Improve Your Website with this Do-It-Yourself Website Audit Checklist

by 8 03/14/2012

Here in the U.S., it’s coming upon tax season, and there’s nothing more worrisome than the dreaded tax audit.  Audits are designed to make sure that you have reliable, solid and workable systems in place – but ask any taxpayer and they’ll tell you how they had to gather every last shoebox receipt and painstakingly comb through all their financial records.  It’s the financial equivalent of a gnawing toothache.

Fortunately, a website audit isn’t as terrifying as an IRS audit.

In fact, you can think of it as a way to make sure your site is running at peak performance and achieving the goals you set for it.  I’ve done professional website audits for everyone from large corporations to mom and pop stores, and there’s always one common thread: no matter what your product or how well-established your brand, there’s always room for improvement.

Use this straightforward website audit checklist to make sure you’re getting the most out of your site.

Design, Layout and Navigation

Website designs can run the gamut from bold and eclectic, to modernist and zen-like.  Design and layout trends are showing many sites moving to a block-style minimal homepage with supporting sub-pages under it – like these:

website navigation example

The Tracking Time app homepage uses a large main graphic followed by supporting information

 

Tinderbox

Tinderbox uses text as its supporting mechanism and displays a large call-to-action button

 

True Tea

This style of layout is popular whether you’re selling technology or tea

The Inverted Pyramid

Back in 1996, usability guru Jakob Nielsen called this style the “Inverted Pyramid”.  It consisted of the most important information up front, followed by supporting details, and then more detailed information.  Finally, websites are starting to catch on and use this layout style not just for writing as his original article intended, but for design and layout as well.

Inverted Pyramic - Jakob Nielsen

Navigation, also called information architecture, is not just about shiny buttons, but more about the different paths that users take to get where you want them to go.  It can include horizontal menus, sub-menus, breadcrumbs and footer links – to name a few.  But no matter which style of navigation you use, you’ll want to be sure that it’s user-friendly and consistent across every page.

Rapidweaver Navigation

Rapidweaver’s tab-based navigation gives users clear choices of where to go

Action Steps:

  •  Use a single call-to-action above the fold of your website.  Above the fold means within the first 1/3rd of the user’s screen space. Don’t word the call to action in simple terms like “Click Here” or “Learn More” but give the user a descriptive idea of where they’re going – “Download the Free Report”, “Learn More About Our Web Design Services”
  • Balance graphics and text.  Make sure every graphic on the page has a purpose.  Replace outdated graphical or flash navigation with faster-loading, search engine friendly CSS menus.
  • Make it simple and straightforward for users to search your page, subscribe to your newsletter, and follow you on relevant social networks. These page elements are some of the most vital parts of your site – don’t hide them!
  • Keep introductory text brief and to-the-point.  No one wants to read a giant wall of text.  Break up long paragraphs into “chunks” for easier scanning, and add headlines and sub headlines to improve readability.
  • Make good use of reading margins and white-space. The length of time a visitor stays on your site and reads your content depends on it.
  • Use the “Inverted Pyramid” strategy to display your best product shot, compelling introductory information and supporting details to encourage participation on your page.
  • Incorporate a color scheme that’s well thought-out and professional.  The Colorschemer Gallery has some fantastic ideas to inspire you – even if you flunked art class.
  • Use CrossBrowserTesting.com to see how your site looks in today’s most popular browsers, including desktop applications like Internet Explorer and Firefox, as well as mobile browsers for Android and iPhone. It has a monthly fee, but there’s a free trial available.
  • Make sure that errors have sensible messages that the user can understand. Code 088xx0008 might mean something to a developer, but if mistakes or missing information isn’t clearly marked, the user will give up and go elsewhere.

Content, Social and Search Engine Optimization Strategy

Content optimization is the art of writing content that appeals to both search engines and visitors.  There’s a big focus on keyword research, writing around terms with solid popularity (but not saturation) in your niche, and including relevant keywords in all your website headings and sub-headings.

Writing good content isn’t just about checking keyword density either – although that is part of it.  Then there’s also the critical measurement of just how many people are interacting with your content, and what they’re doing once they read it.

