When building websites many tend to focus only on superficial elements like design and imagery. However, successful sites are not only beautiful to look at, but follow best practices for SEO, usability, conversion optimization and technical development.

Don’t overlook important details that, if excluded, may have negative impacts down the road. Spending additional time upfront to perform thorough due diligence will save time and money in the long run and will give your website the best chances for success.

The below list represents common web elements and features many leave to the wayside.

1. Site search
Websites with rich content such as news, blogs or products should give users the ability to quickly and accurately locate what they are looking for. Most web developers are quick to throw a search bar in the header, but fail to consider the functionality behind it. It’s critical to consider how your users will be likely to search and to customize the functionality to better serve them.

Predictive search, which auto-populates a list of suggested categories or search terms as a user types, is a great way to guide users down the correct path. Facebook is a powerful example of predictive search at it’s finest. As you start typing a word or phrase, a dropdown menu appears with recommended results. Images are used to offer visual cues, making the experience even more intuitive.

2. 404 page
A 404 or Not Found error is triggered when a user attempts to visit a URL that does not exist on your server. This can happen due to a user error (misspelling in browser bar) or dead links (links that no longer link to an existing pages). Many companies have gotten creative with their 404 pages in attempt to add personality and even humor to a result many users find off putting.

While a fancy 404 page won’t directly contribute to better SEO or more conversions, it is a quirky way to put a smile on people’s faces at a time when they could otherwise assume the worst.

3. Privacy Policy
If your website contains copyrighted, trademarked or sensitive information that is integral to keeping your company afloat, it is in your best interest to have an attorney draft a legitimate Privacy Policy page for your website. Many will “borrow” terms from a competitor or similar business or even skip this page all together; however, threat levels are high in today’s world so these tactics are not advised.

4. Contact Page
While the standard name, email address and message are always the minimum requirements for any contact page, it’s important to consider what kind of information you need to collect from visitors. What is the purpose of your contact page and what does a lead mean to your business? Will asking for a phone number hinder conversions? Should you offer the ability for users to select from a list of reasons for contacting you? How about including a chance to opt in to your monthly email newsletter?

Answering these questions will help you design an effective contact page that makes the most of your lead generation efforts.

5. Ecommerce Checkout Process

Shopping cart abandonment is every online retailers worst nightmare, but why does it happen? Once a shopper has an item in their cart it’s important to make it as easy and painfree as possible for them to complete their purchase. Industry standards for ecommerce checkout processes must be followed to ensure visitors feel confident and secure while navigating your shopping cart.

If you own an online store and are not paying attention to your checkout process, you are playing with fire. It is unquestionably necessary to ensure your shopping cart is secure, easy to navigate and functions properly from a technical perspective. There’s nothing worst than the infamous white screen of death that leaves you unsure of whether or not your order went through. If this happens to your customers, you will undoubtedly scare them off for good.

6. Thank You Pages
Triggering a “Thank You” page once a user completes a conversion, whether form fill, download or purchase, is important for two reasons. One, it’s polite and makes users feel valued. Two, dedicated Thank You pages allow you to place an Event Tracking scripts on the pages which sends data to Google Analytics each time the pages are served. Conversion metrics are the lifeline of any online business, so this vital component should not be overlooked.

7. Progress Indicators
Internet users are growing increasingly impatient and won’t stick around long if they feel confused. When guiding users through a multi-step process such as registration or checkout, it’s a good idea to provide an indicator showing a) how many steps make up the total process and b) a visual cue to let users know where they are in the process.

Users grow impatient and irritated when filling out lengthy forms, so make life easier on them by providing visual cues that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

8. Social sharing tools
Social sharing is a big reasons that many people use the internet, and they will share anything deemed entertaining or valuable. For this reason you should always place social sharing tools next to content like blog posts, news, events, images and videos. Social sharing should be encouraged because Google and other search engines have made social engagement a part of their algorithms that determine search rankings and page authority.

9. Image alt text
A staggering percentage of total web searches are image-based. This means images on your website should be optimized to appear in image search results. This can be achieved by adding image alt descriptions for each image on your site. Always use plain english and be sure to include key words and a brand identifier where applicable.

10. Site messaging
The most common questions a user will have when landing on your website can be effectively answered with well-placed and well-written messaging. Site copy should work to form a narrative that tells the story of your company or brand. Who are you, what makes you special and what value do you offer? If you can solve this puzzle for users, you’re well on your way to a site that drives conversions.

It’s important to note the recent trend towards simple and clean. People refuse to read paragraphs of text, so give them succinct and hard-hitting phrases and calls-to-action that both drive home your value proposition and encourage engagement.

11. Blog comments

All of the top blogging platforms come with default commenting functionality. However, is it necessary on your website? Think about the purpose of your blog and ask yourself whether or not you want people to have the opportunity to strike up a conversion or comment on each article. Moderating blog comments is a task unto itself, so before you open up a can of worms, decide what is best for your business, your workflow and your time management.

12. Image optimization
Many are quick to fill their websites with tons of high-res images, but neglect the importance of optimizing them for the web. Large images can greatly decrease page load speed, which can cause negative impacts on your SEO and usability. Always save images for the web via a graphics program like Adobe Photoshop, and have your developer implement additional compression techniques to reduce file size and increase server response time.

13. WordPress Sidebar Widgets
Once upon a time tag clouds, a list of your favorite sites and a blog calendar were cute and useful for filling up otherwise dead space in the sidebar of your subpages. Today, this prime real estate is better served with more meaningful elements or even removed completely. WordPress themes often come out of the box with dozens of widgets that you can live without. Every element on your site should have a purpose and contribute to conversion factors like navigation, usability and trust building.

14. Phone Number
It’s amazing how many businesses exclude their phone number from the site header and footer. Don’t make customers hunt for your contact information and don’t run the risk of making users think you have something to hide. A site-wide phone number is a great trust builder and indicates that you want customers to reach out to you.

For local businesses, name, address, phone number and a small Google Map should be placed in the site-wide footer. This greatly increases your chances of showing up highly in Google Local Search Results via your company’s Google Places listing.

15. Customer Email Templates
Automatic email notifications are triggered for a number of reasons. A new user sign-up, newsletter subscription, online purchase, lost password and technical support inquiry are a few common ones that result in users receiving an auto-reply.

Spend some time crafting email templates that clearly and definitively provide users with exactly what they need to feel comfortable and confident doing business with you. Throw in your logo and visual styling that matches your brand and you’ll stay looking professional and reputable in the eyes of your customers.

16. Basic SEO Implementation
Too many website owners ignore fundamental SEO practices that could otherwise contribute to improved authority and rankings. Managing short-tail and long-tail keywords can be very difficult for website owners who are not familiar with the SEO process. Developing content and link building strategies that grow your audience, build your brand, and increase your SEO and revenue is crucial for your business. Check OutreachMama for latest info and strategies on how to do this.

by Fuze January 28, 2014