3 Ways to Ensure Your Website Supports Your SEO Strategy

[feat-text]Summary: Search engine optimization is more than your keywords and content. Your website structure and information architecture impact it as well. Here are three tips to ensure your new website can rank highly on Google.[/feat-text]

When you are building a new website for your business, when is the right time to think about SEO?

  • When you’re picking out a domain name?
  • When you’re installing CMS software?
  • When you’re setting up the “about us” page?
  • When you start writing blog posts?

The actual correct answer is: before any of those! Even your domain name impacts the success of your SEO strategy. “Chiropractor.com” will get more search hits for “chiropractic clinic” than a domain called “SpinesᴙUs.com.” Most particularly, your website’s information architecture has more impact on your SEO than most people would expect.

We spend a lot of time talking about the “what” of SEO, as in what content to write about or keywords to use, but this time we’re going to talk about “how,” as in “how that content is presented.” Think of it like baking a cake: yes, you could pour your cake batter into a turkey roasting pan and it will bake that way. But you’re better off using a cake pan. You want people to be able to recognize the structure of a cake. It’s usually round, about so high, frosting on top, etc. This isn’t going to change the way the cake tastes, but it will make the cake more convenient to consume because diners won’t have to stop and ask questions first.

There is a reason why things are structured the way they are, as pointed out in The Design of Everyday Things. There is a reason why websites are structured the way they are. Frequently, we run into businesses that produce excellent content but present it on a website that’s downright scary to use. Let’s talk about information architecture and how it supports your SEO strategy:


How Does Information Architecture Impact SEO?

A well-structured website is easy for Google bot-crawlers to navigate and it helps Google understand how to categorize and index your content once it is crawled. It likewise helps users to do business with you and get the information or products they need.

Happy users who can easily navigate your site and find helpful content are more likely to share your website, whether on social or by linking to your website from their own. This signals to Google that your site is useful, and can help increase your rankings. With each passing day, Google is placing more emphasis on a user-friendly web. We’ll go into detail on these points, but let’s first define what a well-structured website is:

  • A flat site architecture that’s well linked, so that no pages are more than two to four clicks away from any other page
  • Has navigational aids like breadcrumbs, tags, categories, and a menu bar or two
  • Fast to load and quick to respond
  • Presents the important information clearly and concisely
  • Uses headings to designate information hierarchy
  • Uses lists to break up information so it’s easily scannable
  • Is not too busy and confusing

Having all these aspects in place, a lot of your SEO work is already done for you. In recent years, Google has started placing more emphasis on website structure and user experience (UX), when deciding how to rank a site in search results. Medium content on a site with outstanding structure will fly right over great content on a crummy web dungeon that hasn’t been updated since GeoCities.

Exercise: Mashable has a gallery of snapshots of the front page for Yahoo, from 1996 to 2016. Browse through those and note how the site changed its structure over the years. Yahoo may not be able to get some things right, but over the years, they have paid a lot of attention to structure. Note how its navigation improved over the years, and ask yourself why certain changes appeared. Note when the side menu appears in 2007, and how this swept most of the navigation into a more compact area so the main page can focus on highlighted content.


1. Structure Your Website For the Simplest User

When considering website structure, it’s sometimes helpful to compare it to other ways of storing and retrieving information. Your public library has the Dewey Decimal System so that books are shelved by category. These categories may fill one shelf or a whole section of bookshelves. Then the bookshelves are laid out in sections so that there’s a logical progression through topics. Likewise, there are separate sections for audio CDs, video DVDs, magazines, the Internet center, reference, fiction and non-fiction, and children’s books.

Or think of a file cabinet. It is subdivided into drawers, the drawers are subdivided into sections, the sections are subdivided into folders, and the folders contain organized documents. In the same way, your website’s main page is the “file cabinet,” drawers are replaced by categories and directories. There should be an easy way to hop from one page to another.

Refresh yourself, if need be, on our excellent primer on basic website structure. Even though some of it may seem like basic information, the problem with our path of technology advancement is that everybody assumes you know the basics, but you might not! Thanks to modern content management systems, like WordPress, it is now possible to create an entire website without ever manually typing a single HTML tag. But with that convenience comes this cognitive tax: you don’t know website structure “from the ground up” until you’ve gotten a look at its underlying mechanics.

So, when approaching a new website project or updating your current website, it’s helpful to map out the structure and levels of information. A clean site architecture will help users find information and help search engines crawl and better understand the relation of content on your site.

A simple tiered site structure will help users find information and support your SEO strategy. This structure allows link authority to flow from your popular, well-linked pages to other pages that might not receive as much visibility or links. Think of it as a pyramid with your homepage at the top:

  • Your homepage
  • Categories
  • Individual pages and posts

Once you really dig into information architecture, it turns out to have a lot more detail and work to it than you’d first imagine. Keep in mind that what makes perfect sense to us high-functioning, veteran web geeks is not so easy to figure out for the average user.

