Site gets a bird’s eye review

Feb 01, 2011 10:30 PM  By

ABirdsWorld.com sells garden accents and wild bird care products such as birdhouses, baths and feeders. Does the site soar to heights of ecommerce greatness, or is it a fine, feathered mess? Critiquers Amy Africa, president of web consultancy Eight by Eight, and Steve Beatty, an SEO strategist at search consultancy agency Covario, looked it over with an eagle eye. Africa reviewed content and functionality while Beatty tested search capability; here’s what they had to say.

AMY AFRICA

No matter how you slice and dice it, navigation accounts for over 50% of your online success. Sure, you can fill your pipeline with oodles and oodles of traffic, add video and live chat, and have the best Facebook and Twitter pages known to man. Hell, you can even have a downright killer trigger email program and the most efficient shopping cart/checkout system money can buy.

But if you don’t have good navigation, your site will never live up to its full potential.

In usability, you quickly find that users never talk about navigation. In fact, they rarely even talk about searching. They talk about finding. Finding what they want — and fast.

One of the most important things from a user perspective is the “word connect.” Don’t know what the “word connect” is? You’re not alone. Most people don’t.

It’s something that most usability consultants don’t talk about because they don’t know enough about how the brain perceives online experiences. Word connect is also one of the things that will make the biggest difference in your website effectiveness.

Take someone who is searching for T-shirts. Whether or not they type in tees or T’s, t-shirts or tshirts, there is no doubt they are looking for T-shirts, right? Right.

What they are not looking for is apparel. Your apparel category may have tees, T’s, t-shirts and tshirts, as well as shorts, pants, sweaters, jackets, hoodies and the like, but “apparel” as a choice is not any variation of T’s, which means there is no word connect.

Like many ecommerce sites in the HEP (hobbyist, enthusiast, passionate) category, A Birds World does a lot of things right. What it needs the most help on is navigation — and specifically, its word connect.

If you go to the ABW site, the top navigation is “Store Front” (somewhat innocuous to the user and not all that useful), Your Account (should be in the upper right-hand corner); Search (needs a search box, otherwise it’s rendered ineffective from a user’s perspective); Items in Basket (good, but would be better as a cart that the user can see and use in the upper right-hand corner); and Secure Checkout (should also be in the upper right-hand corner).

The top navigation is intended to serve as an action bar — listing the five to seven things you want the user to do on your site. Actions that would be better here would be items such as Sign Up for FREE Newsletter, Web Specials, Overstock/Clearance (ABW uses SUPERBUYS), Ordering from a Catalog? (if applicable), and so on.

With that said, the left-hand navigation is where ABW gets into trouble. The left-hand navigation on ABW is Wild Bird Care; Garden Décor; Fountains and Waterfalls; Gifts, Arts and Optics; and Customer Services.

So, what happens when you’re looking for a birdhouse. Where do you go? Wild Bird Care? Decor? Gifts?

From the T-shirt example above, when you are looking for T-shirts, your brain will look for all the appropriate variations of T-shirts, but it won’t immediately connect with anything but T-shirts and T-shirt-y words.

Then, less than half of the time (yes, you read that correctly), we will do a second pass over the offered categories to determine where our “word” fits. Bottom line: You have one chance to make a word connect. If you don’t get it, you will lose about 55% of your visitors. (Hello, high bounce rate, low user session and poor conversion.)

Granted, in the middle column of the entry page, ABW does list that Wild Bird Care includes Bird Feeders, Bird Baths and Bird Houses, but it’s not consistent through the site. So, if you don’t see it there (or if you don’t come to the home page), you are going to miss it. Yikes.

Your left-hand navigation should have the following: a sign-up box for your FREE email newsletter; a search box (unless you have the most successful search function on the planet, the left-hand nav is a good place for search); and an itemized alphabetical listing of the items in your store — not the categories your merchandisers buy for, but the things that your users are looking for.

In A Birds World’s case, this might include baths, feeders, houses, fountains, sundials, trellises, etc. You can list about 22 to 27 items on the left without negatively impacting the user experience. Will changing the navigation in the top and left really make a difference for ABW? Yes.

It’s important to note that navigation is an evolutionary process. No matter how hard you try, you will never have perfect navigation (mostly because of those pesky people called users), but if you keep working on your navigation, you can get pretty close.

The better your website’s navigation is, the easier it will be for customers to use your site — which should, in conjunction with aggressive action directives (big “buy now/add to cart” buttons, for example) increase your bottom line dollars.

Some other things A Bird’s World can do:

  • Add “home” to the top navigation. This should be on everyone’s navigation. Period.

  • Add a perpetual/persistent cart in the upper right-hand corner of the site. The best PCs have a shopping cart icon, the number of items in the cart, the dollar amount, a big “checkout now” button when something is added to the cart, a 100% secure shopping guaranteed tagline (or whatever you can offer), and links to view cart, print cart, email cart, save cart.

  • Lose the script-y font. It’s not web friendly. Period.

  • Make better use of the right-hand column. The right-hand column is the place people look before they are going to leave. Essentially, it serves as a “save” column — if it’s used properly, it will prevent the user from leaving. You can include all sorts of different plugs (nonanimated banners here) — just make sure they’re worthy of being looked at and clicked on.

  • Tighten up the category pages. There’s a lot of room before the user actually sees the product. The more you see on the first view, the better.

  • Make the “add to basket” buttons stand out more. White buttons? Not. Good.

  • Eliminate all confusing messages throughout the site, such as “Using the back button on your browser will return you to your last screen. However, your Shopping Basket will not show the item you just added initially.” Users don’t understand this kind of stuff and they don’t respond well to it, either.

