Table of Contents
- Step no.4: Focus on quality assets and content
- Step no.5: Optimize your website for search engines
- Step no.6: Create great user experience
- Step no.7: Test your website
- Closing thoughts on creating professional website
Creating a professional website doesn’t have to be hard. Chances are that if you do a number of things right, the rest will take care of itself. In this article, we will discuss the last four steps to build your own professional website. These steps will explore topics such as assets and content management. We will also discuss some practices for SEO optimization. Then, we will tackle how to create great user experience. Lastly, we will talk about how to test your website.
Steps no.1-3 are in part 1.
Step no.4: Focus on quality assets and content
In the first part, we ended with discussion about mobile first design and development. Now, it is time to talk about assets. Quite often, assets are the biggest difference between mediocre and professional website. Think about it. When you visit some website, visual elements such as images are the first thing you will see. Website that uses high quality images or videos is able to build more credibility faster. You can think about it as car showroom.
Build it like an online Apple store
When you want to buy luxurious car, you will probably visit luxurious showroom. There are a couple of factors that will determine whether you make the purchase or not. For example, the appearance of the showroom and the sales person. Sure, your decision will be also determined by the car itself. Still, both the showroom and sales person has to convey certain credibility. Otherwise, you are much less likely to buy any car there. The same principle applies to web design.
Another great example of perfectly-crafted buying experience are Apple stores. These objects often look rather like a gallery than a store. Every Apple store is brought to perfection. There is no detail too small to be ignored. The same is truth for employees. People working at Apple stores know everything about the products they sell. And, when you need help with some product or information, their service is perfect as well. Let’s apply this to building your professional website.
Professional website and stock images
The first principle we can derive from Apple store is to always use only assets of the highest quality. In other words, avoid images from photo banks and similar sources. Stock images are cheap and they look like that. What’s worse, when you buy some stock image, anyone can buy it as well. What does it mean? Stock images will never allow you to create truly unique design and experience. If you chose the best looking stock images, the situation will get even worse.
The better and more popular is the image, the higher is the chance that someone else bought it as well. The result is that when people land on your website, they are more likely to recognize that image. However, this doesn’t mean that you should try to “fix” this by buying only average or bad stock images. Not at all. Do that and your chances of building professional website are below zero. Instead of this, I will recommend that you do something different.
A better approach to getting visual assets
First, do a small research in your neighborhood or on the Internet and look for photographers. Second, take a look at their prices and select few you can afford. Don’t limit yourself to choosing just one photographer. Give yourself more options and select at least three. Third, get in touch with each photographer from your selection. Explain what you are looking for and what kind of website do you want to build. After that, ask each photographer for a quote. Chances are that the first estimate will be higher than you will like.
Don’t worry about that. Remember that this is just the first estimate. In high number of cases, you can get a better estimate just by negotiating. There are a number of things you can try to lower the price. First, you can try to bargain. When you are dealing with individuals and not agency, this approach may work quite well. However, it will not work in every situation. Second, you can try to find a way you can help the photographer. Maybe there is something you know or you can do that the photographer will benefit from. If so, make an offer. This is example of win-win negotiation.
The third strategy is focusing on future business opportunities. What do I mean? Let’s say your professional website be successful. It will bring you new clients or customers. Maybe, you will decide to expand your business. You may also decide to build another website, or whatever. This means that will need more photos. Who will you ask for taking these photos? Exactly! You will contact the photographer who helped you the first time. Suggest it to the photographer. She may give you lower price now because there is a chance of doing another business in the future.
Rule of thumb? Focus on quality instead of quantity
I would love to tell you what price should you set as your maximum. Unfortunately, this is not possible. This depends on a number of factors such as place where you live. It will also depend on the level of your ambitions and goals for your website. Professional website is relative term. It can mean a website that costs $250. It can also mean a website that costs above $1000. As you guessed, you budget is important factor as well. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all number.
