For organizations that don’t plan to invest money on their website this year, here are 5 website improvements that you can make now for free, to attract new customers and increase sales.
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Free Ways to Improve Your Website Performance
Increasingly, Google is considering website performance metrics, collectively known as Core Web Vitals, in how they rank pages in search results. Core web vitals measure page load time, responsiveness, and whether or not parts of the page shift around while it’s loading.
Why care about website performance?
First, you can potentially improve your search rankings and increase the traffic to your site. Second, if you improve your website performance, visitors are more likely to stay longer and become a customer. If your site is slow and clunky, visitors are more likely to leave quickly.
How can you evaluate your site’s website performance?
Use PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse, available through Chrome (More Tools > Developer Tools > Lighthouse). Make sure to test your site for both mobile and desktop devices.
One of the biggest culprits that I have seen for poor website performance, and the easiest to fix, is images that are not optimized, requiring the user to download more data and slowing the page load time. Images taken from digital cameras or stock photo sites are typically thousands of pixels wide and have a resolution of 300 pixels/inch. When using these images, adjust the image dimensions (width and height) down to the largest width they are displayed on your website. Reducing the image dimensions will automatically decrease the file size. But you can reduce the file size even further by reducing the resolution (72 pixels/inch rather than 300) and saving the image at a slightly lower quality. If you don’t have access to image editing tools, you can use the free version of Canva to make these adjustments.
Another best practice for images is to display them using the modern WebP format, which can generate a smaller file size than JPG (although I find I can generate a smaller image size by following the steps described above). If you use Wix, this is done automatically. You can generate WebP images with a free converter or use a WordPress plugin.
Depending on your site, optimizing images will only improve your website performance so far. You may need to consider compressing or removing files or moving your site to a faster server. However, these optimizations can require more technical expertise and money, and so are outside the scope of this article.
Free Ways to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings
Your search engine rankings are impacted by a number of factors including overall website performance, the quality of your content, how that content is structured, and how many people link to your content.
Why care about improving your search engine rankings?
It has been shown that the first few links in search results get the most clicks. Higher rankings result in more traffic to your site, which leads to more customers and more sales.
What can you do now to improve your search engine rankings?
First, if you haven’t already, create a Google Search Console (GSC) account and submit your site’s sitemap. Wix and Squarespace generate these automatically. There are plenty of WordPress plugins that will do this, I recommend RankMath.
Next, work on improving your content and content structure. For each key page on your site, use relevant keywords in the page title, page content, and URL. Within the content, use heading tags, not just bolded text, to identify the different sections of content. Include links to other relevant content on your site and other sites using keyword-rich text, not just “click here” links. Include a meta description and alt tags for images, which should all include your keywords as well.
Lastly, work on building links from other sites to your site. In your social media channels, post links to your latest blog post and other website content. Add your website to relevant local, state, and industry-related directory sites such as state and local tourism and Chamber of Commerce sites.
Free Ways to Improve Your Website Accessibility
Improving website accessibility goes beyond making your site usable by blind users. Your site should be usable by users who are color-blind, have low vision, or use assistive technologies to navigate your website. Here are 7 steps to make your website more accessible.
Free Ways to Improve Your Website Content
Take your website content to the next level by adding images, videos, and articles that your customers will find interesting and engaging. You may be doing this already through your social media channels, but there’s value in having this content on your website.
Why care about improving your website content?
Google likes to see that sites are updated regularly. Adding new content can increase the number of keywords that your website ranks for in search results, increasing the options for people to find your site. As mentioned previously, you can promote new content through your social media channels to drive users back to your site, increasing overall engagement.
What types of content can you add to your website now for free?
Create blog posts with images and videos highlighting your products and services. Add an FAQ page with the most asked questions from customers and make sure there’s a link to this page close to your phone number and email address. Reuse this content in your social media posts and Google Business Profile.
Free Ways to Improve Your Website Data Tracking
Make sure you know what’s happening on your site and what marketing activities are/are not working. This way, when you are ready to invest more money in your digital activities, you have information that will help you spend that money wisely. The main tools to have in place for improved website data tracking are Google Analytics GA4 and Google Search Console.
Why care about improving your website data tracking?
As previously mentioned, Google Search Console helps get your site indexed by Google and see what terms people use to find your site. Google Search Console can show you if there are errors on your site that may impact how the site is indexed and ranked.
Even if your website hosting tool provides built-in analytics, you can still install Google Analytics GA4 which provides additional benefits that the built-in tools don’t. GA4 provides cross-device tracking and predictive analytics to handle cases when analytics tracking is blocked in the browser. GA4 integrates with Google Ads and Google Search Console so you get a more holistic view of your data in one place. Integrating your GA4 and Google Ads data will help you with more effective ad targeting in the future.
How to start using these tools?
- Enable Google Signals to support cross-device tracking by going to Settings > Data Settings > Data Collection.
- Update the default data retention value from 2 months to 14 months by going to Settings > Data Settings > Data Retention.
- If you know your IP address, you can exclude internal traffic by going to Settings > Data Streams and clicking on your stream and then More Tagging Settings > Define Internal Traffic and then create an internal traffic rule with your IP address. Under Settings > Data Settings > Data Filters, activate the internal traffic filter.
- If you use an e-commerce tool that is hosted elsewhere, add cross-domain tracking by going to Settings > Data Streams and clicking on your data stream, then Configure Your Domains and add a condition to include an additional domain.
- Link your Google Search Console account and Google Ads account (if you have one) under Settings > Product Links so you can see this data in your GA4 reports.
The steps to add these tools to your website will depend on your website tool provider (WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc.). For WordPress, I recommend adding Google Tag Manager code directly into your site and not relying on a third-party plugin that could have a negative impact on your website performance. Once you have added the GA4 tracking code to your site, configure the report snapshot to see the data that is most important for you.
Lastly, consider using UTM codes in your links from social media channels and other websites to see which links and channels result in the most traffic and engagement. You can use UTM codes to define campaign, source, and medium values that will appear in your GA4 reports. Use utm_campaign to track different content marketing campaigns (i.e. new product release) and then use utm_source and utm_medium to distinguish between different channels (ie. Facebook, Instagram, email newsletter, etc.). You can use this helpful URL builder to create links with the codes included.
Making any of these small website improvements can have a big impact without having to spend any money, as long as you are willing to invest a little bit of time.