Let’s be honest: as exciting as it is, building a website is a huge task. Once you’ve made it through a successful launch (or re-launch), it can be tempting to just tie a bow around all of your hard work and leave your site alone. It’s out there on the internet, right? What more could there be to do?
The answer: quite a bit! No matter how beautiful or high-performing your current site is, it’ll require some maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape. Luckily, we’re here to walk you through six proven steps to improving your website—whether you’re a nonprofit, foundation, or purpose-driven company.
The following tactics are essential to improving your website and making it a channel that helps you reach your goals:
- Identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Perform a content audit
- Optimize your writing for the internet
- Improve your on-page SEO
- Make sure your website meets accessibility guidelines
- Analyze your results
In the initial stages of any website improvement process, it’s important to identify what outcomes you’re looking for—and which pieces of information can tell you whether you’re achieving them. These outcomes help dictate what you want your website to do: which calls-to-action are critical to your success, which pages hold the most important content, and which channels you’re focusing on to drive traffic. They should be closely tied to your organization’s larger marketing and communications goals.
To help guide this discovery phase, it helps to learn more about common website key performance indicators (KPIs) and some tools that can help you track them.
What makes a KPI useful?
Your KPIs should provide context or direction, based on real data, that supports your organization’s objectives. Your KPIs should also be:
- Clearly defined
- Crucial to achieving strategic goals
- Practical and actionable
What to Measure
What are your organization’s main priorities? Which metrics will help you achieve them? Whether you’re focusing on recruiting volunteers or building advocacy, your key goals will guide your chosen KPIs.
To kick things off, here are some common KPIs to consider. You may discover others to supplement this list, but it’s a great place to start!
- Number of donations or purchases
- Average donation amount per donor or sales per customer
- Email click-throughs to donation or support links
- Volunteer sign-ups
- Grant applications
- Job submissions
- Training/class/workshop signups
- Unique page visits
- Bounce rate
How to Measure KPIs
You can choose your KPI measurement tools based on the data you want to measure. Google Analytics, for example, can help you understand how your audiences engage with content from a particular source (among a wide range of other capabilities). In some cases, the tools you already use may prove useful: many donation processing platforms, for example, include dashboards or other tools that help you track and visualize their metrics.
Tools & Sources
Once you’ve figured out what metrics you want to keep in mind as you improve your site, it’s time to take stock of your current content. The best way to do this is with a website content audit.
A website content audit might sound intimidating, but it’s simply a useful resource for keeping your website as engaging as possible. A content audit helps you review every piece of content on your current site: what each one is intended to do, who its intended audience is, and where it lives in the site structure.
Once you’ve accounted for everything, the content audit template helps you decide whether to archive, repurpose, keep, and create in the future—always keeping your larger marketing and communications goals in mind.
So, what can a website content audit do for you? We’ll walk you through the benefits.
Improve Your SEO
Search engines have one job: to help people find the most relevant information on the internet as quickly as possible. They’re getting better and better at what they do, which means that it’s increasingly important to connect your content to your key search terms: if you don’t, you’ll be edged out in search results by others who have optimized their content for search.
Happily, it’s never too late (and less complicated than you might think) to improve your search engine rankings. Our content audit worksheet can help you gather and evaluate your content; you can use that process to help you decide which pieces to keep and which to lose.
Re-align Your Content With Your Organization
Because the only constant in life (and on the internet) is change, you’ll likely find that your organization evolves with time. Often, that means that your website can feel outdated more easily than you’d expect. A content audit can help you make sure that what you’re saying on your site is in line with where you’re focusing your work and messaging.
Case Study: CMMB
The content audit worksheet includes different columns to help you assess the alignment of each piece of content on your site with who you are as an organization. This process will help you figure out whether each page should be updated, recycled, or deleted.
The content audit is a foundational tool for making sure that you’re seeing your content clearly—whether a website redesign is imminent, or somewhere further down the road. We recommend performing a content audit at least once every two years to make sure that your site is speaking to who you are and what you stand for.
Want to learn more about your new BFF, the content audit? Read our entire post—and download our free worksheet.
People don’t read websites the way we read a book or magazine. Usually, we’re quickly scanning through a page in order to find information that meets our needs as quickly as we can. If we run into roadblocks—if it takes too long to scan, or if we get lost down a rabbit hole of buttons that don’t lead us anywhere—we tend to abandon ship, leave the page, and look elsewhere.
