readers scan the top first: place call to action above the fold.
  • Use the inverted pyramid structure: put the most important information at the top.
  • Because some email users turn images off, put all message copy and links as text outside of images. Use images to enhance, not convey.
  • Readers scan the left-hand margin: use headings and bulleted lists to make content scannable.
Add relevant links
  • Managing customer phone calls is expensive. Instead of encouraging email recipients to call your company, encourage them to go to your website.
  • Link to FAQs.
  • In the footer, tell users how to manage their email account.
  • By law, include your company’s physical address and unsubscribe link.
  • Tell users how to edit account profiles.
  • Tell users how to change email addresses.
  • Provide customer service information.
Headings are short abstracts
  • Heads contain a first word or two that carry important meaning of associated content.
  • Headings make sense without text.
Writing is clear and concise
  • Avoid wordiness; sentence length should not exceed 15 words.
  • Use active verbs (“the cat caught the rat” vs. “the rat was caught by the cat”).
  • Call the reader “you” and refer to the company as “we.”
  • Use simple, everyday language.
  • Avoid nominalizations (“the purpose is to communicate” vs. “the purpose is the communication of”).
  • Put statements in a positive form (“paying promptly ensures you” vs. “if you do not pay on time” or “your failure to pay on time”).

Card Sorting

One of a series of white papers by Elizabeth G. Fagan dba EGF Consulting.


Card Sorting Best Practices

Toward an Intuitive Website

Card sorting is a way to think about how users want or expect to see information on your website. Participants in a card-sorting session are asked to organize the content from your website in a way that makes sense to users. Participants review items from your website, and then they group the items into categories. They then label the groups, forming a new navigation structure.

Usually a card sort is performed with actual users, but you can perform a card-sorting exercise internally, with staff members.

Benefits of Card Sorting

Card sorting helps you build the structure for your website, decide what to put on each page, and label the navigation categories. It helps to ensure that you organize information on your website in a way that is logical and intuitive to your users.

Types of Card Sorting

There are two types of card sorts: an open card sort and a closed card sort.

In an open card sort, participants are asked to organize the cards into groups that make sense to them and then name each group. In a closed card sort, participants are asked to sort items into pre-defined categories.

An open card sort is typically done when you want to learn how users group content and understand the terms or labels users call each category. A closed card sort typically works best when you are working with a pre-defined set of categories and you want to learn how users sort content items into each category. A closed sort works well after an open sort. By conducting an open card sort first, you can begin to identify categories of content. You can then use a closed card sort to see how well the category labels work.

Preparing for the Participants
  • Select participants to represent the range of users. Draw from different user groups with different levels of experience.
  • Explain the card-sorting process to the participants, perhaps in a kick-off meeting.
  • Plan about one hour for each session.
  • Arrange for a space where the participants have enough room to spread the cards out on a table. A conference room works well.
Preparing the Cards
  1. Perform a content inventory. List the content topics or types of information that you are likely to have on the site (if it’s a new site) or the content on your current site. Record a two- or three-word summary of the actual page content instead of the page title or navigation links. If a page has two or more topics, record those separately.
  2. Write each topic on a separate white index card. If you like, print labels with the name of each topic from your content inventory and attach them to the cards. Each card represents a unique chunk of content.
  3. Include some blank white cards for content that participants may believe to be missing.
  4. Include colored index cards on which the participants will write page titles and navigation labels.
  5. Make a set of cards for each participant or group of participants. Consider numbering the cards if you have a lot of participants; you can record numbers in Excel and reuse the cards.
Sorting the Cards
  1. Give each participant or group of participants a set of cards.
  2. Ask the participants to group the cards in a way that makes sense to them. Many participants start by placing the first card on the table and then look at the second card to see whether it belongs in the same group or if it deserves its own category—and so on through the set of cards.
  3. After participants have grouped the cards, you can ask them to name or label each group with the colored cards. What words would the participant expect to see on the home page or second-level page that would lead the participant to that particular group of content items?
  4. At the end, if the participant has too many groups, ask if some of the groups could be combined.

