Technology evolves quickly. The software that’s new today is dated in a few months. What we see as cutting-edge web design this week may seem antiquated by this time next year.
How Websites Have Changed
In the early days of the internet, the only connection option available was dial-up. That meant that every site out there had to be designed with speed in mind. Slow modems didn’t allow for image-heavy sites or fancy design features. Most websites were all text, and the page structures were simple too.
Over time, web designers started to use table-based layouts that enabled them to split a single page into sections, making it slightly easier for users to find the information they wanted. These layouts had their drawbacks, but they were a definite improvement over the earlier designs.
The invention of Flash marked a huge breakthrough in web design, as did the gradual speeding up of internet connections. Things like graphics and videos became commonplace. Additional technological advances include the advent of CSS and Web 2.0, both of which allowed for more sophisticated design techniques. Web sites grew, encompassing many pages and various types of content.
Today’s websites are remarkably sophisticated compared to those early sites. They allow for elegant designs and seamless user experiences.
Why Website Audits Are Important
What is a website audit, and why does it matter? An audit looks at every aspect of your website, from content and design to the user experience. It helps to determine whether your website is functioning properly. A thorough audit can enable you to find potential problems including slow load times, broken links, and other issues that may take away from your site’s usability.
Every business needs to do a website audit periodically. Think of it as a check-up for your site – its annual physical examination. Regular audits will ensure that you catch problems early, before they turn into a real problem for you or your customers.
While there are certainly companies who will audit your website for a price, you can do an audit on your own if you prefer. All you need is a clear idea of how to do it.
How to Audit Your Website
Auditing your website isn’t difficult to do, but it is meticulous, detailed work. You need to be prepared to look at every aspect of your site, from the design and content to technical things like the user experience. Here are the things you need to check.
- Load times are hugely important – in fact, research shows that most web users will navigate away from a page if it takes more than four seconds to load, or if it loads improperly. In order to properly check load times, you need to do it from a variety of devices and web browsers. You should check it from a computer and preferably several smartphones with different operating systems. You should also check from different browsers, including Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Firefox. Time your site on each, making note of how long it takes to load. If your site is not supporting traffic from a particular browser, make note of that too.
- The next thing to check is navigability. In theory, any page on your site could be a landing page. You need to make sure that it is easy to navigate back to your home page from every page on your site. Many companies make their logo a link that will return users to the home page. Alternatively, you can have a “Home” button that appears on the menu at the top of the page, or on the right margin. Your menu placement is important too. Users will expect to see your menu at the top of the page, either permanently displayed or as a drop-down box, or on the right side of the page. Don’t make people search for your menu. You need to check every link on your menu to make sure each one works.
- Related to navigability is the issue of links. The links on your site, whether they lead to another area of your site or to an outside site, should be clear and easy to identify. Sometimes companies make the mistakes of having their links appear in the same color as the rest of the text, which means that users will not be able to recognize a link unless their mouse is placed over it. Your links should be a different color from your text, and you need to test each one to make sure it works. Make note of any broken links so you can fix them later.
- The user experience is another important thing to test. How easy is it to opt in to your list or to make a purchase? The experience should be seamless and intuitive. For this part of the process, it may be helpful to ask a friend who isn’t familiar with your site to walk through a subscription or purchase, especially if you have been over it many times. The best way to tell if your site is user friendly is to have someone who has not used it give it a try. Have them make note of anything that is confusing or counterintuitive.
- A thorough audit should also include a review of your content. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your content relevant and interesting?
- Does it offer value to your customers?
- Is any of your content outdated or inaccurate?
- Is your content free of spelling and grammatical errors?
- Is your content readable, with plenty of white space, images, and other things like bulleted lists?
- Are you using different kinds of content, including text, photos, infographics, and videos?
- Is each page of your website optimized for a single keyword? Keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, but local keywords that include your geographical location are still essential if you want to rank for local search.
- Are you using your tags in a smart way? Your title tag, page name, H1 tag, and image tags all represent opportunities to use your keywords and make it easy for people to find your site.
Make a note of any content that needs to be rewritten, updated, or removed.
- Finally, your audit needs to look at the design elements of your site. Here are some of the things to keep in mind:
- Is your color scheme relevant to your brand and pleasing to the eye? A lot of web designers use garish colors thinking that they will attract attention. However, if your site is painful to view, people are not going to stay on the page. You need to think about how a first-time visitor will see your site.
- Are your font choices appropriate for your business and easy to read? Readability should always be your first concern when it comes to font choice. It’s perfectly acceptable to use a fancy or unusual font selectively, but the majority of your content should be in a clear, sans serif font. Most experts recommend a font size of at least 14 points for maximum readability.
- Are your images relevant and striking? You may use stock photos if you prefer, but it’s also worth considering hiring a pro to take some photos of you and your business. Most web users are pretty sophisticated and know a stock photo when they see one. Make sure that whatever pictures you choose include some human faces to personalize your company.
- How many pages do you have? Ideally, you want to have a home page, an “About Us” page, and a “Contact Us” page at the bare minimum. You should also consider adding a blog, and individual pages talking about your products or services.
- Have you included social following and sharing buttons in easy-to-find places?
As you can see, a website audit may end up taking several days to complete. You will have to be meticulous and keep track of the things you have reviewed. If you don’t have the technical know-how to fix the problems you find, remember that you can always hire a designer to correct them for you. However, platforms like WordPress make it very easy for non-designers to put together a website that will meet all of their needs.