Therefore, it’s important to keep a few best practices in mind as you create content for your site. These tips on writing for the web will help you engage your users and encourage them to stick around—which means more conversions and meaningful action.
Remember Your Audience
Who will be reading your website? What do they need? Make sure that the tone, language, and content organization makes sense for the people you’re trying to reach. If you’re unsure about tone, language, or consistency, check in with your organization’s communications team or official brand guidelines.
Use Call-to-Action Buttons
Call-to-action (CTA) buttons encourage and enable your visitors to do the things you’ve identified as most important to your organization’s success. Size and style may vary, but CTA buttons should always feature attention-getting, action-oriented text.
Case Study: Tides
Don’t forget that our attention spans and patience shrink considerably on the web. Make sure that the crucial messages in your writing are obvious, so that they stand out to your visitors as they scan your site.
Break Up Text
If you greet your users with giant blocks of dense text, you can be sure that their eyes will glaze over within seconds! Help them process your writing and identify key content with elements that break up your text:
- Highlighted text
- Bulleted lists
- Pull quotes
Quick note: though these elements can help considerably, use them wisely. Too many of them can make your page’s hierarchy of information confusing to a reader.
Case Study: New American Economy
Keep Paragraphs Short
There’s a bit of flexibility here, but a 70-word paragraph limit is a practical and effective number in most cases. In general, less is better!
Use Keywords Wisely
Including keywords in your content is essential for helping people find your site in search engine results. If you’re a keyword beginner, here are some places to start learning about them:
- Google Ads Keyword Planner Tool
- Google Trends
- Microsoft Bing Ads Intelligence
- Wordtracker’s Free Basic Keyword Demand
If you’re a newbie when it comes to these tools, Google Ads Keyword Planner Tool is usually a good first step. Make sure that your keywords, like your KPIs and your content, are tied into the goals of your website and your organization. Once internet users find you using your keywords, you want to make sure that they’ll find relevant information on your site!
Want to learn more about how to make your writing more compelling throughout your site? Check out our full Writing for the Web Guide.
Once you’ve made sure that your website’s writing follows our guidelines for writing on the web, it’s time to fine-tune your words for the internet’s ultimate rulers: search engines! Improving your on-page SEO is one of the best ways to get your website to perform better for you. Your website is like a boat—your on-page SEO makes it more hydrodynamic and sleek so it reduces drag and cuts through the water more efficiently.
Start your SEO endeavors with a keyword strategy that supports topic clusters built around pillar content.
With your keyword strategy in hand, optimize the following:
- Page title: create a compelling title between 10-60 characters that includes your keyword. This way, the entire title is visible on SERP (search engine results page) results and connects the post to the topic you want your site to gain authority for.
- Page URL: write short URLs that include your keyword and are easy for humans to read. Avoid having too many subfolders or overly dynamic elements.
- Meta description: meta descriptions appear in the SERP results and give searchers a preview of what your post is about (they also appear in the snippets when your post is shared on social media). Write meta descriptions between 55-300 characters that include your keyword in a compelling way that entices searchers to click.
This is the trifecta of on-page SEO, the three most critical elements. But don’t stop there! Continue working through your site’s pages by optimizing your images. Focus on the following:
- Alt tag: alternative text, or alt tag attributes, describe an image in case it cannot load. Its primary benefit is for accessibility purposes (see more on that below). Search engines can’t see images, so they rely on alt tags. Make your alt tag descriptive, compelling and include your keyword.
- Reduce image size: SEO is about improving your website’s performance for your users, and a big part of that is speeding up your page load time. Images are the biggest culprit—and, luckily, the easiest to change. Make sure your images are as large as they need to be, but no more. Scale them down before you upload them to your site. Use Photoshop or a free tool like tinypng.com to compress them accordingly.
- Enable browser caching: browser caching makes it so every time a user visits your website, they don’t have to download all your various elements all over again by temporarily storing data on their computer. You can either set up browser caching on your server or use a plugin on your CMS like W3 Total Cache for WordPress users.
Optimizing your images will enhance your site’s accessibility and its load speed. Finally, you’ll want to optimize your users’ on-page experience through proper formatting.
