What is the Point of On Site Optimization?

by Paul Wilson

 

flowers1.jpgRecently I was invited to teach web marketing at a local community college. When asking the class what the first step of marketing was I received an overwhelming answer of SEO.

This seems to be the vast perception of internet marketing. However, there are actually two steps one should take before even beginning search engine optimization. With this post I want to focus on the On Site Optimization (or OSO) step (the other step I will discuss in a later post).

OSO is a critical step to initiate before even attempting SEO. The reason for this is that OSO focuses on conversion; whereas SEO focuses on traffic. No matter how much traffic you get if you don’t have conversion it is pointless.

So for this post I thought I would critique a website’s OSO. My criteria in choosing a website to critique are as follow:

    1. It is a well known website
    2. The site is in a competitive industry
    3. The website ranks high in the search engines

With this structure in mind I decided on the keyword of debt. It only takes a mountain of junk mail and a few hundred spam emails to realize that debt is a part of a hot industry. When I did a search on debt a website that ranked fairly high was Bills.com.

The first thing to focus on when planning a site’s OSO is color. People don’t realize how important color is to marketing. Too much red and orange irritates the eye’s retina. Studies have shown that people stay on a website three seconds less when there is an abundance of bright colors. Three seconds doesn’t sound like much, but when you are competing for users dollars every second counts.

Looking at Bills.com their color scheme is a good blend of white space and blue. In fact, it seems that the designer worked hard to not make one color more domineering than another.

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Of course your design means nothing if you do not have good content. Many make the mistake of focusing their content on heavy keyword density instead of providing strong content. Keyword density helps with search engines, but when it comes to the user it is more important that he or she knows what you are trying to accomplish. The truly skilled marketer is one who can please both the user and the search engine.

Looking at Bills.com’s focus you can see, through their title tag, that the keywords they are targeting are: Debt, Mortgage, Loan, and Credit Help.

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These title keywords show up right away in their opening title and content. The nice thing about this website is that they do a great job in letting the user know within seconds what their focus is.

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However, there are a couple tweaks I would make on the content here. First I would link their points of focus in their opening paragraph. Key phrases like “eliminate debt,” “improve your credit,” “save on a mortgage,” and “pay your bills” could be anchored text. This does several things: 1) It gives quick access to content the user is looking for, and 2) It draws the users eye to what Bills.com wants them to focus on.

I feel that they were trying to do this with these links:

content02b.jpg

However these links seem to be awkward, clunky, and offer little branding. I would actually rewrite them to look like this:

Get out of debt with Bills.com
Let Bills.com help you refinance your home
Find a loan with Bills.com
Bills.com helps you discover deals on auto, health, and home insurance

The rewrite could definitely be improved upon but I wanted to make the point of associating the Bills.com name to the keywords that are being used.

One thing that I feel Bills.com did superbly was the layout of their navigation. There are three places, above the fold, that navigates you:

    1. The drop down menu
    2. The top nav bar
    3. The saving center box

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I particularly like the Saving Center. A very clever way to further help their users find what they are looking for.

In closing, the one thing that I really feel Bills.com could do better is the top rotating image. It’s nice, and I am sure that their users like it, however, it takes up valuable real estate on the page. They could cut the graphic in half and probably get the same satisfaction from their users.

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Look at Bills.com and give me your commentary on what they are doing right or could improve on. As you can tell I only focused above the fold with their OSO. I think Bills.com was too perfect of an example of good OSO. I will need to do a post that shows a horrible example. Fortunately—or rather, unfortunately—the web is full of such examples.

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