As content specialists, we at Niche particularly pride ourselves on delivering a fabulous user experience in every one of our products. The concept is simple. But in this fast-paced world of technology, even we have found things can get a little muddy.
When we first launched our website for Macworld Australia about seven years ago, we got a bit excited wanting it to do everything. We loaded it with as many plugins as it could handle and we ploughed on with the job of creating lots and lots of content. Unbeknown to us at the time, this would set the site up to be very, very slow.
Interestingly, our Macworld Australia website visitors tend to be very different to those of our print magazine – 80% don’t cross over between the two. Macworld Australia is the longest-service Apple magazine outside of the US, running very successfully as a print publication since 1985, under Niche since 1998. Many of our very loyal print readers have been with us from the start.
But when it comes to online, our readers have a fair bit of choice on where to get their Apple news, so we know we need to keep our Macworld Australia website on top of its game.
This has posed a huge challenge over the years considering the nature of our audience. Twice a year, Apple attracts the attention of the world with its Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June and its annual product launches in September. Every June and every September, Apple fans across the globe flock online to view the latest news. Every June and every September, our Macworld Australia site has crashed. That is, until this year when we managed to keep our heads above water.
As well as upping our investment into our hosting services, we have re-engineered and simplified the code that makes up our site. This has involved implementing a scalable Amazon Web Services architecture. This means we are able to easily increase the capacity of the site, which has proven vital during those periods of peak traffic.
Recently we have also put a heap of work into improving our search engine optimisation (SEO). In mid-2012, coinciding with a restructure of our team, the mighty Google launched its Panda and Penguin algorithm changes. Google was getting stricter on sites that failed to meet its standards, and it started penalising us for providing a subpar experience. The problem was that Macworld Australia was taking up to 25 seconds to load.
We brought in a consultant, followed by a full-timer, to focus on SEO across the business. Our IT team spent countless hours de-cluttering the back-end of the Macworld Australia website. Years and years of extra code being added to the system without proper documentation was weighing it down.
Some of those plugins we had excitedly installed weren’t even being used to their potential. Perhaps the most important of these was Yoast, an SEO plugin that we had installed for one particular purpose, but we didn’t realise how potentially valuable it was to us. Yoast is a great tool for optimising pages – it basically walks you through the SEO process, scoring you on how well your chosen keyword is optimised in areas including your heading, meta-description and copy. Once we started actually using it correctly, our traffic improved dramatically.
In fact, some weeks our traffic has soared upwards more than 20%.
Our improved site speed has undoubtedly played a role in this as well – we’ve cut it down to about a seven-second load time, a major improvement on what it was.
Here are a few tips we’ve learned about best practice website building and updating:
- Determine the balance between the amount of features you want versus load speed and reliability, because more features generally lead to a slower site.
- If you’ve got a large, code-heavy site it is worth considering paying more for hosting with a provider that offers additionals such as central processing unit (CPU) power, RAM and solid state drives (SSD), which operate more reliably and faster than most basic offerings.
- Optimise all your graphics to ensure minimum load time. This usually means sizing them to correctly fit your page design, keeping the size small while maintaining visual quality.
- Set your IT team the task to optimise your code (an example of this is removing extra notes put in by web developers).
- Always conduct user experience testing on site changes through all of the main web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.
- Consider refreshing the look and feel of your site every year or two, in order to keep your visitors engaged.
As with our print magazines, we want to keep our customers as engaged as possible on our websites. In addition to continuing to provide great content, this means a commitment to staying on top of our websites’ performances.