My goal is to make this article useful for largest group of people. So, I will do my best to avoid making any assumptions about your budget. Instead, I will tell you one thing or rule of thumb to you can use every time you will feel unsure. It doesn’t matter what your budget is. Make sure to always go for quality, not quantity. If you have to decide between paying for five high-quality photos or 20 average photos, choose the first option. Five photos of exceptional quality will do much better service to your professional website.
It is easy to believe that you can supplement quality with quantity. In other words, that 20 average photos will do the same job as five exceptional. I used to believe this as well. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. When you use 20 average photos you will get exactly that – bundle of 20 average photos. This is also why I advise my clients to use only the best examples and remove everything else. You have to do the same thing. Your professional website will be only as great as its weakest link (or photo). Remember that people will always spot the ugly duck.
Keep the content fresh
Another attribute of professional website should be always fresh content. Your website should evoke that you are active and opened for business. One of the ways to do this is by constantly pushing out new content. This doesn’t mean that you have to publish something every day. Once or twice a week will do do job as well. What can be useful for you is establishing some kind of a posting schedule. For example, you may to post some short news just once a week.
Use blogging for increasing visibility of your website
You can take this one step further by also creating a blog. Blog is not necessary part of professional website. Yet, it can have a number of benefits. First, it can work as a prove of your experience and expertise. You can use your blog to write about the things you do at work or business. You can also use it to teach people what do you want. Both will show visitors that you know what you are talking about, that you are an expert on the subject.
Second benefit of having a blog is that it is search engine friendly. Sure, your website should be optimized in the terms of SEO. However, this is not what I am talking about. What I mean is something different. Let’s say you want to catch some fish. You can take one fishing rod, find nice some place near river and wait. The problem is that this can take too long and you can catch only one fish. What if you take three, four or 20 fishing rods? The results will get much better.
Think about blogging in the same way. Every post is one fishing rod. The more rods you use (posts you post) the more fish (visitors) can you catch. When you have one website, you have basically one result in search. What if you have website and also blog full of posts? Exactly. You will get much more space in search. What’s more, you can use every blog post to link to your professional website. This way, you can improve its ranking and give it more visibility.
Blogging as powerful promotion tool
Third benefit of blog is that it can bring you more visibility on media channels. You can use every post as a way to draw attention to yourself and your business. Think about every new bog post as a powerful social media promotion tool. The common way of promoting your business is sharing post about your product or service. It is usually short and catchy text with nice image. Many businesses also like to include discount to get more attention. By the way, never give discounts.
Many people don’t lie this way of promotion because it may look like a spam. Also, many people don’t like to talk about their products or themselves. The problem is often lack of believe. Anyway, this is not will not be such an issue if you share your wisdom. Let’s say you really blog about the stuff you do. This means that you write about why and how you do it. You also give away tips to help others implement what they learned from you.
Would you feel bad about sharing this? If so, why? If you would still feel bad about it, there must be something else. There has to be another problem not related to your blog or professional website. It is likely that you don’t believe in yourself or your expertise. Otherwise, why would you ignore this opportunity to help people? Sharing your knowledge through blogging is also an opportunity for doing something good and being unselfish.
First, work on these internal issues and solve them. Second, when you write new post, share it on social media channels your customers are using. Third, remember that you have nothing to feel bad about. The majority of people keep their knowledge to themselves. That is selfish.
Step no.5: Optimize your website for search engines
Let’s assume you are almost with building your professional website. Let’s also assume that you have some content you will use on your website. Another step is optimizing both, your website and the content, for search engines. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be SEO expert. You can do basic optimization just by yourself. In this section, I will give you a number of tips to help you with that. One thing, the best type of SEO optimization is content creation (blogging). That’s the winner.
It all starts in head
My first tip is to take care about meta tags. Every professional website has to contain recommended meta tags such as charset, http-equiv, viewport and description. You should also include meta tags for social networks. This includes tags for Open Graph used by Facebook. Next, you should use tags for Twitter cards. Finally, you should also use tags for Schema that are used by Google+. I know that this can look like a lot. However, if take care about this, it will help you make your website more visible and easier to share. There is also useful tool to do this.
