Taking time to conduct a website critique on your own website is just as important as investing in a detailed, no hole barred, competitor audit.
In fact the two go hand in hand as it's something that you can use when comparing your business against your competitors.
Of course saying isn't doing and conducting a website critique can be a fruitless and frustrating task if you don't know what you're doing. Or - more significantly - why you're doing it.
Sometimes you're just too close to your business or an element of it to see there's a problem at all.
To you - day to day - your website is fine. It does the job. It looks pretty enough.
Although how many of us actually look at our own website on a regular basis? Or even monthly?
For a lot of us we haven't looked at our company website since we were shortlisted for interview.
If it doesn't enter your orbit with any regularity then why would you?
The answer - of course - is pretty obvious. Because your website is the global gateway to your business. It's the one place where anyone in the world can visit and learn about you. And beyond your analytics, you won't even know they were there.
But the real question is this: are you, hand on heart, totally content with your dream clients - the businesses you've been trying to work with for years - visiting your website right now?
If the answer is yes, good for you, our work here is done.
If not, read on.
Start with Why
Before you do anything you need to understand why you are conducting a website critique. What are you trying to achieve and what is the benefit to the business?
It's important to know because carrying out an in depth website critique takes time and that represents a cost to the business.
If you're spending a couple of days scrutinising everything from the structure to the content, you need to make damn sure you have something to say by the end of it. Other than 'yeah, it's alright isn't it?'.
Unless you're trying to get fired. Then go for your life.
Basically you need to understand your objectives - or come up with some if you haven't been given any.
This gives you a focus for your critique.
It gives you structure.
It also allows you to prioritise.
Let's be real for a moment - anyone can look at a website and make recommendations. Even if those recommendations are banal and largely without merit.
Everyone has an opinion. They’re not all valid.
But without a clear idea of what the business needs the website to do and what you’re attempting to achieve, you leave yourself wide open to exactly that kind of outcome.
As such any report would be largely meaningless.
So define what you need the website critique to achieve and link that to long term objectives. Like conversions. How will your critique help sales enquiries? Or apprenticeship sign ups? Or whatever it is.
Just have a plan.
Understand Your Audience
You know what you want the website to do and what your measurable objectives are. Now you need to think about the kind of people you want your website to attract.
All the rewrites, structure changes, swanky videos and infographics won't mean anything if you're talking to the wrong people.
Figuring out who your audience is takes a bit of work. But don’t panic because it’s work that can add value in other parts of your business too.
Sitting down and identifying what your perfect customer looks like is really rather beneficial.
Not just because it helps to inform your website content. It also helps your sales team look for better fit clients when they’re prospecting or following up enquiries.
Having a - for want of a better term - dramatis personae drafted for your sales team to refer back to helps them determine who is a good fit.
More importantly it helps them figure out who isn’t.
It’s more important because working with clients who:
- Don’t get it
- Don’t trust you
- Don’t see value in what you do
- Resent spending the money
- Don’t like you or the way you work
Is exactly no fun.
They cause endless problems not because they’re jerks (although they are to you) but because you’re incompatible. Remember, people don’t buy services, they buy relationships. It sounds cliche and a little trite but it’s undeniably true.
Think about your suckiest clients.
It wasn’t because you couldn’t do the work they hired you to do (hopefully). It’s because you just didn’t get on with them. And chances are it was for one - or more - of the reasons listed above.
Clients don’t set out to be jerks. Most of the time.
The reason why some clients are a nightmare is because - like any dysfunctional relationship - you shouldn’t have worked together to begin with.
It’s tempting to fall into the trap of chasing money. To think that you can’t afford to turn down business.
Businesses who are a bad fit cost you money in almost every instance. I dare you to do a cost analysis on all the clients you’ve had that were hard work.
Add up the cost of the extra calls, emails and over delivery in order to keep them sweet.
Chances are your profit was either chipped away to almost nothing or wiped out completely.
That’s because working with people for the money rather than because you want to is a terrible idea. Always.
There are 5.7 million small businesses in the UK, you should be able to find a few organisations to work with.
But returning to the original point - once you’ve figured out what your perfect client looks like then you can tailor your website content to attract them.
As crazy as it sounds, the language you use on a website can put people off. You know what? That’s fine. Let it.
You want to attract people who respond to the real raw you. Not some trumped up website copy that doesn’t reflect who you are or the way you work.
Critiquing your Website
So you know why you’re doing it and you know who you’re doing it for. Now is the time to actually get on and do it.
But - again - you do need to approach this with some semblance of a plan. Structure is really important. The reason being it’s all too easy to become too focused on one element of the site. Or go the other way and be too general.
Remember, you want to come out of this with some actionable insight. That means focus.
Here are some of the areas that you should be paying close attention to with your critique:
Consistency of Message
Everything from your brand to your tone of voice should reflect your personality as a business.
Even if your business is a bit quirky and your web pages differ dramatically in design from one to another, you need to make sure that there are unifying elements.
Failure to do so can leave the reader feel displaced as the lack of consistency doesn’t communicate professionalism. Or that your website is working properly.
By all means have a cool site. By all means be clever with it. But if your visitors are bouncing out or your contact us page is suspiciously neglected then you may have taken things too far.
Pay particular attention to the About Us page. This is arguably one of the most important pieces of online real estate you’ll ever own. Yet it’s surprising how many businesses neglect it.
Your About Us page is the place where visitors learn about why you do what you do. It’s the place where they decide if your values and your approach lines up with theirs.
You should also be using it as an opportunity to share testimonials, success stories and such.
It’s also a good place to include a meet the team section.
Opinion is often divided on these pages - some see them as naff. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.
From an SEO standpoint they sure are.
