I often discuss how a well-designed website will draw visitors and keep them viewing your pages. Did you know that the layout of your website could affect your Google ranking as well? That's right, not only does Google look at the content of your website, it now looks at the website's design, navigation and usability.
Laying it Out
A primary factor within Google's Layout Algorithm is a modification of one of the old golden rules of website layout: keep the important parts of the website above the fold. This phrase is derived from the newspaper industry where the most important content is placed above the fold of the paper. Since this content was readily more visible than the content below the fold, it was more likely to capture the reader's attention. What makes a website different is that visitors use a wide array of monitor and browser sizes. Therefore, Google will weight content based upon the percentage of people that see it upon an initial page load.
To see what percentage of users is viewing your content, you can use the In-Page Analytics tool within Google Analytics. This tool will show you what parts of your website are initially visible, and thereby more weighted from Google. To launch the In-Page Analytics tool, open Google Analytics for your website, click on the Content tab, and click on In-Page Analytics. Once loaded on the right hand side, click the Browser Size button. Once displayed select the Show percentiles checkbox, and you will see a layout similar to this.
Roll over each area and a percentage hint will show the number of visitors who can see that portion of the website. Your goal is to get your navigation, contact information, important content, and call to action inside 80%-90% of all visitors to the page. You can choose to display additional metrics such as percentage of visitors to the page, the site, and the web as a whole to further refine your layout.
Another factor is the usability of the website. This includes clear and easy to use navigation, easily recognizable call to actions, easy to find contact information, and standardized content layouts. Many people think that to have a unique and memorable website it needs to stand way out from the crowd. This is good for a design firm or marketing company, but not for an insurance agency. Your website should be familiar to users utilizing common layouts that they are accustomed to navigating. If they have to search for your call to action, then you are making it too hard for them. Usability is always changing based upon devices, newer web technologies (HTML5 vs. Flash), and users expectations, so it is best to continually review web usability. A great resource for learning web usability is Jakob Nielsen's useit.com.
Look for more upcoming posts on how you can improve the ranking of your website by improving the overall usability.
Update: Taking our own advice...
After writing this entry, we analyzed our corporate website for the factors discussed above. With the information from our analysis, we felt that by decreasing the height of the slideshow graphic on our home page, it would increase the amount of information that visitor would initially see. Thereby increasing the site's usability.
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