Here is a summary of top tips:

  • Use categories and tags for navigation and internal linking / organization
  • Be careful to avoid redundant and duplicate content (including from one-post tags or duplicate tags vs. categories in WordPress)
  • Use breadcrumbs for category navigation
  • Use a menu scheme, such as a numeric pager bar, for large blogs
  • Use archives listings for even bigger sites that have been around for a while
  • Offer redundant navigation, such as a calendar feature to find content by date, or a “most popular pages” offering in the sidebar
  • Provide a site search feature (and make sure it works!)
  • Make your “404” page useful by including important links
  • Provide Google with your sitemap.xml file
  • Perform regular SEO audits to keep your site in navigational shape

Put your site to the “grandma test.” This is why we advocate redundant navigation: Sometimes one style of navigation is easier for some people to use over another. You can even take into account handicapped users: impaired in the abilities of vision, hearing, or mobility, or even having ADHD or other mild disorder. Remember that your user might be tired, in a hurry, distracted, stressed out, or even in a panic trying to find some important information right now. Don’t lose a potential sale because a manager with low blood sugar fifteen minutes before lunch gave up trying to find your appointment dialogue.

Exercise: Bring in somebody who has never used your website before, and try them out on goals within your site, such as “find the blog post on this topic” or “find out the pricing structure for our subscription service.” Time them, by stopwatch, and watch what issues they encounter along the way.


2. Overhauling the Website? Have a Migration Strategy!

Website migration does not necessarily apply to just switching to a different domain or web host. It applies whenever you are changing your site structure in deep, fundamental ways. Whenever you move things around, or change something major, that counts as a migration.

One example is if you have not yet changed your site to the “HTTPS” protocol over the old “HTTP,” and have to update all the internal links so they use “HTTPS” too. Another example is porting your site from WordPress to Drupal. Or you’re making a major repair to your UX to bring it up to Core Web Vitals specs (we cover that down there in a minute).

Your migration strategy should look roughly like this:

  • Planning: We will change from this thing to this other thing, how do we transition smoothly?
  • Pre-launch Prep: Have the new structure loaded up and ready to go before it’s made “live” on the web, so you can check and test for potential problems.
  • Navigation Salvage: Have redirects in place to automatically send users (and Google) from old pages to the new pages
  • Migration Launch: The big move, with plenty of hands-on deck to make the transition disrupt as little traffic as possible.
  • Post-migration Traffic Review: Load up some traffic analysis software and check for red flags, sharp traffic drops, or error reports.

Remember that we serve two entities here, the user base and Google’s search crawlers. Both human and bot have to find their way around. As we mentioned in a previous step, SEO audits are also your friend here.

Exercise: Visit a long-standing website (yours, or something else if your site is young) on the Wayback Machine. Visit both a recent capture and an old capture from months or years ago. Notice the changes to structure that older sites have gone through. Do the links still work? Was the capture crawler able to get the whole website snapshot or did it cut short? How easily could a crawler get lost going from the 2010 version to the 2019 version of the site?


3. Make Your Site Simple and Efficient

As we’ve mentioned before, web practices have changed over the years.

Things we used to do on the web that we don’t do now:

  • Auto-play media files on page load
  • Navigation with wacky image button schemes
  • Animated GIFs
  • Adobe Flash (which is finally, officially dead.)
  • Guestbooks
  • Static web pages
  • Embedded Java
  • Complicated CSS designs
  • Comic Sans font
  • Site hit counters
  • Having most of the content in PDF documents

Just typing that list in gave us brain damage. Some of our older web veterans still have PTSD flashbacks about how terrible the web used to look.

The point is that using a website for a personal artistic canvas works great for angsty teenagers discovering themselves on their Tumblr blogs and DeviantArt accounts, but it’s not suited for business. More importantly, the web is now at least 50% mobile users globally, and some websites, such as Facebook, report 90% mobile users. Phones have smaller screens than laptops and desktops, so that makes for far less real estate to show off flashy graphics. Phones and tablets also have lighter hardware specs than their roomier equivalents, while also depending on cellular bandwidth, so heavy websites with big files load too slow on pocket devices.

The bottom line is: if you’re in business, you want boring old minimalist web design. Google’s launch of Core Web Vitals in 2021 makes this even more necessary because Google will start penalizing websites that don’t play nice with mobile.