Each card sort represents an information architecture; the colored cards make up the navigation, and the white cards are the pages.
In cases where multiple participants perform sorts, there are different ways of analyzing the data. Complete site maps could be created in Visio or Excel. The cards can be pinned to a wall and reviewed. If you numbered the cards, you might use Excel to perform sorts. The website team should look for commonalities among the participants’ sorts.

Next steps are interface design and content development.

Landing Pages

One of a series of white papers by Elizabeth G. Fagan dba EGF Consulting. This one was written for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.


Landing Page Best Practices

The process of creating a website is frequently much more involved than what we are doing now. It can take a year or more to interview users, do usability testing, create designs, write content, development advanced features, and so on.

We are redoing this site on a shoestring, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. The card-sorting activity and new navigation have been successful (as long as users can find what they’re looking for). This short report addresses how to create landing pages for the updated Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana website, another important element to a redesigned website. The previous site lacked landing pages altogether.

The purpose of a website

Traditional retail sites have it easy. They know how to build their websites because they know what they want their websites to do. If they have a good Web marketing department, they can answer the following three questions without batting an eye:

  1. How can I get people to my website?
  2. How can I persuade them to buy my products?
  3. How can I deepen our relationship to get repeat business?

The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana might not be able to answer those questions quite to so easily. Let’s look at these questions a little more closely.

How do I get people to visit my website?

Google analytics figures for our site say:

  • 47.33 percent direct traffic
  • 37.17 percent referring sites
  • 15.50 percent search engines

Marketing efforts such as improved Search Engine Optimization (ongoing), a non-profit YouTube channel, the Twitter widget, and other vehicles could be the subject of an entirely different report, generating its own efforts.

How can I persuade them to buy my products?

Here’s where the answer gets a more complex for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, because, aside from the retail store site, the main site does not sell products. What, then, does it “sell?” What is the desired action?

Four customer groups

The site has four basic customer groups, all of whom are looking for different things. Think of the call to action for each group.

  • Donors. These visitors are looking for why and how to donate to the Girl Scouts. They might want to donate to something specific; they might want to know how their donations are used. Desired action: donate to worthwhile community.
  • Prospects. These are probably parents who want to know how to sign their daughter up. They might want to know the specific benefits of being a Girl Scout—as well as the costs involved. Desired action: sign up, become part of community.
  • Adult Volunteers. These may be the most focused of all users. They want to know specific information that relates to them without wading through other content. Desired action: Find targeted information, be part of community.
  • Girls. This might be a tricky section to fill, because girls’ interests and loyalties so quickly change. Fortunately, the administration of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana has many experts on girls and their interests! Desired action: Find desired information, be part of community.
How do I get them to perform the desired actions?

“Bounce rate” is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page. According to Google analytics, the bounce rate for the site is 60.74 percent. That’s high. The average number of pages viewed is 2.35 per visit. The average time on the site is one minute, 58 seconds. There’s a lot of room for improvement here, and good landing pages can help.

Landing pages are where more traditional marketing steps in. The best way to get visitors to act is to appeal to their fundamental emotional motivations. Notice I used the word “community” in all the desired actions. The role of the landing page is to create a sense of belonging, a powerful motivator—especially for a site like Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. They should contain a brief call to action.

The landing page should pick a few powerful topics from the pages below it and emphasize those. They should make emotional appeals, yet should be teasers—too many items on a Web page destroy the visitor’s ability to find key information. It paralyzes them from making a decision.

How can I deepen our relationship?

This is the role of the tertiary pages, or the pages below the landing pages. They contain the main content. They create the sense of community. They are positive and informational about the Girl Scouts. They contain the details of the calls to action.

Search Engine Optimization

One of a series of white papers by Elizabeth G. Fagan dba EGF Consulting.


SEO Best Practices

Global navigation text links

Internal linking structure will greatly influence whether a search engine’s spider can find other pages on your site in addition to the home page. From an SEO (search engine optimization) perspective, we prefer that the navigational structure consist of pure text links and with no JavaScript. In addition, the home page should contain links to every other important page within your Web site in the form of keyword rich text links. The use of text links will help push the relevancy of the target page, thereby increasing your presence in the engine’s search results.