Coca Cola homepage

Even a large corporate site like Coca Cola has its content neatly segmented with actionable headings

Many website owners have a social media strategy in place, but lack an actionable content marketing or optimization strategy.  However, many of the same techniques you use to promote content through social media can be used to optimize that same content for a broader reach, like these:

  • Create a content plan by brainstorming topics that will not only enrich your search engine rankings, but put your brand at the forefront of the user’s searches.  Use an Editorial Calendar to make sure posts get written ahead of time and scheduled properly.
  • Make sure that you not only automatically post new blog content to Twitter and Facebook, but that you also have sharing buttons in place for your users to do the same.  I like the Digg Digg plugin for WordPress but there are lots of others.
  • If your URLs have changed, use 301 (Permanent) redirects to make sure visitors come to the new address, while keeping all of the search engine “juice” you’ve already built up.
  • With every piece you write, make sure that your headlines (H1-H6) include the main keywords or phrase. For each page, you should also properly optimize your title tag, meta tags and alt text for your images so that they all tie in well with the focus of your article.
  • Take the time to interlink related posts and other content on your site to help give your audience more relevant information to read, and search engines more content to index and follow.
  • What should the customer do after reading your article or blog post?  Call for a quote? Request a consultation? Subscribe to the newsletter? Are these features in place?
  • Check your web analytics to determine which of your pages are being visited the most.  Consider writing follow-up pieces about that content, or expanding it.
  • Share relevant content, not just on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but also on LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Groups and other areas where your target audience is likely to hang out.
  • You don’t have to reveal everything in a post.  Write a follow-up series, ask for user questions, or turn your content into something beyond the written word.  People love videos, podcasts, whitepapers and other digital downloads.  Once they’re convinced that your information is worth reading – encourage them to come back for more by way of an autoresponder series or webinar workshop.

Doing a website audit can make sure your site is optimized to provide visitors with the best experience possible.  But this checklist is just a starting point.  Share your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to add your own tips to maximizing conversion rates and improving website performance.

About 

Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates with custom design, copywriting and website reviews.  Get your free conversion checklist and web copy tune-up by visiting iElectrify.com.

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8 COMMENTS

Laura-Bear

this is goooood. thank you

March 14, 2012 Reply

Andy Feliciotti

Nice article, never even heard about the reverse pyramid, but finally I have a name for that layout :)

March 15, 2012 Reply

Mark Simchock

Good morning. Thanks Sherice, you make some good points. Mind if I clarify a couple of things?

=> The audit idea is a good one. However, the first step is to define why the site exists, the expectation of those coming to visit it/use it, as well as the objectives of the brand the site should enable (once the visitor expectations are met).

For example, how often do we visit sites where getting the visitor to contact the company has to be a top priority, yet the phone number is in uber small type? Or the brand wants to be perceived as customer-friendly yet finding the help/support is far from customer-friendly.

My point is, the audit has to be relative to some benchmark. You can’t start until that benchmark is defined. Sadly, a fair number of sites are designed/developed without such things being defined.

=> You said: “Design and layout trends are showing many sites moving to a block-style minimal homepage with supporting sub-pages…”
Pardon my bluntness but screw such trends. Speaking for myself and the sites I work on, in the majority of the cases more than half the traffic enters via pages other than the home page. In short, from the perspective of the visitor, every page has the potential to be the home page. A well architected site should reflect such facts and expectations.

=> You said: “…but more about the different paths that users take to get where you want them to go…”
Actually, as mentioned, the first priority is not the brand but the visitors’ expectations. Where they need to go and where the brand wants them to go are not the same thing. The wider the disconnect, the greater the risk of visitor frustration. We don’t want frustrated visitors, do we?

=> You said: “…you’ll want to be sure that it’s user-friendly and consistent across every page…”
Yup! And all the more reason to abandon the “home page” / inner page approach.

=> You said: “…You don’t have to reveal everything in a post. Write a follow-up series…”
Yup again. By doing multi-part blog posts deeper and broader subject matter can be explored. It also “baits” the readers to come back again, or drill around on the site if they entered not via the first part of the series.

Thanks again. Have a good day.

March 15, 2012 Reply

Sherice Jacob

Hi Mark – Excellent points! I guess the designer in me hopes that people will define why the site exists (and have a business plan for it) before they get into the website audit checklist, but you’re right, sometimes that one simple step can save a ton of trouble and frustration!

I appreciate your invaluable comments and feedback!

March 15, 2012 Reply

    Mark Simchock

    Based on my experience people (read: clients) tend to either ask for what they want or (as based on previous experience) what they think they can get. We’ve all seen eager to please designers/developers run off prematurely with a wants list and start doin’ stuff.

    But rare (or so it often seems) is the agent who stops to say, “Yes, that’s nice. But what do you *need*? What are you trying to accomplish?” It’s true that that too often gets an initial blank stare in return. None the less, nothing should move forward until needs are separated from wants and there’s a serious discussion of visitor expectations.

    I bet if you asked your audit clients if these questions were asked the vast majority would say no.

    March 15, 2012 Reply

Sherice Jacob

Well, it’s a good thing that you and I do take the time to ask what the end goal is before we delve into the “fun stuff” or get so enthusiastic about concepts that we forget the reason we got into this line of work in the first place. :)

March 15, 2012 Reply

Alicia Jerkin

Thanks for the advising. That is a pretty thorough check list. I did find a few other points to watch out for on this consulting website :
Website Audit Template

April 12, 2012 Reply


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