On Episode 10 of The Edge of Innovation, we explore web design best practices and discuss Paul’s new book on this topic.
Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.
Jacob: And I’m Jacob Young.
Paul: On the Edge of Innovation, we talk about the intersection of between technology and business, what’s going on in technology and what’s possible for business.
The Importance of Websites and SEO for Small Businesses
Jacob: Paul, you’ve recently written book, 24 Website Must Haves, and so I thought we’d sit down and talk about what are these dynamics for our website, because I thought that your intro was very, very helpful, that somewhere around 80% of small businesses do not have a website. I’ve expected that Google searching, trying to connect with people or to look up places, and I just can’t find a website, let alone a Facebook group. I would love to hear you talk us through these 24 Must Haves.
Paul: Sure. Absolutely. Well, I think being we get started, though, I want to talk a little bit about these huge numbers of small businesses that don’t have websites. And don’t know exactly what the number is. We could probably find a survey or a research paper to support any number, whether it’s one small business doesn’t have a website, or a million, or a billion, whatever it is.
That’s not really the point. I think, in a small business you have ownership, a person who owns it, or is responsible for it. And they have to do value proposition, return on investment. And they don’t understand how it’s going to benefit them, and even more so, they see… They have a website done. It may not be done well. And they don’t get the results that they had hoped, whether they were rational or irrational results.
What we’re seeing now is, you know, we have this sort of very new world of the web. Now the web is sort of assumed. And you need to have a presence on the web that successfully communicates what your company does and what value you bring to that, so that people will get an ability to make a judgement of you. Is it worth me taking my physical presence and going there and doing business with them. How am I going to get what I expect? It’s a way to set expectations. And I think it’s also a way to potentially, depending on the purveyor of the business, to get more business from them. But that’s really a secondary thing. Its primary goal is to establish you with credibility.
Jacob: Yeah. Excellent. Well, let’s start off by getting found online. Talk us through building inbound links.
Paul: Sure. So, one of the things that’s occurred over the past five or ten years has been how do we figure out how to… I’ll use the crass words. How do we manipulate people into coming to our website?
So, you can do that by advertising, saying, you come to my website, I’ll give you a dollar, you know, or whatever it is. Or you can get a coupon or something like that. And what’s the other way was manipulating the search engines into putting your listing higher than somebody else’s.
One of the early ways in which search engines judged quality is by how many people linked to them. So, if you have a website and you… Let’s say I have a photography business, and you go on your blog and you say, “Hey, Paul’s photography business is the greatest.” And you say, “Visit his site here.” Well, that’s good. You know, that’s a legitimate thing.
But what happened is people would set up these sharing links, sharing sites, where they would just have a thousand random site put a link to my website. So, google would originally index that in the perfect world, and see Jacob linked to Paul, so Paul must have some credibility. And then Bob linked to Paul. And oh, now we’ve got a lot of people linking to Paul, so he must have some authority.
And then, as we moved past that, somebody came out, you know, and got a thousand no-names to link to Paul. And Google was like, “Well, what do we do now?” We’ve got all these people that are basically putting in fake links. And so, it really becomes, you know, irrelevant information.
And so, as we’ve, as we’ve sort of been through this, one of the things that’s come up is this idea of building inbound links. And what we’ve also seen occur in the web – I don’t want to use the word factionalization – but sort of maybe channeling of people. A lot of people use Facebook. A lot of different people use Pinterest. There’s an overlap between them. People use LinkedIn. People use Bing. People use Instagram. All these different channels exist that different people live in.
So, we want to make sure that we have pieces or parts that are relevant to those channels, discussing who we are. So, you want to have a Facebook page that says, “Hey, this is what we do. I’m a photographer, and I do baby photos.” And you’ve got to have that on Facebook.
On Instagram, it’s pictures. You’ve got to have pictures of your babies. So, when people are engaging with Instagram, if they see your information, they will then jump to your website.
That’s the idea of an inbound link. And that’s really where we start to build some credibility in the people who are reading our content. And that content may be shared on all different places in the world, but it points us back to my website.
The point is that we offer some value, whether it be how to take good baby photos, or how to make sure your child is happy when they’re being photographed. A neat article, if you’re thinking about having your baby photographed, you would read that, you’d be directed to that page. You’d read it, and you’d get value out of it, and you would have a higher value perception of Paul Parisi’s website on photography.