But they give your visitors an opportunity to get to know your team. They people they’re going to work with.
This is really important in industries like recruitment. The consultant knows everything about the candidate so why can’t the candidate know they like pizza and long walks on the beach?
The user journey we want our visitors to take is so often overlooked by businesses. To us it’s painfully obvious what you’re supposed to click on or what service is the best fit. Because we live and breathe this stuff.
But to a novice it can be confusing. Especially if you offer multiple services or multiple processes that may - to a layman - appear very similar.
So stop and think about:
1. What pages are essential for your prospect to visit?
2. What pages would you like them to visit (additionally)?
3. What kind of language or wording would they use?
Because what good is your website if the people visiting can’t understand you? Or know where they’re supposed to click?
Your website structure should be so painfully obvious that a child should be able to navigate your site. That isn’t to say that your customers are dumb or you should be appealing to the lowest common denominator. Far from it.
Your prospects are - in point of fact - all time poor.
If they have a problem - a problem you can solve - they need to find someone that can help quickly.
Whether it’s a sick pet, a software solution or a flat tyre your prospect needs to fix that problem as soon as possible. They are not going to waste their time trying to decipher a website that makes sense to you and you alone.
Why? Because you want their money a lot more than they want your service or solution. You are not the only game in town and - no matter how awesome you think you are - your customer will not pander to your ego.
Of course there’s other website best practices you can observe in order to make your website easier to navigate. The correct use of headings (H1s, H2s etc) and a clear URL structure help people navigate both pages and the wider site.
Oh and submit a sitemap to Google. Way too many businesses don’t bother with this. Honestly, it’s super easy and it really helps with your rankings.
This is really useful from the perspective that it helps Google serve specific pages rather than just your homepage. That means you can start helping and educating your prospects sooner. That’s a very good thing.
Anyone who reads our blog regularly will know that we have a few things to say on the subject of content.
Because it’s really really important.
Content is more than just correctly spelt words on a page. It’s more than perfect grammar.
It’s even more than a consistent tone of voice - although that’s waaaaaay up there on the importance list.
Great content is about engaging the right user with a web page, blog, video or podcast that adds value. This helps them to address a need or educates them in how a product, solution, methodology, philosophy or whatever can help them.
It’s also about doing so on a regular basis. Visitors don’t want to feel forgotten and nothing says that more than a blog that gets updated once every 6 months.
Populating your site with the right amount of content, at the right time for a specific purpose is everything. Landing pages should be informative but not bombard the reader.
That’s what long form content is for. The subpages that go into the serious detail that your prospects can delve into when they’re aware of their problem and the solutions that might be able to resolve it.
It’s a balancing act and one that takes time to perfect. No website should ever be treated as finished.
Every visitor on your site is a potential client and a potential advocate. The fact that they’re on your site at all is a phenomenal achievement considering the mind blowing vastness of the internet.
So engaging them, educating them and ultimately selling them the service or product that is right for them is not an opportunity to be wasted.
Especially when you take into account that it takes the average user a split second to decide if they like your site enough to stay.
Whatever you do, don’t squander that opportunity with shonky web pages and content that only sells. Because that’s the worst.
Yes, SEO is still a thing, even in the age of semantic search and content creation. If anything it’s got way more sophisticated.
Google likes to change the rules. You know what? That’s cool. They change the rules so users get better results. Better results mean happy users who continue to use Google.
But Google is way smarter than it used to be so all the little tricks you used to use to game it don’t work any more.
In fact they get you penalised.
If you’ve been keyword stuffing and your website traffic is South of dire, you may have the reason why.
Cut it out, it doesn’t work.
In fact Google prefers well written copy to keyword stuffed pages. Use the keywords too often and its smack bums all round.
Similarly if the keywords you’re using aren’t relevant, it will know and punish you accordingly.
So no hiding irrelevant keywords as white text on a white background. Google knows! Google is always watching...
It’s best to focus on one keyword per page, however if the keyword is particularly competitive you can use less competitive variations on the page too.
But remember to keep it relevant.
Remember the user in all things. Just like using H1s and H2s for your headings and subheadings tells the user what they’re looking at, page titles should accurately reflect the content too.
If it’s a training page the page title and the URL should reflect that. Google likes consistency. Well, positive consistency. If you’re consistently crap you’ve had it.
Sentences should also be 20 words or less. This is way harder than you’d think but it’s a good habit to get into. It keeps your words concise while still leaving room for a little hyperbole.
And don’t forget your meta descriptions and alt tags for images. Your meta description should both accurately describe the page’s purpose and include your primary keyword.
You images ideally should also incorporate the keyword too. If you’re smart and you’ve managed to squeeze the keyword/s into your content title this becomes an entirely more manageable thing to do.
This is just the beginning...
Critiquing your website is a big job. It’s also one that shouldn’t ever really end.If you’d like to learn more about website critiques or you’d like a Ninja to help you out, why not speak to a member of the team.
Whenever you create a new page you should be assessing where it fits in with the existing structure.
You should be making sure that the tone of voice reflects the rest of the stie. That the look and feel of the page is aligned.
If it isn’t you need to ask the question why.
Is it because the page hasn’t been designed or built correctly? Or is it because the rest of the site is actually out of date and doesn’t reflect the direction the business is now moving in?
It’s entirely reasonable for you to completely overhaul your website because you decided to do things differently.
In fact it would be really refreshing if more businesses did that. Because it would mean they were actually taking notice of what they were putting out into the world.
A website critique is a justifiably big job. Because it will have a direct impact on your prospects, your clients and - therefore - your business.
It has to be taken seriously and with some degree of reverence. This is not a ‘smash it in an afternoon job’. Well the critiquing part maybe but everything that follows takes time and effort.
But the rewards are evident.