There’s a number of other reasons why a plain web design in better for SEO:

  • Too much multimedia content with too little text gets indexed poorly in search
  • Users who are confused or frustrated will bounce right away and signal to Google that your website is not useful
  • Too much style and not enough substance is not user-friendly
  • Plain text links are the navigation standard that Google expects
  • Funky fonts and weird color schemes look like garbage on mobile
  • Users have come to expect a minimalist design standard for business websites

Remember that keeping users happy is part of SEO too, because happy users have high dwell times on your site, leave good reviews on Google My Business, share your site on social media, link to your content enthusiastically from their own blogs, and signal to Google with their behavior that your site is good stuff. Refer to our big post on UX design concepts, and our smaller post on UX copywriting. We don’t have much for action items here since this is more about what not to do. If you’re using your CMS software with minimal changes out of the box (some theming and your logo at the top is OK), you’re likely doing it right.

Exercise: Visit the Geocities gallery archive. It’s a museum of personal web pages from the old Geocities site. Marvel at the Area 51 Matrix, cringe at the anime in Tokyo Pagoda and gawp at the chaotic anarchy that was College Park Theater. Appreciate how the modern web looks more composed and useful, not to mention saner. Ask yourself if you would have given any of these people money or trusted them as an authoritative source of information.


Final Thoughts

While the web may be a less colorful place than it was decades ago, it is also far more useful and efficient. In the complexity of our modern world, with all the distractions and noise, every website we can make efficient and simplified is one more load off everyone’s mind.

When approaching a new web design project, make sure you talk with a design team that understands SEO. Too many web design agencies are all about flashy designs and video and don’t spend nearly enough time on the core site structure and mechanics that will make Google and your users happy.

If you don’t address the structure of your website or have a migration plan in place, you may experience a dip in organic traffic.



5 Web Design Best Practices for Universities

[feat-text]Summary: Modern digital audiences demand an updated website. Find out how search engine optimization, streamlining your web experience, and designing for mobile helps your university website stay on top.[/feat-text]

We hope this doesn’t come as shocking news, but websites are kind of important for just about any kind of business. Higher education is no exception. In terms of digital marketing, your school’s website is your “front door” to the rest of the world. In the mobile age, visitors don’t ask people directions or look you up in the phone book; they Google you and let your online presence lead them from there.


Unique School Website Design Challenges

Universities have to pay more attention to their online presence than most industries because they operate under a different set of expectations:

  • Their clients, students, are disproportionately young digital natives who use the web to research their career path.
  • Students look to universities as a progressive place to advance their career into the future, while a shabby website makes it seem like you’re stuck in the past.
  • The public looks to universities as natural thought leaders where talent congregates, so a school has “no excuse” when they have an impoverished web presence.
  • Universities have to keep up a thriving image, lest they get a reputation for sub-par standards.

At the same time, designing a university website has several unique challenges. For your average storefront business, a WordPress website that includes a few pages paired with a Google My Business listing goes pretty far. But a university’s online presence has to meet a higher standard:

  • University websites are typically huge, so there’s a lot of information to organize
  • Young adults may be adept at searching and finding sites on the web, but they are also faster to get impatient with slow websites and clumsy navigation
  • A university needs to present many voices in chorus in their media experience, combining messages from the dean and faculty, then professors and facilitators, right down to the student ambassadors and alumni
  • Yet the university must also present a united brand identity
  • There’s some stiff competition out there for students’ attention, especially among higher learning institutions

That competition is likely to be a steady factor that universities have to contend with. Enrollments are declining nationwide by a factor of about 3.3%. This is due partly to natural population fluctuation, the global pandemic, and the hesitancy students feel about making big decisions during times of economic uncertainty.

In the face of all this, a university must put as much effort into its online presence as conceivably practical. There is no “plan B” here; students are not going to look you up in a directory and just drop in. Here are five best practices for designing a superior higher education website:

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1. Prioritize Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

There are three faces of SEO: the on-site content, the off-site factors, and the on-site engineering. You must include enough content to snag Google’s attention and make it aware that there’s important information to index here. You must build your campus reputation to nurture inbound links and traffic referral factors so Google knows your site is well-trusted. And you must make sure that your site is responsive and capable of receiving visitors from a mostly-mobile audience.

You have to build SEO into the site from the ground up. The days are long gone when Google simply scraped text off your page and served it up in search results from there. Now, Google takes into account things such as:

  • Are there a lot of inbound links showing your site is useful?
  • Do users spend some time on the site as opposed to just leaving right away?
  • Is your site a source of authoritative, trustworthy content?
  • Does your site match the perceived intent of the users’ search?
  • Is your site mobile-friendly?
  • Is your site fast to load and responsive?

In short, Google has leaned much harder on user experience (UX) than it has in the past. It does this to stay competitive by giving users what they want.

