I love old-fashioned, technical SEO, and it's better still when combined with common-sense marketing. It involves the sound execution of fundamental principles of Web site design.
Today's case study looks at a Web site that has some technical SEO implementation problems and other marketing problems, then shows you what happened when these problems were fixed. This case study is brought to us courtesy of Blizzard Internet Marketing, a Colorado-based hospitality marketing firm.
While the search engines tell us to "design for users and not for search engines," the reality is there are certain things you need to do to make your site search-engine friendly. Of course, when the search engines tell you to design for users, they really mean don't spend your time figuring out how to "game the algorithm." They will all acknowledge that smart SEO implementation will help them do their job better.
Improving the User Experience
At the same time, you must provide a rich and easy-to-use experience for the users on your site. Want an immediate boost to your revenue without waiting for some search engine to update its index? Improve the user experience on the site and you can see instant results.
Miami Beach-based Newport Beachside Resort is a luxury hotel and resort offering a wide range of amenities and activities. The resort sensed that it could be getting better results from its online marketing efforts and brought Blizzard in to help them with that challenge. The initial site was attractive, but it had been designed without SEO in mind. So there were a host of different problems from an SEO perspective, including:
- The drop-down navigation on the site was not user friendly or browser friendly.
- Call-to-action buttons on the site were not clear, and as a result, users were finding it hard to book.
- Most links were implemented in images or image maps.
- The site was implemented in tables, and CSS was not in use, so formatting information was throughout the site.
- Site structure made it difficult to add new pages to the site.
- HTML coding errors cause some browsers to render the site poorly.
The Site Redesign
Blizzard took on the task of a site redesign, taking a number of critical steps:
- Placement of the call-to-action buttons was improved, making it easier for visitors to figure out how to take the next step.
- Formatting elements on the site were implemented in CSS to simplify site design and maintenance.
- The drop-down navigation was implemented in CSS as well, and this helped in the creation of a more user-friendly design.
- HTML coding errors were eliminated so the site rendered properly in all browsers.
- Links were all converted into text links, resulting in rich anchor text, which is more search-engine friendly.
- Substantial keyword-rich content was added to provide more information for users and search engine spiders.
- The new design resulted in a site that is easier to expand, allowing more pages to easily be added to the site.
Results of the Site Redesign
After the site redesign was completed and launched, the results were dramatic and immediate. That's the beauty of improving the user experience on a site! Here is what Newport Beachside Resort saw when comparing its February 2007 stats to the February 2006 stats.
- An increase in page views of 51,640.
- An increase in visits of 4,633.
- An increase in organic search engine referrals of 3,119.
- An increase in phone calls (looking for more information or to make a reservation) of 15 percent.
The incoming call quality remained excellent as well, with an average duration of 3 minutes and 22 seconds. Hospitality industry statistics generally indicate that a call lasting more than 3 minutes results in a reservation.
Using Analytics to Test Site Design Elements
The real lesson from this case study is that SEO is great, but don't overlook the other aspects of your site design, either. As I mentioned above, improving the user experience can provide instant results. Sometimes, the way to do this may not be intuitively obvious, but this is where web analytics come in. If you test out different page designs, different calls-to-action, different messaging, and even changes in color schemes, you will likely see different results.
It's a discipline worth pursuing. After all, what are the chances that your first instinctive guess on how to design a page is the absolute best it can be? Yep, that's right. The chances are pretty much zero.