Secondary navigation

These links, like the main navigation, should be  keyword-rich text links.

Tertiary navigation

These links, like the main navigation,should be  keyword-rich text links.

Content

The quantity and quality of your content is the foundation of a successful SEO campaign. The primary reason a consumer searches the internet is to find information or solve a problem. Quality content is what allows the user to meet their goals, as well as acting as a vital component within a search engine’s algorithm.

The amount of relevant content and the number of pages a site has are both important factors in determining the value or weight that a search engine’s spider will assign to your site. When a search engine spider “crawls” your pages, it reads the content on the page, categorizes the page within its index, and ranks the page based on the engine’s proprietary relevancy algorithm. Meta tags and ALT tags are not considered visible content, and therefore, are not considered as important as your copy.

Our research has shown that a site is most effective when it contains a minimum of 250 words on each page. It is not advantageous to try to cram all of your content onto one page. This makes it very challenging for a search engine to distinguish between varying subjects, causing it to skip over significant concepts. The greater the quality and quantity of content, the higher the weight allocated to a site by a search engine spider.

Use h tags for headings and subheadings

Using the h tags for headings and subheadings on a page is a key element of SEO. All of the heading and subheading tags should be used according to their relevance. Many search engines give additional relevance to your heading tags, thus, the heading tag is a great place to incorporate keywords. Specific details regarding the language/wording of heading tags will be incorporated into your content review document.

Callouts and sidebar content

Secondary content, defined as “call outs” or secondary blocks of text, are also important to a site’s search engine optimization efforts. Again, secondary content provides spiders additional content to spider.

Closing text links

Closing links are of the utmost importance if you do not have text links within your site’s main navigation. Your text links should contain your main keywords. This practice is key to effective SEO for three reasons:

  • It helps ensure that the search engine spiders have the ability to navigate through your site
  • Reinforces your main keywords within your internal navigation
  • Can also be used as supplemental navigation within the site
Redirects

Redirects are used, as the name states, to redirect one page (URL) to another page. There are two main types of server redirects: temporary (302) and permanent (301). The 301 permanent redirect is the safest way to preserve your search engine rankings.

When redesigning or launching a new site, always point your old pages to corresponding pages on the new site using a 301 permanent redirect. If there is not a page that corresponds directly, use a 301 permanent redirect to send visitors to the home page or sitemap. Do not use 302 temporary redirects.

Sitemap

A sitemap is incorporated into a site to ensure sure that search engine spiders are able to find and index all the pages within your website. To allow the search engine spiders to find all the pages on the site without the interference of graphics and image maps, a sitemap should contain straight text links to every page within your website, broken down by category or section, using your main key phrases. The sitemap should include a heading, which contains a keyword or phrase, and an introductory paragraph that includes important key phrases about your product.

Externalize JavaScript

JavaScript and some server-side scripting can cause problems that may result in pages not being found by an engine’s spider. JavaScript is code that spiders cannot read, and it must be used with caution. JavaScript is not search engine friendly, and in most cases fills up the head of the document that, in turn, pushes the rest of your content down to the bottom of the page. To avoid JavaScript “clutter,” place your scripting code, such as mouse-overs/rollovers, drop down menus, pop-up menus and sliding menus, in a separate file, and create a single line within the head to call upon that external file. This will create far less code for the search engine to wade through in order to get to your main content.

404 Error Codes – “page not found errors”

404 error codes indicate an incorrect URL or a deleted file has been requested. Returning this code to engine requests is optimal to make sure the search engines remove old pages that no longer exist. Not returning this code can result in a site having duplicate content.

Robots.txt files

Many websites utilize a robots.txt file because they may have pages within their website that they would not want a spider to read. Implementation of a robots.txt file specifying which pages within the website should not be spidered will prevent these pages from being indexed or viewed by non-authorized parties. In addition, robot.txt files can be used to prevent potential spamming issues within search engines such as duplicate content. A search engine’s robot (spider) will look in your root domain for a special file named “robots.txt” that tells the robot which files it may not spider.

