Website optimization is a broad term used to describe various digital optimization techniques. This concerns techniques such as conversion optimization, usability optimization, search engine optimization, and loading speed optimization.
- Conversion optimization (CRO)
- Usability optimization (UX)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Web Performance Optimization (WPO)
What is website optimization?
What exactly is website optimization? It is important to keep in mind that this term is sometimes also used as a synonym for one of the previously mentioned optimization techniques. Other terms related to such as optimizing, improving, increasing, etc. are also regularly mentioned in this context. Due to this lack of consensus, no clear definition can be given for the term website optimization.
Importance of website optimization
Websites often exist to better achieve the goals of an organization or person. In commercial organizations, this often concerns matters such as more transactions, more leads, more customers, etc. But greater brand awareness, more authority, or better information are also common goals. Such organizational goals usually have underlying factors that can often be easily measured online. Consider, for example: more visitors, happier visitors, faster loading time, less support, better conversion rate, higher average order value, etc. In that context, optimizing the website helps to better achieve the stated website goals. This in turn will ensure that the organizational goals are better achieved.
As mentioned earlier, website optimization consists of several components. The most important of these aim to achieve improvements in the following areas: conversion, usability, search engine, and loading speed. Naturally, there is an (increasing) overlap between these components, but they also have a considerable number of differences. Both the similarities and the differences will be discussed in detail below.
Conversion Optimization (CRO)
The aim of conversion optimization is to increase the number of conversions that a website or webshop receives. In this case, the number of conversions usually refers to the number of macro conversions. These are, for example, the number of transactions in a webshop, or the number of donations to a charity, or the number of leads from a service provider, etc. In addition to CRO (as conversion optimization is also called), the term 'CXO' is also increasingly used. . This stands for Customer Experience Optimization and often looks at the customer journey as a whole, instead of just the website.
While CRO often talks about achieving more conversions, a better conversion rate certainly contributes to this. The conversion rate is seen as the number of converting visitors divided by the total number of visitors. If things such as the average order value are also included, you can, for example, determine the effect of conversion optimization on turnover.
Popular methods within this section include website analysis and AB testing. During a website analysis, a conversion specialist examines the website or webshop. Based on tools, best practices, scientific research, personal experience, etc., he or she will then make recommendations for changes. This can involve both quick wins and test hypotheses. These hypotheses can then be tested with the aforementioned AB tests. This technique compares two (or more) versions of a website or webshop and determines which variant achieves the set goals more quickly. For example, it may be the case that a variant of the website that uses a different headline converts better. That variant can then be made live for all visitors, which will increase turnover.
While devising the CRO strategy, it will be determined how conversion optimization can be optimally used for the organization. This can be of great added value, especially when there are planned major changes to the website or a redesign.
Usability optimization (UX)
Everyone knows the frustration of a website or webshop that does not work well. It is precisely this frustration that usability optimization tries to remove. The goal is a website that works well and intuitively for visitors. To make such a goal measurable, we often work with things such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or the number of support requests that come in. Terms such as user experience research and user research are often used for this type of optimization.
A popular method within this section is usability testing. With this type of testing, people from the target group are searched for in online panels. They are then asked to carry out specific assignments on the website (such as purchasing a specific item). Both their computer screen and their voice are recorded. In addition to this regular form of user testing, it is also possible to compare multiple websites against each other.
A slightly less well-known method is behavioral analysis. Behavioral analysis examines how visitors behave on the website. This can be done, for example, with tools such as Hotjar or Clarity. You can think of heat maps, scroll maps, or session recordings, for example. Each of these options can create new insights into how the usability of the website can be optimized.
In some cases, the findings from the above UX research are then presented visually, this is also called UX design. In UX design, the wireframe is a common form. You can see a wireframe as a simplified form to represent a website or webshop. This often concerns a colorless version of the (new) website consisting of simple lines and filler text.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is probably the most well-known form of how you can optimize a website. An attempt is made to adjust the website so that it appears higher in the search results of search engines such as Google. However, the term search engine optimization is also a collective term. For example, it is used for so-called 'on-page optimization' and 'off-page optimization'. With the first of these two forms the focus is on the website itself, while with the latter it is largely on acquiring backlinks and increasing authority.
What search engines like Google want to see is that visitors on the websites they send them to can achieve their goals easily and quickly. Google has therefore started to attach more and more value to the user experience that visitors have on the website in recent years. For example, does the website load quickly? Does this content offer sufficient added value? Does the landing page meet the needs of the visitor? Etc. It is therefore important for website owners to ensure that visitors have the best possible experience on your website. Google will then reward this with higher positions, so that you can achieve your goals better.
Web Performance Optimization (WPO)
Loading speed optimization probably has the clearest name of the various components. The aim of this part is to improve the loading speed of a website or webshop. The importance of this is great. Research from various parties shows time and time again that there is a connection between loading speed and the conversion rate. The faster a website loads, the higher the conversion rate will be. Investing in improving loading speed can therefore ensure that more visitors will convert, which in turn can generate additional revenue.
When optimizing charging speed, keep in mind that there are different ways to look at charging speed. Simply put, you can view this from a 'lab' or a 'field' context. Simply put, a lab analysis looks at how an external server loads your website. Statistics then become available such as 'Time To First Byte', 'Time to Interactive', etc. With a field analysis, on the other hand, the actual loading times of visitors to your website are stored. This happens, for example, in the Google Chrome browser. When these scores are then combined by Google, they can calculate averages for your website.