With this, you are almost done with head section of your website. There are only last two things to do. The first is creating and implementing favicon. To make sure your professional website contains all recommended files for favicon, you can use this great Real Favicon Generator. The second one is generating and implementing code snippet for your Google Analytics or what you use. Both of these tasks are relatively fast. You can get them done in a few minutes. Still if you want to skip one of them, you can skip favicon. Analytics are much more important.
SEO optimization beyond the head
For every professional website, SEO optimization has to go beyond the head of the document. Head section is only the starting line. Optimizing head section also requires the least amount of effort. You can do it while waiting on a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. That’s probably why almost everyone is doing it. This is only one part of SEO optimization. What’s more, it looks like that it is also less and less important part of SEO optimization. Chances are that in the future this practice will have little to no impact.
If this practice is not the best thing you can do in the terms of SEO, than what? You have to go beyond the head section of your website. What has much higher value and impact on ranking of your website is your content. And, it is this content that you should focus on and optimize. When you take a look at the history of Google Algorithm, you can see two major trends. The first trend is making the web more optimized for mobile devices. In other words, making it mobile friendly. The second trend is favoring quality, longer and relevant content. Let’s focus on the second one.
SEO and content optimization done wrong
What type of content do you need to make uncle Google happy? Let’s take a look at this question from the opposite side. Data says that there are a number of things you can do to lower rankings of your professional website. First, you can place your content below sponsored posts. Have you ever seen some website with a couple of thumbnails to sponsored content at the top of articles? Follow this example and you will end up with worse ranking in the search results.
Second tip to achieve worse ranking in search is to fill your website with ads. The best will be if your website will contain more ads than content. For example, let’s divide your website into three thirds. Next, you will fill two thirds with ads and the reaming one third with content. As a result, you will see quite significant drop in search results. Let’s move to the tip number three. Populate your professional website with thin content.
Websites with a high number of pages with short content are more likely to end up with bad rankings. The best example will be a website with Q&A pages and nothing more. When it comes to numbers, you should aim under 500 words, less than 300 great. Also, make sure that your content is not relevant to your website. The fourth tip is to focus on generic content. If your website contains a lot of very generic content, you will not like your ranking in search.
What is generic content? It is content that consist mostly of rewrited information you can find on other websites. You can increase the effectiveness of this tip by filling your content with ads. Lastly, fill your content with keywords because Google favors content created for people, not robots.
SEO and content optimization done right
Okay, now you know how not to optimize your website. I think that we should also discuss how to do SEO optimization of your professional website right. You know, just to make sure. So, let me give you a number of tips you should use. We can begin by reversing the four tips we discussed in the section above. First, favor and also place your content before sponsored posts. Second, make sure that your content takes up the majority of the space on your website. Remember that people visited your website to read the content, not the ads.
Third, focus on creating longer content. Saying that your posts should be longer than 300 words is a no-brainer. In a fact, you should write content that contains more than 1,500 words. One analysis done by SnapAgency suggests that the ideal length of blog post somewhere between 2,250 and 2,500 words. I know that this may seem like a lot, especially if you are not just starting out. However, this is what the data are saying at this moment.
My fourth tip for bad content was to write generic content. Therefore, you should focus on creating unique content to get the opposite result. This doesn’t mean that you have to always come up with brand new content. You can still reinvent the wheel. That do I mean? You can take existing content, do the research and share your own opinion and point of view. Your opinion and point of view is unique to you. Your content will then be unique to you as well.
My last tip is to write for people. It is okay to insert your keyword here and there, just don’t overdo it. Your goal is creating great content for your professional website, not to feed crawlers.
SEO optimization and images
Image is worth a thousand words. And, nice visuals are useful if you want to create professional website. When it comes to images, there are three things you should take care of. The first thing is the filename of your image. Filenames should be descriptive. For example, image with a MacBook on the table should not be named photo-1323656.jpg. Instead, you should name the image macbook-on-table.jpg. The second thing are alt tags or attributes.