Linking resources

Link popularity is an important component of your SEO campaign. Link popularity is the number of websites that link to your website. Success with link popularity will result in top search engine rankings and an increase in traffic to your website. Search engines give link popularity greater weight in their algorithms because they believe it indicates quality. Google relies heavily on link popularity to rank sites. Search engines use links as a tool to help them filter out sites that aren’t relevant to their users.

Image ALT attributes

ALT attributes are HTML tags used describe website graphics by displaying a block of text when an image cannot be loaded on a page. As search engines are generally unable to view graphics or distinguish text that might be contained within them, the implementation of an ALT attribute enables search engine spiders to categorize that graphic. Associating the ALT attribute to an image is also a best practice set forth by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and therefore contributes to having a site that is W3C compliant.

Anchor title attributes

Title attributes act in the same fashion as ALT attributes do on images, except they are used for text links and the purpose is slightly different. The title is an attribute of the anchor tag, , and should describe the contents of the following page in which the link is directed. The title attribute will appear, just as ALT attributes appear, when the user moves their mouse over the text link.

Code validation

This is the process of ensuring web pages uphold the proper structure within the intended markup language structure. The W3C or World Wide Web Consortium is the organization that defines the standards for proper markup language code structure. Writing improper code results in the spiders having to work much harder when traversing your pages. It is advisable that all pages within your site are properly coded and hence valid.

Canonicalization

Canonicalization is the process of converting data that has more than one possible representation into a “standard” canonical representation. Read more here. In search engine optimization, we use this to refer to the linking structure of a site. The most common case occurs when there are two different links on a site that lead to the homepage. For example, http://www.domain.com and http://www.domain.com/index.htm usually lead to the homepage. For SEO purposes, we need you to choose one or the other. In this instance however, the only option would be to go with http://www.domain.com, because this is how other sites will be linking to you. So in this example, all links on your website directed to your site’s homepage should be linked using http://www.domain.com.

Externalize cascading style sheets

Similar to JavaScript, an embedded cascading style sheet fills up the head of the HTML code and, in turn, pushes the rest of your content down to the bottom of the page. To avoid this, create an external style sheet for the entire site. This will create far less code for the search engine to wade through in order to get to your main content.

Frames

Many sites use frames for navigation, but most search engines have difficulty indexing framed web sites. Using frames will prevent search engines from finding pages within a website or the search engine sends visitors to an internal page with no connections to the navigation or other areas of the site.

Flash

While spider technology has greatly improved, the search engines do not have the technology to spider flash-based pages, as well as flash-based content. As content within flash movie will not be indexed by the search engines, our optimal recommendation is to remove all flash-based content from all pages of the site and replace with plain HTML.

URL rewrites

URL rewriting, in regards to SEO, is the process of making URLs look like static instead of dynamic via web server URL rewriting program.

Dynamically served content

Dynamic pages are not indexed well by the search engines and in some cases completely ignored by the spiders. The most common problem dynamic content poses is the “?” (or any ASCII symbol, i.e. equal sign, commas, etc) in the URL. Most search engines stop at the “?” symbol within the URL and as a result, try to retrieve an invalid URL. Although there have been some advances made in improving the ability to index dynamic content (specifically by Google), we recommend removing most (if not all) dynamic content. Replace dynamic content with static html pages, and create additional static value pages that are placed before your dynamic content (if any).

Cookies

Cookies are small text files that store user information and preferences. Cookies can cause issues with search engine optimization if they are implemented incorrectly. By using cookies on your site, the search engine spiders are not able to view your site. From an SEO perspective, cookies should not be mandatory in order for users to visit a site. Often sites require cookies to be active, usually directing users without active cookies to a default “cookies not active” warning page, which then tells the user that their cookies must be active to fully experience the site.

Search engine spiders will not be able to visit the pages of your site that make the cookies mandatory, as they are not able to visit pages implemented in this fashion. If your site is making cookies mandatory, you should change the site so the cookies are not mandatory. Under certain circumstances, changing the cookies requirements will limit certain abilities on the administrative end, but if you choose not to change them, your entire site will not be indexed—only the default “no cookie” notice page will be indexed.