In most cases, optimizing a website consists of a process of several steps. It is of course important to note that these are not always the same steps for the parts mentioned above. However, in most cases the steps will amount to things similar to what is described below. There will also often be overlap between the steps. For example, it is not rare to not only validate known issues during a focus group session, but also to observe new points.
The first step is to see where there are potential areas for improvement. For example, you can sometimes increase the conversion of a webshop or website by simply retrieving information from the support department. After all, visitors receive questions every day to which they apparently have not been able to (easily) find the answer themselves. Answering exactly these types of questions can ensure that visitors convert faster.
In addition to the support department, valuable insights can also come from monitoring tools. Such tools automatically monitor the website and often send out so-called alerts when remarkable things are found here. By responding to these findings, you can often discover points on the website that no longer function optimally. Behavioral analysis tools or web analysis tools can also fulfill a similar role. However, in most cases these will not send out-of-the-box alerts. Therefore, keep in mind that you have to log in to such tools regularly to identify opportunities for improvement.
Then there are some manual observation methods. This way you can look at the website from your own experience or contact a so-called subject matter expert. They will know a lot about the challenges a potential visitor faces. You may have overlooked such points because you have been working on the website for years and are used to the 'special features'. A website optimization expert could also help you look at the website. Based on his or her experience, training and analyses, other observations may become visible. Finally, it can also be particularly valuable to analyze competitors' websites. The aim is not to blindly adopt functionalities, but rather to learn from how competitors have solved certain challenges. In many cases, this can provide interesting starting points for how you can solve the same challenges faced by visitors to your website.
After potential areas for improvement have been collected, it is time to validate them. There is also a whole range of techniques available for this. A well-known technique, for example, is usability testing. For example, it is examined whether people actually understand a certain icon properly or not. Furthermore, interviews or techniques such as card sorting can also help to better understand why certain behavior was observed earlier.
However, the most commonly used technique to validate findings is A/B testing. As mentioned earlier, two or more variants of a website are examined side by side. Visitors who go to a certain one are then divided among the variants by the A/B test software. You can then segment the data per variant in web analysis tools such as Google Analytics. This ensures that you can compare the behavior of visitors in these variants. For example, is a button clicked significantly more in a certain variant? Or will more purchases be made in a different variant? By using suitable static methods, observations can be reliably validated through A/B testing.
The final step is to then put the validated observations live on the website. In most cases it will be possible to do this temporarily with the A/B testing tool. This way, there will be no loss of turnover between the moment a winner is determined in an A/B test and the moment the development team has ready the change to place on the website.
In other cases, however, a change may not improve the performance for all visitors, but only for a certain segment. For example, you can think of a certain device group (such as mobile, tablet, desktop) or visitors with a certain operating system (iOS, Windows, Android). If this is the case, you could choose to make the change live as a so-called personalization. You ensure that a certain change to the website is not visible to all visitors, but only to visitors in a certain segment. This way you can make the website increasingly relevant and therefore better suited to the wishes of visitors.
The above process will help you make optimizing a website easier and more reliable. By making additional use of the website optimization tips below, you can get even more value from your work.
Improving websites is more effective if you work on this continuously. If you only observe, validate, and optimize once (or with a very low frequency), visitors will be presented with a suboptimal experience in the meantime. What exactly is the right frequency varies per organization. For example, a company like Booking.com reportedly employs dozens of teams that are continuously working on optimizing the website, while for an SME company new input every quarter may be optimal. In any case, make sure that the findings are well documented. This ensures that findings are not lost when there may not yet be resources to validate them or implement them on the website.
Also take your target group into account during the optimization process. Every website or webshop has a different mix of the devices, browsers and operating systems used. In addition, these proportions also change over time. The demographic data and the state-of-mind with which visitors come to your site can also be important. For example, visitors may largely fall within certain age groups, or may be in a greater or lesser degree 'in a hurry' when they land on your website. Here too, it is worth looking for an optimum. For example, certain basic knowledge about the target group is required, but not every organization will have the resources to develop detailed data-driven personas.
In line with the above points, it is important to measure the effect of changes. Now, of course, you are already doing some of this by going through the steps described earlier. However, things such as alerts and website monitoring can also be of great added value in identifying any problems. Old-fashioned 'paying close attention' can also give you a better idea of the actual effect of changes made to the website.
However, both the process and the tips will yield limited returns if you do not use suitable website optimization tools.
Optimizing a website can be done with tools of all shapes and sizes. There are different types of tools (for example: A/B testing, web analysis, behavioral analysis, loading speed, user testing, and usability testing). In addition, there are of course also tools that are suitable for smaller companies (such as SMEs), but also tools that are aimed at larger companies (multi-national, enterprise, etc.). It is therefore important to select tools that suit your organization.
But what should you pay attention to when selecting such a tool? As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you should always take into account the type of tool you are looking for. The size of company that such a tool focuses on is also important. Less well-known aspects, however, are the so-called digital maturity of your organization and which use cases you want to use the tool in question. The cost structure and complexity are of course also important criteria. Finally, you must consider whether there are sufficient specialists and time available to actually make optimal use of the selected tool. If this is not the case, you will incur monthly costs without receiving a (good) return.
Website optimization consists of several components, each of which contributes in its own way to a better website. To optimize a website, it is therefore important to focus sufficiently on each of the different components. If one or more parts are forgotten, you are probably leaving unnecessary money on the table.