150 Point Website Evaluation Workbook Explained: Appearance
When evaluating a website, the first thing anyone notices is appearance...how does it look. Although the most important elements of a website involve what cannot be seen, appearance plays an important role in its success.
This is the first in a series of posts to help our readers learn to use the 150-Point Website Evaluation Workbook provided free-of-charge by Oakes Writing Website Services. For more than a decade, we have used this workbook to help our clients improve their websites. This first part in the series shows how to use the first part of the evaluation workbook.
This post is divided into two parts:
- What human visitors see and
- what search engines see.
Both parts are important, but it must be understood that search engines do not look at a website the same way we do. This is because, to state the obvious, search engines do not have eyes.
The following website elements are assessed on these requirements, not according to how “pretty” the website appears. Making a site look good is fairly simple. Putting the right elements in place to keep someone's attention is a bit trickier. Think of it like meeting someone who is very good looking but within a minute or so learning they are vain and lacking in substance. We tend to write that person off. A website is no different. We want it to be attractive, both in initial appearance and substance. The first part of this workbook helps us do just that.
First Impressions (What We See)
First impressions are important. Our first impression of a person often dictates how we interact with them. And first impressions of a situation often dictate the outcome. Whether this is right or not has nothing to do with matters...it is just how we are. So first impressions of a website are important.
However, as first impressions go, a website need not be flashy...only clean, neat, and organized. While we do tend to like a "pretty" website, if we quickly find that it does not contain what we seek, if we find it difficult to navigate, or locate information, we soon dismiss it. And even if we find it again in search results, if the information fails to impress, soon we ignore search results entirely.
Overall ease of use
Aside from the initial appearance of a website, the main thing most people notice is how easy it is to get around and find information. When evaluating your website for ease-of-use, consider the following questions:
- Does your website load quickly?
- Are the navigation elements like the main menu, blog categories, and social media connections easy to identify?
- Is there a link to all main pages on the home page?
URL Ease of use/Branding Impressions
As for branding, at one time the URL (site address or domain) played an important role in SEO. That is only partly true today. Now, Google looks at how easy the domain or URL is to remember, but does not penalize a site for this element. Still, the URL should reflect your Brand. For instance, Oakes Writing Website Services started mainly as a content writing company and though we offer a variety of attraction marketing services, our core business remains written content. Thus, our URL continues to reflect our core business. When considering your URL, ask
- Is the URL easy to remember?
- Does the URL work with www and without?
- Does the URL work with and without a security certificate (SSL, as shown by the "s" in https)?
Each of these elements play to other aspects of SEO and website health, but they also matter for visual reasons...each plays to the first impressions of the site as seen through the eyes of visitors.
Assessment of navigation elements
Now you want to look more closely at the navigation elements. Do they clearly show the elements that most visitors will consider important. Ask yourself these questions when evaluating navigation of your website:
- Is the website easy to navigate?
- Are the primary (parent) pages the most important ones that most visitors will want to see quickly?
- Have you included secondary pages (child and grandchild)?
Note: For those who are unfamilar with primary and secondary pages (referred to as parent, child, grandchild pages), these are the pages that appear in additional popout or dropdown menus when hovering over a primary page.
For instance, if you view the image to the right, you will see a dropdown menu from "Services." This is the Child Menu parted from the Parent or Main menu. The popout menu from the Google Ads page shows the Grandchild Menu. This heirarchy permits visitors to quickly navigate to pages of interest and is a SEO element Google considers when rating sites and pages for inclusion in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Site Security (https used?)
Earlier we mentioned https and does the site load with and without this feature. This is how the inclusion of a securtiy certificate appears. A security certificate means that the site is encrypted, which provides a first-line layer of security for visitor privacy.