You probably know that alt attribute is an important part of image optimization for SEO. However, do you optimize your images in the right way? Many people think that the content of alt attributes should be the same as the file name of the image. This is not true. It is also not true that you should use alt attribute as place for list of your keywords. The proper way to use alt attribute is by putting there description of the image. If someone can’t see it, how would you describe it?
The third thing is title. The content of title attribute is what appears when someone hovers over the image. I don’t now if there is any benefit related to SEO to using title attribute. However, I’d encourage you to use it. What should be the content of title attribute? I think that you can work with it just like with alt attribute. In other words, use it for description of the image.
There is one last thing I should mention related to images. Professional website has to use professionally looking assets. Are you serving retina screens high-resolution images? If not, you should fix this soon. Chances are that some people will visit your website on device with high-density screen. You should not show blurred, grainy or pixelated images to these users.
Step no.6: Create great user experience
We are almost done. The sixth step to create professional website is about creating an engagement. There are many ways in which you can build engagement. Creating a great content is one of them. Another one is using great visual assets. High-resolution and quality images and videos can grab attention like a magnet. However, this doesn’t mean that you should stuff your professional website with these assets. Or, you shouldn’t do that for every device.
One way to build great user experience is to create natural flow on your website. This means a couple of things. First, you have to make it easy for users to find the information they’re looking for. This is the easiest way to keep users engaged. Here are things for your checklist. Navigation has to be clear, consistent, easy to use and visible. Its structure has to be logical. Navigation links has to use common language. On pages about certain subject you can offer links to similar pages. This will can help users gather more information and have better experience from their visit.
Keep the content easy to digest
Next, if some of your pages has a lot of text, break it up to smaller paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain approximately 5 or 6 lines of text. A good idea is to mix these paragraph with images that are related to the text. This can help you make the content more visually appealing and eye-catching. If you have longer content, avoid dividing it into multiple pages. Some people like to use this tactic to increase their page views. However, I want to discourage you from it. The first and biggest problem is that it breaks the flow and disrupts reading experience.
When you read some content, and you like it, you focus your whole attention to it. This is necessary if you want to understand the content. Your brain has to first process all information. Then, it has to analyze it and maybe come up with some conclusion. Finally, your brain will store some pieces of it in your memory (hopefully). This is how the simple version of knowledge acquisition process looks like. For the best results, this process shouldn’t be interrupted.
Now think about what will happen when you divide some content into multiple pages. In that case, you will have to temporarily break your attention and learning process to go to another page. Next, you have to remind yourself where you ended in the text. Otherwise, you will not be able to connect content on this page with content on the previous one. It is similar to when someone distracts you in the middle of doing something. You usually don’t remember the last sentence and have to read it again. This is also a cause of forgetting some of the information you’ve read.
Reduce load time
Another relatively easy way to create great user experience is by optimizing loading speed of your professional website. The bare minimum you can do is to compress, minify and optimize your assets. You should also use online tools such as Pingdom to measure how quickly your website loads. You can also measure this from different locations around the world to get more precise results. Sure, you can test the loading speed just by opening your website in the browser.
You should keep on mind one thing. Your website may load quickly in your home. However, that doesn’t mean that it is as fast in other places like the USA, China or Australia. There are many countries with super fast broadband. Many countries also have very fast mobile networks. Yet, this is not true for all countries in the world. Therefore, it is important to remember that a large proportion of the Internet is still using slower types of connection like dial-up or connection with lower speed. Make sure your website can load relatively fast also on these connections.
Focus on accessibility and legibility
After optimizing the loading time, make sure to test accessibility of your website. The minim accessibility optimization should include testing your website for basic functionality. And, you shouldn’t test only on major browsers, but on as many browsers as possible. This also includes testing on mobile browsers. Remember that what works in “desktop” browsers may not work in mobile browsers. These browsers often support fewer features and technologies. For example, you can compare Opera and Opera Mini or Chrome and Android Browser.
