How we optimized this website
Here at CiV Digital, we build websites that are customized and optimized for each client. We built the website you’re experiencing right now, and we wanted our first published Whitepaper to be an analysis of how this website is designed and optimized.
At the highest level, this website is optimized for three things: (1) delivering information to customers; (2) introducing new people to CiV Digital, including the type of work we do, and the way that we do it; and (3) giving customers and visitors easy ways to contact us. Note: these are the high level goals for civdigital.com. There are lower-level goals as well, and we accomplish/accommodate those goals whenever possible, but only as long as they don’t distract from the three primary value points. This section of the website will advance the CiV Digital brand, but it does not deserve a prominent place on the Website.
Navigation / usability
Given the goals of the site (delivery of information, introducing CiV Digital to new individuals, and making CiV Digital highly accessible to the right people), we kept our navigation very clean and simple with five sections:
The sections that we chose to include are all self-explanatory, and don’t require in depth discussion here. What is more interesting, however, are the sections that we did NOT include.
Why isn’t “Contact Us” in the Top-Line Navigation?
Five years ago, it was very important for companies to make “Contact Us” a feature of the top-line, “persistent navigation” of a website. But today, and at CiV Digital in particular, companies are much easier to contact. CiV Digital is on Twitter and Facebook. We have personal blogs and an official company blog where anyone can leave comments. We have a contact page that includes a form that you can choose to fill out, or you can send us an email directly off the same page, because we know that some people prefer that.
Given the ease of contacting CiV Digital, we didn’t think it was wise to use the most valuable website real estate for a big button that said, “Contact Us.” Instead, we chose to go with a unique section called “White Papers,” (you’re in that section now), which differentiates us from our competitors, and allows us to provide in-depth analyses of important topics for visitors.
Note: it’s also important to note that we do have highly visible “Contact Us” button that stands out in the lower right-hand column of the homepage. Also, as you’ll see below, we reserved 25% of the “Services” page for a “Contact Us” option. One of the most important questions in building a new website is always: what are you going to choose to place in your top-line navigation? It is the most valuable space on your website in many ways, and your choices signal your top priorities. The only reason we were tempted to include “Contact Us” in the top-line navigation is because we want to communicate to visitors that we want to be contacted. However, we were able to communicate that message without sacrificing such valuable placement, and that decision allowed us to focus on other sections that are crucial to our work with customers.
Why did we simplify our Services page?
We simplified our services page by grouping our services into three categories: Design, Marketing, and Products/Apps. We wanted to make this page highly scannable, because we understand that our customers frequently visit this page to determine if they should contact us or not. We wanted to make this experience as simple as possible, allowing visitors to easily determine whether CiV Digital would be a good partner for a particular marketing, design or technology project, and then to decide to contact us.
Note: our consolidation of our services into three distinct categories had an unintended but welcome benefit. It allowed us to layout the page in a way that reserved 25% of the screen for a Contact Us section, and as we describe above, we made the decision to remove Contact Us from the top=line, persistent navigation in order to make room for more important sections. In doing that, we did not want to send the message that we are not highly accessible, and so we looked for opportunities, such as on the Services page, to highlight the visibility of our contact information.
Where is the “News” Section?
You’ll notice that there is no “News” section at civdigital.com, and you may wonder why that is. The answer is that there is no need for a “News” section, because at CiV Digital we use our blog to make official announcements about our new employees, awards we’ve won, or projects we launch. We also use the blog to discuss interesting technology issues that we know our clients care about.
Before the widespread adoption of blogging software, the “News” section of a website was the only dynamic section of a website. By putting up new announcements in the “News” section, a website could build more traffic from search engines. But the problem is that the “News” section (by virtue of its name) needs to follow the conventions of stuffy newspaper articles, or official pronouncements and statements. This is fine if your company needs to release a lot of official press releases, but it doesn’t make sense if you company doesn’t need that. Most companies today are relying more and more on their blog to have a conversation with customers, and customers are responding by visiting those websites more and more.
The problem with having a blog and a “News” section is that you must then make a clear distinction about what content belongs in which section. This can be confusing to users, who may just want to read your latest announcements in chronological order. When in doubt, we try to defer towards the option that eliminates uncertainty for visitors, and makes their lives easier.
(Preface to blog: the discussion about our blog will be covered in more detail in the next White Paper, available here, “How we use social media at CiV Digital.” What follows here is a discussion of the blog in the context of the user-experience design of the website.)
We place a strong emphasis on blogging at CiV Digital. This is because (1) we want to deliver useful, timely information to our customers; (2) we practice what we preach, and we need to be practitioners of blogging in order to advise our clients in the area; (3) we want to ensure that we attract high quality traffic from search engines, and blogs are an optimal way to achieve that, and (4) we appreciate the discipline of blogging on a regular basis, because it helps us focus on the issues and topics that matter to our clients.
Our blog is optimized for two things in particular: (1) delivering new blog posts to customers, and (2) enabling customers to subscribe and share blog posts with their friends.
You’ll notice that you never need to click “Read more” to read one of our blog posts. This is because the most common way for people to read content on the Internet is to quickly scan for information. (You may be an exception to this rule, since you are reading this long form whitepaper, but we even optimize the experience here by inserting bolded subheads at each section, to increase scanability.) In order to optimize our blog for scannability, we needed to eliminate the “Read more” buttons that you see on many blogs today. If someone is going to scan a blog post, they need to see the blog post first, and this means you need to display each blog post in full.
Note: there is a relevant opposing point of view on this issue. Some blogs only display one paragraph of each new blog post because they would rather fit more blog titles on one page, thus increasing the scanability of blog titles and lead paragraphs. We rejected this option because the title is not always the most important part of a post, and the blog’s primary audience is CiV Digital customers and friends, this is an audience that has an above average degree of interest (we hope!) in what we write.
Hosting and Site Speed
Site speed is extremely important, whether your visiting a website like civdigital.com, or whether your using a Twitter application. Visitors want nearly instantaneous responsiveness when they click links and browse pages, and long wait/load times will cause many visitors abandon a website.
It is not an enormous challenge to optimize a website like this one. When we first started building websites, Web pages needed to be under 6 KB in order to download in one second, and some usability experts like Jakob Nielsen made the decision to keep their websites free of all images in order to not compromise the speed of navigation.
Fortunately, we know from using Google Analytics that most people visit CiV Digital using high speed Internet connections, which means we can use images liberally – which is important for a company with a large design portfolio like ours. In the future, when we add videos to our Services section and the blog, we will likely embed that media from a third party website, such as YouTube, which will allow our pages to load independently of the video or audio files. (There are other important reasons to utilize third party websites for hosting videos and audio files, but that will be a topic for a blog post in the future. You can click here if you want to subscribe to our blog posts by email or RSS.)
We use a robust hosting service for this site, because we want the experience to be fast and uninterrupted.
We don’t want to identify or provide a link to the name of our hosting company, because we don’t want to provide any casual or soft endorsements for providers. We will periodically endorse partners or even outstanding companies that we are not affiliated with in any way, but we will only do so through our blog, and we will only do so after acknowledging any relationship we have with them. In all likelihood, if we change hosting providers in the near future, we will announce our reasons for doing so on our blog, and we will identify the new hosting service by name.
Other issues on the development of civdigital.com
The only issue that merited significant discussion was the role of social media, and the way that we wanted to integrate social media, into the website. This is a complex discussion, and will be covered in its own White Paper, because (1) social media marketing is a service we provide to customers, and (2) the way we integrated our social media platforms into our website is part of the same discussion as the way we use those social media platforms at CiV Digital. And it makes more sense to cover both topics in the same Whitepaper, which you can read here.