- Post length: the average content that lands on the first page of search results is 1,900 words. Think of your content as thought leadership or instructional material: it’s difficult to go in depth on a topic in under 700 words. Write in-depth, authoritative content in order to give a better chance to be found organically.
- Paragraphs: avoid walls of text. Instead, break up your paragraphs in small, digestible chunks. Reading on the internet is very much about providing a visual experience.
- Headings: break up your posts using <h2>, <h3>, and <h4> headings to help your users consume your content more efficiently. Use your keywords, variations or synonyms within those headings whenever it makes sense. To meet the rise in popularity of voice search, leverage those headings to phrase your users’ questions in their own words.
- Bullets and numbered lists: another tactic to make your content more visually accessible is to use bullets and numbered lists to help make sense of your topic.
Bonus tip: take your on-page SEO to the next level with structured markup.
Structured markup, also known as structured data, is a way to tag your pages to improve the way search engines read your content. Use Google’s Structure Data Markup Helper — it’s a mouthful — to add better information about events, products, articles, job postings and more.
Improving your site’s on-page SEO is a powerful way to increase your website’s performance.
For the 56 million Americans who identify as having a disability, using even the most seemingly basic website can represent anything from a frustrating nuisance to an impossible obstacle.
That’s why the World Wide Web Consortium created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which help website designers make sites that don’t inadvertently shut out people who may need specific assistance from screen readers or other accessibility aids. They represented an important step in making sure that the power of the internet is available to all.
For your organization, ignoring these guidelines as you build your site could result in alienating users and working against your organizational goals. It could also get you sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But, more than anything else, building an inclusive, accessible site is the right thing to do. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines introduce and describe important attributes that will help you serve a broad range of users. For instance, your website should be:
- Perceivable. This includes making sure that images have text alternatives, videos have alternate descriptors, content can be presented in different ways without losing structure, and users can see and hear content easily.
- Operable. This means that all functionality can be accessed using only a keyboard, users have enough time to read and use content, site elements are not designed in a way that will cause seizures or physical reactions, and users have ways to easily navigate through each page.
- Readable. This includes making text understandable, as well as making sure that your site’s navigation operates in predictable ways.
- Robust. This means that your site is (and stays) compatible with assistive technologies, including screen readers.
For a more in-depth rundown of the steps that can help guide you toward an inclusive site, explore our full blog post on accessibility.
Case Study: The Chicago Lighthouse
We talked about choosing and measuring your KPIs in the first section of this guide; you should have a good idea of how to get started. Here, we’ll dig a bit deeper into Google Analytics and learn how to create a dashboard that can help you measure and gain insight into your website’s performance by analyzing your KPIs.
Making the mountains of data that you are gathering through Google Analytics to measure your website’s performance accessible to everyone on your team can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be an elaborate collection of custom charts and graphs. A well-thought-out Google Analytics Dashboard can do wonders for visualizing the data that is most important to compliment your KPIs and present your website’s performance clearly.
- Translate your KPIs into trackable metrics (i.e. if one of your KPIs is to hit a certain number of unique online donations by the end of the quarter, your Google Analytics goal would be associated with how many unique pageviews you get on a thank-you page that pops up once your donation form has been filled out).
- Set up goals in Google Analytics.
- Schedule your reports according to your preferred reporting cycle (i.e. do you want to review how your website is doing every week? Month? Quarter?) You can automate report emails in whatever frequency you’d like.
- You may also want to create different reports for different departments (i.e. does the leadership team prioritize top-level fundraising data? Does your marketing team want more audience metrics? Does your sales team want to know more about contact form conversions and drop-offs?)
- In the same way you segment your KPIs, you can create dashboards for different teams.
- Don’t forget to add KPIs that can’t seemingly be tracked in Google Analytics at first sight. Use UTM campaign URLs (you can create them here) so that you can measure how well your various campaigns are doing to bring traffic to your website (i.e. traffic from email campaigns, sponsored content partnerships, or website ads).
If you’d like a more comprehensive walk-through of how to set up an effective analytics dashboard, give us a shout or check out Pagely’s post.
Congrats! You’ve taken some crucial steps that will make your website more compelling, engaging, and authentic!
Like your organization, your website is a constantly changing entity that will benefit from regular attention and intentional improvement. By following our six proven steps for improving your site, you’ll have covered some very important ground.
Of course, if you need more guidance, we’re here for you. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help take your organization’s website to the next level.
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