Why is it important to do browsers testing? It is not to make sure it looks everywhere the same. There is no rule saying that professional website has to look the same in all browsers. There is a debate on this topic. Some people believe that a website should look exactly the same in all browsers. Others believe that website appearance can vary slightly. Choose whatever opinion you like. Important is that your website has to work in all browsers. This is why you should invest appropriate amount of time in browser testing.
After you tested accessibility of your website, it is time to get back to the content. Your content should be structured and designed to be read. You should use large and spacious fonts. These fonts work very well on all displays regardless of their size. What about font size? My rule of thumb is 16 pixels. This number usually works well on both, mobile and desktop devices. If you design for TVs, go higher. You can also improve readability of the text by using neutral background colors. Lastly, make headings clear and bold and use them to break the text into sections.
Step no.7: Test your website
The last step on your way to build professional website is about testing it. Every design decision you made on your way is just another hypothesis. The only way to find out if the hypothesis is valid is by testing it. It doesn’t matter what is the hypothesis about. It can be specific color or typography palette. Or, it can be shape and color of buttons. You ay also want to try different placements for your CTAs (calls to action). Whatever hypothesis you are considering, you have to test it. Even the smallest details can have significant impact.
You can use various types of test and tools to find out whether you’ve built professional website. Some of these tests are more expensive and time-consuming than others. Also, some of these tests will require some equipment. The best example of such a test is eye tracking. This test can be quite expensive investment. In most cases, you will have to do this test in laboratory settings. Yet, bigger investment doesn’t have to mean more accurate or better results. For example, people are often moving cursor where they look. Therefore, you may not need to spend a fortune on lab and high-tech eye tracking camera. Average mouse may do the job as well.
Testing on a budget
Let’s say you have very tight budget. What kind of testing will be the best choice? Unfortunately, I don’t have one clear answer for you. First, you should decide on what exactly do you want to test. Today, we discussed seven steps to build professional website. This gives us six areas we can test – your brand, quality of design, usability on mobile devices, general usability, SEO optimization and experience or engagement. Second, you should set clear priority for every area you want to test. Not every area is created equal.
Chances are that you will need to perfect some areas before other ones. For example, let’s say you want to introduce new product or whole business. Then, you may need to test your brand, design or engagement before usability and SEO. This means that brand, design and engagement will have higher priority and you should test these areas first. In case of these three areas, you can use A/B testing and simple analytics. You will need just small group of people who will provide you with feedback. Proper user testing needs be done on group of five people.
When it comes to testing environment, you can test your professional website basically everywhere. You only need a computer and Internet connection. Well, that’s not exactly truth. You can do the test with your website offline. You actually don’t even need a computer. If you want to test design, you can use simple mockup drawn on a piece of paper. On other words, you can do testing on a budget with pen and paper in coffee shop or library. If you have to pay participants in the test, you can bey them coffee or give them some coupons. Many people will give you five minutes of time even for free.
What if you can’t afford to spend a few bucks on coffee? Or, what if you don’t know about any place where you can do a small guerrilla testing? There is one last option your family and friends. Offer them that you will cook a great dinner or clean the house. Just make sure you have at least five people. Also, don’t settle for vague answers such as “I like that.” You have to dig much deeper and ask a lot of questions. Otherwise, you will not test your website thoroughly enough.
Closing thoughts on creating professional website
Congrats! You’ve just finished this mini series about building your own professional website. I hope the steps we discussed will help you create a website that will present you in the best light. Let’s quickly recap. First, focus on using quality assets and creating quality content. See and treat your website as a shop window. Prefer quality over quantity. Think about creating a blog to share your thoughts and knowledge. Remember that blog can be also a powerful promotion tool.
Optimize your website for search engines. SEO optimization should start in the head section of every page. However, it shouldn’t stop there. You should go beyond the head and optimize also your content, assets and links. Use content and website optimization and great legibility and accessibility to create great user experience. Finally, make sure to test your website on real people. Dig very deep and ask a lot of questions. This will help you find spots you should fix. That is all. Now go and find a way to implement these steps. Build your website and have a great day.
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