Hopefully, eventually, I can do enough with that to get you to hire me directly. So, it’s sort of subtle. It’s not saying, “Come to my website and buy something.” It’s saying, “Come to my website because I offer you value. And oh, by the way, you might like to buy something too.”
So, that’s really the concept of inbound links.
So, that’s sort of number one. Then there’s this idea of on-page search engine optimization, SEO. That’s a big long sentence to basically say, “Do things that make the search engine happy.” And the way Google has evolved, and it’s something that we don’t know. It’s in a black box. We don’t know how their computers think about our web pages. But we can deduce things by how we see things falling out. And one of the things that we’ve determined – not us, but the internet, the internet people.
Jacob: The interwebs.
Paul: Interwebs people, yes, is that Google will look at the h1 tag. So, in a web page, every paragraph has a paragraph tag. And then there’s these things called heading 1, heading 2, h1, h2, h3, h3, h4, h5, h6, etc. And those mean different things. An h1 is more important than an h2. So, Google will read the h1 and do natural language processing on it to say, “How to keep your baby happy when being photographed.” And when somebody types in those words, because you have an h1, it is more likely that they will show your page than somebody who has an h1 that says baby photographs. Very different.
So, if somebody typed “Baby photographs,” they’d probably get the ‘h’ because they had an h1 on Sam’s site over there, they’d go to Sam’s site. But if they said, “Keeping your baby happy photoshoot,” it would probably end up on my page.
And so, it’s being smart about all of those things. And it’s also making sure that what we used to do, or the world used to do, is do what is called keyword stuffing. They would write an article, and they would use the word baby photography in every sentence.
Jacob: Oh, wow. A bit of an awkward reading experience.
Paul: Exactly. Because they were trying to manipulate it. What you want to do is write an article that just gives good information. And what will happen… You see, Google has its cake and eats it too. Because they show an article about keeping your baby happy when he’s photographed. And they, people click on that and go to my page, and now they can tell that people have gone to that page. So, the next time, they’re going to present that again. So, it’s sort of like, you need to put stuff out there that’s good and make sure that the content is consistent.
But if you had “baby photography” in every sentence, they would actually move you down, because you’re trying to push it too hard.
Jacob: I got you. Excellent. So, that is search engine optimization. And then title tag and meta tag – talk me through that.
Paul: Right. So, number three is title tag and meta tag. So, the title tag is what the page displays at the top of the browser. And we want to make sure – and that’s a thing in the web, in the html. There’s a title tag for the page. Google is going to use that to determine what your page is about. So, if you had a title tag about wildlife photography, and it was a baby photography article, that would conflict. They’d figure out you’re photography, but it’s not going to synergize.
Same thing with meta tags. There are some people who say meta tags don’t matter at all and some people who say yes, they do. They’re easy to put in, and they don’t seem to hurt you. Now, what a lot of people would do is stuff meta tags in. Oh, because it’s about baby, it’s about photography, it’s about Cannon, it’s about Nikon, it’s about prints, it’s about slides, or whatever it might be, you know. And they don’t want you to do that. They want you to put to most salient meta tags in there. That will help you.
Jacob: So, meta tags. What? Three to four, three to five per page or is that a bit too restrictive to give a number to it?
Paul: Well, okay. Let’s step back for a second, because what is a meta tag. Meta means data about data. So, metadata is data about the data. So, if I have a phone book, I could say, “Well, the data has names in it.” That’s metadata. It has addresses and it has phone numbers. That gives you an idea of what metadata is. So, the meta tags are saying that this page is about photography. It’s about baby or infant photography. So, you might use baby and infant. You might do another one. “Happy.” that might be the extent of it.
But if you’re doing something even more general, you could get 10 tags in there, and it wouldn’t be bad to do that. There’s also a meta description, and there’s arguments on whether it’s being used or not, consumed by the Google and the other search engines. But, again, it doesn’t hurt, and that is really a summary of what the whole page is about. And that should be concise, and it should be somebody, if the general person were to look at it, they would say, “Yeah, that’s a fair summary of the page.” You know, how to take good pictures of kids and keep them happy while doing so.
Jacob: And so, from the h1, h2, metadata and all the tags and SEO, after that, we now have xml sitemaps. So, talk me through that.
Paul: Well, xml is this idea of extensible markup language. It’s just a complicated thing for giving you a hierarchical list formatted a certain way that a machine can read. A human can actually read it very easily too. But a sitemap is just that. It’s what links to what on your site. So, you have a homepage. You might have an about us page, a contact us page, and then you might have a products page. And underneath the products, you have photo sessions, kids’ photo sessions, weddings, parties, etc.
