The beginning of a new year creates a great opportunity to review many aspects of your marketing strategy and assets, and a major asset always deserving of time is your website. A strong content audit of your website, reviewing what’s working, what needs revisiting, and what probably never worked in the first place, is a powerful tool that can help you prioritize and meet your marketing goals.
While everyone has the time, budget, or resources to review and audit every piece of content on their website, there are some less-intensive steps you can take to evaluate your site’s effectiveness and create a better experience for your visitors.
The “Above the Fold” Test
The idea of content living “above the fold” can be attributed to the newspaper industry. Because newspapers are printed on large sheets of paper, they’re folded in half before being delivered to newsstands. Only the content above the fold is initially seen, so editors must place the most attention grabbing headlines and stories in order for potential readers to see, and hopefully buy, the paper.
The same notion applies to digital content and your website. Just like a newspaper, when a visitor lands on your site she can only initially see the content that fits within the width and length of her computer or phone screen. If your users have to scroll to find content, then that content isn’t above the digital fold. This is prime real estate, and it’s important you ensure that whatever you want your users to see first has a home there.
What’s difficult, though, is understanding where the ‘“fold” for your website actually lies! Depending on your user and the type of device she’s using to peruse your site, the fold will vary. For example, the amount of real estate someone will first see on a 17-inch laptop is very different from a user viewing your site on a large desktop monitor. Throw mobile screens into the mix and things get even more complicated and unpredictable.
There are free online tools, though, that can give you a better idea of how your site and content look “above the fold.” These sites will give you a general sense of the look and feel of your site when viewed on different devices, but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a deeper analysis, perhaps with someone on your web team.
In-depth analysis aside, there are general best practices to follow when determining the effectiveness of content. The first point to revisit is the clarity of your messaging above the fold. We’ll get more into testing your messaging in a minute.
Another great question to ask during your content review: do I have a form or clear call to action above the fold? Imagine your current top business goal or priority is to increase webinar registrations. If so, you better have a webinar call to action above the fold! Are you a SaaS business? Within a few seconds, a potential buyer should be able to spot how to reach out to someone on your team, all from above the fold.
Something to watch for, though, is how ads are placed above the fold on your site. While it would make sense to assume that these ads would receive the most engagement, search engines like Google will penalize your site in rankings if you flood the above the fold real estate with too many ads.
Back to messaging – one helpful way to tell if your messaging is clear is to have someone who has never seen your site look at it for 3 seconds and see if they understand what you do. If someone else can’t glean enough from your initial messaging and articulate their own understanding of your business, products, or services back to you, then you can’t assume the same from any potential customer.
Why only 3 seconds? This is about how much time you to gain someone’s attention in the digital world. You very quickly need to be able to clearly articulate your message and connect with visitors above the fold.
If you find that few are passing your 3-second message test, there are a few areas of improvement to consider. First, review whether your headline is not only succinct and attention-grabbing but also that it provides enough context for your visitor to grasp what you do or how you can help them. This is especially true if you don’t already have brand recognition or are operating in a crowded industry.
Words aren’t the only ingredient in building an effective message. Consider color, image, font and all other visual aspects of your site when determining the type of message you want to convey. In addition, if you have a call to action, have you made it very clear what the user will receive in return? If users quickly move past a weak call to action, you’ve wasted the opportunity to connect with and convert your visitor.
Finally, the last step of your audit is performing the menu test. Your site menu is a critical tool visitors will use to navigate through your website and content. Poorly constructed site navigation can lead to a confusing and frustrating experience for your user and could easily lead to her missing out on important content or leaving your site altogether. Remember, you can lose someone’s attention in just 3 seconds!
When testing your menu setup, make sure your visitors aren’t becoming confused and understand what action they should be taking next. Just like you did with messaging, you can have someone unfamiliar with your business walk through you through your navigation and see if they understand what steps they can or should take next.
In order for your users to have this efficient and intuitive site menu experience though, you first need to think strategically about how you want users to experience your site and what key information they need. Forming this navigation strategy must take into account website architecture, SEO, UX, and your business goals.
For example, descriptive labels instead of generic phrases like “products” and “services” in your site nav is a better experience for your user, helping her more quickly get to key information, but it also will help your site better perform from an SEO standpoint. Utilize your SEO counterpart or free resources like Google’s Keyword Tool to better phrase your site menu options.
You’ll also want to partner with your SEO and UX teams when determining how to best structure the interaction of your site menu. For example, a drop-down menu, while common, may not be the best for your SEO performance or for your user experience. Not only can drop down menus negatively impact your SEO rankings, as they can be hard to crawl, UX studies also show that they can be downright annoying to users or lead to entire pages being glossed over.
There are many other factors too, such as the number of items in your nav, the order in which they appear (the first and last items receive the highest number of hits!), and how the navigation appears when displayed mobile. If you find that your menu doesn’t pass the initial testing with your users, it will be critical to dive in and see which navigation components can be worked on and improved.
Even without a full qualitative review of every piece of content on your site, there are simple steps you can take to begin auditing the performance of the most critical aspects of your website. A focus on your above the fold presence, the clarity (or lack thereof) in your messaging, and intuitive site navigation can help you improve your search performance, create a better user experience, and help you meet your goals.