Without this feature, Google flags a website as "not secure" in search results. If you work on your website personally or ever log in to the backside, this is not something you will see. If you search for your website using another computer and it does not have an SSL certificate, you will notice that potential visitors are given a warning that this site may be harmful to visit. Clearly, this is an issue that must be addressed because even if a site does not collect personal information from visitors and appears well in search results, far fewer people will visit.
As appearances go, this element makes a big impression.
Need to know if your website is secure? We provide Digital Marketing for Lake Charles, Beaumont, Lafayette, Alexandria, Louisiana and all points between.
Individual Page assessments
Now you want to look at individual pages. You want to check overall appearance and ease of finding what most people will be seeking on the page. For this, we will look at just the key pages of a website. We will also discuss the purpose of each page.
The purpose of the Home Page is provide visitors to the website with a quick overview of the site. A main purpose is to help them know how to navigate the website to find what they seek. The home page basically answers the question, "How do I use this site?"
The home page should be easy-to-read and navigate. It should help first-time visitors understand what your company is and what you provide. It should help anyone landing on it to know quickly whether they can use your products or services before they ever visit these pages. Then, it should make clear to them how they can do business with you if that is part of your mission.
Some questions to ask when evaluating the home page of your website include:
- Does it clearly identify the purpose of the site?
- Is the logo easily seen?
- Is your phone number clearly shown?
- Is there an email address/link for visitors
- Are social media connections clearly shown?
- Can visitors quickly locate the Terms/Privacy pages?
The purpose of the About Page is answer the WHY? Does your about page clearly identify why a visitor should use your website? Why they should consider your company? Why they should consider your products or services?
The driving focus of the About Page is ironically NOT about YOUR company...it is About your visitors. It answers the old WWIFM question (What's In It For Me).
In other words, the About Page is not about you, it is about your customers/clients. Make sure they understand this quickly. This is the page where you should include your Mission and core or company values. This is the page where you sell yourself. Visit the Oakes Writing About Page for a better understanding of how to structure an about page.
The Contact Page is important because it can be found in search results. This is not to say that visitors to your website will not use the contact page, but if you have created your website properly, your phone number, email address, and links to forms will be all over your website. There should never be a need for visitors to visit your Contact page to figure out how to reach you.
That said, the contact page should include as much information about your company as possible. Some of the things to include are:
- Does your contact page clearly identify how to reach the owner and/or administrator of the site?
- Does it include contact information for key company personnel?
- Is contact information for all locations included?
- Are there multiple methods of contact included?
- Does it include hours of operation, parking or any other relevant information visitors to the website and potentially to your physical location will find useful?
Are there ample ways to do reach the site owner/administrator (contact form, phone number, email, location if applicable)?
Although this question appears to be a duplication of the Contact Page info, it is not. The point if this question is to get you looking at every page on your website. Contact information should be everywhere, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar business.
The website is here for information, to help people do business with you. You want to make doing business as easy as possible. The easier it is for people to find contact information on your website, the better their first impression of your company - it is a sign that doing business with you will also be easy.
If finding contact information on your website is difficult, the first impression most will have of your company will not be positive.
Other Key Pages
Services, products, locations, employment, terms/privacy pages are additional pages you may want to have on the main menu. When adding such pages, ask
- Do they serve a valuable purpose or are they fluff?
- Do these pages help potential clients better understand our company and how to do business with us?
- Are these pages better as parent pages or would they be better served up as child or grandchild pages?
- In other words, do the additional pages provide a clear and sensible hierarchy to the website?
Test the appearance across various devices and browsers
Next, you will want to see how your website appears across various devices and web browsers. This is because sometimes the coding used for a website does not play well with other coding. Part of the reason Oakes Writing relies on WordPress as a building platform is because it has been tested across multiple platforms and browsers and appears well across more than any other.
This is to say, that if your website is built in something other than WordPress, you really need to test it across as many devices and browsers as you can. This is important because if most of your clients prefer to use a MAC and your website does not appear well on a MAC, you are severely restricting your web presence. I mention this because as a MAC user, there are certain websites I would have done business with that I do not because the sites will not properly load on my computer. They lost my business for that reason alone and this is not uncommon.
