In today’s increasingly digital age, optimizing a small business website is of paramount importance. There are two areas that you can focus on when optimizing a small business website.
- Performance optimization
- Content optimization
Today I am going to cover some of the strategies for optimizing a small business website to help attract new visitors and keep them coming back.
A fast site is a must when it comes to optimizing a small business website. Long gone are the day where people would just sit and wait for your site to load. You need to make sure that your site is loading as quickly and efficiently as possible so your users don’t lose interest and leave.
Hosting is the engine that runs your website. Optimizing your hosting goes a long way to optimizing a small business website. Do you want the little 4 cylinder that barely putters along or do you want the mammoth V8 that loads instantly? The V8…that’s what I thought.
There are a few different options out there for types of hosting. You need to understand what they are so you can make the correct decision for your site.
Shared Hosting is exactly what it sounds like. You are sharing a server with thousands of other sites.
- Economical – can be found for less than $5/month.
- Simple to configure – as close to “plug and play” as you can get for hosting.
- Few Options – more of a one size fits all approach. Beyond choosing your storage and bandwidth options you don’t have much in the way of customization.
- Limits/Constraints – providers tend to set some pretty strict limits which can hamper a site, especially a busy on.
Virtual Private Server
A virtual private server or VPS is still a shared server but you actually have control over your little section of the server. Depending on the provider you can choose operating system, services and more.
- More flexible – much more of a “diy” hosting experience. You can choose the services you need and don’t need and have much more control over what your server can do.
- Less Limits/Constraints – for the most part you can use a VPS however you want to (as long as you don’t break the hosting companies TOS)
- Much more technical – you will need a lot more technical know how to set up a VPS for your website hosting.
- Expense – VPSs have come down in price but for the most part will probably cost you a decent amount more than shared hosting.
Private Server or Dedicated Server
A private or dedicated server means that your site is hosted on it’s own dedicated server.
- Most flexible – this is the ultimate in configuration. You can set up the server pretty much however you want.
- Rock solid – as long as it is configure correctly your server should run without a hitch. You should never have lag or down time because of what is going on with someone elses site.
- Super technical – this is your own monster so you better know what you are doing. You will be configuring everything which can be good or bad…
- Expensive – a dedicated server is by far the most expensive option for web hosting.
Unless you are setting up a super high volume website or a web app with specific configuration requirements you are probably going to be using shared hosting.
It is the most economical choice and easiest to use. Just make sure you do your research and get a solid company with speedy servers…don’t just go with the cheapest.
Web Page Optimization
Another way to make sure your site loads quickly is to optimize the actual code on the pages. Here are a few ways you can optimize the background html to make your site faster.
If you are using either WordPress or another CMS (Joomla, Drupal, et al) then you need to understand how those sites work. Each page is actually made out of a bunch of different pieces that are pieced together on the fly when your user views the site. This makes it easy for you to create new pages/posts but it also makes for a slower loading site.
The way to combat this is to use a plugin that creates a cache of all the pages on your site and serves those to the public. Basically the plugin will make static copies of the dynamic pages and serve those to the public. This will speed up your site quite a bit.
The images on your site need to be optimized so that they load quickly. If you just take hi resolution images (like those from a camera) and place them on your site then you are going to have huge files that take a long time to load.
Before using those hi-res images you need to optimize them for the web. This means making the files smaller and compressing the image so that it loads faster.
WordPress has some great plugins that can help you set this up on your site. Over at WPMU DEV they have created a killer list (http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/10-best-image-optimization-plugins-to-speed-up-your-wordpress-site/).
If you aren’t using WordPress it is still pretty easy to optimize your images. My favourite too is an online tool at Kraken.io. https://kraken.io/web-interface It is simple to use…and even better it’s FREE!
Minifying Your Site
Minifying is something that takes a bit of technical know how but it can help speed up your site…especially if you have a lot of traffic.
The code that exists behind the scenes on your site is written by humans and that means that it is legible to them (at least if they understand it…think of it as another language like Spanish).
That means that there are lots of empty spaces/indents/line breaks etc. that make it easier to read.
Computers don’t need that white space to understand the code though. Minifying is the process of removing all of that white space to compress the code and speed up load times.
If you decide to do this for your site make sure you know what you are doing (and back up your files). A mistake here can take down your whole site.
So that was a look at the behind the scenes/technical stuff that you can do to speed up your site. Now let’s look at what you can do to optimize it on the front end.
The domain name is the address that you type in at the top of your browser to get to your website. Ideally you would want the domain name to be the name of your business or as close as possible. So if your business is Joe’s Tile. You might want for JoesTile.com or TilesByJoe.com.
Try to get a .com if possible. I know that they have come out with countless top level domains but .com is still the most recognizable.
When you go to name the pages for your site give them descriptive names that make sense. So again if you are Joes Tile then your tile types page might be at www.TilesByJoe.com/tile-types and your portfolio www.TilesByJoe.com/portfolio.
You can also set up pages for specific parts of your business that you want to rank for in search.
Again for Joe’s Tile let’s say we specialize in stone tile. That would mean you could have a page called www.TilesByJoe.com/stone-tile.
In WordPress you need to go Settings > Permalinks and change the setting from default to one of the others (my preference is “Post Name”). There should be similar settings in whatever CMS you are using.
Meta Tags tell search engines about your page so that they can properly index them for search.
- The Meta Keyword tag tells search engines the keywords to look for on that page.
- The Meta Description tag is a description of your page that shows up in search results. It should be between 150-160 characters. Make sure you have a unique description for each page.
- The Meta Title tag is the title of the page. Again make sure that each page has a unique title. It should be no more than 55 characters to make sure that it displays correctly in search results.
Keywords are a word or word set that you want to use so that people can find pages on your site. Using keywords can help increase the ability of a search engine to find your page on a certain topic. Be careful with overusing them though as Google will penalize your page if it feels you are “keyword stuffing”.
Let’s look at Joe’s Tile Stone Tile page to see how meta tags and keywords work together.
- page name – /stone-tiles
- Meta Title – Beautiful Natural Stone Tiles
- Meta Description – We carry only the highest quality natural stone tiles. These tiles make and elegant and functional addition to any home.
- In the actual page body use “Stone Tiles” in the <h1> element and scatter it a few times throughout the page.
Image description, alt tags
Give your images a descriptive name that matches the photo. If you can use a keyword for the image name even better. You also need a description and an alt tag. These help search engines catalogue your site and help people that use screen readers to browse the internet.
Responsive design is one of the hottest trends in web design today…and with good reason. People are browsing the internet from alternative devices (smartphones and tablets) at an ever increasing rate.
A responsive (some times called “mobile first”) design means that your site will have an appearance that is optimized for the device it is being viewed on. Many people will not even bother with a site on their phone if it isn’t set up to render correctly.
A sitemap is just what it sounds like. It is a map of your site that search engines use to index the contents of the site. An up to date site map is an integral part of making your site easy for search engines to find.
If you are using WordPress there are free sitemap plugins that will generate a sitemap for you that can then be uploaded to Google or Bing. Over at WPCrux, they have put together a nice list of plugins: http://wpcrux.com/collectives/wordpress-xml-sitemap-plugins/
For a static site you can use this free tool https://xmlsitemapgenerator.org/.
These are only some of the strategies for optimizing a small business website.
What’s important to understand is that site optimization is not a one-time thing. You should constantly be working at your site to improve it both for your users and search engines.
Your Thoughts on Optimizing a Small Business Website
Do you have any other strategies or tools that can help with optimizing a small business website? Or do you have questions you need help with? If so please leave a comment so we can all learn.