4 Website Usability Tips that everyone should implement
In this week’s episode I chat with Sam, a year 10 student from Heathfield High School who has been doing work experience with us at Wicked Cow Marketing. We discuss four tips to improve the usability of your website.
The tips covered are;
- Friendly URLs – why are they important
- Breadcrumb links – what are they and how they relate to Rich Snippets (discussed in Episode 11)
- Sitemaps – the two different kinds and what they are for
- Custom 404 Pages – follow this tip to avoid losing website visitors who have already arrived at your site
Mentioned in this episode;
- Darren Standish from Property Prosperity
- Flying Solo Adelaide community
- Website usability tips blog post
- WordPress permalinks
- XML Sitemap Generator
- Google’s custom 404 page widget
The featured photo this week was taken by Sam outside the Wicked Cow Marketing office in Crafers using an iPhone.
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Nick: Welcome back to Episode 12 of the Web Marketing Adelaide Podcast. This week, we’ve got a discussion about website usability tips.
Before we get to that, I just want to give a shout out to Darren Standish. Darren has a business, Property Prosperity and he’s a Property Development Consultant. I’d met Darren at the Flying Solo event we had on Tuesday. The event was a great success. We had I think 21 business owners, which was the biggest event we’ve had so far. Darren came up to me and he said that he’d heard about the event from listening to my podcast last week.
So it was really great to hear that he’d been listening to the podcast and that he’d been able to come along to the event. Had a great discussion with him about his business and some really proactive stuff he’s doing with his marketing, so definitely go check out his website which is propertyprosperity.com.au and I’ll put a link in the show notes as well.
And if anyone’s interested in attending a Flying Solo networking meet-up, it’s for small business owner around South Australia and Adelaide, head to the website webmarketingadelaide.com.au and the show notes for this episode will have a link to the community where you can find out about upcoming events, and also chat with other people, business owners from Adelaide in there.
Now let’s go straight to our discussion.
Welcome back to the Web Marketing Adelaide podcast. I’m your host Nick Morris and this week, we’re talking with a special guest. We have Sam. Sam is a work experience student from Heathfield High School, year 10. He’s been doing work experience with us at Wicked Cow Marketing for the past 2 weeks.
Sam, welcome to the show.
Nick: Thanks for coming on.
Sam: Thanks for having me.
Nick: This week, we’re going to be talking about a topic that Sam’s been researching throughout the week, which is website usability. We’re going to cover four tips, which are sort of basic tips that everyone should include in their websites, all small business owners. Some of them are things you can put together yourself and incorporate yourself and some are things that you’ll probably have to talk to your web developer about, or get a bit of advice from someone and those four tips are going to be: Friendly URL’s, Breadcrumb links, Site Maps and Custom 404 pages. So, let’s get straight into it. Sam, what is a URL?
Sam: A URL is a thing that web browsers use to find certain pages on the internet. You type into your web browser.
Nick: Yep, so that would be something like www.google.com.au, that’s the URL for Google, or www.webmarketingadelaide.com.au which is the URL for our podcast website and what do we mean by friendly URLs, as opposed to just a normal URL?
Sam: Well, often URLs on the internet will be, they’ll contains lots of hard to decipher codes and seemingly random bunches of numbers and things, and a friendly URL is a URL that has, that’s simple and easy to remember and contains words rather than numbers and the words relate to the content on the page that it links to.
Nick: Yep, that’s right. So why do we need the friendly URLs?
Sam: Well, it makes it a lot easier for visitors to your website, if say they want to come back to a certain page, they can type in the URL if it’s easy to remember and…
Nick: Yep, and it’s also good for search engines. They can use the words in the URL to try and understand a bit more what the page is about. If it’s just a bunch of numbers then it’s kind of hard for them to really tell anything about. The thing with a lot of websites, they’re built on what is known as CMS, which is a content management system, it could be something like WordPress or Joomla or these various other proprietary systems that are built by web developers and often, these CMS’s will automatically create URL’s that have lots of these numbers and stuff in there, and it’ll often be www.google.com /? and then a whole bunch of numbers and that could be really long and impossible to remember and kind of annoying to look at.