Not all websites perform equally on a PC and a MAC. The most common problems occur on a MAC and if you are a company which does business with other companies (B2B), with those in the Entertainment field, or persons with higher education or incomes, you would do well to test your website on a MAC especially. PCs are more popular among lower income users, the less-educated, and the working class.
11. Mobile Phone
Most website building platforms today offer automatic mobile optimization features, but not all. Check to see if your website is mobile-friendly. If it loads on a phone like it does on a personal computer, chances are you are losing potential customers. Most WordPress sites are created in what is termed Responsive Design.
Although a small fraction (2-5%) of users will view your website on a tablet, that figure is growing. In fact, at least 1 billion people use tablets daily in 2019. This is especially so among younger groups where more and more they are accessing the web via tablets.
14.Microsoft Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer is slowly being phased out. Older PCs and those still not on Windows 10 especially may still have this browser. Still, there are many users who remain devoted and some are sticking to this browser because of the smaller coding footprint (it takes up less space on a PC, which is especially useful in older laptops).
However, IE has also been a sore spot for Microsoft because many websites perform badly in the browser.
Edge is edging out IE for many reasons. One is that Microsoft is strongly promoting it. Another is because more websites perform well using Edge - often better even than Chrome. This is something Microsoft did right and it is helping them gain shares in the crowded browser market. Your website will not likely have an issue with Edge, but check it out just to be sure.
Firefox is perhaps the cleanest browser available, which is why so many users live, breathe, and die by it. Still, some websites do have problems loading in Firefox, so be sure to check yours out using this browser. Even if you have never heard of it or used it, know that Firefox has a loyal following and is installed on 5.5% of all computers...that is hundreds of millions.
As with MAC as an operating system and Firefox as a browser, Safari is more popular than many imagine. As of December 2019, Safari held an 18% market share for browsers. That is nearly 1/5 of all web users, so you want to be sure to evaluate your website using this browser.
There are other platforms and browsers you will want to check out. For instance, in 2019 the Top 10 Platforms used to access the internet include:
- 5 versions of Android
- 2 versions of Windows
- 2 versions of iOS
- MAC OS X
Note that these top 10 represent only about 85% of the total platforms used; the remaining 15% are scattered across many competing platforms. This makes checking across all versions can be very difficult, but may be important depending on your market.
For instance, a couple of years ago we worked with a client in the development of an app. They specified they wanted the app to work mainly with iPhones, but really all phones. They also wanted a video pre-roll; this required several versions be created. For cost reasons, the client did not want to do this and chose another firm.
Later, the client called us because most of their market was unable to view app or the video and they were getting complaints - the video had been created for the latest version of iPhone.
Need help testing your website across multiple platforms? We provide Digital Marketing for Lake Charles, Beaumont, Lafayette, Alexandria, Louisiana and all points between.
We looked more closely into the matter and found that the bulk of their market used the previous iOS version, not the latest; in fact, their market used all of the previous versions of iOS more than the current version, but iOS was the clear leader in their market. In other words, their market was largely not upgrading their phones to the latest version.
Because they wanted the video to appear on every phone in their market, we had to recreate the video according to each version as we had previously suggested. In the long run, making it work cost them more than it should have; the problem could have been averted by knowing their market.
The point is, know how your website or app will perform across multiple platforms or prepare to face headaches and added costs later.
19.Office Location Information (if applicable)
Another thing that must appear on your website is the location of any and all physical offices. If there is only one office, be sure the page showing information about it is as detailed as possible. This is especially so if there are any parking issues, such as is common in major urban centers. The more useful you can be at first glance, the better the first impression, even if the information is not used at the time of the initial visit.
If you can include maps, do so. If using WordPress, there are some excellent Google Maps plugins which can make pages with location information stand out. And most people trust Google Maps, so using these helps with that all-important first impression. Yes, appearances do count.