The most important factor feeding into SEO and UX is information architecture—or how the site is structured so that users can navigate it and find what they want. There are some specialized aspects of website organization that apply to higher education websites. Before embarking on a major website redesign, it’s important to consult with SEO experts to ensure that you don’t experience major traffic losses.


2. Use an Intuitive University Website Navigation

How to direct all that incoming traffic, and create a smooth flow of the information it seeks? It is sometimes helpful to break traffic down into groups:

  • Content traffic: Students, parents, and new visitors want to find out all about you. “About us,” your mission statement, dean’s blog, admissions, academics, news and announcements, and so on. This type of traffic is recommended for the menu bar at the top of pages.
  • Grouped traffic: You have more audience than just students; you will be serving faculty, staff, alumni, and press. Give these visitors their own section, with an out-of-the-way link listing in the sidebar or page footer. That way they can find their specific information without the clutter of the site getting in the way.
  • Utility traffic: Your student body will also use the site, with all its features. There’s the course management system, academic calendar, policy updates, and guides to housing, parking, cafeteria menu, and other trivia. You will want easy navigation to your “hot spot” sections right in the main page front section.

People do expect a university to have a lot of content. Hey, “content” is half of what education is all about, right? So it’s OK to have a lot more information than your average site, as long as it says “we have a lot to offer” without being overwhelming. Instead of presenting huge navigation menus, consider splitting up your navigation based on the user’s intended purpose. The types of traffic we outlined can guide you towards what navigation systems you need.

It is best to have several concurrent, redundant systems of navigation. “Breadcrumbs” are often necessary for maneuvering large sites with many categories. Your front page should be the main navigation hub, so include a link from every page on the rest of the site back to the front. Have a tag system so browsing students can easily follow one topic through multiple departments. Have an on-site search feature to assist lost users and test it to make sure it works.


3. Think “Mobile First”

It’s challenging enough to build a high-bandwidth school web portal on a desktop web browser. But now you have to shrink it down to a hand-sized mobile interface too! There are two Google standards that together make a mobile-ready website: AMP and CWV. AMP is “accelerated mobile pages,” a special version of your website’s pages that are set up for mobile. CWV is “Core Web Vitals,” a new set of website stats that Google is rolling out to measure sites’ responsiveness and convenience to use on mobile.

The good news is, as long as your web design team is on the ball and you’re using modern content management systems that are up to standards, you should have less trouble meeting AMP and CWV. Sites that are set up for AMP tend to also score higher on CWV, which is a good thing.

Here’s a little check-list to keep in mind for mobile users:

  • Use lightweight graphics and videos to ensure fast load times
  • Kill superfluous Javascript and plug-ins, as unused code is bloat
  • Make sure your text is big enough to read on a small screen and easy to navigate links with a finger
  • Watch out for pop-ups that block the whole screen
  • Keep it simple, and collapse complex menus when not in use
  • Make sure interactive widgets respond promptly
  • Do not use flashy, busy designs just to show off
  • Serve it all from a fast website

Designing for mobile is a tedious challenge at times, but this is how the world works now. Generation Z—your emerging and future student base—spends an overwhelming amount of time on mobile Internet, with Millennials not far behind. You must make create an excellent mobile experience.


4. Invest in Good Content

Good content comes from a good university. A university website has to rise above being a mere web portal. It is a production. You should have as much content as possible that’s aimed at wowing visitors with your spectacular school and its amenities. Have virtual video campus tours, embed photo galleries of your highest achievements, and never miss an opportunity to brag about a milestone on your blog channels. Share the success story of every graduate, and collect at least one glowing testimonial from every alumni.

Let Your Students Contribute

Young adults, especially, are more moved by the sense that they’re hearing from their peers, which is why influencer marketing is such a hot property. A young student might be too jaded from media over-exposure to put much stock in your P.R. department. But show them a student just like them, and they’ll pay attention. This is the beautiful thing about university testimonials because every student has a story. Tell the compelling story of a student’s journey to graduation and career success, and you will captivate the audience. Narrative skills come in handy here. Everyone has a dream, a vision for their place in the world, a problem they knew that only they could solve. Diplomas change lives, so your student graduating signifies a date with destiny, a change in the fate of the world. Wring it for all the melodramas you can.

Beyond testimonials, let your students share their experiences on your website. Part of your content strategy should include user-generated content (UGC) that you incorporate throughout your website. UGC can be social media posts, student-directed video campus tours, behind-the-scenes photographs of the lab, event photographs, or student blog articles. Monitor your social media channels, hashtags, and student blogs for content that might enhance your website and brand image. Consider creating a designated section on your website that serves as a repository for your UGC. Some schools even showcase this content on their homepages.


5. Channel Your Creativity

Remember that you’re not just competing with other schools. You’re competing with the whole social media and entertainment world and all the distractions it brings. This is, again, just the world we live in now.

