Spending Time On Your Website perhaps brought to mind a possible visit to check out some of your favourite web pages. However the phrase has a much more important sense that could well be a call to action.
Time is a critical element for us all. We usually do not have enough of it and sometimes we may reflect on how best we can use the time we have. In that sense, the title is all about how we should invest that critical resource, time, in our website.
Unless your website is a vanity site with no clear objectives, there are always actions that can help in attaining whatever your website objectives may be. Perfection is never achieved, but continuing progress towards those objectives is the name of the game.
There are of course choices. In this article we will suggest how those choices should be made. Perhaps the most useful advice is to seek the advice of some trusted and knowledgeable friend, mentor, or coach. None of us is very good at taking an objective view of things that are very close and important to us. Imperceptibly we may shade the arguments and take the course which seems more comfortable, rather than the course that may be most useful to us.
Three useful time management tools
In what follows, we will use three approaches that keep you focused on what will achieve the maximum effectiveness.
The first is an approach suggested by Stephen Covey for time allocation. He notes that any activity that comes up can be scaled on two dimensions. Firstly it can be important or unimportant. Secondly it can be urgent or non-urgent. The two are not linked so it can be that something unimportant grabs your attention because it is urgent. He suggests that you should make sure that you handle the Important / Urgent items first and not get diverted by less urgent or less important activities that cry out for attention. That is the first rule we will apply.
The second is to apply the Pareto Principle. If that is new to you, it is an observation about populations first enunciated by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. He noted that in a population a small fraction of all individuals may 'own' a much larger fraction of say the total wealth of the population. In some cases, it is known as the 80/20 rule since perhaps 20% of the population may own say 80% of the total wealth. It can be adapted to any population where different individuals have different measures on some dimension of interest. This suggests that it may be useful to handle only the most important members of a population and thus cover a good fraction of what is of interest about that population.
The third approach is to apply two questions in our time management efforts. These are
- How often should I do this?
- How much time should I spend on it?
This approach is best handled by some time management tool such as Outlook. For any activity mentioned below, set a reminder of how often you wish to do whatever the task may be. Define the task very clearly so that the steps involved are obvious and the time they will take is fairly precise. If in doing this task routinely, you find that overall you are still too rushed for time, then perhaps this activity should be done less frequently or the time allowed should be cut and a more superficial task done. As an example, a task that you set to be done every Monday and Thursday at 09:00 am may need to be cut to once per week.
Allocating time to managing your website
Making a website perform well in achieving its objectives is often a much more complex matter than might appear at first sight. There are a number of associated factors that affect a website effectiveness. Theyinvolve the following and these are listed in descending order of importance or priority.
- The Website is Live - Checking that the website is visible to you and to others
- Website Design - Maintenance or housekeeping to ensure the website functions as a website according to established standards
- Search Engine Optimization - SEO - How search engines, searchers and visitors are finding and visiting your website and acting on the Calls To Action
- What Visitors Do When Visiting The Website - Where do they go? Where do they go after that?
Following Covey's advice, we will examine how much time we should consider for each of these four topics, attacking them in order of descending priority. The most useful process will be one that is maintained on a regular basis, rather than something which is much more complex but is soon abandoned because of the effort involved.
Checking That The Website is Live
The very minimum you should do is to visit your website from time to time to check it is online and showing what you expect to see. Make sure no hackers have somehow gained entry to your server and have added erroneous web pages or even malware. If you recently have changed some of the web pages or added new ones, then you might want to check that whichever of the popular browsers you or your visitors may use, the user experience with your website is satisfactory.
Such a quick scrutiny will hopefully not give you any surprises. This first step involves only a minimal investment of time. For most websites this should be a daily task. The danger is that if the website is down for more than 24 hours, search engine spiders may assume that the website is no longer functional. In consequence the schedule for further visits may be seriously extended and rankings in search engine keyword reports reduced. Beyond this essential minimum of effort, what should be done? How does one set priorities in using whatever time one has available?
Website Design - Maintenance or housekeepingThe simplest way to check that a website is functioning as it should is to use the data that can be seen in the Google Webmaster Tools website. The website can be verified by adding an empty text file with a name supplied by Google to the root of the domain. The website then provides much more specific information on the website. The Dashboard provides a rapid overview of the website and in particular signals whether particular problems have been encountered.
If there are problems, their resolution may take a little while to fully understand the problem and determine how to correct it. If all is in order, the review can be fairly rapid. Checking this out might sensibly be done once each week.
Search Engine Optimization - SEO
One of the benefits and at the same time one of the curses of the Internet is that a vast amount of information can be obtained about each visitor to a website and what they did there. Google Analytics provides a free and very effective way of spotting significant trends among all this data.
The amount of time that can be devoted to studying the Google Analytics data will determine how deeply the details can be examined. However with the Pareto principle in mind, routinely looking at the top five landing pages for example will give some useful insights. These top landing web pages will cover a good percentage of all those visiting the website.
If Google Adsense is used on the website and the appropriate Google Analytics code has been added to each web page, then the data provided on this is particularly useful. One can examine say the top ten web pages in terms of AdSense revenues and see how these change through time. It may well be appropriate to refine the SEO so that more visitors pass through these higher AdSense revenue web pages.
Another part of the data that rewards careful study is the referral data, in other words where visitors arrived from. It can be useful to consider how strong referral sources can be strengthened even more. This includes of course what keywords were used by visitors who arrived via search queries.
Google Analytics provides so much data on these issues that it can be easy to spend more time on one factor and leave insufficient time to explore another factor. Having a checklist of the items on the dashboard that will be explored and limit how much time is devoted to any one of these with our good friend, Pareto, to ensure that all major issues are addressed. Given the likely benefits that can be gained by seeing how visitors arrive and optimizing this, this part of the review should be done frequently, say twice per week on say Tuesday and Friday. The time allotment for this will depend on the total time that can be invested in making the website more effective.
What Visitors Do When Visiting The Website
The final area that deserves regular and ongoing attention is how visitors move around the website. Here again the Google Analytics (GA) data can be very useful in identifying part of this. A very graphic way of understanding visitor movement is provided by the Site Overlay feature listed under Content in GA. For any web page it shows for each link leaving the web page the percentage of visitors who took that route. Often the results point to a real paradox.
For most web pages, particularly if they have a moderate number of links leaving the web page, the percentage of visitors leaving by any route is most often 0%. The paradox here is that most 'experts' on landing pages suggest that you should severely limit the number of choices you offer to a visitor. Indeed, some would say that the best landing page has only the Call To Action button as the way to exit the web page. Most regular web pages have a large number of outgoing links but using the 'landing page' argument, it might be suggested that this number should be severely restricted. This is a forceful reminder of the advice in Steven Krug's book, Don't Make Me Think. Simplifying web pages to remove non-performing outbound links may increase visitor activity through the active links.
This is one area where the regular review using the Google Site Overlay may well suggest immediate ways of sharpening the web design. Rapid simplifications can be made to these web pages and results verified in the next regular review. An appropriate frequency for this part of the review is probably once per week
Website Time Management
A routine should be established that can be maintained. As this routine is followed week in, week out, the frequency and the amount of time spent on each part of the review can be adjusted so that the whole requires an acceptable amount of the time available. Success can be defined as the point at which you know that your website is performing well and yet there is time to spare in your weekly schedule. After all, you really should ensure you have time to 'goof off' or even better go spend quality time with your kids or your grandchildren.