October 2, 2017 | Main Spotlight | Travis Brown, Director of Business Development, Rokusek | Your Digital Storefront: Best Practices for Your Organization's Website
It’s 2017 and having a website is no longer an option for an organization or a business—it’s a requirement. When you want to find contact information for a business the first thing you do is grab your phone, but not to dial 411. (For the millennials, calling “information” at 411 was the fastest way to get a phone number in 2000.) Now, you open your phone’s web browser and search for the business’s website. The technology age is great for the consumer but can be a challenge to manage for a Main Street director, especially with everything else on your plate. Not to worry, there are some tools that make it easier.
Let’s start with the basics, the things your website absolutely needs to have. First and foremost, it has to be mobile friendly. We all remember 2015’s Mobilegeddon, when Google updated their algorithm to favor responsive or mobile-friendly websites in their search results. If your site wasn’t responsive, it didn’t go away, but it did start receiving a lower score. So the first step is to make sure you have a responsive site. Once you’re mobile friendly, you can move onto navigation. This is an important element that will help you organize your content, and direct users to the information that is most important to them.
Another basic that I strongly suggest is placing your phone number prominently in the header. Often, people come to your website simply to find your contact information so they can talk to someone. We’ve all flipped through multiple pages looking for a number so you can talk to a human. I suggest making it easy for them to get a hold of you by not only giving them the number, but making it a link that will automatically open their phone.
Content is King
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s dive deeper into the most important element of your website—your content. I am sure by now you’ve heard “Content is King” and is absolutely true. Content is the single most important thing on your website. In addition to providing search engine optimization (SEO) benefits (see below for more on that), it is how you are communicating with your audience.
There are two critical questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to your content: Who is my audience, and what do they want? Answering these questions will help you create appropriate content.
For example, when I was a Main Street Executive Director, we revamped our district’s website. We talked at length about which businesses should be listed on the website. Should it be everyone or just the members? Ultimately, we decided that every business needed to be listed because the people coming to our website don’t know who is a member of the organization, and they probably don’t care. They want to get the information they need and move on. This may not be the right decision for every organization, but it was the right decision for us. This is just one example of how answering the “who is my audience and what do they want” questions will influence your site’s content.
The content on your site should be evocative of your downtown. When it comes to website content, Main Streets are in the sales business. We aren’t selling clothes or services, we are selling experiences. People have a choice as to where they spend their time, and we want them to spend it in our districts. So, we need to write content that is authentic and exciting about what they can do when they come to your Main Street. The more genuine and honest you are with this communication, the bigger impact you’ll have.
I’ve talked about the basics, I’ve talked about content, so you have probably guessed what’s coming next —Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The truth is, SEO is important. Making sure that your website scores well will drive more traffic to your site, which should drive more people to your downtown and your merchants. That doesn’t mean you need to scrap everything or spend a lot of time and money. There are plenty of simple things you can do to maximize your SEO score on your own.
Looking closer at your content there are a few more modifications you can make to really boost your SEO. Let’s start with keyword density. It may surprise you to discover that the ideal density is between two to three percent. This shows that you have relevant content about the subject and are not just packing the page with keywords to boost rankings. This means if you are a pizza parlor, you are writing about your atmosphere, etc., and not just saying “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” There are places online you can test your keyword density for free. This is one that I use on a regular basis.
While you are tweaking your content, you will want to examine how readable it is. This doesn’t mean how legible (though quality design is extremely important), but rather how difficult your content is to read. Ideally, content will be written to an eighth grade level. Readable.io provides a good, free tool that will grade your content and let you know how your content scores.
In addition to your content, you will want to examine your images as well. All of your images should have a name (not image001), but a name that pertains to the image. They should also have an ALT tag and description. ALT tags tell viewers the nature or contents of an image. The alt text appears in a blank box that would normally contain the image. Having an images with an appropriate name, alt tag, and alt description will help your SEO score.
Now that we’ve talked about images, let’s talk about video! Video is great for boosting both SEO and site engagement. Did you know that the second largest search engine in the world is YouTube, and that YouTube is owned by Google? This means when you load a video to YouTube and embed it into your website, your score will go up! You’ve likely seen a rise of video whether it be through Snapchat, Periscope, or Facebook live. I strongly suggest having a plan for how you will use video somewhere within your website. Perhaps this is a weekly or monthly vlog or a recap of an event, but you will want to make sure you’re using video throughout your website whenever appropriate.
As you are making changes to your content, you may rename a page, or perhaps completely delete a page. These are just a few reasons why you may have a broken link. This occurs when a previous link is no longer valid, which can drag down your SEO score. Not to fret, with a simple re-direct, your links point to a valid page on your site and your SEO score will remain unphased. You can check your broken links using this free tool.
There are also great tools you can utilize to generate your SEO score. Website.grader.com is one of the better tools, but there are plenty others. Nearly all these graders will tell you if you are doing the basics and the technical things well. What they won’t tell you is how your content relates to the user. While there is definitely some trial and error in finding what connects, the best piece of advice we can offer is to be genuine. The more natural, relaxed and evocative of your downtown you are in your communications the more effective it will be.
It’s a Process
I want to emphasize that this is a process. Don’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of managing your website. I know, first hand, the priorities you face and realize that spending time updating your website can often get pushed to the back burner. That’s OK, and often necessary for you to accomplish the larger mission of revitalizing your downtown. Start with a page on your site, every little bit helps. If you don’t have time, enlist a firm that can assist you. There are thousands of quality firms across the country, you may even have one in your downtown. Talk to them, see how they can help. This doesn’t have to be daunting. I believe that you will find that the better you do it, the more successful you will be in carrying out your organization’s mission.
About the Author
Travis Brown is the Director of Business Development at Rokusek. Prior to joining the team at Rokusek he served as Executive Director for The District in Quincy, Illinois, and has nearly 10 years of experience helping Main Street organizations improve their digital communications.