So, you can see how I just did that hierarchy. And that’s what a sitemap does, is basically takes the menu on your site and puts it into a file that’s easy for a search engine to crawl through. And it can actually make the difference between how your site looks in the Google search results, because they will use that sitemap to give a very good overview of linked content.
So, it is critical to have a sitemap, and when you go and buy a tool or plug in a tool to do a sitemap, it will render all of the menus you tell it to do. And if you don’t think about it, you’ll render all of your menus. You may not want to do that. You want to be selective for the things that you really want to be out there.
Jacob: Gotcha. Excellent. And so, then if you have this website we’re talking about… This is a bit of like the bones and structure of the website.
Paul: It is. Yeah.
Jacob: You also have here a chapter on 301 redirects.
Paul: Well, we were talking about, you know, sitemaps are sort of like the table of contents for a machine. You know, the human has a graphical representation on the screen. They see the menu bar of whatever. But the machine needs the sitemap. 301 redirects takes care of the idea of what happens when you change something or move something.
So, we had about us, contact us, and products. Well, somebody might look at that and say, “You sell photography. Why do you have photography buried under products? And I’ve had my site up for a year. So, the world knows that Paulsphoto.com/products/weddings is the url for it. And now I’ve decided, “I want to focus on weddings.”
So, I go to my menu, and I put up about us, contact, weddings, and then products. Somebody then types in, through an old link, you know, or sees your blog, and says, “Gee, Paul does great weddings. Go to PaulParisi/products/weddings,” goes there. He gets a 404 error.
Jacob: And then you’ve lost the business.
Paul: Yeah. 404 means it’s not found. You look like an idiot. You look like an idiot; I look like an idiot. The whole thing is bad. A 301 redirect deals with that.
So, I told Jacob a year ago that it was /products/weddings. I go into a setting. It’s usually in an htaccess file, which is a configuration file for the apache webserver, for different web services, it’s different that says, when somebody comes in with this url in their browser, /products/weddings, tell them we have now moved that to /weddings. And the search engines will learn that, as well as the browser will automatically redirect it. You won’t even see it happening. It just happens naturally.
So, those are critical, and it really calls into the forefront the idea that you need to understand the structure of your website and how that might be changing so that you don’t lose all those links into those landing pages where people might land.
Jacob: I got you. Excellent. So, in some ways, this is a very brief overview. I would encourage you to check out Paul’s e-book. But this is all section one, Get Found Online. Now we’re going to go from the bones to a bit more of the appearance. Part two is all about the design and usability of a website.
So, talk us through just the first impressions of a website, because this is mostly where people live. How does it look? Does it look good?
Paul: Yeah. And I think we’ve talked a lot in different talks about the way you design your home, the way you set a table. And those all invite either good reactions or bad reactions. There’s this story I heard once of this family who, a neighbor would always show up just at dinnertime. And they, of course, wouldn’t be rude and said, “Well, why don’t you eat with us?” This went on for weeks. And they finally got an idea. And so, the guy came over one day, and they were chatting, “Oh, why don’t you eat dinner with us?” So, they had dinner and everything. They took the dishes and put them on the floor for the dog to clean. Then they picked them up and put them in the cabinet. He never came back.
So, that’s sort of, you get what you want. How you present yourself will cause something to come back. And our website, it may be the only way somebody ever interacts with us. So, we want that to be a good, good feeling.
Jacob: Right. A good experience for them.
Paul: Good experience, and what’s fascinating to me is, the majority of web browsing is done on small smartphones, small screens. And it’s shocking and number of companies that don’t have mobile friendly sites.
Jacob: Right. Massive companies, massive websites that are…
Paul: And small ones too.
Jacob: Oh, yeah. Just this last week, I was looking through an archive of some contemporary information, and I was surprised that I had to really kind of like zoom in and move around on my phone, and it was just like, man. I’m like, this is the person that I was looking at their website. I mean, they are a top-tier person. They are constantly being referred to, and I was just surprised that like, man, their website is not mobile friendly.
Paul: Right. And I don’t understand that, because they must be ignorant. I don’t know what the excuse is, but if you take a personality or a business executive or a company, it’s like, “What are you doing?” I mean, you know, we had this joke, in one of my companies, where we did a lot of proposals. And I don’t know if you are familiar with those comb bindings, that you go and they sort of have these fingers that go into these square holes. And we… I hate those. I don’t know anybody who likes them.