A simple, clean design defines NYU’s website. Not only is it enjoyable to view, but it’s also easy to use. Web pages load lightning-fast (even with video!) and it’s easy to get around using their intuitive navigation.


That means you must create a captivating website that sets your school apart. Students engage daily with entertainers and social media influencers that create stunning photography and engaging content. They expect the same from brands. Invest in high-quality photography that showcases your school’s best features. Between TikTok and YouTube, students spend a substantial amount of the day consuming videos and it’s often their preferred medium. Video content complements the written word and should be used liberally throughout your website. While high-quality productions have their place, students also desire authenticity and will accept lower-quality video, as long as it’s genuine, unique, and entertaining. If you don’t have a big budget for video content, don’t worry. The camera in your pocket is often good enough.

While visual design is important, it shouldn’t detract from the functionality of your website. Remember that beyond looking good, websites must adhere to SEO best practices,  load quickly, and allow users to navigate easily.


The Ultimate User Experience: Part 2

Our previous UX blog expanded on the importance of navigation on your website for the ultimate user experience. Equally important is the readability of the information you choose to display.  It is vital to review this aspect to ensure that your text is understandable and is being thoroughly digested by your viewers.

Missed Part 1? Read it here:The Ultimate User Experience: Part 1


How readable is the text on your website? Will I need to zoom in/out to see it clearly? Is there enough contrast between each section? Are headlines distinguishable from sub-headlines and paragraph texts? Does the layout make sense? These questions are just the beginning of readability.

Readability is what makes content on your site easy to read and understand. Your website can have the best design and the most engaging features, but none of that will matter if it fails the readability test: connect, please and flow.


Content: Am I Connecting With Users?

Content is king, or queen – either way it rules and should do so with grace, sophistication and in a manner that excites its loyal subjects. Did that make sense? That intro alone could easily fall into a readability trap. Content should be interesting but should avoid jargon and rambling – get to the point.

When writing for the web, keep content as the main focus with this checklist for optimal readability:

Is my content interesting? Is it relevant?

From selling socks to stocks, every website should cater to the personality and concerns of its target demographic. Engage your users. Content should be helpful, relevant and a resource. This goes a long way in establishing your business as being industry leaders and trusted advisors – which is kind of a big deal these days. In the age of Google, if I can find the information I need from another website, why go to yours? Be engaging and be relevant!

Does it get to the point or ramble on?

People don’t read; they scan. Users look for headings, bullet points, pull-quotes and images to tell them what their reading. I refer to my earlier point: This day and age is all about high expectations, expediency and efficiency.

Am I speaking to my audience in a language they understand? Am I losing them with industry-specific jargon?

A website that sells email services to small companies should not read like an academic paper. According to the Readability Test Tool – which tests for factors such as reading ease, grade level of the content, number of complex words, etc. -, MailChimp’s Growing Business page “should be easily understood by 13 to 14 year olds.”

Fonts and Formatting: Am I Pleasing the Eye?

Font and content formatting are important. Stylistic reasons aside, these elements are key to optimal, pure readability. If a user cannot read the words on your site because of poor font selection or formatting, you’ve lost them.

Font Selection

There are arguments every which way about the difference between font and type. Not to offend typographers around the world, but for the sake of expediency I’ll use the word font throughout this section. Feel free to leave a comment about it.

Though font selection can make or break readability, there is not a fail-safe checklist for choosing fonts. Trying out different fonts to see what works is the best option for beginners. As a starter guide, keep the below points in mind when choosing a font.

For titles/headline and paragraphs: Choose fonts that are easy to read and understand at appropriate sizes. Think at least 14pt for paragraphs 20+ pts for headings/titles. The fonts don’t have to be the same, but font pairing is a topic for another day.

Choose a font that fits your brand. For example, you typically will not see cursive writing on a children’s gaming website.

Avoid styles that are too thin, bold or compressed for paragraph reading. NOTE: Print reading typically requires serif fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond. For the web, sans-serif fonts like Arial and Tahoma are standard.

Avoid fonts that are just ugly. Yes, ugly is subjective but there are standards (again, a topic for another day). As a quick tip, run away from Comic Sans.

Formatting: Paragraphs

Compare the four paragraphs at the right. Which of these would pass a readability test?

If you said Paragraph #4, play close attention to this section; you’re wrong. Paragraph #1 is the best option here because:

  • It uses enough contrast between the text and background colors
  • The text is big enough for the average user
  • The paragraph is aligned to the left making “F-shape” reading (more on this below) easier, and
  • There is enough line-height between each line of text in the paragraph


Formatting: Long-form Writing

Paragraph #1 is would pass the readability text for a section that small, but longer blocks of information need more formatting. Blog posts, articles and large content areas would need to be split for content hierarchy  – what is first (title), second (sub-title), third (paragraph), etc.