  • Also, the full screen of messaging before you start A Birds World’s checkout is the kiss of death from a user experience perspective. The checkout really needs to be cleaned up. In the meantime, put your 800-number all over the page to encourage call-ins so you don’t lose shoppers.

  • Finally, A Birds World should blow up some of the visuals to encourage better, more dynamic eyeflow, and highlight the bestsellers.

STEVE BEATTY

SEO seems to have flown the coop a bit from this e-commerce site. After reviewing ABirdsWorld.com, I have uncovered some basic search engine optimization best practices that could help this site land safely in the Google and Bing organic ranking cages.

First, some of its SEO strengths. Abirdsworld.com is a 10-year-old domain. Why is domain age important?Many SEO experts generally believe this is a factor that search engine algorithms use to determine a sites overall authority in ranking well.

According to Whois.com, this domain has been around since 2000, which adds some trust/authority to the site. This is a good building block to support overall SEO success.

According to Yahoo site explorer, the site currently has more than 2,000 inbound links to the site. The site has links coming from more than 400 unique domains.

What does this mean? Having links coming from unique external domains creates a more diversified link portfolio and equity for your site.

This, in turn, can lead to better search visibility in the search engines for key terms optimized against.

But keep in mind that half the 2,000 links are now coming from the non-www version of the site and the other half from the www version. You have to maximize your inbound link efforts by addressing the canonical domain issue listed below in the next section.

Also, for all future external link building, you want to ensure that other sites that may link to you are linking only to one version of your domain, not two.

The site’s canonical of domain needs improvement. As a best practice to increase strength of site and online visibility, you should use only a www or non-www version of your site. Right now, there are two versions of A Birds World, with www and non-www versions indexed in the search engines.

A Birds World is reducing its visibility in search engines by having split equity into two domains. Search engines want to see unique content for pages. Major search engines, such as Google and Bing, generally frown upon sites that have duplicate versions.

An easy way to address this issue is to create a 301 redirect rule (preferably server side or in an Htaccess file), which will redirect one domain to the other. Also, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to set up whether you want Google to index and spider the www or non-www version of your site.

Google and Bing will recognize this change and will consolidate your domains link equity to one domain. This should eliminate any future split-domain equity issues.

Once the canonical issue is fixed, the site should solidify itself with more authority and relevancy in the search engines. The site currently ranks #12 for “Bird Feeders” and #6 for “Bird Houses.” The above change might be enough to help the home page acquire better search engine visibility and traffic, and more conversions.

A Birds World also needs help with its URL parameter issue. When creating URLs for pages, especially category pages or shop pages, you want to ensure that the URLs are easy for search engines to index and end users to understand.

The site now uses too many parameters in the URL, which will make it harder for search engines to index the page. Also, having long, confusing URL strings can inhibit consumers from clicking on a page.

It’s a general SEO best practice to have as few URL parameters as possible for a single URL. Aim to eliminate unneeded URL parameters: Relevancy and brevity are keys to good URL creation.

What are the next steps to URL rewrites? Work with your IT folks, webmaster or web development team on creating URL rewrite rules for URLs to help improve the search engines indexing of your URLs. Search engines can more easily understand a page’s topic of content when there is a page-related keyword in the URL.

Also, this will give the end user a clearer definition of what your page is about. Make sure that all keywords listed in the URL are relevant to the page. Limit the number of keywords in your URL to between one and two.

Here are some reference sites to use to get more information on the URL rewrite rules and how to implement them on your site and server.

http://www.askapache.com/htaccess/mod_rewrite-tips-and-tricks.html (using Htaccess files)

ISAPI Mod rewrite (http://www.isapirewrite.com) (Using server side rules)

Examples of what your URL’s could look like after a URL makeover:

If a URL rewrite is not an option, another possibility is to log in to Google Webmaster tools and setup parameters of A Birds World existing site URLs that you would like Google to ignore.

Now, a word about title tags. The title tag on the page is considered a key element in ranking by search engines like Google and Bing. Good title tags clearly tell an engine and user what the page is about, such as wild-bird products, bird products and birdhouses.

As a best practice, make sure your site uses unique title descriptions for each page you wish to be indexed in the search engines. Currently, there are multiple instances on the Abirdsworlds.com site where very similar or exactly the same title tags are being used on other pages. Below I have listed a few examples of duplicate title tag issues that currently exist on the site and are being indexed in Google.

The first 50 characters of all these titles are identical, and Google and other engines generally index the first 65 characters. So even though there is a slight variation, it is not enough to allow search engines to believe your page does not have duplicate tags.

Also, it is generally considered a best practice to have your most important keywords toward the beginning of the title tag.

How can you fix this? Work on creating unique title tags for each page listed above. This should help avoid having Google or other engines imposing any organic engine penalties for your site. Also, try to make the tags unique and interesting.

Current title tags: Fountains, Bird Feeders, Bird Houses & Bird Baths: Wall Fountains

Fountains, Bird Feeders, Bird Houses & Bird Baths: Garden Figurines

Examples of alternative title tags to try: Deals on Bird Wall Fountains | Abirdsworld.com

View our Garden Figurines | Abirdsworld.com

Once Abirdsworld.com has addressed the canonical domain issue, the URL parameter problems and the unique title implementation, the site will have a much better chance of leveraging the domain authority and external link equity it has already.

In turn, this will allow search engines to have an easier time indexing and understanding the relevancy of the pages. This should lead to better search rankings, more traffic and better conversions.