Reviewed December 15th, 2008 @ 12:12PM
The first line of the preface to this book reads, "We've had a website for years now, but it hardly pays for itself." This book aims to solve the mysteries that many site owners feel about the performance of their website. Some owners don't know any better, some don't know where to start, and still others rely on false metrics to make their site seem as though it is doing better than it actually is. This book doesn't contain myths. This book doesn't contain "feel-good" stats about websites. This book contains in-depth information related to every aspect of your website, and how you can turn your website into something that works for you and, ultimately, achieves the goals you set in the beginning. This may be a financial goal and your website is responsible for driving sales. This may be a social networking goal, where you want to nurture a growing community. This may be an advertising goal, where you can optimize your site for advertising campaigns. The core of this book will help you, no matter what the goal of your website. Andy King has done an incredible job of thoroughly covering the areas of performance, optimizing these areas, and then properly analyzing the results.
This book is divided up into two parts: Search Engine Marketing Optimization and Web Performance Optimization.
Search Engine Marketing Optimization
Natural Search Engine Optimization
Anyone who has ever been in charge of optimizing a website for search engines can attest to the many challenges they may be presented with. These challenges are, often times, unique to any given project. Andy starts off the book by introducing natural, or organic SEO. He explains the benefits, shows some of the core SEO techniques, and wraps it up into a very thorough ten step process to achieve higher search engine rankings. He covers many aspects such as using a professional design, the pitfalls of Flash, and lists out some of the barriers to SEO. I personally liked that he took the time out to explain what a professional design looks like. He introduces the concept here, and then goes into more depth in a later chapter. I have always seen this as one of the most important aspects to your SEO campaign. Having a solid look, feel, structure, and organization will ultimately help both humans and bots find your important content. I also liked the fact that he had a nice section devoted to Microformats while explaining the benefits of Meta Data.
Natural SEO Case Study: PhillyDentistry.com
So how do we know what he says is true or even works? The next chapter dives into a case study. Enough talking about what works, let's see some real world examples. This specific example, PhillyDentistry.com, took a site that was not professionally designed, and turned it around into something much more meaningful. While the copywriting was re-organized, much of the re-structuring took place in the markup. By employing quality markup, he was able to achieve better results, as things were all put into context. He makes brief mention of using the Lynx test to make sure things make sense. Strip your styles away. Strip your behavior away. Does the content make sense at the core? By re-working the core structure and copy-writing, they were able to see much better organic SEO results than the first iteration. This is just the first step.
What we have seen in the previous chapters were methods and techniques of natural, or organic, SEO. These techniques revolved around the things that could be instantly done without putting money towards any campaigns. Organic SEO was about setting a good solid foundation for your website. Now that we have that solid foundation, we can look to setting up a pay-per-click campaign. PPC advertising revolves around setting appropriate goals, and targeting the right keywords for the right audience. I found this chapter to be one of the most important chapters in the entire book. I read through it twice. He breaks down setting up PPC campaigns, and then monitoring their health. He has things broken down to their mathematical equations to let you truly gauge your campaign. He mentions many helpful resources and tools for selecting your campaigns, A/B testing your campaigns, and then making sense of the results. He also mentions some of the struggles you will ultimately face while trying to manage a campaign, and some things you can do to alleviate the pain.
PPC SEO Case Study: BodyGlove.com
Again, instead of just talking about what you could or should do, Andy presents us with another Case Study to put his words into action. Here was the kicker for me: This case study wasn't all about the success of the campaign. He presented the campaign, setup the pricing, and then dove into integration. However, this was for items that were in a very competitive market. While improvements were seen, they didn't always come easy. The end of this case study was not a magical story of success, but a story of planting a seed and nurturing your campaigns - even in a competitive market.
Conversion Rate Optimization
At first glance one might confuse this with PPC Optimization. Andy defines CRO as
[...] the art and science of persuading your site visitors to take actions that benefit you, by making a purchase, offering a donation, or committing to some positive future action.
This chapter presents us with the social aspect of being on the web. We started with a core foundation, and moved to setting up campaigns based on our keywords and target market, now we look to converting the visitors into users of our site. This involves an array of tactics that revolve around the Psychology of Persuasion. This psychology is broken down into many useful strategies and topics. Next up he provides us with an exhaustive list of factors to maximize your conversion rates. Each of the 10 factors he mentions are discussed in great detail. He wraps the chapter up with important advice to Test Everything. All of the lists, and understanding how users make decisions, are useless unless you can test against them and make sure you are still achieving your goals. He shows how to test each aspect by using your analytics, but ultimately each scenario will be different based on the needs.
Web Performance Optimization
The two-fold nature of this book may turn certain people on or off, but all of this comes under the umbrella of optimizing your site. I encourage you to read (and possibly re-read) through the different areas, even if they may seem too deep. While the first part of the book was about keeping your visitors happy, this half makes sure your server is happy.
Web Page Optimization
Some of these items may be commonplace for different developers, but include a good discussion nonetheless. He breaks down the anatomy of a CSS file and the rules inside of them. He advocates the use of a Reset Stylesheet, and then dives into another list of ten things you can do to optimize your CSS. This list includes things such as:
- Replace Inline Style with Type Selectors
- Use Descendant Selectors
- Group selectors with Common Declarations
- Use Inheritance to Eliminate Duplicate Declarations
Obviously, these are just a few items abstracted from the full list. This chapter is about not just taking CSS from a WYSIWYG output, but truly crafting your CSS to fit your needs. It's about making the CSS readable, re-usable, and taking advantage of the Cascade that we have. Simply accepting the output of an editor isn't enough. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: There isn't an editor out there smart enough to understand your cascade and needs. The advantages of crafting your own CSS means that it's more extensible, maintainable, and semantic. You can group items as your needs require, and by using the cascade and CSS2.x and CSS3 selectors you can begin to achieve an array of different effects that would otherwise be achieved through dirtying up the markup (content layer).
Advanced Web Performance Optimization
Website Optimization Metrics
This last chapter brings everything full circle. Now that you have taken the time to optimize your website, how can you measure that any of this has helped? Through the use of many helpful tools and analytics programs you will be able to constantly evaluate the performance of your website. We have briefly seen the mention of analytics software in some of the earlier chapters, but this chapter takes it to another level. This chapter is all about breaking down the analytics programs and understanding the different reports and terminology, and how they are affected by the entire gamut of changes you have made in the previous chapters. I found this chapter to be rather dense, but very useful. Entire books have been written on this subject, so this is really just another primer - but an excellent primer for you to instantly start gauging the performance of your website. Using your analytics software will allow you to evaluate the performance of your pages, run A/B testing, manage PPC campaigns, and monitor your keywords. All of this is done under roof, and can be used to cross compare against an array of other sets of metrics to get any reports you may be seeking.
So, now what? (Summary)
Creating a successful website simply won't happen overnight. There are many aspects that need to be addressed, and this book covers those in great detail. If you are working on a high-traffic website, or simply want to find a way to optimize your website for goals, then you need to pick up a copy of this book. It is very well written and organized. You don't necessarily have to read it all in order, you could pick and choose based on the topics you are interested in. The writing style also kept things interesting along the way, making great use of lists and callout blocks with more information or resources.
The Website Optimization Secrets companion site has sample chapters, chapter summaries, full-color figures, code, worksheets, videos, and more.