Content should be divided into small paragraphs, include headings and sub-headings if needed, bullet point or numbered lists, highlighted areas (pull-quotes) and the like to make it easily digestible for the scanning user.






Design and Layout/Placement: Does My Content Flow?

White space, color contrasts and proper alignment add to the readability of a webpage and facilitate F-shape reading.

F-Shape Reading

Eye-tracking tools, like Crazy Egg, help you see what visitors put their focus on when viewing your site. What many studies have shown, starting with Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, is that users read webpage content in an “F” shape – often reading across the screen from left-to-right, going back to the left side and down a little, then repeating the movement once more.

White Space

Using white space on a page is one of the simplest changes to make on a website, yet one that is easy to get wrong. Each element on a page, the text, images, videos, etc. should have a decent amount of room to breathe and be viewed on its own. Do not cram everything together just to get it “above-the-fold.”

The “Above-the-fold” Syndrome

The buzzword I hear often is “above the fold” – the area of a webpage viewable to the user on first glance of a site before scrolling. This idea originated from the newspaper industry, where the most important news was placed at the top on the front page – before the newspaper fold. Obviously, elements of a webpage placed above the fold will attract the most attention from the user, but that does not mean users will abandon scrolling. Look at the clean, open, white space on the Readability website.

Trust me when I say: there is life below the fold. People do scroll and if your website passes the readability test, visitors will have an incentive to scroll – they’ll want to see what more you have to offer.

Every website needs white space. I repeat: every website needs white space. Let it be your mantra. Seriously.

Color Contrast

Standard contrasting colors are black and white. Black text on a white background is readable. White text on a black background is readable, but there are certain colors that do not contrast well. Colors like yellow and neon green on a black background is too high of a contrast. Juicy Studio has a tool that analyzes foreground and background colors, or in this case text colors on top of  background colors.


What are your thought on UX navigation and readability? What steps can you take right now to increase the user experience of your website?








The Ultimate User Experience: Part 1

If you walk into a steakhouse, order steak and get served spaghetti, what would you think? Maybe you did not explain yourself correctly, so you order again and hope a thick, juicy steak greets you the second time around. Yet again they bring you a plate of spaghetti – and it’s cold. How long before you realize this may not be the best place to order steak?  Your expectations were not met, there was no way to get what you needed, and it took multiple tries to not get the results you were looking for. Simply put, this was a horrible user experience.

This day and age is all about high expectations, expediency and efficiency. We don’t wait for dial-up tones and have much less patience and time to spend on gathering information. With this in mind, every website strategy should cater to these values: give users what they want and – equally important – what they expect with as little effort from their end; this is the ultimate user experience.

Let’s put our attention to two factors that heavily influence User Experience, or UX: navigation and readability. Navigation takes the user through your website, while readability helps them understand and digest the content on the screen. What are the best ways to deliver optimal navigation and readability?

Optimal Navigation

Navigation goes hand-in-hand with content. The goal is to strategize, organize and build-out content that is important to your company and its audience, then create a menu to direct users to that content. Before you even begin building out your navigation, have these factors in mind:

Information Architecture: Organizing Content

After gathering the content, we need to organize it for the navigation. This is referred to as information architecture. At this stage, we’re asking what pages should be on the first level of the navigation menu, the next, etc. Do we need a simple menu or should it be complex?

This is an example of how a chart of this process looks. Organize your navigation to reflect the most important pages for your users – this includes what pages are listed first to last on each level.


Also consider different users. Will your site attract different groups? Will there need to be menu options that vary based on user, such as logged in individuals or new vs. repeat visitors? Frontier Communications has audience-based navigation options:

Frontier Communications has a different navigation menu for Residential, Small Business and Enterprise visitors to the site. Even their logo changes for the Small Business and Enterprise categories.


The end result of this stage is a sitemap – a list of every page on the site.

Labels: Naming Each Page

Make sure each page on your navigation is named logically and in a way that will gain the best SEO value out of your site. For example, labeling a menu item as “Products” is logical. The average user understands what a product is, but the best SEO value may be a more descriptive label, such as “Hair Products” or “Healthcare Products.”

Design: Menu Layout and Aesthetics

Should it be horizontal or vertical? Both? Will I use icons on my navigation? Should I make my navigation stand out or keep it simple? Should I use the footer for more menu options? Layout and design are just as important to UX navigation as organization and labeling.


Your layout is heavily influenced by content and the sitemap. Your navigation should not distract from the content; it should help users easily get to it.

Most sites use a horizontal menu at the top and sometimes a vertical menu on the side to show more categories/pages on the site.

