Tent-Side Site Optimization at the Uplift Conference on Climate Change.

By Posted in - Site Optimization on August 26th, 2016 Camping at Uplift Conference in Durango, Colorado

Last weekend, I led a content marketing workshop at Colorado’s Uplift Conference. The three-day event on climate change, held at a campsite in Durango, equalled nothing short of my cup of tea. The Uplift community is young, tremendously passionate and all about inclusiveness. Conference goers were so welcoming they even invited my four-year-old daughter Emilia and her doll Consuela to join numerous sessions. Who knew she could beatbox and out-eat Millenials?

Like many folks in the grassroots, nonprofit and green-do-gooder space, some attendees expressed being on a shoestring budget. Following the session, a handful asked that I take a look at their websites and offer a bit of feedback on ways to easily (and inexpensively) make improvements. Here are some of the biggest issues I came across and how to fix ‘em.

Sites Rendering a Mess on Mobile

Once back at my tent, I pulled up a few of their websites on my phone, only to find most rendered in a less-than-flattering way. Not good. For one, this is a poor user experience that could initially turn visitors away. Plus, Google is now heavily weighing in on the benefits of responsive web design, and going so far as to consider your site’s mobile-friendliness into its magical algorithm that determines where your site lands in search engine result pages (SERPs). Stinky site? Stinky search results. Fixing the problem might be easy, and Google offers some great insight on mobile optimization for getting started.

Navigation That’s Not Entirely Intuitive

Depending on how well you’ve optimized your site, your homepage might not be a major entry point for users. In fact, folks likely first enter your site through a blog post, evergreen page, events calendar, etc. That means your main navigation should be as intuitive as possible. If you’re not sure whether visitors could reasonably guess what each navigation tab means (and more importantly, what type of info might fall under each section), just ask.

First, pull up your site with a few friends and ask their thoughts about about each main nav tab. Don’t give any hints, and don’t let on whether they are correct. Second, jot down a few main tasks you want users to be able to accomplish on your site. Then hand your list over to your buddies and, again without giving any hints, ask them to find the page(s) where they could complete each task. Be sure to carefully watch their path, listen and note where they get stuck or hit a dead end. This is some very basic usability testing around navigation, but there are certainly other areas you’ll want to investigate. To learn more on user testing, refer to the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g). It’s one heck of a resource, and here’s a good article on user testing for getting your feet wet.

Photos Worth a Gazillion Words

Nature speaks for itself. And most conservation-focused and pro-nature sites do a bang-up job of visual storytelling. It’s one of the biggest reasons I love checking out new-to-me sites. But (and you had to know by now there would be a but), you still must have text. Why? Google says so. I recommend at least 400 words per page (quality content, not fluff), complete with keyword-rich-and-relevant headings and subheadings. Otherwise, you run the risk of a violation known as “thin content.” Google considers the skinny stuff a poor user experience, and will thumbs-down your site accordingly.

Malnourished Homepages

I also noticed many homepages afflicted with this aforementioned thin content—a common mistake with many websites. This is a no-no for a number of reasons. The biggest: Your users should be able to quickly understand what your site is about within moments of landing on your homepage. Otherwise, you risk the dreaded bounce. Navigation, photos and taglines should give great hints, but you should also have some “scannable” content (sadly, users don’t like to read) that details who you are and what you do. Even where you are. If you have thin content in other areas of your site, it’s worth your time to become familiar with Bruce Clay, Inc. This oldie-but-goodie post on thin content provides plenty of insight and ideas.

Getting Out Does a World of Good

Of course, I found plenty of good on the sites I checked. A ton, really. But when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) and usability, there almost always is room for improvement. The first step is to hike out of your comfort zone and see what you find.

That’s what I loved most about the Uplift Conference. Folks had the courage to be curious, creative, vulnerable even. No putting on of airs. No dumb questions. Perhaps, because they knew by piping up and showing up in the bigger sense, that they’d be better for it. It was remarkable to witness, especially as someone twice the age of most attendees. By the end of the weekend, as I thought more about the next generation of climate game-changers, I felt rather hopeful and proud. Uplifted even.

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