Well, since then, they’ve come out with a nice spiral, and you know, the comb binding is effectively – we use this joke – it was like stapling a soiled diaper to your report, as opposed to the beautiful… You know, spiral binding is so much nicer.
And I think a lot of people overlook that stuff. But as we were talking about these are subtle things that make it easy or hard to consume. And design and usability on your website is right there.
Important Tips for Web Design 101
Jacob: So, what are a few tips for great web design, for just basic entry level, keep these things in mind?
Paul: Well, I think it’s first impression is probably one of the most important things, is what does your site say about you. And if somebody browses it on a smartphone, what does it say about you? You’re so far behind that you don’t have a smartphone version? And what is it that you want them to walk away with for that 10 seconds that they might spend on your site?
Jacob: Yeah. I mean, I would say, for the phone part, honestly, if I go to a website and it’s not mobile friendly, I mean, especially since the iPhone came out, what, 2007? So, we’re talking almost 10 years of mobile use of websites. If somebody doesn’t have a mobile use of their website, I wonder if they’re still in business.
Paul: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. Or whether they’re intending to stay in business. I agree, and I think that’s the first impression. You know, people make a decision. There’s a, ah, large amount of research that says, “If your site doesn’t load in two seconds, speed wise, your people are going to go away.” You know, so, three seconds isn’t good. Four seconds, five, however far that goes, well if it loads and it’s not readable on the phone, that’s a really hard thing. Or if it loads on your desktop, and you can’t figure out what this company does or what they’re trying to do. And it’s very difficult, because, you know, when you have a company like Samsung who does thousands of things, you have to figure out how to get the people to where they need to go. Whereas, if you do photography, how do you…?
So, there’s something that’s going on in the marketplace in that it may be extreme specialization, or you may create different channels to sell the different specializations that you have. So, you might, as a photographers, we’ve used that example a lot – you might have a wedding website. That’s all it does. You might have a corporate website that says, “I do all of these different things.” But you might have a child photography website. That’s a lot easier for people to consume than it is to have them navigate through.
Jacob: Yeah. One of the things that you mentioned is the use of colors and pictures and layout.
But in terms of just color and layout, those are certain, certainly important things, and I find on some websites that are done badly, there’s either really confusing layout and just somebody’s favorite color that was thrown in there. You know, it just doesn’t make any sense. There’s certainly a psychology to color as well, but…
The Science of Color and Layout
Paul: Yeah. There’s science to all of this, honestly, and we have this great book about search engine optimization and different calls to action, asking somebody to do something, and changing a button from one color to another. They did split tests where they tested a 100 people being shown a green button and 100 being shown a red button. And the red button far exceeded the click on the green button. Use a red button. And I’m being general here.
But those things all add up to somebody having a good feeling about making a judgement to make the next step with your organization. And all of the things, like we talked again earlier, where, you know, you’re going to write an article that gives them value. So, if you’re interested in having photos about your kids done, there’s a good chance – and you read a great article about that, that isn’t holding anything back and saying this is a great… This is an article. There’s a good chance that they’re going to share that on Facebook with their friends. “We had some photos of our child done by this photographer, and here’s this great article by them.” That you can’t buy, that kind of champion, you know, raving fans, star waving fans. That’s going to be a lot better.
So, you know, what you choose colors, understand, you know, the difference between red and blue and what they evoke emotionally, and why they do. Don’t just choose a color because it might be your favorite. Work with a designer.
There’s a lot of people who have websites, and they have expectations, and there’s all this do-it-yourself mentality, which is fine. But you probably wouldn’t build your own house or your own car. And, you know, if you want to do it for fun, that’s fine. But if you’re in business, and you want to get a particular return on that investment, your time is worth money. You know, if it’s worth a dollar an hour and you spent 20 hours building a website, okay. Most people aren’t worth a dollar an hour. They’re worth a lot more than that.
So, you really need to judge that. Why do we – because the tools are so easy to use – think that we can do the best? And it is really better to have other people. If you’re going to do it yourself, though, I would highly encourage you to seek out friends, family, and say, “What do you honestly think?” And seek out people you don’t know, because they’re going to tell you more honestly.
Jacob: And if you’re looking for resources on articles and ways that to build a website, refer to PaulParisi.com. This show will have articles linked in the show notes so that you can get a sense of some of the basics for what’s going to be best for first impressions on your website.
Also published on Medium.