Alibaba’s US website has both a horizontal menu that highlights key pages and a vertical menu on the left that features product categories.

For complex sitemaps with many levels, long labels, etc., a horizontal layout (columns as an option) may work best. Horizontal menus are more common as the primary navigation and offer a little more flexibility should you need to add/remove items from the menu.

Wells Fargo has a deep sitemap. Their menu, along with being organized by audience, features sublevel items grouped into categories.

Not every website has to use the same layout or focus their sitemap in the same way. For Amazon – arguably one of the largest websites – important menu items, like the login and shopping cart, play a secondary role to the huge search bar. Should users want to browse, “Shop by Department” opens a menu with multiple options.

Category pages feature richly dense vertical menus.


Design your navigation to fit the brand, but more importantly to guide the user. The design can be bold or minimal, take up a lot of space or just enough for the main items, but it should always serve as a guide for the user – not an obstacle.

Icons and Varying Menu Styles: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) uses icons for each dropdown item in the main navigation and for the vertical menu. The vertical menus serve to direct users to three areas most commonly searched for on a college website: programs, application and a virtual tour.

Fun Navigation: Discover Tennessee

Discover Tennessee has a fun design with navigation that supports the user in multiple ways:

  • The main navigation has descriptive labels.
  • There are city options listed in the dropdown for “Discover Trails” and each city features an image for individual trails and byways.
  • Beyond just the main navigation, the site uses the content area to direct users with the “Here’s How to Get Started” section that carries users through a simple, step-by-step process of how they can discover Tennessee.

Interactive Navigation: Central Park Real Estate

Central Park Real Estate makes navigation fun, highly visual and more importantly effective. Aside from the standard horizontal navigation at the top, users can hover over a building to see the location. Click on a building and immediately see:

  • The building name
  • An excerpt about the building
  • How many units are available for sale and for renting

Visitors to the site can also use the compass to see different views of the building and click on the park itself to see what is taking place that day!

Regardless of your goal – more sales, to educate/inform your user, garner more donations, etc. – make sure your navigation provides users with the right path to get there.

Read part 2 of “The Ultimate User Experience” here.

The Future of the Web

Part 1 The Internet of Things and Big Data

In my hay days… long, long ago… I was the office philosopher of sorts. The resident futurist. The restless, crazy, outspoken goof that always encouraged us to look at the future – And not just 1-2 years in to the future, but 10+ years out. In doing so, I thought we could be more innovative about our role as a company in a quickly changing world. I wasn’t ever sure if my presentations and various ramblings were just seen as fancy lunch breaks to my coworkers, or genuinely enlightening discussion starters, but either way they were fun, and their point was to start conversations and get everyone excited about the future. In this 3 part-series I intend to do just that.

At Atlantic Digital Marketing Company, we love the Web. We use it every day and our success depends on the success of the companies we help get found on the Web. But what IS the Web? What is this internet? Is it… a place where you look at cat videos? Is it… a place where you troll those videos and make rude insults to random people you’ll never meet? Is it the collective consciousness of our species? A hive mind that enables us to share thoughts and ideas at unprecedented speed and fluidity?

As we’ll find out, the Web is all of these things – and so much more. If you think that the future of the web will only involve what you see on the various screens we interact with every day, you’re in for a surprise. What can really be seen as the “Web” will soon blend the physical and digital worlds, and even WE will be part of the vast network that comprises the web. We already are, in fact, with our mobile devices.

As I see it, there are two closely related trends converging in the next 10 years that will completely transform our designed and built environment – And the way we live our lives. It will all be built around the web.

Ubiquitous Computing and the Internet of Things

Ubiquitous Computing (ubicomp for short) is just fancy terminology for computing that is done outside of what we traditionally think of as computing – Those humming boxes that sit on our desk that are connected to keyboards, mice, monitors, etc. It’s about pervasive computing, computers everywhere – Ambient intelligence. Ubiquitous Computing involves wearable computing – computers embedded in our clothing and worn on our wrists, heads, etc. It’s the idea of not just “smart” phones, but “smart” everything – Smart homes, smart cars, smart clothes, smart furniture, smart cities, smart anything.

Products like the Nest are finally bringing smart home technology to the average consumer for an affordable price. It allows you to monitor your thermostat remotely and save on your energy usage – As well as automate it while you go about daily activities.

Ubicomp will lead to what is being called the “Internet of Things” or the “Internet of Everything”. If you haven’t heard this term thrown around yet, you soon will, as the revolution is already beginning. Though still somewhat of a vague concept still in its infancy, it will inevitably be a gold rush. Cisco has already predicted the market value of products and services involving IoE will reach $14.4 trillion by 2020. It’s only about $1.2 trillion currently.

