Simple ways to give your website a health check


Is your website a bit sluggish or under the weather? Rachel Miller asks Chloe Thomas of eCommerce MasterPlan how to check the health of your website and improve its performance

There are so many variables that can affect the performance of a website that it can be hard to know where to start. "Slow loading speeds, poor page design, navigation problems and out of date content are just some of the issues that can affect your online stats," says Thomas. "The good news is that there are plenty of tools, including Google Analytics, to help you diagnose problems and do something about it."

Check the exits

"I am a big fan of exits," says Thomas. "The best way to judge how a website is performing is to see where people are leaving from. Look at the specific pages where people leave your site - are they places where you expect people to leave, or has something gone wrong?"

Live chat pop-ups are a useful tool at points where website visitors seem to be struggling, says Thomas. "You can use a pop-up to ask helpful questions such as 'are you struggling to check out?' or 'can't find what you are looking for?'."

Conversion rates

Getting people to buy is about building a funnel to conversion and keeping people moving in the right direction, says Thomas. "How many people are going through all the steps from product page to basket and checkout? This is all about navigation; you need to work out where the biggest drop-offs happen and improve navigational content."

Thomas advises looking at behavioural flowpaths to analyse the journey that visitors take. Often, navigational problems come down to a lack of CTAs (calls to action) or pages that send visitors to the wrong place.

Loading speeds

"Site speed is more important than ever, and it's worth checking your loading speeds every three to six months," says Thomas. She recommends using GT Metrix, an online tool that tests the loading speed of URLs, rates them from A (good) to F (bad) and offers specific advice on how to improve performance.

"There are usually some basic server-side things you can do that speed everything up," says Thomas. "If you have a lot of pages you can test different types of templates to see which designs are loading best."

Time spent on site

How long people spend on your website or on specific pages can show levels of user engagement, but it all depends what you want people to do, says Thomas. "You can't expect people to spend the same amount of time on all your pages. If people spend a short time on one page but move on to the next step in a buying journey, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a successful visit."

Page times, bounce rates and exits are specific to you and your website, she adds. "These are things you should compare with other pages on your own website - not necessarily with other websites. You need to know what's normal for your site before you decide which pages are performing better than others."

Traffic

When it comes to website traffic, however, it's well worth comparing your performance with competitors. This is about how people find your website and how many of them visit - and how that stacks up against your rivals.

Thomas recommends a free competitor analysis tool called SimilarWeb. You simply put in your URL and your competitors' URLs and this tool compares monthly traffic and the source of that traffic. "It's a great way to find out more about your competitors' marketing strategies," says Thomas. "It shows their top keywords and their top referrers. And if they are getting loads of traffic from paid search, it could be a good indication that you should be doing pay-per-click as well."

User testing

Not every website ailment can be diagnosed with data alone; user testing can be incredibly revealing when it comes to finding out exactly how real people use your website.

"User Testing is a great service that allows you to watch people using your website and hear them talk about the experience," says Thomas. "You can set a specific task for a specific panel of users and they are then filmed going through the process." Another useful tool is Hotjar which provides heat maps and recordings that capture people's behaviour on your site, showing exactly where they go.

Search

A simple way to spot problems with search and improve your search results is to sign up to Google Search Console. "This is your way of talking to Google about your natural search results," says Thomas. "It tells you what you are being found for and where people are landing on your site. Google will also tell you if they are having problems with your site and you can give them a site map so they can crawl you more deeply."

Mobile

"You can't look at site traffic as a whole anymore," says Thomas. "You have to look at different platforms, and checking traffic on mobile is vital. A lot of the bigger players are now designing specific sites for mobile and desktop as their needs are so different. But most small businesses have one responsive site, and need to keep checking the analytics and seeing if things are affecting traffic on desktop or mobile."

When you are having problems with mobile, a quick remedy is to turn off pop-ups, advises Thomas. "Google has said users aren't prepared to put up with pop-ups on mobile anymore. In fact, with any functionality, if it's intrusive, turn it off for mobile."

Copyright © 2017 Chloe Thomas of eCommerce Masterplan.