So often, it will be standard developer, depending on the system, if you’re using something like WordPress, which is what we use for our business website at wickedcowmarketing.com.au and also the website for the podcast. We use WordPress and it’s a simple process to go into the settings, the permalink settings it’s called, and just change it, set it to, usually set it to the URL to appear as the post name and then the name of the post or the name of the page will just appear in the URL. That’s a really easy way to get those key words in there and make it easy to remember like you mentioned Sam.
Alright, now let’s move on to our next point, that’s Breadcrumb links. So what is a breadcrumb link?
Sam: Well, a breadcrumb link is usually located near the top of a page on a website and whenever you go to a new page, breadcrumb link will record which pages you’ve been to and if you want to go back to a page that you’ve previously visited, you can just use the breadcrumb links to click back to the page that you were last on.
Nick: Yep, yep. So it’s a good way of thinking about it is to think about the hierarchy of your website. So for instance if you had an e-commerce website, like a shop where you’re selling things and you might have a category of products like shoes and then you click on maybe like children’s shoes and then children’s sandals or something like that, and then the Bread Crumb path, it’s the idea, it’s sort of like a path.
I think Bread Crumbs, I think it’s loosely related to Hansel and Gretel, where they left a path of Bread Crumb so that they could find their way back. So, the idea being, if you’re on this page, children’s sandals, you’ll see the Bread Crumbs and it’ll have Home, and the next link will be Shoes, which was the page you went to and the next link will we Children’s Shoes, which was the page you went to and the next link will be Sandals. So, then you can go back to wherever you want during that path you went on, to go down, sort of, a different path.
So yes, that’s what Bread Crumbs are all about and that kind of goes to my next question which is why they are useful, which is basically so that you can get back to where you’ve been easily and if you want to go down a different path, as opposed to having to go all the way back to the Start, all the way back to the Home Page and then do it again. Is that right?
Nick: And another thing with Bread Crumbs and Bread Crumblinks, is that if you have them set-up correctly, this requires you to put a bit of code behind the scenes with your Bread Crumbs and your HTML, so you have your web developer help you with this. You can tell Google, hey this is Bread Crumb link over here and then after Google sees that page and sees the other pages with Bread Crumbs, they can put this Bread Crumb links in the search results themselves. So, if you have this internal page such as the one Children’s Sandals and if that comes up in the search results, you can actually have the Bread Crumb links at the bottom of the snippets, it called, which is what’s the result in the search results and that way, people can actually click one of the links in the Bread Crumbs from the search results and go straight to a higher page. This gives you more flexibility, more places for people to sort of visit during your website from the search results because there’d be a bit more chance of understanding what your website’s about. If you remember we talked to Tony McCreath a few weeks ago about Rich Snippets and Semantic Markup and that’s exactly that sort of thing there.
So, let’s move on to our next point which is Site Maps. Now, there’s two different types of Site Maps. What are they, what are the two different types, Sam?
Sam: Well firstly, there’s HTML Site Maps, which are ones that are mainly for users of the website to find their way around, to be able to navigate the website better and usually, it will be its own page and it’ll contain links to all different pages on your website or all the important ones if you have lots and lots of pages on your website. So it can be really good for finding your way around and also the other type is XML Site Maps, which is a special code that is used more for search engines trying to navigate their way through your website and …
Nick: Yep, so the idea XML Site Map is to help Google or help a search engine discover your pages. Now, in general, we’d want to set up the website up in such a way that they don’t need the XML Site Map so they find all the pages by themselves, which that’s how sort of Google finds out what the website’s about. They have special software programs, it’s called Roybots or crawlers often, and they follow the links throughout your website and try to discover all the pages, but if, for some reason, something’s hard to discover or whatever, they can go to that XML site Map and find all of your pages linked there, easier to find. So what’s the best way for someone to go and create a Site Map, Sam?