All of these new devices will be connected to the Web, become interconnected, and in many ways begin to comprise the Web itself. There are already new regulations and standards being devised to prepare for this future. For example, IPv6, the latest revision of Internet Protocol will allow for up to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 unique IP addresses. By comparison, the current version IPv4 has a mere 4.3 Billion IP addresses.

Big Data and Personal Informatics

The other revolution we already in the midst of is the Big Data revolution. Tons of data is constantly being gathered about us through our use of smart phones and the daily activities we do. We will touch on the ethical implications of this in Part 2, but the point is that this is leading to unprecedented amounts of raw data to be sorted through. At Atlantic Digital Marketing Company we heavily rely on Analytics – Sorting through that data and find the meaning in it, so we can see what can be improved to get more customer leads for our clients, or more customers to convert. But it also has huge implications for our personal lives and personal growth.

There is data being gathered on us as individuals. These personal informatics are have often been referred to as the “Quantified Self”. All of the ancient mystics in world religions said know thyself. You will soon be able to in a ways that are increasingly empirical. It often goes hand in hand with gamification, the idea of making your day-to-day activities in life more like a game – A game that you can get better at and eventually kick ass in. These personal informatics will go hand-in-hand with the Internet of Things. Consider these two growing fields:

Health Informatics
Big Data will go hand-in-hand with the Internet of Things in the form of products like the FitBit. The FitBit is wearable computing, a device you wear on your wrist that keeps track of your daily fitness activities using an accelerometer. Though somewhat rudimentary, it is a great first step in the world of personal informatics – In this case health informatics. The data it collects can be fed to your mobile device or home computer and you can get a view into your daily activity that was previously impossible or at least very difficult to measure. This ambient intelligence allows for completely new opportunities in personal growth and reaching fitness goals.

Educational Informatics
This is perhaps what I am excited about the most, because it could totally revolutionize education and how we learn. It’s about knowing what you know. Epistemology. The ability to see your conceptual framework of a given subject grow, AS you’re learning it. Your journey of learning something can become more quantified and thus more tangible and malleable. It can make learning more motivating, because it’s not about arbitrary test scores and letter grades, it’s about understanding specific concepts or not. There are no tests and letter grades in real life, you understand things, or you don’t.

Some applications, such as the language learning web application Duolingo are already adding elements of this to the learning experience. Not only are you learning Spanish, but you can see how many words you’ve learned, the degree to which you’ve learned them, which ones you need to practice more, etc.

But… What does this all mean?

What this means for the world of Internet Marketing is that the “Internet”, the “Web”, will no longer just be about what we see on the screens we interact with – It will quite literally include everything in the designed and built environment. Mobile will of course continue to grow and become the predominant way that people find businesses, but if you think mobile complicated things – Just wait.

Imagine a scenario where your smart washer/dryer, which is connected to the web, does your laundry for you at 4:00 PM like you programmed it to while at work using your smart home control panel application, but then realizes you just ran out of laundry detergent. It can notify your mobile device with specific brands you use, sales going on, etc. and you can either stop by the store to get some more on the way home from work, or immediately purchase it via the web and have it delivered. When you get home, your clothes are washed, dried, and all you have to do is take them out and fold them. Certain companies can pay more to have their products advertised through these smart device systems, in a similar way to how PPC works. This is just one example of the kind of systems we may regularly interact with in the future.

These two trends – Internet of Things and Big Data, are extremely transformative and just around the bend. Consider that as more and more devices begin to make up the internet (Cisco says 99% of objects that can be connected the internet, aren’t yet), we are essentially compressing time and space. In other words, our technology is bridging spacial and temporal distances, and the world is becoming smaller. It effectively means we can be in more places at one time, and can communicate to anything and everything instantaneously. In the next part we will discuss some of the important ethical issues surrounding all of this technology, and then in the third and final part of this series, we will explore the distant future, where predictions become harder to make and it’s more about asking the right questions.

Style x Substance: The Business of Aesthetic

What your company looks like is arguably one of the most, if not the most, important part of business. Good design can say everything. How your business carries itself, what it does, the level of professionalism and innovation it is capable of.  But oftentimes some business don’t sell themselves as much as the product and don’t invest in an aesthetic for their business. If you want your company to stand the test of time, you need to have an aesthetic that matches the vision of your company.

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Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Your Website

Did you make any resolutions for the new year? At Atlantic Digital Marketing, we each took the time to set some individual goals, both professional and personal. These goals range from giving up Diet Coke to learning new skills, and we are all working together to help each other and hold each other accountable.

What about your website? Why should it be left out? During this season of self-reflection and -improvement, set aside some time to go through these suggestions and resolve to make your business’s online presence the best it can be.

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