If there are additional offices or locations, you may want to consider having a single page showing all with brief info and links to additional pages containing more detailed info. It is up to you, but more is always better and makes a better impression. Just be sure all the info, maps, phone numbers, and other details are easy to see and presented in a clean, neat way.
As with locations, make sure that department pages are neat and organized.
24.Overall Impression of Site
When evaluating a website, be sure to write an overall impression of the site. Doing this may help put the elements into perspective and help when creating the website marketing plan.
First Impressions (What Search Crawlers See)
First impressions do matter to search engines, but because they do not have physical eyesight, how they "see" a website is very different from how we see one. This section will help you to review the "appearance" of your website in the way search crawlers see it.
This is important because if the search engines do not consider the site worthwhile, they relegate it to fewer crawls. This means that when timely content is added, it may become out-of-date before the next crawl and therefore is useless. To get an idea about just how well a website is viewed by the search engines, consider the following elements.
19.Clarity of Address/Location
Be sure to only include letters and numerals in address location information. Use of characters like #, &, @, % or any others will likely be read as code, not part of the address. Avoid abbreviations as well (i.e. spell out Avenue and Street, etc.). And be sure to include the zip code because this will be read by the crawlers.
20.Blog (Does it have one? Easily located? Organized?)
If there is a blog, make sure it is easy to identify. It need not say "blog" but it does need to be set up using blog roll coding. WordPress makes this easy and clear, but many other building platforms today do as well. The only time there are problems with this tends to be when a website is custom-coded, but that is rapidly changing.
Also, be aware that not having a blog will ensure that web spiders will crawl your website less often. They look for blogs, which are often updated more frequently. No blog means to them, less work. Without a blog, the crawlers will ignore your site for days, weeks, or months at a time unless you are daily adding content. But if you are doing this without a blog roll, the site will soon become difficult to manage and hard to navigate. This will result in the crawlers not liking what they see.
Need blog content? We provide Digital Marketing for Lake Charles, Beaumont, Lafayette, Alexandria, Louisiana and all points between.
21.Ratings provided by 3rd Party sources (I.e. Moz or Alexa)
If you have any ratings related to your company or website from 3rd party sources, be sure to include links to those ratings. The crawlers can read the ratings but will ignore them without links. They will "see" the ratings or reviews as shady.
22.Website Loading Time
Find out how long your website loads. This is an element which can impress search crawlers or repulse them.
Although T/C and Privacy Policies at one time were required for SEO, today they are not. And though lacking these will not result in a penalty by the search crawlers, adding them will give your site positive points. Having these pages will make a good impression with search engines.
Is your site linked to Google Console? Aside from providing you with valuable insights, search crawlers will appreciate the link. It also helps keep your sitemap fresh and makes crawling your site easier.
25.Google (or other) Analytics
As with Console, Analytics programs in which you voluntarily participate will encourage search crawlers to view your site in a better light.
26.Google Ads (formerly Adwords) (or other Ad Platform used)
Google claims that a website with Google Ads will perform the same as one without. Still, when you add links to your site from Google Ads or any other such platform, you are buying high value links back to your site. There is no way this information does not impact search crawlers at least slightly.
27.Google Adsense (Or other Monetization Platform – if applicable)
As with Google Ads, Adsense provides links across the internet. Having ads on the site will make your website more useful and there is surely some small benefit with the crawlers despite what Google claims. The evidence suggests otherwise.
Conclusion of Apppearance Elements in Evaluating a Website
Some elements contained in this Evaluating Websites Worksheet require electronic means of measure. For instance, measuring the loading speed of a website requires use of a specialized tool. Ratings of 3rd Party Sources is another example. Your website administrator should know how to use and apply such tools.
In any case, we hope you found this first part of evaluating a website useful.
Be sure to review the post 150-Point Website Evaluation Worksheet and obtain your free download of this tool.