Sam: Well, an XML Site Map is probably difficult to do by yourself unless you have a lot of programming skills but you can just get on Google and look for a Site Map generator, which does loads of things, so, find one of those and that’s quite easy, actually.
Nick: Yep, that’s what you did.
Nick: And we’re going to be creating an article and a video for this podcast and we’ll put some links and some screen shots in there to show you what that’s about.
Where you want to submit your Site Map, you want to do this anyway, there’s something called Google webmaster tools. This is a place where you can create an account and then you verify it with Google that the person that owns this account owns your website, so you do that by putting a bit of code on the website. You can also do that by using Google Analytics if you’ve got that added already.
This verifies that you own the website and you can make various changes to the website to do with, which location you’re targeting like specifically Australia, or specifically Adelaide versus you could be targeting the US or whatever. You can also submit your Site Map in there, your XML Site Map, so you can actually upload it or if you have it already on your website, you can just provide the link to them, and that’s how you sort of let Google know that this is the sitemap where you need to go to find the new pages, etc.
There are various other things you can do in there by getting statistics, you can get information about incoming links that Google has found. You can get information about areas of, if something goes wrong with your website and you happen to be away somewhere else, in the office or whatever and you’re not aware of it, Google can actually send you an email with your registered email address and tell you it’s having some problem here.
That can include anything from, there’s a large number of areas on your website, sort of indicate something’s wrong, or they could find malware, which is sort a type of virus which can get in your site. So, that’s something you definitely want to go and solve quickly because you don’t want your customers contracting any viruses from your website. So, definitely, absolutely every website should verify their Google Web Master Tools account, get the account, get in there, and get familiar with it. That’s definitely something everyone should do and we’ll have some links to that too.
Now let’s move on to our 4th and last tip, now this is Custom 404 Pages. What is a 404 Page?
Sam: When a user tries to get to a, tries to find a URL, a page on your site that doesn’t exist under your domain, they usually get sent, redirected to a 404 page, which will say, error, file not found or something like that and …
Nick: Yep, so that’s a 404 page and now, most people will probably experience this when you try to go to a website and maybe you found out that you typed in the URL incorrectly or …
Sam: Yeah, that’s usually what the problem is. People misspell something or it’s probably a page that no longer exists.
Nick: Yeah that’s another thing, which also sort of points to the fact that business owners should be careful if they’re changing their pages within their website. If they go and think, okay this page isn’t really useful and we’re just going to remove it and put up the information of this other page.
If you do that, you should always redirect the old URL to the new one or redirect it to somewhere so that people don’t get lost, don’t arrive there. You can’t account for every kind of misspelling in every kind of page and this is the problem, so a good idea is to have a custom 404 Page, right?
Sam: Yes, a custom 404 page is pretty easy to set up as well. There’s a good tool on Google you can use, which is like a 404 widget, which helps you customize your 404 page and put on a bunch of useful applications and things on your 404 page to make it easier for people to get back to a working page on your site instead of people getting a generic 404 message and decide, well the website’s not working, I’ll go ahead and do something else.
Nick: Exactly. So, this is like a really easy change you can make, depending on the system you’re using again, CMS. You can probably do it yourself or get your web developer to help you with it but you could, you’ve done all the work to get these people to come to your website and if they’re landing on a generic 404 page or a standard, not custom, standard 404 page, they’re probably not seeing any links there, they might think, as Sam said that the website’s broken.
So you’ve done all this work to get them there and they might just leave. So, definitely get on top of this 404 page creator or some other way of doing it and then you can put like a search bar in there or you can put some links just to other parts of website so people can sort of get back to the Home page and do a search or something to find the information they’re actually looking for.
So that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed those four tips. That brings us to the end of the episode. Thanks very much Sam, for coming on the show.
Sam: Thank you, Nick.
Nick: It’s been great having Sam for the past two weeks at Wicked Cow Marketing, helping us with various different tasks and hopefully learning a lot.
Sam: Yes it’s been a lot of fun.
Nick: We’ll miss him when he goes back to school next week. Thanks very much Sam and I will the leave the episode there and I’ll see you again next week.[/spoiler]